By 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.
Results tagged “Ovarian cancer”
By Natalie Arneson
By Sarah Watson
Diana Chow calls herself a woman with options even though she has stage 4 high-grade serous ovarian cancer. She gives credit for this positive outlook to her MD Anderson care team, led by Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., associate professor in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.
"Thank God for MD Anderson," Diana says. "Otherwise, I'm certain that right now I wouldn't be here."
An unexpected ovarian cancer diagnosis
Diana's cancer journey began on Dec. 16, 2010. She'd been helping her sister move furniture when she pulled an abdominal muscle. That led to a trip to the emergency room and a CAT scan that resulted in a much more serious diagnosis: ovarian cancer.
Ironically, Diana received her ovarian cancer diagnosis a year to the day after she'd lost her husband to complications from diabetes.
By Brittany Hurst
When I told my friends about my ovarian cancer diagnosis, they had a lot of questions: What stage was my cancer? What was my ovarian cancer treatment plan? How often would I go to Houston? What was MD Anderson like?
I started a website to help keep everyone updated, but I knew none of my friends would be able to grasp how amazing MD Anderson is. I have never seen a hospital that big or experienced such a friendly and helpful staff. I told my friends that even though I was exhausted and didn't feel well, I still looked forward to my trips to Texas just because MD Anderson's staff made me so comfortable. They helped me cope with my fears about my upcoming surgery and chemotherapy.
After about five or six months of traveling for my ovarian cancer treatment, I decided to let one of my friends come along instead of my husband or parents. This was a chance to show off my hospital and let a friend gain a better understanding of what ovarian cancer treatment is like.
Traveling for ovarian cancer treatment with a friend
Before my next round of chemo, I invited my friend Melanie to travel with me.
With our flight and hotel booked, I warned her that Thursday would be a long day with blood work, appointments with doctors and then chemo. My body was becoming very sensitive to the Carboplatin, so treatments took anywhere from 7 to 12 hours.
By 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.
Just before she received her ovarian cancer diagnosis, Meredith Ippolito traveled to the shores of Normandy, France. She stood on Omaha Beach and thought of the brave soldiers who fought in WWII. When she later began her ovarian cancer treatment she thought of those soldiers again. If they could do that, she thought, surely she could make it through her treatment.
Meredith always remembered the John Wayne quote, "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway."An ovarian cancer diagnosis and treatment
Meredith inherited the BRCA1 gene mutation from her father.
"People think only women can have the gene," Meredith says. "We're the gender that manifests the trouble most, but women aren't the only gender that carries the gene."
That's when Meredith's cancer was discovered. The doctors performed a debulking surgery and removed 50 lymph nodes. Meredith received the news when she awoke from surgery: she had stage 3 ovarian cancer. She decided to seek treatment at MD Anderson.
By Brittany Hurst
2012 promised to be a great year for me. I was graduating from college in May and marrying the man of my dreams in the fall. But at the end of 2011, I started experiencing abdominal pain. It took nearly a year for doctors to figure the cause of my symptoms: ovarian cancer.
Life interrupted by ovarian cancer
Brandon proposed where we first met: on the beach. I was so surprised I forgot to say yes, leaving him kneeling in the sand until he finally said, "Are you going to say something."
On Sept. 15, 2012, we got married at a historic venue in downtown Dothan, Ala., my hometown. We spent the whole night dancing. It was the happiest day of my life.
But in the weeks that followed, the pain in my abdomen became worse. I had already had my gallbladder removed and made six trips to the emergency room earlier that year. No one could tell me what was wrong. Finally, during my seventh ER visit, just five weeks after our wedding, I was diagnosed after an exploratory surgery.
It was a lot to take in, hearing, "You have cancer." We asked the doctors where they send their family members for ovarian cancer treatment if it were them. They told us to go to MD Anderson.
Alma Faz's goal has always been to run. After losing her leg during simultaneous bone cancer and ovarian cancer treatments, Alma tried participating in other sports while wearing prosthesis: cardio kickboxing, skiing, weightlifting, spinning and cycling. But through it all, she wanted to return to running. It was one of the things she missed most.
On Jan. 19, more than 15 years after her amputation, Alma not only reached her goal, but surpassed it as she crossed the finish line of the Chevron Houston Marathon.
