Mary Martinez is back to bowling and golfing and is “doing fantastic,” though she says she’s under doctor’s orders not to lift refrigerators or break up concrete. Just one year ago, the 60-year-old Martinez was treated for lung cancer that had metastasized to her spine, and Jacob Buchowski, MD, MS, had to implant two artificial vertebrae to replace those that had been consumed by cancer.
Martinez, whose nickname at Barnes-Jewish Hospital was “the sledgehammer lady,” first learned that something was wrong when her back made an audible “pop” while she was wielding a sledgehammer to break up an old walk around her swimming pool. Excruciating pain below her shoulder blade radiated down her arm and made her left side ineffective.
Based on the advice of her chiropractor, Martinez underwent an MRI when X-rays were negative and three weeks of chiropractic treatment did nothing to relieve the pain. The scans revealed a lesion on her lung, which Martinez, a long-time smoker, says matter-of-factly didn’t surprise her. It took exploratory surgery to find the cancer’s metastasis to the spine.
Eventually, Martinez was referred to a Siteman Cancer Center oncologist, but the disease was unresponsive to chemotherapy, and surgery on both her lungs and her spine was scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day of ’08.
In a complex, day-long surgery, Buchowski and colleagues removed the entire tumor which originated in the lung and invaded two thoracic vertebrae. The extent of tumor involvement made it necessary to reconstruct the spine with a metal cage, screws, and rods.
Although the need for radiation prior to surgery made wound healing difficult and Buchowski had to schedule plastic surgery by a colleague, the problem was completely resolved. Martinez, a former Illinois special education teacher, says now that she is “not quite the Energizer Bunny,” but is grateful to be active again and lucky that the sledgehammer incident introduced her to Buchowski.
“I did my research on the Internet, and he was the right man for the job. He always made me feel very secure, and always told me the truth, including that my surgery would last about 10 hours. I’m very thankful that Dr. Buchowski could help me.”