Results tagged “Cancerwise Feature Story”

patientanddoctor.JPGAndrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and has had auto (November 2009) and allo (August 2011) stem cell transplants. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at, is working on a book on his journey, and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

Part of the challenge of having cancer is learning how to work with your medical team: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, occupational and physiotherapists and social workers.

This is a continuation of the list I came up with of shared responsibilities between patients and their medical team.

4. Be informed and prepared: We surrender much of our life and control to our medical team. One of the few areas that we exercise control over is how informed and prepared we can be for our discussions with them.

Patients spend too much time on the web trying to become instant experts on their particular cancers and treatment options. We need to recognize our limitations, ask the medical team for sites they recommend (for more tips on this see here), read the material they give us, and focus on knowing enough to be able to ask good questions and better understand the information from your team. Generally, the team as a whole will provide the breadth of information required.

Working with your medical team

workingwithyourmedicalteam.JPGBy Andrew Griffith

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and has had auto (November 2009) and allo (August 2011) stem cell transplants. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at, is working on a book on his journey, and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

Part of the challenge of having cancer is learning how to work with your medical team: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, occupational and physiotherapists, and social workers.

A number of people and organizations have provided advice on how best to work with your doctor. One of the better ones is by Massachusetts Health Quality Partners and Consumer Reports (here), and a number of others worth noting include Pauline Chen's Afraid to Speak Up at the Doctor's Office, Tamara McClintock Greenberg's The New Rules of Modern Medicine, Mary Elizabeth Williams Listen up, Doctors: Here's how to talk to your patients,  Marie Meservy's How to Win Friends and Influence Doctors, and Martine Ehrenclou's Tips to Maximize the Relationship with your Doctor.

While there are common threads to all of these (courtesy, respect, preparation, honesty, teamwork), most advice has been written from the perspective of either the patient or the doctor, rather than from a shared perspective. With this in mind, I came up with the following list of shared responsibilities:

yogawomanpost.JPGRegular physical activity is known to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and other serious diseases. Often overlooked, though, is the potential for exercise to boost one's sex life.

In men, regular physical activity offers protection against erectile dysfunction and may even be helpful in reversing it. A 1990 randomized trial found that men who participated in a vigorous exercise program had more frequent sex, improved erectile function and more satisfying orgasms than men in the control group, whose activity levels changed very little.

More recent clinical trials showed that similar benefits may extend not only to healthy men, but also to men with obesity and chronic heart failure. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004, researchers found that nearly one-third of obese men who already had erectile dysfunction were able to substantially improve their sexual function through a program of diet and exercise.

Although comparable trials have not been carried out in women, surveys of premenopausal and postmenopausal women have found links between physical activity and better sexual function.

Increased blood flow

Laboratory studies also show that exercise just before sexual stimulation can improve blood flow to the genitals, which may enhance sexual arousal and orgasm.

120813Drchangandpool.JPGBy Claudia Gertz, MD Anderson Staff Writer

When Barbara Pool was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer, she came to MD Anderson expecting to undergo seven weeks of radiation treatment. She and her daughter were pleasantly surprised, however, when the process only took four days.

This speedy treatment program called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) delivers very high doses of radiation to small and well-defined tumors.

Pool is one of six lung cancer patients per day who go through stereotactic body radiation therapy and she is the 1000th patient to receive this type of radiation at MD Anderson.

Pool was diagnosed in May in her hometown of Odessa, Texas, and considered staying close to home for treatment. However, physicians referred her to MD Anderson, so she and her daughter, Debbie Staggs, followed their advice and traveled to Houston.

Upon examination, Pool was not found to be a good candidate for surgery due to several pre-existing health issues including emphysema, diabetes and a recent stroke. However, she was an excellent candidate for stereotactic body radiation treatment, due to the small size of the tumor in the upper portion of her right lung.

Chesley.JPGBy Chesley Cheatham

Just when you think you know something, life will teach you that you don't.

I thought I had a pretty good understanding of patients' experiences, having worked in patient education. However, when my aunt was diagnosed with a rare type of sarcoma in March 2011 and became a patient here, well ... that's when I really learned a thing or two.

Listening in

Being at MD Anderson is like visiting a busy airport because you meet people from all over the world. Some people keep to themselves or rest, while others are eager to help, share their stories or hear yours.

Conversations are natural and friendly.

120726Shelby.jpgShelby Robin speaks to her "12-year-old self"

Shelby Robin was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma at age 12. An athletic child, she continued to participate in sports and cheerleading, even after the cancer necessitated the amputation of her left foot.

Now a clinical nurse in the Children's Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson, Shelby is a featured speaker at the 24th annual Anderson Network Cancer Survivorship Conference Sept. 14-15 at the Omni Westside, 13210 Katy Freeway.

