Rose Boehmer had endured chronic pain for so long, she'd forgotten what it was like to live without it.
"I have a condition called schwannomatosis," Rose says. "It's a rare form of neurofibromatosis that causes benign tumors to grow on my spinal and peripheral nerves." Eleven years ago, one tumor in particular began to have a significant effect on Rose's daily life. Although it went undiagnosed until recently, the tumor was on her sciatic nerve, and the agony it caused was extreme. "I was in constant pain," Rose says. "I couldn't do anything to get comfortable."
Lying down or sitting up — the pain persisted no matter her body position. "The pain was actually worse when I lay down," Rose says. "I was only getting a few hours of sleep at a time, and as such, I was constantly irritable, frustrated and angry."
The pain wreaked havoc on Rose's mental and physical health. "Eventually, the pain diminished my quality of life to the point where I didn't feel like I had anything to look forward to," she says. "Before the tumor, gardening, baking and photography had been some of my favorite hobbies. But the tumor had made them too painful to enjoy. I couldn't even sit and read a book because the pain was too distracting. It had taken all of the joy out of my life."
Rose also was disheartened because the doctors and surgeons who she consulted near her home in Mason City, Iowa, couldn't offer any solutions. "At first, I was given a different diagnosis by each doctor," Rose says. "No one could pinpoint a reason for my pain. Every appointment ended in disappointment."
When Rose was referred to the Department of Neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester earlier this year, her expectations were low. "I scheduled an appointment for May 14, but I was not hopeful," she says. "I didn't want to be disappointed again."
"(Dr. Spinner's) knowledge, expertise and experience immediately put my mind at ease."Rose Boehmer
Just a few minutes into her appointment with Robert Spinner, M.D., chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, however, Rose allowed herself to feel hopeful. "Shortly after Dr. Spinner and his surgical team entered the room, my entire mood changed," Rose says. "His knowledge, expertise and experience immediately put my mind at ease."
But it was what Dr. Spinner and his team did next, Rose says, that was most meaningful. "After running some tests, they saw the tumor on my sciatic nerve," she says. "He then asked me if I'd like to have it removed the following day. I couldn't believe that 11 years of suffering was finally going to end. My husband even started to tear up."
Before coming to Mayo Clinic, Rose had been receiving care for two tumors on her spine. "Unfortunately no treatment helped my pain because those tumors were not causing it," she says. "No one had looked beyond my spine until a local pain management doctor decided to run a broader MRI. That's when they finally saw the tumor on my sciatic nerve. My local neurosurgeon, however, couldn't tell where the tumor was in association to the nerve, so no one was comfortable removing it."
Dr. Spinner was comfortable doing that surgery, and he explained to Rose how he and his team could accomplish it. "I had complete confidence in him," Rose says.
Filled with that confidence, Rose agreed to move forward. "Dr. Spinner actually had to split the fibers of my sciatic nerve in order to get to the tumor and remove it," Rose says. "Before coming to Mayo, I was told it was a procedure no surgeon could do. Dr. Spinner, however, knew exactly how to remove the tumor. He and his team did what I had been told could not be done."
After surgery, the pain that had haunted Rose for more than a decade vanished. "It was as if someone had flipped a switch. The nerve pain was completely gone" Rose says. "I felt liberated and was finally comfortable again."
The relief Rose felt after surgery produced a dramatic shift in her world. "When you're in pain every minute of every day, that becomes the No. 1 worry at the top of your list," she says. "When that constant worry is suddenly gone, your whole life completely changes."
That change has affected all of Rose's activities — from getting ready in the morning to enjoying time with her family. "I can stand in front of a mirror and put makeup on, which is something I hadn't done in years. I can go to concerts and other events again, and get on the floor and play with my grandchildren. Not to mention just how much different and easier it is to sleep at night," she says. "I feel like I can do anything I want to do now. I don't have any limitations."
"Now I feel like I want to live to be 100 years old because it's just been such a wonderful change."Rose Boehmer
Along with the improvement in her physical health, the surgery has also had a positive effect on Rose's mental health. "Before surgery, I was reaching a point where I thought I was going to have to live in pain for the rest of my life. And quite honestly, I didn't want to live a whole lot longer," she says. "Now I feel like I want to live to be 100 years old because it's just been such a wonderful change."
For that, Rose says, "there aren't enough words" to thank Dr. Spinner and the rest of her care team. "Everybody at Mayo Clinic is so professional and so knowledgeable," she says. "That alone made me feel so comfortable. It's such a benefit to have a whole team of people looking at you, caring for you, diagnosing you. That made me feel much more confident of the diagnosis I received. Dr. Spinner and his team at Mayo Clinic gave me my life back."
From Dr. Spinner's perspective, finding the source of Rose's pain was just as rewarding as removing it. "The biggest thing was finding the tumor at the site of where her pain was, and then taking it out so that her pain would be gone," he says. "She had other tumors that weren't causing her pain, but we found the one on her sciatic nerve. Others had found her pain in the wrong spot; we found it in the right spot."
Being able to achieve that accurate diagnosis for her, coupled with Rose's improved lifestyle and emotional well-being, is all the thanks Dr. Spinner says he needs. "It's just awesome to know that my team and I have the potential to do this for other people," he says. "It's why we do what we do."