Results tagged “Breast cancer”

BethWilliams911.jpgHoustonian Beth Williams didn't come to MD Anderson when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her mid-30s. But when she received a colon cancer diagnosis nearly 20 years later, she couldn't imagine going anywhere else. "I felt like if I was going to survive, I needed to be at MD Anderson," Beth says.

The 76-year-old CEO of an international language and logistics company now jokingly calls herself an MD Anderson "frequent flier." In the past two decades, she's been treated here for four different types of cancer. That includes colon cancer, breast cancer and -- just this past year -- kidney cancer and skin cancer. Her multiple cancer diagnoses don't appear to be based on genetics, just luck.

Still, Beth doesn't consider herself unlucky, and she doesn't let cancer run her life. Below, she shares her advice for thriving in the face of cancer.

Don't wait to go to MD Anderson.
Beth encourages newly diagnosed cancer patients to go straight to MD Anderson. "The care you get is amazing," she says. "I had so much confidence in everybody at MD Anderson, and no one ever has let me down or disappointed me."

raylene818.jpgBeing diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 is unusual enough, but Raylene Hollrah was also diagnosed with an extremely rare type of lymphoma just a few years after her first cancer diagnosis and before her 40th birthday. 

Raylene, an outgoing insurance advisor who prefers to be called Ray, is only the 25th person in the U.S. -- and the 61st in the world -- to be diagnosed with breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). It's a diagnosis that has changed her life in many ways.
"I always say cancer is like breaking a window," she says. "You've got shattered glass everywhere; you've got to clean up the mess and try to figure out how to fix it."

A breast cancer diagnosis -- and cause for breast implants

The discovery of a lump in her breast during an annual physical in 2007 launched Ray on a roller coaster ride that has tested her strength and spirit. After a negative mammogram and ultrasound, a needle biopsy came back positive for breast cancer. 

nataliearneson812.jpgBy Natalie Arneson

I recently found out that I carry the BRCA 1 genetic mutation, and I'm not freaking out.

The mutation means that I have a crazy high chance of getting breast cancer. Like, it's practically a guarantee. And ovarian cancer is a strong possibility, too.

You can stop before you barrage me with condolences or compliments. I'll just roll my eyes. And then I'll hug you because I love you. But seriously, don't freak out. I'm not freaking out. Can we just skip freaking out and go to lunch?

Why I decided to undergo genetic testing for breast cancer and ovarian cancer
My mother, Terry Arnold, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and triple negative breast cancer at the same time almost seven years ago. Fortunately, when it comes to cancer treatment, my mom kicks butt.

helenvollmer723.jpgBy Helen Vollmer

When I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer almost a year ago, I went through all the standard emotions: disbelief, anger, fear and utter confusion.

As someone in perfect health, according to my charts, I was suddenly confronted with something beyond my control. No matter what I did, I still had cancer, and there were no guarantees that I would be cured.

Deciding where to go for breast cancer treatment
After the initial shock of the diagnosis lifted, I knew that I needed to act. Where to start? An oncologist? A surgeon? Was it more important where they had studied, what hospital they were associated with, how many patients they treated or the personal connection between us? I, like others who go down this path, had a dizzying array of choices to make with, frankly, only limited guidance.

My gynecologist had given me the name of three Houston oncologists to choose from for breast cancer treatment, but it was up to me to check them out. I started calling friends and colleagues who either had personal or professional connections to the Texas Medical Center.

marjane79.jpgBy Logan Carver

Marjane Green might never have found the tumor in her left breast if she hadn't felt a pain in her right breast.

The Houston-area resident wasn't too concerned since she'd had a mammogram just two months earlier. And, she had been dealing with recurring cysts in her breasts for more than 30 years as a result of hormone therapy following a hysterectomy. But this pain was different than anything she'd felt before.

Marjane's right breast was infected, and during her treatment, her doctor decided to biopsy an abnormality in the left. That's when Marjane received her breast cancer diagnosis.

Marjane says the seemingly serendipitous sequence of events was part of a higher plan.

"I did not worry at all," Marjane says.

Her faith allowed her to face breast cancer without fear.