In this video, she gives advice to her 12-year-old self.

She also explains how her childhood experience with cancer led her to choose a career helping other children facing life-threatening illnesses.

"As a nurse, I hope to show these kids that when I say, 'I understand,' I truly do understand. I hope that for them I can be a sort of 'light at the end of the tunnel,'" she says.

Shelby's inspirational story will wrap up the conference, which is open to all those who want to learn more about the issues cancer survivors face, meet and share with other survivors, take wellness classes and have fun.

120719sprint for life finish line.JPGBy Marcy Kurtz

Most importantly, I'm a daughter, sister, aunt and dependable friend to many. I practice law as a vocation and yoga as an avocation. I'm deeply committed to helping people, as a lawyer and as a yoga instructor. I'm a two-time cancer survivor, beating breast cancer diagnosed in October 2005 and uterine cancer diagnosed in August 2010. I'm just another ordinary person living an ordinary life, one day at a time.

We all know that fairy tale -- the one where the girl kisses the frog and he turns into a handsome prince and they ride off together happily into the sunset to live forever.

In fact, right now you may be recalling a happy childhood memory where you sat around with your girlfriends giggling about this very thing. I was no different. 

While I wasn't looking forward to kissing a frog, I knew that when I got older I would meet someone I least suspected to sweep me off my feet, who would in fact be my "prince!" 

Well, I wasn't a little girl when I met my prince. I was fully grown and so was he.
He was, I believed, perfect for me. He was age appropriate, smart, tall, trim, fit, athletic and totally charming with mesmerizing blue eyes and a beautiful, picture-perfect, white toothed smile. 

We fell madly in love. Well, I did. I think he did also, at least for a while.

brainandspineChristy.JPGIn 2007, brain cancer survivor Christine Butterfield added two new words to her vocabulary. Words she wishes she didn't know so much about.

"Anaplastic astrocytoma of the right frontal lobe. That was my diagnosis when I came to MD Anderson," she says. "Big words I never wanted to learn - even how to spell!"

Snowed in
In 2007, Christine and her extended family - including her husband and 18-month-old daughter -- were having a great time in Breckenridge, Colo., about 80 miles from Denver. Then, she started to have severe headaches and nausea. The local hospital didn't have imaging equipment, so they took her by ambulance to the closest larger town for a CT scan.

"The doctor came into my room and said, 'There is a large mass on your right frontal lobe. We don't know what it is, so we have to get you to Denver,'" she remembers. "The problem was the chopper was grounded, and the highway was closed because of the weather."

To make matters worse, it was New Year's Eve. Finally, the doctor found a neurosurgeon in Denver who would see Christine, and they tracked down an ambulance willing to make the drive.

"The doctor in Denver said it really looked like cancer, but that I needed a biopsy to find out for sure," Christine says. "He recommended that I find a place where I had support. My family lives in Houston, and MD Anderson was the first hospital I thought of."

120716Spinetumorpatient_chris.JPGBy Christina Collier

April 16, 2010, is a day forever etched into my brain.

I went to see a neurologist, regarding numbness in my foot and lack of strength in my leg. He ordered an MRI.

I was barely back to work when his nurse called and asked if I could return to the neurology office. I naturally assumed nothing was wrong. However, when he entered the room, I knew by the look on his face that the news was not good.

I can only describe what happened next as "an out of body experience" - it was like watching a movie in which I was the lead character.

The neurologist said that I had a tumor on my spinal cord that needed to be removed as soon as possible. I tried to gather myself, but only managed to yelp, "A WHAT in my WHERE?" 

There was a possibility my tumor could be cancerous, and it was located in a dangerous, complex area. For these reasons, Cliff, my wonderful husband and soon-to-be caregiver, and I decided to go to the best place in the world for treating cancer. So on April 24, my birthday, we headed to MD Anderson for our first visit.

In 2004, after beating cancer twice, out of nowhere Reba Kennedy of Knoxville, Tenn., began experiencing constant, agonizing pain.

"We went several times to the doctor and they checked every way they knew how, but didn't see anything," she says. "But I knew that I was just in so much pain."

Finally, during a routine check-up with her oncologist they found the source -- a large mass wrapped around her ribs.

The diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer shocked Reba, a non-smoker, and her family.    

"My doctor told me that the tumor was inoperable and asked if I would like to go someplace else for a second opinion," Reba explains. "I asked him where he would go if it was someone in his family." His answer was MD Anderson.

cancerpatientsupport.jpgBy Andrew Griffith

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and had an auto (November 2009) and an allo (August 2011) stem cell transplant. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at, is working on a book on his journey, and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

Part II of yesterday's post: Supporting someone with cancer

We are individuals and react differently to what people say or don't say, do or don't do. The experience of cancer makes us more sensitive, and we need to look behind some of the clichés that family and friends may use to deal with their own discomfort.

