Yael Leder, a 34-year-old from a town near Tel Aviv, Israel,
learned last year that her cancer had returned—despite removal of her thyroid
and some lymph nodes and treatment with radioactive iodine. Worse yet, the
cancer was revealed in a place that might prove extremely difficult to treat: a
lymph node next to the base of her skull and touching the main artery to her
brain. An avid runner with two young sons, Yael remembers her shock. “I was feeling the best I’ve ever felt,” she
Yael Leder and her two sons.
With that horrible news, she and her mother, Hannie, a
former operating room nurse, began the desperate search for a treatment. Yael says her doctors in Israel could not
agree on a course of action because of the cancer’s challenging and unusual
location. After months of indecision, some physicians finally suggested that
she simply watch and wait, a course that struck Yael as foolhardy.
Meantime, Hannie had searched online and conferred by phone
and email with oncologists at some of the world’s leading cancer centers. She
ultimately was steered to UPMC and Dr. Carl
Snyderman, an international leader in the delicate art of skull base
surgery. He and his team proposed a minimally
invasive approach that would reach the tumor through the neck using an
endoscope to allow careful dissection of the cancer off of the artery. On Feb. 21, they successfully performed the
operation, and two days later, Yael was recovering in her Pittsburgh hotel with
a tiny, 2-inch scar on her throat.
Yael was guided through her treatment process and her stay
in Pittsburgh through the UPMC Global Care program, which helps with housing
arrangements, language translation and coordination of appointments. The
effort, which has helped hundreds of patients worldwide over the past few years,
is meant to improve access to UPMC’s world-renowned physicians and facilities
in Pittsburgh, Ireland and Italy for people who otherwise might not easily
navigate the system. “I had to look it
up, where was Pennsylvania?” Yael recalls with her infectious laugh.
Her surgeons, Dr. Snyderman and Dr.
Paul Gardner, say Yael’s prognosis is good, although she will require
regular monitoring. Because of the
relationship of the tumor to the small nerves that go to the muscles in Yael’s
palate, she required some speech therapy, but her doctors expect that problem
to be temporary. Left alone, says Dr.
Snyderman, Yael’s tumor would have grown into the surrounding tissues and
eventually stuck to the carotid artery, making complete removal difficult if
On March 4, Yael and her mother returned home to Kfar Yona
after saying goodbye to their doctors and nurses in Pittsburgh. “Everyone was
so lovely and caring,” says Yael, eagerly looking forward to her reunion with
her sons, 6-year-old Amit and 3-year-old
Omri. “I don’t think I could have gotten such treatment any other place.”