Retiree Overcomes Challenges with Diagnosis, Surgery, and Recovery

Retiree Overcomes Challenges with Diagnosis, Surgery, and Recovery

Name: Rusty B.
Type of Cancer: Spinal Ependymoma
Diagnosed: March 2020
By: Rusty B.
— Categories: Adult   Spine  


Difficulty Getting a Diagnosis 

I am a 64-year-old retired male. After several years of numbness and weakness in my legs, especially the right leg, I was diagnosed as having an ependymoma tumor in my spinal canal that was pressing on my spine near L1 and L2. This was found in March of this year (2020). Since I am diabetic, the weakness and numbness had previously been attributed to neuropathy, but around January and February, my right leg had gotten so weak that I could hardly walk. Also, my ability to balance was terrible and getting worse. 

After the MRI revealed the ependymoma in my spinal canal, no local neurosurgeon would do the surgery required to remove it. I was referred to a wonderful neurosurgeon at the University of South Carolina Medical Center in Charleston but could not get an appointment to see him until June. In the meantime, my weakness and balance had gotten to the point to where I could hardly function due to leg weakness and no ability to balance. I had to use a walker to move around. 

Finally, in June after another series of MRIs to make sure there were no move tumors from my brain to the bottom of my spine, I had surgery to remove the ependymoma on June 19th. My neurosurgeon confirmed that it was a malignant ependymoma, but he was able to remove it all. He also said I would need to be monitored with periodic MRIs to make sure nothing else showed up. 

Recovery is a Slow Process

Immediately after surgery, I could only see a very slight improvement in my condition. After the incision was healed, I began water therapy during the summer months and this started helping some. I could walk a little better. I no longer needed a walker, but still had to use a cane. My legs still would start giving out after a very short distance. It is now November, and I am currently undergoing physical therapy twice a week. This has helped a little more and I can walk farther, but still use a cane when I am away from my home. I can walk short distances around the house without my cane. The neurosurgeon said that it could take a year or more to get my leg strength built back up and that I may never get it all back. 

My progress has been slow but steady, but I do not know what the future holds. I am blessed that I can walk some, but I feel that my loss of the ability to balance is holding me back most from being able to function somewhat normally. I plan to continue with the physical therapy and pray that I will continue to see improvements, even though it is a very slow process. Stay safe everyone, and God bless you all!

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