Jim Biles, M.D., understands cancer treatment. A urologist who specializes in cancer surgery, he has spent his career focused on helping people receive the cancer care they need. So at age 72, when Dr. Biles received his own diagnosis of an aggressive type of cancer, he knew how critical it would be to get treatment from someone with experience and expertise.
"When I found out I had a bone tumor, I started hunting around to see who could do the surgery. It turned out that there are very few people in the world I would trust with it," he says. "Not many do it, and even fewer have the experience that Dr. Sim does. He is the kingpin."
Dr. Sim is Franklin Sim, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic's Rochester, Minnesota, campus. After a consultation with Dr. Sim, Jim decided to go through with a complex surgery at Mayo to treat his cancer.
"Being a doctor, I was pretty picky about all the details being well managed," he says. "It was exceptional. I really couldn't have had a better experience."
Jim's road to Mayo Clinic began with what seemed like a minor incident. He tripped on a cord in his office and landed on his hip. The soreness lasted well beyond what he thought was normal, so he went in for an evaluation. Although an initial X-ray looked fine, Jim still believed something was wrong.
His instincts were correct. A follow-up MRI revealed a tumor in his hip bone. The diagnosis: an uncommon type of cancer called chondrosarcoma that begins in cartilage around bones.
That's when Jim started searching for an expert he could rely on for care. Chondrosarcoma can be hard to manage, because it tends to affect bones in the upper femur and hip. In the past, treatment often required amputating the leg that was affected. That's usually not the case anymore. But getting all of the cancer still typically calls for taking out the hip joint along with part of the pelvic bone, a surgery called internal hemipelvectomy.
As Jim researched his options, he learned about Dr. Sim. Then he found out that a close friend had worked with Dr. Sim, so Jim called to get his opinion.
"He told me he had the utmost respect for Dr. Sim, and that I'd be foolish to go to anyone else," Jim says. "That sealed the deal for me."
"He told me he had the utmost respect for Dr. Sim, and that I'd be foolish to go to anyone else. That sealed the deal for me." – James Biles, M.D.
In June 2014, Jim traveled to Mayo Clinic and underwent surgery to remove almost all of the right half of his pelvis and the head of hip femur. Because of its complexity, this type of surgery frequently requires a multi-disciplinary team. For example, at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Sim is often joined in performing this surgery by Peter Rose, M.D., an orthopedic oncology spine tumor surgeon, and David Lewallen, M.D., an adult reconstructive hip surgeon. In addition, other experts such as vascular surgeons, urological surgeons, plastic surgeons and colorectal surgeons may become involved in extensive cases.
Jim's procedure took 14 hours. He spent three weeks in the hospital recovering, followed by three weeks of rehabilitation.
"I've been in a lot of hospitals. The care at Mayo Clinic is beyond anything else I've seen. You cannot match it," he says. "Part of the reason for that are the people who work there. They are all well-educated, intelligent and dedicated. Another big part of the excellent care is that they aren't overwhelmed. They have time to take care of everyone. Those two ingredients made for an incredible experience."
When Jim returned to his home in Annapolis, Maryland, in August 2014, he still had plenty of recuperating left to do. Over time, with physical therapy, he was able to progress from using a wheelchair to a walker, and then to crutches. Although he still relies on crutches, Jim has been able to resume his medical practice part-time. He's also back to enjoying past-times like playing the piano, visiting museums, clay shooting, fishing, boating and sailing.
"It's been slow progress. But it's also been exactly what I expected. I think half of getting well is being upbeat and having the right expectations," Jim says. "The main ingredients in my recovery process have been my wife and my friends. I've had wonderful support from the beginning. That's key."
Jim has also taken up a new hobby since his surgery: swimming. He credits it with getting him active again and giving him more energy.
"I've been in a lot of hospitals. The care at Mayo Clinic is beyond anything else I've seen. You cannot match it." – James Biles, M.D.
"Three months after I got home, I started swimming. At that time, I was confined to sitting, standing with support, or lying on my back. That's all I could do. Swimming made me feel human again," he says. "Honestly, I didn't swim very well to start, but now I'm up to a mile two or three times a week. It has given me the exercise and mental stability I need to make things go right."
Jim returns to Rochester every six months to see Dr. Sim for a checkup. Not only do these return visits fill an important medical purpose, he says they also conjure personal connections from years gone by. A fourth-generation physician, Jim has family ties to Mayo Clinic that he holds close.
"My grandfather, my father and my uncle were doctors down in Tennessee and Mississippi," he says. "They both referred their complicated cases to Mayo. That's been over the last 100 years, almost. Thinking of that when I get there makes me feel like I'm home."
Jim hasn't required any treatment beyond his surgery, and there's been no sign of the cancer returning. Looking back on his decision to choose Mayo Clinic for his care, he has no second thoughts.
"Everything about the place is special: from the beautiful artwork you see throughout the campus, to the team approach they use, to the overall quality of their people and care. It's all superb."