I had been living in Bend for just over a year when I went in for a routine calcium scan on my arteries. I was shocked to find out from the radiologist that there was a pretty large tumor that had wrapped itself around my spinal cord, inside one of my vertebrae. I had an appointment with Dr. Tien who couldn’t believe that I didn’t feel any tingling, pain, or numbness, given the size and location of the tumor. He said I needed to have surgery right away since the spinal cord was so compressed. The tumor must have grown so slowly that I didn’t have any symptoms, but it could have paralyzed me if we hadn’t caught it.
It was a big surgery since the tumor was inside the dura and on the backside of my spine. Since I was still new to town, when I told him I wanted to get a second opinion, he gave me some recommendations on the west coast. I had an appointment at a highly regarded facility in San Francisco. The doctor agreed that it needed to come out immediately, but he recommended fusing my spine and putting in screws and a rod. It would have been at least a 6-9 month recovery. At first I didn’t really understand, because Dr. Tien had told me three month recovery. When I got back to Bend, I called my primary care doctor. He said that was their standard protocol, but he would ask Dr. Tien to call me to help figure it out. Dr. Tien called me right away and said that he saw me as an active, young person with no back problems so there was no reason to install hardware. After six months, if it didn’t work, we could always add it later.
It was my first real experience in Bend with a major medical problem, but I felt really confident with Dr. Tien, so I decided to proceed with the surgery. I liked that he saw me as a whole person and was willing to try the procedure with the minimally invasive amount that needed to be done. The procedure was 4.5 hours and the three month recovery was tough, but I completed all my rehab and recovered really fast. I would have still been in a back brace if I had gone ahead with the fusion, but now I am back to skiing, yoga, and all the other things I love to do.