"It was the culmination of more than three years of training, with many trials and tribulations along the way," Alma says. "It's the realization of a dream that I sometimes felt, in my early running efforts, would never become a reality."Finding a career through cancer treatment
Betty White helped doctors catch her ovarian cancer in its earliest stages by being her own best advocate.
She first went to her gynecologist after she'd been experiencing continual fatigue and lower abdominal pain in 1997. But the first tests the doctor ran didn't raise any red flags.
When Betty's symptoms were still bothering her three months later, she underwent a laparoscopy and then a complete hysterectomy. At that point, the lab results showed high-grade serous and clear cell ovarian cancer -- "a rather surprise diagnosis," Betty recalls.
"You know your body better than anyone else, so you need to pay attention to what it's telling you so that you can talk to your doctor," she advises others. "No one realized it was going to be cancer, not even my gynecologist."
Receiving ovarian cancer treatment at MD Anderson
Once her ovarian cancer diagnosis was made, Betty's doctor referred her to MD Anderson, a place she'd grown to love while working here as a computer programmer until her daughter's birth in 1982.
"I already knew MD Anderson was a special place, but I'd never realized I'd need their services as well," she says.
For her ovarian cancer treatment, Betty underwent six courses of chemotherapy. She's been cancer-free ever since then and "continues to knock on wood every day."
by Michael Keating, M.D.
This ambitious and innovative program seeks to significantly reduce the mortality rates for several cancers -- including melanoma, triple-negative breast, high-grade serous ovarian, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), lung and prostate -- and ultimately find cures for these and other cancers.
Over the last year, the Moon Shots Program provided a tremendous boost to cancer research. My colleagues at MD Anderson and I have spent the last 12 months collaborating to make significant advancements for our patients as well as those patients not yet diagnosed.
Meaningful progress made in the
The Moon Shots Program became a reality after MD Anderson's president Ronald DePinho, M.D., issued a formidable challenge to our doctors and researchers: to develop a comprehensive action plan to significantly increase survival rates of cancer patients in the near-term and accelerate cures in the long-term.
By Bre Tipps
I knew my body was trying to tell me something. The stomach problems, the bloating, the pain I felt when my children would accidently hit or my pets would jump on me. I never thought it would be cancer. I was 26 with a good life ahead of me. Or so I thought.
As a series of tests revealed, my journey back to health would be a long one.
When the symptoms first started showing, I tried treating them with different products from health stores. I saw different doctors, but they all dismissed me, saying it was not a big deal.
The symptoms just kept getting worse. The pain was so bad I couldn't stand it any longer. A trip to the emergency room and a CT scan revealed golf ball-sized fibroid tumors on my uterus. A second test by another doctor showed that the tumors were even larger -- softball-sized. But I was told the chance of cancer was only 1%.
My ovarian cancer
I went in for what was supposed to be a simple surgery. I awoke from surgery and saw my husband. He looked upset. I asked him how big the tumors were. He said he wasn't sure and told me to wait for the doctors.
By Allyson Hendrickson
On our fourth wedding anniversary, I gave my husband the happy news that we were going to be parents. Our son, Cole, was born in January 2002, followed by two more boys, Cade in 2004 and Austin in 2005. I began to refer to the boys as my "little cowboys," and the name stuck.
The days when they were babies went by in a blur. I was exhausted, my house was a wreck, everything I touched was dirty or sticky or grubby -- and I loved my life. Each of my little cowboys could melt my heart with just one word: "Mommy."
In June 2007, when my sons were 5, 3, and 1½ years old, some unusual pain landed me in the ER. Several tests were inconclusive, but they raised enough suspicion that my ob/gyn thought it a good idea to do an exploratory surgery to check for ovarian cancer.
The morning after the operation, the doctor said six words that changed my life: "I have bad news. It's cancer."
By Megan Silianoff
As a blogger and cancer survivor, I'm knowledgeable about various topics. My favorite television shows, for example, are an area of my expertise. I'm also very good at shopping and can navigate my favorite mall with poise and purpose.
And, when I got my latest mammogram earlier this month, I was reminded that I'm also an expert at getting this important screening exam.
