In 2007, Sharon Blackwell was undergoing routine tests before elective surgery. But the results of those tests turned out to be anything but routine—they led to more tests, which revealed a brain tumor. Today, after CyberKnife® noninvasive radiosurgery by Dr. Foroohar, Sharon is living a normal, active life. Here is her story.
“I lost a kidney to cancer about 17 years ago,” says Sharon Blackwell, a 55-year-old office manager. “I'd never had any problems since—until a few years ago, when I was going in for elective surgery.
“Before surgery, you have to have a chest x-ray and blood work,” she explains. “The blood work found a tumor in my lung. They did a test and it wound up being cancerous, so they sent me to an oncologist. He said, ‘We've scanned from the neck down; let's do an MRI and make sure everything is OK.’”
But everything wasn't OK. “They found a brain tumor,” Sharon explains.
“My boss was already being treated by Dr. Foroohar for a brain tumor—that's how I got her name,” says Sharon. She went to see Dr. Foroohar.
“Sharon's chest x-ray revealed a lung nodule,” Dr. Foroohar explains. A biopsy showed that her kidney cancer had spread to the lung.
“Cancer cells can spread or metastasize to distant parts of the body—such as from the lung, breast or kidney to the brain,” says Dr. Foroohar. “This spreading is what causes metastatic brain tumors.
“We did an MRI brain, which revealed a 1 cm enhancing right parietal lesion with surrounding edema consistent with metastasis. This indicated that cancer that had spread to Sharon's brain,” Dr. Foroohar adds.
“I remember Dr. Foroohar saying the tumor was about the size of the tip of my fingernail,” Sharon recalls. Fortunately, Sharon did not need brain surgery.
“Dr. Foroohar said, ‘If you do CyberKnife, you'll be fine—you won't have any problems,’” Sharon explains.
Northwest Community Hospital is one of only a few hospitals in Illinois to offer CyberKnife, the world's only robotic radiosurgery system that treats tumors throughout the body non-invasively. The process is pain-free—no anesthesia is needed.
“CyberKnife allows us to deliver high-dose radiation to a very specific location with very high accuracy,” Dr. Foroohar explains. “It's useful for hard-to-reach tumors in the brain or tumors located in eloquent cortex, as well as for cases of multiple tumors where we wouldn't want to necessarily radiate the patient's whole brain.
“We also use CyberKnife when a tumor recurs in the same region and open surgery is not considered a good option,” she adds.
“Dr. Foroohar is excellent,” says Sharon. “She answered all my questions and was very thorough.”
Sharon immediately began preparing for the CyberKnife procedure. “We did a CT scan and MRI brain with CyberKnife protocol to make sure we could take care of her brain tumor this way,” Dr. Foroohar explains.
“I met with the radiation oncologist, and they created a face mask,” says Sharon. “When I went in the next day, they did a CT scan with the mask on so they could do their markings.”
“CyberKnife is image-guided radiation,” Dr. Foroohar explains. “It essentially ‘paints’ the tumor with radiation, precisely delivering treatment to the tumor alone, while sparing the healthy tissue surrounding it.”
And CyberKnife is the only system that monitors and tracks tumor position continually during treatment. “CyberKnife is frameless, meaning a frame with screws that need to be fixated to the skull is not necessary,” says Dr. Foroohar. “The face mask replaces the frame, so the CyberKnife procedure is painless. No anesthesia is necessary.”
“Within a week, I was back for my CyberKnife procedure,” Sharon recalls. “It took about two hours, maybe two and a half. I was lying there with the mask on during the procedure, and after that, I went home and enjoyed the afternoon.
“I went back to work the next day and had no side-effects,” says Sharon. “I went on vacation about a week after that for a long weekend up north with some friends.
“Within a couple of weeks, everything was done—from diagnosis to the procedure,” says Sharon.
“They told me I'd be tired in a few weeks, and I was,” Sharon admits. “I went through a bout of being tired all the time. But I've never missed a day at work because of this.
“I would go back and see Dr. Foroohar originally every three months for follow-up, then every six months,” says Sharon. “It's probably been a year since I've seen her now. The last time I saw her, she said there was no sign of anything being left.
“I feel fine!” she says. “I've had no problems, no known side-effects.
Today, Sharon is living an active life. “I still work full-time,” she says. “I'm doing everything I used to do. I do ceramics and I paint. I go out with my friends a couple of nights a week. I can do whatever I want—I have no restrictions.”
Sharon is thankful that her tumor was found in time. “If I wasn't going to have the elective surgery, I wouldn't have found the problem—until maybe it was too late,” she says.