We need to think back to when someone close to us had a difficult experience and how well we handled it -- or not -- and provided support.

One of my most intense times was with a colleague in the final stages of cancer. We both knew we didn't have much time and went right into the existential. With other friends, there is more a gradual scale, although with my closest friends we do touch these topics.

Recognize the awkwardness
It's awkward having cancer and telling people. It's awkward for family and friends who don't know what to say. Accept this and get over it. Serious illness is part of life that, sooner or later, hits everyone.

supportingsomeonewithcancer.jpgBy Andrew Griffith

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and had an auto (November 2009) and an allo (August 2011) stem cell transplant. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at, is working on a book on his journey, and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

There has been a great deal written on what to say and what not to say to someone with cancer. Some of my favorite pieces are by:

Reflecting on these pieces and my own experience, much of this is common to any difficult circumstance, not just cancer.

Most writings focus on giving advice to family and friends, with less emphasis on the person living with cancer. Like any aspect of a relationship, the patient and other have a joint responsibility to make it through together, for close and even not-so-close family and friend relationships.

I have come up with the following joint suggestions.

Be there

For patients, figure out what works best for you: email, phone or visits. Find a way, through family, friends, blogs (my approach) or other social media, to let people know that you would welcome contact.

MeganNEDsurvivorsweek.jpgBy Megan Silianoff

Megan Silianoff is a 30-year- old writer/blogger living in Houston. When she was 28, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and most recently has undergone an excisional biopsy of her breast. After four surgeries in two years, she is in complete remission. For more about Megan, check out her blog Greetings from Texas.

This post is part of our Survivorship Week series, June 2-9.

At the conclusion of my most recent CT scan, my doctor sat across from me and happily told me I had "no evidence of disease." It was news that millions of cancer patients dream of hearing. Yet for some reason, I didn't feel the overwhelming satisfaction you'd imagine.  

I was happy, sure. But I didn't pop any champagne nor did I high-five anyone on my way out of the hospital. (Though I did buy myself a Snickers bar and tip the valet guy an extra dollar.)

I love that phrase, though, "no evidence of disease," and have given it a lot of thought since my doctor used it. I've decided it's just not true.

120524graduate.jpgBy Andrew Griffith

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and had an auto (November 2009) and an allo (August 2011) stem cell transplant. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at, is working on a book on his journey, and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

Part II of yesterday's post: What we call ourselves -- finding the right term for cancer

The new beginning
We stop looking back. We get on with our life post-recovery. We come to terms with what's the same and what's changed. We define our "new normal." We keep in the back of our minds that time is precious, may be limited and that our cancer could come back.

We use a number of terms to describe ourselves, reflecting in part who we are as much as what we've gone through.

Intern, student and graduate: As our treatment progresses, so does our transition. We progress from being interns (diagnosis), to students (treatment) to graduate (recovery and post-recovery). We've learned how to be a patient and studied far too much information on our cancer and treatment. At the end, we have a mix of theoretical and "living through it" knowledge that allows us to graduate.

This transition also takes place on an emotional level. As an intern, we may be angry and frustrated. As a graduate, we have largely come to terms with what our cancer means for the future.

warrior.jpgBy Andrew Griffith

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and had an auto (November 2009) and an allo (August 2011) stem cell transplant. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at, is working on a book on his journey and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

During the past few years, I've reflected on the terms people use to describe their life with cancer. Initially, I tried to write a glossary of the terms: hero, warrior, fighter, veteran, graduate, survivor, victim or living with cancer.

In trying this out with a few friends, one having gone through a comparable experience, one not, it didn't work.

People adopt different terms at different stages; a journey approach captures this better than an analytical approach.

Rather than the Kubler-Ross five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), written for the terminally ill, I find the William Bridges framework in "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes" more helpful.

Bridges talks about three phases: ending (or losing and letting go), the neutral zone (in between, or ambiguous phase) and the new beginning (acceptance and embracing).

Circumstances change quickly, transitions take time. This provides a convenient frame for cancer: from "normal" to a new "normal," which we can accept, if not embrace.

Ending, losing and letting go

Our life falls apart when we are diagnosed with cancer. Our normal view is shattered, our expectations crushed and we have an overwhelming sense of loss. Cancer isn't a pink ribbon; a slogan like "cancer sucks" captures our mood. We tend to be inward focused, coming to terms with our thoughts and feelings.

After a series of contentious debates about the value of the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA test as it's widely known, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued its final recommendation.  The latest ruling recommends against the test for all men who do not exhibit symptoms of prostate cancer.

