range327.jpgBy Ashleigh Range

In June 2014, I was awaiting the birth of my second son, David, while juggling a demanding job and raising an 18-month-old, Noah, with my husband, Brad. We had just moved into a home in the suburbs to accommodate our growing family. We were living a fairytale -- the American dream.

Our American dream became a nightmare when, at 34 weeks pregnant, I noticed changes in one of my breasts. After a few doctors told me that my symptoms were typical for a woman during pregnancy, I went online. MD Anderson's website indicated that my symptoms aligned with those associated with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). An ultrasound and biopsy confirmed my worst fears. I did indeed have IBC. To make matters worse, my breast cancer was triple-negative, making it more challenging to treat.

Due to limited knowledge and treatment options for my disease, as well as the aggressive nature of triple-negative IBC, my prognosis is poor. However, I still have hope. In December 2014, after six months of chemotherapy, I learned my cancer had progressed, not shrunk.

bethematch326.jpgBy Gillian Kruse

After starting chemotherapy, it became clear that my acute myeloid leukemia (AML) was going to be tough to beat. The chemo would kill it, but it could come back. To lower the chances of this, my doctors suggested I consider a bone marrow transplant.

I made an appointment to learn about the bone marrow transplant process. Afterwards, my care team and I decided that getting a bone marrow donation was the best option for me. 

The next step was to find a bone marrow donor. 

Finding my bone marrow donor

Both of my younger brothers got tested to see if he could be my bone marrow donor. The best "match" for a donor is one whose cells have the same protein markers as those of the patient.

The more markers that match, the less likely you are to have problems with your body rejecting the transplant after the procedure. Because your protein markers are hereditary, it's more likely that a patient's siblings will have similar markings.

In the end, my middle brother Jeff was my perfect match, so we scheduled his bone marrow donation. Once my AML went into remission, I would undergo the transplant.

BillLambert325.jpgBy Bill Lambert

After my my rectal cancer surgery, walking was a challenge. But thanks to my care team, my supportive family and friends and lots of hard work over the past year, I plan to run across the finish line at the 2015 SCOPE Run at MD Anderson on Saturday, March 28.
Well, run might be a stretch. But just the fact that I can entertain running that distance is a testament to so many factors. I now feel I've come full circle.

My rectal cancer treatment

I once read that getting a cancer diagnosis for a second time is like surviving a plane crash only to be involved later in a train wreck. That sums up how I felt. My recurrence came during my five-year annual CT scan, and I had had no reason to believe anything was wrong.  

The second diagnosis was devastating, but I began treatment: a long, complicated surgery and chemotherapy.

hurst324.jpgBy Brittany Hurst

I think most young people picture their lives as college, engagement, marriage and having a family. My husband and I were no different. We'd always wanted to have a family of our own.  But my cancer diagnosis and my ovarian cancer recurrence threw a wrench into these plans.

We were fortunate to have other options for becoming parents. We considered a few of them before deciding that adoption is the best choice for us.

Why we chose adoption

Once we found out I had ovarian cancer, we realized we needed to start planning right away if we wanted to have a family. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve and freeze some of my eggs before my ovaries were removed during my ovarian cancer treatment.

We hoped that I'd be able to carry our children once I had been in remission two years. But when the cancer returned in May 2014, my husband and I decided that may be too risky. So, we looked into surrogacy. But the cost of surrogacy was an absolute shock! 

By Amanda Swennes
MCC facebook.jpg
Our program that connects cancer patients, caregivers and survivors through one-on-one support has a new name. But the mission and motto remain the same: "Sometimes the best help comes from someone who's been there."

Formerly known as Anderson Network, a program of volunteer services, myCancerConnection pairs cancer patients, survivors and caregivers with trained volunteers who've had the same or similar diagnosis, treatment or experience. This one-on-one support program gives cancer patients someone to talk to throughout their cancer journey. 