Receiving breast cancer treatment close to home

But the care she received at MD Anderson helped, too.

Marjane knew she needed to take an active role in her treatment from the moment she received her diagnosis. She wanted to have the best doctors and breast cancer treatment options, and she knew she didn't need to leave Houston to find them.


By Jacqueline Hensler

Caroline Deetjen was 37 years old and in peak physical condition when she felt the painful lump in her left breast. For years, she had been running marathons and, after four months of training, she had just completed her first century bicycle ride -- a 100-mile endurance feat. She was young and healthy, so she figured it was nothing. She waited five months before seeing her doctor. 

"I thought it was nothing," she says. Cancer doesn't run in my family so I thought it might go away." 

A mammogram and subsequent biopsy confirmed that Caroline had stage IIA breast cancer.  

Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment
Making the decision to come to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment was easy. Caroline's doctor referred her here for breast cancer surgery, and a friend had raved about her experience at MD Anderson. 

victorhassid.jpgBy Victor Hassid, M.D.

Breast reconstruction and symmetry procedures following mastectomy are very personal decisions that breast cancer patients need to carefully consider.

Fortunately, patients have choices when it comes to breast reconstruction. There is no cookie-cutter approach, and patients need to discuss their options in depth with their physician.

Here are five of the most common breast reconstruction myths I hear.

Myth: Breast reconstruction must take place immediately after a mastectomy.
Some women aren't certain they want breast reconstruction and wait months or even years before having surgery. Patients still undergoing breast cancer treatment may want to wait until after they have completed radiation, as radiation can limit your options for reconstruction and affect the final result. However, other women want to have breast reconstruction when they have their mastectomy.

There is no right time to undergo breast reconstruction. The timing of your reconstruction should be up to you and your physician.

ConstanceCharles71.jpgBy Toby Weber

As a senior administrative assistant in Gynecologic Oncology at MD Anderson, Constance Charles knows what cancer patients are going through. After all, she was one not so long ago.

The breast cancer survivor underwent a lumpectomy, right radical mastectomy and full breast reconstruction 10 years ago.

"I know things may look grim, like there's no hope and that you may be at the end of your rope. But keep the faith," she tells cancer patients. "You can really make it ... Look at me. Here I am."

Here's Constance advice for people just starting their cancer journeys:

estelle59.jpgBy Estelle Racusin

As a breast cancer survivor, I see Mother's Day as a time of reflection and thankfulness.

When I married my husband, I told him I would love to have four children. Always the cautious one, my husband said, "Let's be happy if we're able to have two." He was 50 years old and I was 34, and he was right. We didn't know what life had in store for us. Today, I'm a mom to our 16-year-old son, Ben. Life didn't turn out the way I planned, but I couldn't be more grateful for the family I have now.

My breast cancer diagnosis and treatment
The summer before Ben's fourth birthday I began feeling lethargic, but I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong. 

One fall morning I woke up and my left breast was painful and I felt a lump. On October 11, 2001, MD Anderson called and confirmed what we already suspected: a breast cancer diagnosis. I still have the piece of paper from that day where I had written "invasive lobular carcinoma."

The next few months were a whirlwind, moments I catch myself reflecting back on when I have a bad day. A few weeks after my breast cancer diagnosis, we discovered our new home was filled with mold, and we had to move into a hotel. Our lives were totally uprooted. We were being tested. I prayed daily to please let me live so that my son would grow up knowing who I was, how much I loved him and how much I fought for him.

My breast cancer treatment included nine rounds of chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy and 30 radiation treatments, after which I proudly rang the bell at MD Anderson.

erika51.jpgBy Erika Archer Lewis

It's difficult to condense the emotional and physical tolls that a mastectomy brings. It's life-changing, but so worth it.

After I discovered that I carried a mutation for the BRCA1 gene, increasing my risks for both breast cancer and ovarian cancer, I decided to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy. Most everyone I talked to before the surgery told me to give myself six weeks to heal. At five weeks, I thought they were all crazy, but you do turn a corner.

The healing process varied day to day. It's truly miraculous how much healing your body does. Mine surprised me. I won't claim to be back to 100% after my mastectomy, and some things will never be the same. But I'm embracing my new normal.

