It began with a simple case of neck pain after a busy day. But when treatments and medications couldn't keep her "stiff neck" from getting worse, Sandy Boulware "caved in," she says, and went to see a doctor.
An MRI revealed a compound fracture in a bone in her neck, but that just raised more questions. That sort of trauma usually follows an injury, but Sandy hadn't suffered any neck injuries. What else could explain it? The hunt was on.
|Despite a devastating diagnosis of breast cancer spreading into her bones, Sandy Boulware, her husband Jon and their daughters Rachel (left) and Michelle (right) credit their faith in God and the skilled team at City of Hope for giving them hope and encouragement.|
Then, a bone scan revealed abnormalities in Sandy's ribs, pelvis, and bone marrow. Fearing Sandy had leukemia, her doctor contacted City of Hope.
The hunt then moved to our Duarte campus. A marrow biopsy showed Sandy had adenocarcinoma, but suggested the cancer had spread to her blood and bones from someplace else. It took a CT scan, a sonogram and a team of experts to reveal the culprit: a very small mass in Sandy's right breast. Metastatic breast cancer.
Once the root problem had been identified, doctors had to act quickly: Cancer was destroying the vertebrae in Sandy's neck. If something wasn't done, she risked permanent paralysis.
Facing fears with faith
When Jon Boulware told his daughters their mother had cancer, Michelle, age 7, asked, "Daddy, is Mommy going to die?"
"I used to think the hardest question I'd ever be asked was, 'Do I look fat in this dress?'" Jon later wrote on the family's blog, "Sandy's Journey of Faith."
But "when your 7-year-old asks [this], you do your best to answer truthfully so her mind doesn't imagine things, but not so truthfully that it scares her.
"The truth of the matter is that you just don't know."
Barely a month after her first MRI, Sandy went into surgery at City of Hope to remove her damaged vertebra. Dr. Mike Chen, a neurosurgeon at City of Hope, performed a nine-hour surgery to install titanium rods and screws to stabilize her neck and support her head.
After a month in a neck brace, Sandy began radiation to eliminate the remaining tumors. She also started a course of medication to strengthen her bones and stop the spread of cancer.
While she still receives radiation and a variety of medications today, Sandy and her family are optimistic about the future. They credit their faith, and the support of family, friends and the community, for helping sustain them through difficult times.
“The doctors and support staff at City of Hope are amazing,” says Sandy. “When my husband and I were scared and in shock, the doctors encouraged us and gave us hope. The level of compassion and expertise is beyond anything we have ever encountered. I know that my team of doctors is invested in me and will do all they can to give me good quality of life.”
Sandy's complex case shows why your support of City of Hope matters so much. Our innovative, patient-centered approach to diagnosis and treatment was key to solving the mystery at the center of Sandy's fight for life.
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