Cancer Is No Match for This Grandmother

Determined to see her granddaughter grow up, Christie refuses to give in to metastatic cancer. Here's how she keeps her fighting spirit.

Amy Capetta
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On summer weekends, you might find 59-year-old Christie Bonadio of Long Island, NY, any number of places: the beach, the zoo, an amusement park. But no matter the activity, you can bet her 3-year-old granddaughter, Jasmine, is right there with her. Watching them laugh and play together, you'd never guess that two years ago, a surgeon said Christie's spine was so weak, it was on the verge of collapsing. And that shocking diagnosis came just three weeks after receiving the devastating news that she had breast cancer.

Christie wound up in the surgeon's office after her oncologist found "little spots" on a PET scan of her spine. He referred her to Sumeer Sathi, MD, a neurosurgeon at Long Island Neuroscience Specialists in East Patchogue, NY. After reviewing her bone scan, Dr. Sathi confirmed that Christie needed surgery—immediately. The cancer had spread to her breastbone and spine, causing severe bone loss and broken vertebrae. If she didn't have surgery, he said, her spine could collapse.

Christie thought about her recent back pain, which didn't seem unusual since she had a demanding job at a nursing home. But one day when she picked up a 70-pound boy that she cared for on weekends, she felt a snap in her back. "I just assumed I had pulled something," she recalls. Dr. Sathi also noted Christie's stooped posture and slight hump on her back—telltale signs of bone loss.

During the four days before surgery, Christie focused on the one person she wanted to get healthy for: Her granddaughter, who was only a year old at the time. "She's my bucket list," Christie says. "All I want is to see her grow up and be there for her as much as I can. And as scared as I was about having spine surgery, I had to get stronger for Jasmine."

During the operation, Dr. Sathi "glued" titanium screws and rods into the broken areas of Christie's spine. This would help the vertebrae to fuse as new bone grew between them. Christie did well after surgery, and later had radiation to treat the cancer in her bones, and a mastectomy plus radiation to treat the original tumor.

As part of her ongoing treatment, Christie has a PET scan every three months. Her oncologist has also prescribed two medications, one to help keep the cancer from progressing, and another to help prevent bone loss and further fractures.

When asked how her back feels now, Christie replies: "I have a new lease on life. I still work five days a week, clean my house—you name it. I can do almost anything I want." And that includes chasing after Jasmine. "We go to the park, play at the beach. All my treatment goals revolve around her: I've made camp, I've made preschool—and my doctor says I'll make kindergarten. This is what it's all about."

October 2012