A SMALL cyst on the crook of his left arm was the earliest sign of a rare cancer which struck grandfather Steve Stones two years ago.
It grew aggressively and was bigger than a tennis ball by the time it was removed by surgeons.
The operation saved his arm but despite further treatment the cancer spread first to his lungs and early this year to his spine.
By last month, specialists had run out of treatment options after ruling out full-scale surgery. He was virtually paralysed and in excruciating pain from the tumour which was bending his spinal cord and pressing on nerves.
His situation was bleak until he was offered a complex procedure using state-of-the-art keyhole surgery designed to ease his pain and allow him to walk again – although it still carried risks.
Within hours of coming round from the operation, the 53-year-old knew it had been a success by lifting his left leg off the bed for the first time in weeks.
Following months of treatment, Mr Stones has now been able to return to his Dewsbury home.
He does not know what the future holds – but is full of praise for the outstanding care of staff at Leeds General Infirmary and St James’s Hospital which has given him precious extra time in his battle with the soft tissue sarcoma.
The operation comes as surgeons in Leeds plan to carry out the first study in the world to evaluate success of keyhole techniques for spinal patients.
Mr Stones said the spinal tumour began causing problems in the spring when his legs collapsed from under him. He was given treatment but suffered complete kidney failure and developed a heart murmur.
“All in all, it wasn’t a good summer,” he said.
His left leg became virtually immobile. He could only get about in a wheelchair and suffered continence problems, but both chemotherapy and radiation treatment had been exhausted.
“I was in agony, on high doses of morphine and was becoming virtually paralysed,” he said.
“Surgery wasn’t really an option because of the risks of such a major operation and there were no guarantees they could do anything and just have to sew me back up again.
“They were doing everything they could but the tumour was beating them. I’d resigned myself to going to the hospice and getting the pain under control and maintaining that at home.”
In a final move, doctors called on consultant neurosurgeon Jake Timothy who outlined a complex operation using keyhole surgery.
Mr Stones said it was still risky and there remained a chance nothing could be done but because it was less invasive, his recovery would be quicker. “I really had nothing to lose,” he said.
Mr Timothy went on to carry out three procedures which he had never performed before in combination, operating through the side of Mr Stones to remove about 75 per cent of the tumour. He fitted an implant in his back to stabilise his spine and in a third part inserted rods and screws to add further support.
Mr Stones has been left with only a handful of small scars and returned home a fortnight later.
Full-scale surgery would have left him with a deep surgical wound taking far longer to heal. He can now take a few steps and walk further with a frame. He hopes to gain further strength and even return to work.
“Compared to what I had before it’s a miracle, it really is,” he said. “For what it’s done for me so far, it’s been fantastic. This has given me the impetus to pick up the baton and get back in the race. Even if the tumour does come back in six months or 12 months at least I’ve got time that I didn’t before and it’s been worth it.”
Mr Timothy said they hoped to enrol 100 patients in research in Yorkshire to evaluate the long-term success of spinal keyhole techniques against traditional open surgery.
Mr Stones could not have undergone full surgery but the keyhole approach to remove the tumour and carry out spinal reconstruction was a safer alternative.
Mr Timothy added: “He will be able to enjoy life far more. The object of the surgery is not necessarily to cure but to improve quality of life, get mobility and reduce the complications of surgery. These new techniques are a major plus for patients in Yorkshire.”