So, first, I'll tell you this: While mammograms can be life-saving, they aren't fun. But learning about them "David Letterman" style could be. (Which is telling of my expertise in watching talk shows.)
10. Plan to wait in a separate waiting room.
I've had mammograms in a number of different hospitals, and they all have separate waiting rooms for people getting mammograms.
Immediately upon checking in for your appointment, they'll call you back, and you'll think, "I'm going to be in and out of here," but that's not necessarily the case. You're actually just getting called to sit in a different waiting room. This is important to know if someone plans to go with you because you won't see them throughout the entire process.
By Darlene Gonzalez
In July 2008, I received a life-changing phone call from my best friend, my mother.
She had been diagnosed with an advanced stage of ovarian cancer. Doctors said she had no hope of recovery.
My mother was a strong, resilient woman, and she wasn't ready to give up. She decided to visit MD Anderson for a second opinion.
In early August, Pedro T. Ramirez, M.D., and a team of specialists from MD Anderson met with my mother. By the next day, they had laid out a course of action and, to our great surprise, surgery was possible.
The procedure was scheduled right away. What eventually followed were two major surgeries, 45 days in the ICU and numerous moments when we thought the fight was lost.
As an only child, seeing my mother battle for her life was one of the most difficult experiences I've ever faced.
Make a plan, know your rights to get through cancer treatment without losing your job
In the rush of emotions following a cancer diagnosis, a nagging worry may surface: How will I manage to do my job -- keep my job -- while in treatment?
It's only natural. You're overwhelmed with choices and decisions, and fulfilling your job responsibilities during this time may seem too much to handle.
But the decisions you make in the first days and weeks after diagnosis are important, so let's consider your options.
What are the first steps for those who must work during treatment?
Depending on how long it takes to get a treatment plan in place, you have a bit of time to decide what and how much to tell your employer about your health.
'How much do I tell?'
When a recurrence of ovarian cancer necessitated immediate surgery followed by months of chemotherapy, Debbie Netterville, a bus monitor in a school district in a Houston suburb, decided to level with her boss.
By Ina Bond
My daughter, Sara Brown Musselman, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in December 1992 at the age of 23. I want to share how vitally important it is to be an advocate for your loved one's health. MD Anderson enabled me to do that and, in my opinion, they added 15 years to her life.
When Sara was diagnosed, surgery was done in Louisville, Ky., to remove the tumor and we were told that her cancer was stage III.
Her local doctor gave me little hope for her survival beyond two to three years.
I asked if we should get a second opinion. Her doctor agreed and recommended Dr. J. Taylor Wharton at MD Anderson, who was head of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology then.
At that time, when a patient got a second opinion, the results were sent to the referring doctor -- not the patient. Therefore, we weren't aware there was a disagreement between the two pathologists, and the oncologists, as to the diagnosis.
Because we were unaware of the difference of opinion, Sara had a second-look surgery and 10 rounds of chemotherapy when she should've had six. She had surgeries she did not need, which affected other areas of her body.
Mind Over Hot Flashes: Part 1
By Leslie Schover, Ph.D., and Andrea Bradford, Ph.D.
Menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness, affect many women who receive chemotherapy, radiation to the pelvis, or surgical removal of the ovaries. These symptoms also affect women who were already postmenopausal at the time of their diagnosis, since survivors of several types of cancer (e.g., breast cancer, endometrial and ovarian cancers) are often advised to stop taking hormone replacement therapies containing estrogen.
Hot flashes are the most common symptom prompting women to seek treatment. Although estrogen replacement is the most effective solution, many women don't want to take hormone replacement. Also, estrogen is usually not recommended for survivors of hormone-sensitive tumors. Fortunately, several non-hormonal medications may help, including antidepressants like venlafaxine [Effexor], and the blood pressure-lowering drugs like clonidine, and gabapentin, whichare commonly used to treat neuropathic pain. Although they aren't as effective as estrogen, these drugs offer relief too many women.
Mind over menopause
Two new studies suggest that a form of psychological treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) also can improve menopausal symptoms and quality of life in breast cancer survivors.
By June Stokes
June Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. June has been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will offer comfort and peace to those who are beginning their journey with (or after) a diagnosis of cancer.
