The STAR treatment: South Jordan woman fighting cancer in unique ways

Her focus includes nutrition, newly FDA-approved pain relief procedure

Published: Wednesday, May 14 2014 5:05 p.m. MDT

Michelle Thompson, who is suffering from a collapsed spine due to metastatic cancer, rides her bicycle in South Jordan, Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — Michelle Thompson is knee-deep into stage 4 cancer, but you wouldn't know it from looking at her.

Her silver-blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes are just as bright as they were prior to the presumably devastating diagnosis in early 2013.

"I have this cancer that is supposed to mean a long, slow decline, but, all of a sudden, I'm feeling better," Thompson said. "I am reversing a no-reversible trend, and that sort of thing makes you happy."

It helps, too, that she's pushing herself to be better every day, including employing a newly FDA-approved procedure that eliminates her most hearty source of pain — tumors that dot her radiation-plagued broken spine.

Approximately 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year, and two-thirds will develop bone metastasis, with the spine being the most common site, according to the International Journal of Surgical Oncology. The painful spine tumors are particularly prevalent in breast cancer patients, like Thompson.

Prior to September, when Spinal Tumor Ablation using Radio-frequency, referred to as STAR, was approved by the FDA, the pain could be treated less than ideally with morphine, or palliative radiotherapy requiring multiple radiation treatments at a hospital.

"What we're now doing in the image-guided tumor ablation has been done all over the body, in the liver, kidneys, pancreas and breast for decades," said Dr. James Carlisle, an interventional oncologist at Murray's Utah Vascular Clinic. He said he performs the outpatient procedure once every couple of days.

"People are living longer with cancer because of great other treatments available for cancer," he said. While the STAR procedure isn't a cure, he said it can improve a person's quality of life, getting their pain to a more manageable level.

Thompson, 52, is not taking any narcotic pain medications and doctors can't really give her an accurate prognosis due to all of the nontraditional treatment methods she has employed. About a year ago, however, she was told she had a 20 percent chance of surviving five years.

"Your fate is in God's hands, not the doctors'," she said, joking that maybe she'd die sooner if she just gave up.

But she's not giving up, not in the slightest.

"You need to figure out if you have something to live for … then start living," Thompson said, adding that she's "still got stuff to do."

"I figure, get this stuff out of my bones and then go back to work," she said.

Getting the cancer out of her bones isn't easy, and doctors, Thompson said, haven't exactly given her a road map. But she believes that if she can give her body what it needs to heal itself and eliminate everything it doesn't, she can live longer and be happier and healthier doing it.

"My cancer is further along, so it might take longer," Thompson said. "But our bodies are designed to heal themselves. We just need to give it the tools to do that."

As a former pharmaceutical sales representative, Thompson dealt with oncological drugs and spent much time researching cancer to stay current in the industry. She said she learned a lot about how other countries' medical communities respond to the disease and figured she'd have to head to Asia if she was ever diagnosed.

But when the time came, she was far too weak to pack her bags or to board a plane.

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