Here are five tips I learned from my mastectomy experience.

1. Prepare for your mastectomy recovery
Pre-arranging school drop-off, scheduling house-cleaning help, and even little things, like ordering school Valentine's Day cards a month early gave me time to heal.

erikalewis325.jpgBy Erika Archer Lewis

Twenty years ago, while a college senior, I spent weekends commuting from Austin to Houston to care for my 42-year-old mother. She was battling an aggressive form of stage 4 breast cancer and was told her odds for survival were less than 20%. After witnessing first-hand her intense, four-year battle that included chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow extraction, a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, I wondered for years if and when breast cancer might strike me.

A family history of breast cancer
When my young, healthy, active mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, there was no pattern of women with breast cancer in her family history. But shortly after she was diagnosed, her cousin was diagnosed with the same cancer, even in the same breast. Since that time, there have been four other women on my maternal grandmother's side of the family who have struggled with or lost their lives to breast cancer.

In late 2013, after a series of suspicious mammograms, ultrasounds, an MRI, and three biopsies, I wondered if I was doomed by the pattern within my family that had reared its ugly head decades before. With recent advances in technology and medicine, I learned there was a simple blood test for identifying genetic mutations for breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA 1 and 2. I felt an overwhelming need to know if I had what felt like a ticking time bomb inside my chest.

Erika Vandiver for blog.jpgBy Erika Vandiver

I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second child when my doctor told me, "You have breast cancer." I was only 28 years old -- 20 years younger than my mother when she received her breast cancer diagnosis.

The local medical team that performed my biopsy and lumpectomy had limited treatment options. My choices were bleak: terminate my pregnancy so I could try to live myself, or risk dying from cancer by allowing my child to live.

Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment while pregnant
Although this was my second child, it was my sixth pregnancy.  Four previous pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. I was determined to find an alternative for my breast cancer treatment.

When should women get mammograms?

By Katrina Burton

MD Anderson is standing by a recommendation that women 40 years old and older receive annual mammograms, despite a recent study that raised controversy regarding breast cancer screening.

"We are not recommending that women change their screening practices," says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. "We stand by our guidelines that recommend women have annual mammograms beginning at age 40 and continue to be screened as long as they are in good health."

But a study by the Canadian National Breast Screening says annual mammography in women ages 40-59 does not reduce mortality from breast cancer and mammography screening should be revisited.

The results of the study, published in the BMJ Journal on Feb. 11, are in direct contrast to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation that  women should begin annual mammograms starting at age 50, and of guidelines by MD Anderson, the American Cancer Society and others that call for annual breast cancer screening to begin at age 40.


For Terry Arnold, the decision to undergo genetic testing was simple. A triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer survivor, she wanted her children to have the warning she never had.

"By having this testing I'm protecting my family," Terry says. "Now, we have the smoke alarm."

Terry is a mother of five -- three girls and two boys -- ranging in ages from 19 to 31, and a grandmother of five. Genetic testing for the BRCA gene could let those future generations know if they are at risk for breast and ovarian cancers. 

She received the results in November 2013.

"Mutated gene 5385insc-BRCA 1," the report said. That meant her children could have the gene as well.

Facing new questions after genetic testing
Terry's daughters plan to undergo genetic testing soon. Her sons are considering testing to see if they carry the gene. 

At 24-years-old, Terry's daughter Veronica says her mom's results have inspired her to schedule mammograms and cancer screenings.

BrandieSellers 10.1.13.jpg

By Brandie Sellers 

All cancer sucks. However, I must admit (not-so-secretly) that I envy people who complete cancer treatment. In my case, breast cancer treatment has been constant since my diagnosis and recurrence in 2011. I often return to MD Anderson for CT scans, bone scans, chest ultrasounds and other tests that come along with having a later stage breast cancer diagnosis. The scans are never completely clear, and there's always something to watch. Living without absolutes really messes with my head.  

Living from cancer treatment follow-up exam to follow-up exam 

I'm always hesitant to make plans for more than six months ahead of time. That's how often I have my follow-up scans. With so much uncertainty, it's easy for me to get into the pattern of living my life in short bursts. I wonder, "Why plan something for next year?  What if I'm in cancer treatment again?"