The test measures a protein in the blood, which is produced by the prostate gland, and when combined with other factors like age, race and family history, can help guide physicians in determining whether there is reason for a biopsy to screen for evidence of disease.

For years, the test has been credited for saving the lives of men who were otherwise healthy and exhibited no signs of cancer, yet it's also led to unnecessary and harmful treatments in others. This is the crux responsible for stirring passionate discourse among physicians, regulators, patients and families.

Therese Bevers, M.D., professor in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention, said the new guidelines are likely to cause confusion and stress MD Anderson believes each patient should have an individualized conversation with their physician.

"We're very concerned with this recommendation against screening for all men because there are some small, but definite benefits associated with prostate cancer screening," Bevers said. "Men should have the option of having access to these benefits as long as they fully understand the harms associated with screening."

Learn more about prostate cancer and the PSA test.

3 Cancer-fighting drink recipes

By Adelina Espat and Laura Nathan-Garner

cancerfightingdrinks.jpgLooking for a treat to beat the heat? Try one of these cancer-fighting drink recipes.

Each provides plenty of fruity flavors with cancer-fighting vitamins and nutrients for just a fraction of the calories and sugar found in most beverages.

Citrus punch
This first recipe is a sweet way to quench your thirst on a hot summer day. The orange juice and cranberry juice in this recipe offer a healthy dose of cancer-fighting antioxidants like vitamin C. You'll get the most vitamin C if you use freshly- squeezed orange juice, but refrigerated or frozen concentrate also will do the body good.

Get our recipe for Citrus Punch.

Sparkling grape party punch

Want to offer a festive alternative to alcohol at your next gathering? Serve this punch recipe. The grapes and grape juice provide a powerful dose of resveratrol -- the same cancer-preventing antioxidant in red wine -- with none of alcohol's drawbacks. And the citrus juices in the recipe give you a generous amount of vitamin C.

Get our recipe for Sparkling Grape Party Punch.

returninghome.jpgBy Andrew Griffith

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and has had both an autologous (from his own cells)   and an allogeneic (from a donor)  stem cell transplant, in November 2009 and August 2011, respectively He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

Just as preparing for a lengthy hospital stay requires planning, so does returning to home after the hospital. While your condition and strength will shape the best approach for you, my experience following my stem cell transplants may be helpful should you find yourself in this situation.

Before you leave get the information you need: Most hospitals are pretty good in providing written information sheets on follow-up care, related instructions, and warning signs when and who to call. Read them and have your caregiver read and understand them. If they are unclear, ask members of your medical team (nurses are generally the best on practical questions).

Post them in an easy, visible place so they are quickly accessible when a complication requires you to call.

Recognise your weakness:
The nature of the treatment, and the likely limited opportunities for exercise in the hospital, will mean that you may feel weak upon your return. In my case, this was particularly acute after being in isolation after a c. difficile infection (a bacteria that causes severe intestinal problems), even going up and down stairs was a challenge.

By Lindsey Garner, MD Anderson Staff Writer

rosemary.jpgParsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. To many, these spices are common recipe ingredients or lyrics from a popular 1960s Simon and Garfunkel song.

But research shows that these spices are much more than what they seem. They have the potential to prevent and treat cancer.

Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D.
, professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at MD Anderson, led a 2009 research study on the use of spices in cancer prevention and treatment. The study covers 41 common dietary spices, including one that shows promise in treating skin cancer -- rosemary.

Combating a common cancer
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed annually.

A 2006 study at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur, India, tested rosmarinic acid (RosA), a phenolic compound in rosemary, on mice with stage II skin cancer. RosA was shown to suppress tumorigenesis, the formation of new tumors.

In addition, Aggarwal's study showed that rosemary, along with the other 40 spices studied, suppressed and blocked pro-inflammatory pathways in cancer cells. Inflammation is linked to common symptoms in cancer patients, such as depression, fatigue, neuropathic pain, metastases and tumor growth.

By Lucy Richardson, MD Anderson staff writer

hand-massage2.jpgLymphedema is the accumulation of fluid in the body tissue. It occurs because the body is either producing too much fluid, or the lymphatic system is incapable of fully removing the fluid that is normally produced.

Cancer patients can develop lymphedema either from the cancer itself or as a side effect of the treatment.

It occurs commonly in women who have had breast cancer surgery with removal of lymph nodes, followed by radiation therapy. However, it is not uncommon for patients treated for prostate cancer, uterine cancer, bladder cancer, and even head and neck cancers to develop lymphedema.

Lymphedema can appear weeks, months or even years after the initial surgery. It may also occur following injury or infection. In each case, normal drainage of the lymphatic fluid is interrupted.

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