In June 2001, 14 months after my ovarian diagnosis, my daughter, Lisa, told me that she found a lump in her right breast. She called the same day and got an appointment with Dr. David McCoy, an oncology surgeon.
Dr. McCoy did a needle biopsy. The following day, I anxiously awaited Lisa's pathology report. She called around mid-morning and said it was benign. Dr. McCoy would do a lumpectomy the following week.
The lumpectomy was performed and the report would be back the following day.
As I drove into my driveway the next evening, I noticed that Lisa's car was parked in front of my home. I walked in and asked, "How bad is it?"
She started crying and I grabbed the paper and started reading the pathology report, which stated, "duct carcinoma" and "differentiated carcinoma." Unable to control my emotions I ran through the house, room to room, crying hysterically while clutching the report.
June Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer
in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. Then, she
visited MD Anderson doctor Andrezj Kudelk for a second opinion. June has
been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will offer
comfort and peace to those who are beginning their journey with (or
after) a diagnosis of cancer.
This is a reflection on a touching experience during one of the hardest times in my life. Every spring, within 2-3 days of hanging a fern on the patio outside my bedroom, birds have built nests. One year the nest was built by a dove, and I believe it was sent by God to comfort and strengthen me during some very difficult days.
From the day I had felt this large, palpable mass on March 23, 2000, I was calm and unafraid. I wanted to have surgery, see what options were available and begin a treatment plan.
A devastating prognosis
I had surgery on April 5, 2000. The tumor mass was the size of a soccer ball. It had twisted and turned around all the organs in my pelvis, including the colon, and had moved my bladder to my right side.
Pathology findings were stage IV cancer in both ovaries and the fallopian tubes, and it had spread to the omentum and spleen. The prognosis was devastating to my family. We were told I had one year to live; two years at the most.
My first chemotherapy treatment was on May 3, 2000. On the morning of Tuesday, May 15, 2000, while taking a shower, I noticed excessive hair in my hands. I was not expecting this so soon, as I had understood it would be after the second cycle of chemo that I would lose my hair.
In two days, I was completely bald except for a few strands sparsely on the back of my head. This was overwhelming!
I was not mentally prepared to cope with the person I saw staring back at me in the mirror. This person seemed to be very old, very sick and very ugly. This was terribly depressing and I simply could not believe it happened so fast.
Megan Silianoff was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer
just 13 months ago. She says three abdominal surgeries and one
prescription for a pain reliever were instrumental to her current status
of remission. Cancer has provided Megan with wisdom beyond her 29
years. She says her most profound take-aways are that life is short and
painkillers are fantastic. Megan uses her blog, Greetings from Texas, to share about her cancer drama, in addition to other musings she finds comical.
I had a checkup last week at MD Anderson. It started as they always do, getting a bracelet placed around my wrist. This bracelet has your medical number, date of birth and picture.
In my case, it's a terrible picture.
You'd think that being in a cancer hospital, surrounded by people who are truly sick, I'd check my shallowness at the door and not be bothered by such frivolity. Thinking that, of course, is wrong.
I decided to ask the front desk lady to retake my picture.
Me: "Excuse me, miss? I really hate this picture. Can we retake it?"
Front desk lady: "What do you want? A glamour shot?"
Me: (Noting her sarcasm but choosing to ignore it) "Yes, please!"
By June Stokes
June Stokes was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. Then, she visited MD Anderson doctor Andrezj Kudelk for a second opinion. She says she'd "never met someone with such bedside manner."
June has been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will encourage others.
My twin sister, Joan, died at 38 from complications of breast cancer.
Seven months later, my husband was killed in an accident in our home. For the first time in my life, I had no partner.
I was barely 39 years old, and had three children, ages 10, 11 and 15.
Five months after my ovarian cancer diagnosis, my youngest daughter was in critical condition and on the transplant list for a liver.
On my third appointment with Dr. Kudelka, I showed him her picture and, "lost it," as people say.
Dr. Kudelka advised me to see his colleague, Dr. Michael Fisch, in the Supportive Care Center. When I asked if he was a psychiatrist, Dr. Kudelka replied, "no, he's an oncologist."
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