Brenda Osman, 58, vacationed in Hawaii, Memphis, Las Vegas, Turks and Caicos, and the Grand Canyon in just more than a year starting in late 2012. The Sauk Village resident was determined to make the most of whatever time she had after being told in September 2012 that she had a rare, aggressive type of cancer that left her with about 13 months to live.
It all started a month earlier when a routine gynecological exam revealed a mass, originally thought to be an ovarian cyst or tumor. Osman’s doctor referred her to a gynecologic oncologist at a Chicago teaching hospital who ordered a scan. It showed two large tumors in the pelvic area.
That September Osman underwent her first cancer surgery, in which her uterus, ovaries and several lymph nodes were removed. After the operation, the doctor told Osman she had a type of sarcoma called uterine leiomyosarcoma (LMS). Sarcomas are cancers that start in tissues, such as muscle or bone. Uterine LMS starts in the muscular wall of the uterus.
Osman was told she had aggressive, Stage 4 disease, but chemotherapy might improve her chances. After two unsuccessful rounds of treatment, she was told that not much could be done for her. Osman sought additional opinions at two other Midwest teaching hospitals, where cancer specialists agreed with the Stage 4 assessment. These doctors also told Osman they couldn’t do much to help her.
They referred her to medical oncologist Samir Undevia, of the Edward Hematology Oncology Group. He’s an investigator in a clinical trial at Edward Hospital for the treatment of Stage 4 patients. An expert in sarcoma treatment, Dr. Undevia revisited Osman’s original scans and ordered further testing. He concluded that Osman did not have Stage 4 disease as previously diagnosed.
“This meant surgery was still an option, and it would give her the best chance of long-term survival,” Undevia says. “But this tumor was very close to both a major blood vessel and the ureter (which carries urine from the kidney to the bladder). It would be a long, complicated surgery that many surgeons wouldn’t undertake.”
Undevia referred Osman to surgical oncologist George Salti, co-medical director of the Edward Cancer Center and medical director of the Edward Hospital Surgical Oncology Program. Undevia knew that Dr. Salti is often willing to take an aggressive approach when others might be reluctant. Despite what Salti saw as a 50-50 chance of being able to help Osman, he agreed to do the surgery.
“(Drs. Salti and Undevia) didn’t give us false hope. They were open and honest about the pros and cons,” says Osman’s daughter Jamie Daniels, a cardiac-neuro nurse at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Crown Point, Ind.
During the 13-hour surgery Oct. 8 at Edward Hospital, Salti removed the large tumor, along with part of Osman’s colon. He was assisted by urologic surgeon Mark Fisher, of DuPage Medical Group. Also involved in the surgery was cardiothoracic surgeon David Cziperle, of Cardiac Surgery Associates, who performed vascular repair.
“She now has no detectable disease,” Salti says. Undevia adds, “While sarcomas can recur, this surgery was key to her long-term survival.”
Osman is following up with a six-week course of radiation therapy.
“My mom was blessed to have that (medical) team. They know sarcomas,” Daniels says. “The fact that she’s alive is a miracle.”
“I’m just glad that we found Dr. Undevia and Dr. Salti,” Osman says. “I wasn’t ready to give up.”
Health Aware is a weekly column courtesy of Edward Hospital.