Thibodaux, LA, June 13, 2011 –Cassandra Richard of Morgan City visited
her family physician for a sinus infection in June 2008. During the evaluation
Richard mentioned to her physician that she had been experiencing sensations
like pins and needles in her left foot for about two months, and they
kept getting more frequent and lasting longer.
Richard was advised to see a neurologist. She had an electromyography,
or EMG, which involves testing the electrical activity of muscles and
may aid with the diagnosis of nerve compression or injury. After review,
she was sent to get a spinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) because
of concerns in her spine. Two weeks later she was called to get an MRI
of the head and neck and a repeat of the original test with contrast.
After getting the results of the MRI, Richard was told she had a tumor
and that it was cancerous. She would be scheduled to follow up with Dr.
Deepak Awasthi, neurosurgeon at Thibodaux Regional Health System.
“I was told it was going to happen fast and quick and to let my family
know,” Richard said. “I saw Dr. Awasthi early the following
Monday. He looked at the same images and in his experience didn’t
think it was cancer, but wouldn’t know for sure until the biopsy.”
Richard was diagnosed with a non-cancerous ependymoma. Ependymoma tumors
at the end of the spinal cord are often large, and treatment may be complicated
by the extensive system of nerves in that area. She was given the option
to do nothing, have surgery or have radiation around the tumor. Richard
chose to have the tumor removed with surgery.
“Usually non-cancerous tumors aren't particularly worrisome,”
said Dr. Awasthi. “However, that's not necessarily the case
with your spinal cord, where a spinal tumor or a growth of any kind can
impinge on your nerves, leading to pain, neurological problems and sometimes
A spinal tumor, whether cancerous or not, can threaten life and cause permanent
disability. Yet advances in spinal tumor treatment offer more options
than ever before. If small tumors are non-cancerous and aren't growing
or pressing on surrounding tissues, watching them carefully may be a reasonable option.
Surgery is often the first step in treating tumors, and newer techniques
and instruments allow neurosurgeons at Thibodaux Regional Health System
to reach tumors that were once inaccessible. The high-powered microscopes
used in microsurgery make it easier to distinguish tumors from healthy
tissue. Doctors also can test different nerves during surgery with electrodes,
thus minimizing nerve damage. Even with advances in surgery, not all tumors
can be removed completely, but the specialists at Thibodaux Regional Medical
Center were able to remove Richard’s tumor.
The path has not always been an easy one for Richard. After initially getting
the good news that she was cancer free, she was told that there was nerve
damage. “I opened my eyes and the first thing I asked is if I had
cancer,” commented Richard, “They said no, but you do have
some nerve damage. I had no feeling from the naval down. I was prepared
for cancer, but did not prepare for everything else.”
Richard spent six weeks in inpatient rehabilitation at Thibodaux Regional
to be able to leave using a walker and walking on her own about 7-8 months
later. She now has about 30-40 percent of the feeling back and still has
some balance problems.
“I was in rehab for a time after and don’t think I could have
been at a better place, because I received top notch care,” said
Richard. “All of the people in the rehab unit became like my family.
They were there with me physically and emotionally. They knew how to make
it better. The whole staff in the rehab department was wonderful.”
It’s been a long road for Richard. She has been tumor free for 3
years and has to have an MRI every year to make sure the tumor does not
return. At Thibodaux Regional, the tightly knit medical community means
physicians can plan care together and discuss cases as a team. Patients
then have the advantage of a coordinated effort to help remove tumors
and help to ensure they never return.
“It was a very traumatic, life-altering experience. It made me look
at my life a whole new way and changed me as a person in a good way,”
said Richard. “I don’t have cancer and can walk on my own
now, so it’s a good day.”
About Thibodaux Regional Health System
Thibodaux Regional Health System, a 185-bed acute care facility, provides
inpatient and outpatient care for the people of Lafourche and seven surrounding
parishes. Highly specialized services offered include Heart Surgery, Medical
and Radiation Oncology, Neurology, Neurosurgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Sports
Medicine, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, General, Laparoscopic, and
Bariatric Surgery, Pulmonology, Rheumatology, Women’s Services,
Sleep Disorders, Behavioral Health, and Inpatient and Outpatient Physical
Nationally recognized for quality care and service, Thibodaux Regional
has been named a Distinguished Hospital by J.D. Power and Associates and
has been honored with the Press Ganey Summit Award for high levels of
patient satisfaction. In 2009, Thibodaux Regional received the Outstanding
Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons Commission on
Cancer for the second time and is the only hospital in Louisiana to do so.