Cordotomy offers cancer pain relief in time for Boot Walk

On Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, Kimberley Berry arrived at MD Anderson in her cowboy boots and Team Berry
T-shirt, along with a dozen of her family and friends. Together, they
raised $6,000 and were all set to support Kim in the inaugural Boot Walk, a fundraising walk to support MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer.

The only problem was that Kim’s upper thigh started to hurt. It
became so painful that she asked for a wheelchair, but the staff
inside MD Anderson’s Emergency Center
urged her to check in instead. As Kim’s family and friends walked in
her honor, she was admitted to the hospital.

Debilitating cancer pain

Kim survived a throat cancer diagnosis in 2014, then was
diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in 2016. Her previous
cancer treatments left her ineligible for additional chemotherapy or radiation therapy, but she did qualify for an immunotherapy clinical trial involving the drug pembrolizumab.
In December 2016, Kim started the clinical trial under the care of Shubham Pant, M.D.

While the drug began to kill and contain the cancer, it didn’t help
the intense pain near her groin, where the tumor had grown.
Over the next several months, the pain that started on the day of the
Boot Walk became so great that Kim could barely walk. She was
prescribed pain medicines and went to physical therapy twice a week at
MD Anderson in Sugar
Land
, yet the pain persisted.

“On morphine, my only options were to be in pain or to sleep all the
time,” Kim says. “On dilaudid, my pain was never below a six. I was miserable.”

She had a nerve block done, but the relief didn’t last long, and the
pain soon returned. 

Pain relief from cordotomy

In September 2017, Kim checked into MD
Anderson
, in agony. This time, she saw Lakshmi
Koyyalagunta, M.D.
, in Pain Medicine, who referred Kim to
neurosurgeon Ashwin
Viswanathan, M.D.
, for a neurosurgical solution to her cancer pain.

Cordotomy is a minimally invasive neurosurgical procedure used to
treat cancer-related pain. The procedure is performed using real-time
CT guidance to ensure precision and safety. During a cordotomy, a
neurosurgeon places a radiofrequency probe into the main pathway that
carries pain signals within the spinal cord. The probe is then heated
to interrupt the pain pathway.

“I was awake the whole time,” Kim says. During the procedure, she
responded to Dr. Viswanathan’s questions about exactly where she felt
pain, so that he could target the appropriate pathway.  

“The relief was instant,” Kim says. “Those two hours changed my
life. I felt like I could get off the table and walk down to recovery.”

Walking, dancing and boot scootin’ again

The day before her cordotomy, Kim’s pain was at an eight or nine.
Walking a few feet from her hospital bed to the bathroom was slow and
painful. A few hours after her cordotomy, Kim and her mother were
dancing down the hallway.

“Before, I could barely walk,” Kim says. “The next day, I was
literally dancing. I’ve got moves. I can get down, girl!”

She’s looking forward to busting out her moves – and her boots – at
MD Anderson’s second annual Boot Walk on
Saturday, Nov. 11. Team Berry is full of energy and support for Kim,
and she’s excited to actually walk with her family and friends this time.

As she continues to give her cancer the boot, Kim says, “I’m more
myself than I’ve been in months. I feel like a million bucks.” 

Register for the 2017 Boot Walk to End Cancer.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.