Woman With Chronic Back Pain Faces New Challenge After Spinal Cord Tumor Diagnosis

Woman With Chronic Back Pain Faces New Challenge After Spinal Cord Tumor Diagnosis

Robin Denker is no stranger to back pain. For many years, she went to chiropractors, internists, acupuncturists, tried yoga, tried Pilates and lost weight. Nothing seemed to make the pain go away. Because it never escalated to a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale, she dealt with it.

Returning from vacation in 2013, she got on the plane in excruciating, jolting pain. This time, however, the pain was unlike anything she had ever felt. It was so severe, in fact, that her prescription pain medication and ice on her back did nothing to stop the pain during her return flight home. The next morning, she could barely move her legs. She had no idea what caused the major spike in pain.

“It felt like there was fire shooting down from the middle of my back through my pelvis and down both legs. My feet and toes were numb,” Robin says.

That’s when Robin knew something was seriously wrong. She called a friend, an anesthesiologist, asking for a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon.

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“I was in so much pain, he couldn’t even touch me,” she says.

The moment he saw her, he knew that something was wrong. A complete MRI of her spine revealed a tumor. It was a little less than two inches long in the middle of her upper back on her spine. The tumor had crushed her spinal cord canal. The doctor couldn’t believe she was even able to walk.

Due to the intense delicacy of the spinal cord and the location of the tumor, Robin was terrified when she found out her only option was surgery.

“I was so scared I would never walk again,” she says.

The tumor could be a schwannoma or meningioma, the radiologist’s report stated, but she wouldn’t know until the tumor was out. Because of Robin’s tenacity, she set out in search for the best surgeon(s) possible to treat her. She began her search on the internet, and then interviewed many doctors. After several consultations, she made her decision.

“Like any writer, I did my research. I wanted to not only work with the best, but with someone who would care about me through the entire process,” she says. “When I met with Dr. Patrick Hsieh and Dr. John Liu, I knew these were the doctors I wanted to perform my surgery.”

Patrick Hsieh, MD, is an associate professor of neurological surgery and John Liu, MD, is a professor of neurosurgery  at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the co-director of the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC.

“I’m so grateful that I had the best surgeons that I could find. This has been a difficult process for me; however I am emotionally again on the right track. I had no expectations, other than I wanted to be able to walk. It felt so good to be able to stand up, take a shower on my own and to spend time in the kitchen cooking with my daughters. The brightest things in my life are my daughters, my family and of course our two pooches. I am very excited to be turning 60 and with minimal pain. I’m just very happy.”

After her surgery was complete, she spent three months at home recovering and then slowly began to walk more and more. She also exercised in a swimming pool. With support from her family, her friends and her medical team she began her recovery journey and has continued to mend.

“The staff at the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC is awesome. When they say they will follow up, they do. When the nurse says feel free to call or e-mail me with questions, she responds quickly,” she says. “Grateful is not enough of a word to describe how I feel about the team at Keck Medicine of USC.”

Living nearly pain free and being able to make home cooked meals for family — that is just another example of The Keck Effect.

by Leonard Kim