Danielle Harmon thought she was too young for cancer, but at age 31, she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer following a routine well-woman exam.

The mother of a 1-year-old boy, Sam, was shocked.

"I just cried and cried. I thought, 'I'm going to die ... I'm not going to see Sam grow up.'"

Danielle was concerned that her husband Jason would have to raise their son alone.

A Houston area resident, Danielle says her family felt blessed to live close to the best place for cancer treatment. Making an appointment at MD Anderson, she says, was a no-brainer.

"Immediately when you arrive at MD Anderson you get the feeling that these people are serious ... they know what they're doing. They make you feel like you have a fighting chance to survive the disease," she reflects.

Danielle's breast cancer treatment included a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, as well as six rounds of chemotherapy. "It wasn't an easy experience, but we got through it. I got a clean bill of health, and we were continuing on with our lives," she says.

An unexpected blessing from breast cancer
More devastating than the disease, though, was that that Danielle would not be able to have more children due to the need for long-term chemotherapy.


At 37 years old, a stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis is tough to swallow. If you're a working mother of twin boys, one of them with special needs, a triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis can be even more daunting.

So, for Bree Sandlin, coming to MD Anderson for her triple-negative breast cancer treatment was the only choice there ever was.

Bree's triple-negative breast cancer treatment

"When I first arrived at MD Anderson to meet with my oncologist, I had pages of notes and questions," Bree recalls. "My doctor took the time to go through each one and laid out the plan for me. She did an amazing job leaving me with a feeling of hope, optimism and encouragement for the future."

Bree's plan consisted of six months of chemotherapy, followed by a bilateral mastectomy, and ended with six weeks of radiation therapy. When doctors removed the tumor during surgery, they found no trace of cancer.

A new outlook on life

Now 38, Bree calls herself a survivor, having been in remission with no sign of triple-negative breast cancer since April 2013.


The holidays can be difficult when you or a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment. But while your usual traditions may be interrupted, the holiday spirit can still be found.

We asked several survivors how they coped with cancer during the holidays and what advice they had for patients undergoing treatment during the holidays.

Here's what they had to say.

 Focus on what makes you happiest about the holidays
"Life has changed, and every holiday provides me with a deeper appreciation for being given another year. Cancer hasn't changed the way I celebrate holidays, but it makes being around family and friends much more special.

Find what makes you the happiest about the holidays and nourish it, feed it, water it. And then watch it grow, empower and inspire." 
Justin Ozuna, chronic myeloid leukemia survivor

Sonia Byrd Throughout the year, our cancer patients and cancer survivors shared insight, advice and stories from their cancer journeys, giving us inspiration and hope.

Here are some of our best stories from patients and survivors in 2013.

Getting married after cancer: Guilt is part of the diagnosis
Before proposing to his girlfriend, Justin Ozuna couldn't stop thinking about how the proposal would align with his cancer diagnosis and his uncertain future. Find out how the couple accepted their new reality.

Bodybuilding: How a breast cancer survivor regained confidence
After a breast cancer diagnosis, double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, Sonia Byrd decided to retake control of her body and life. So, she signed up for a bodybuilding fitness contest. Read her story.

BrandieSellersandkids.jpgBy Brandie Sellers

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011. Several holidays came and went while I was in treatment. Each holiday I woke up and thought, "I'm still here. No matter what happens today, I still get to be here." 

I felt pretty rotten for some of the holidays -- the Fourth of July, in particular. But during each and every one of them, my eyes opened and I got to see my children.

Surviving breast cancer changed how my family and I celebrate the holidays, but we know it's for the better.

Holidays are different after breast cancer treatment

Holidays are different for us now. We don't have as much money as we had when I was diagnosed with cancer. Our house is simple, our meals are simple, and my expectations of the holidays are few, as are my children's expectations.

We have trouble with Christmas lists around here. Gifts given out of love are always welcome, but nobody here is making a long list of wants. All we want is to be together and giggle. And maybe to have some time to read some books and dance around the kitchen. Oh, and my kids do always want snow on Christmas, which, although not common in Dallas, actually happened last year.

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