Medical progress helps keep hope alive for patients battling deadly diseases

Doctors look to give patients new hope when facing new battle with disease

DETROIT – Cancer often recurs within a span of years, but if medical technology was able to keep pace with these recurrences, it could give patients new hope every time they faced a new battle with a deadly disease.

Christy Lhamon of Traverse City has stayed ahead of her brain cancer since 2006 thanks to medical advances. When she was first diagnosed, her doctors in Traverse City didn't have much hope.

Lhamon said she was told, “We want you to just go home, and live your life how you want to live.”

Another doctor directed her to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Over the past 12 years, she underwent an awake brain surgery to remove the tumor, radiation, chemotherapy, radiosurgery and a laser ablation.

Each step maximized the available technology to treat the cancer. Dr. Ian Lee is one of the Henry Ford Hospital neurosurgeons who cared for Lhamon.

"Over the years she's had quite a few progressive episodes, and with this latest one really our treatments options, she's mostly used up," Lee said.

Two newer surgical advances made a difference in treating her most recent recurrence. One is called BrightMatter. The other is the Modus V.

"BrightMatter technology allowed us to visualize the white matter tracts -- kind of the highways of information in the brain, to visualize where the motor fibers are," Lee said. "It’s important to know where these fibers are to know where the danger zones are so that you can stay away from them during surgery.”

The other advance that is coupled with BrightMatter is the Modus V, an advanced surgical microscope that moves with a robotic arm.

According to Lee, there's a problem with traditional surgical microscopes.

"You are fixed in one position,  and with these tumors they’re not just in one spot," Lee said. "They’re all over so you have to adjust where you’re looking to look in different nooks and crannies.”

The Modus V allows surgeons to see into areas that would have been difficult to visualize using older methods.

During Lhamon's last surgery, thanks in part to these technological advances, Lee was able to remove more tumor. This became important because the sample could be sent for advanced genetic analysis.

This analysis informs doctors of the specific mutations causing the cancer and allows for precision targeting of further treatments. In Lhamon's case, the tumor demonstrated a mutation more commonly found in kidney cancers, and this opens the door to new treatment options.

Without this information, doctors would not have thought to use chemotherapy against kidney cancer to battle Lhamon’s brain tumor.

"I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get back to work and do all that normal life things to do and just take it once a day," Lhamon said.

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.