We recently asked a few myCancerConnection volunteers why our one-on-one program is important to them. Here's what they said.

myCancerConnection brings cancer patients hope and understanding.
"I signed up to volunteer because I was so grateful for the individuals that spoke to me upon my diagnosis. It was so comforting to talk with someone who had been through it. It helped dissipate the fear. I love that someone can call myCancerConnection and get matched by diagnosis. I never know exactly what someone wants to hear or where they are with what they are going through. But I always find it's hope and understanding that become the common ground." -- Lou Russell, colon cancer survivor

Talking to others gave me strength and hope.
"Just knowing there was someone to talk to that knew exactly what I was going through gave me that extra strength and hope I needed to get through the rough times. I will always be thankful for MD Anderson's staff and that one volunteer who took the time to reach out to me." -- Stacie Strebeck, breast cancer survivor

pam.jpgBy Pamela J. Schlembach, M.D.

"I just want a good night's sleep, doctor." This is something I hear very frequently from my cancer patients on our weekly visits.

Insomnia is common in cancer patients as well as the general population. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to a host of medical problems, including chronic fatigue, depression, obesity, diabetes and heart  disease.

Insomnia can be caused by a number of medical conditions, medications, stress, lifestyle and diet. Before assuming all sleep issues are due to medical conditions alone, I frequently run through the following healthy sleep hygiene list with my patients. Many make some of these adjustments, and their sleeping problems vanish.

Rita318.jpgBy Rita Avila

When I was rediagnosed with tongue cancer at age 23, I had to deal with a lot of things most people my age had never considered. But whenever people suggested that I do advance care planning and complete a living will, I almost laughed. I wasn't even old enough to rent a car.

I kept putting it off. But as the date of my tongue cancer surgery crept closer, I decided I didn't want to leave my parents with any questions. It was time to complete the advance care planning forms.

Starting the advance care planning process
I started by emailing my social work counselor at MD Anderson. She gave me some paperwork and told me I could complete them during my upcoming visit to MD Anderson.

A few days later, I told my dad I wanted to add him to my checking and savings accounts. He looked at me like I'd grown two heads. As I expected, he asked why. My response was simple: "Because if anything happens to me, I want you to be able to access my money and pay off any bills in my name," I knew he would take it the best of anyone in my family. What daddy wants to cry in front of his little girl?

A couple weeks later, my dad and I returned to MD Anderson. During the trip, our social work counselor gave my dad my blank Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney forms. These legally binding documents would state my wishes about who would make decisions for me and what types of decisions would be made if I couldn't make them myself.

Gail Morse12015.jpgBy Gail Morse

After my breast cancer treatment, I was so inspired and gun ho about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I had just lost 10 pounds and felt good.

But I didn't stick with my healthy lifestyle. Just before my six-month check-up I realized, I had gained the weight back and then some. So, what happened?

Well, life happened. I'd struggled to deal with my new normal and get back on the old saddle again, and my healthy lifestyle took a backseat. 

Finding my new normal

I know I'm not alone in this. I've heard so many cancer patients say a few months after treatment that they felt lost not knowing what to do next. And that's the issue.

During cancer  treatment, I had unintentionally created a daily routine. I knew where to go, what to do, what I would feel like. Now the ritual was broken. I had to consider a big question. What did I want to do with my life after cancer? 

EdgarGarcia36.jpg"Listen to your mother" is advice that is sometimes easier said than done. But for Edgar Garcia, following it just may have saved his life.

In the fall 2010, 23-year-old Edgar was a first-year high school teacher in Brownsville, Texas. He'd also taken on football and basketball coaching responsibilities. With such a full plate, he didn't give much thought to his mother's suggestion that he see a doctor because he looked pale.

But she didn't give up. When Edgar started noticing some fatigue, he decided to take her advice and give her peace of mind.

A surprising colon cancer diagnosis
Results from blood work revealed low iron levels, which is uncommon for people Edgar's age. His doctor referred him to a  specialist for a colonoscopy. On December 17, 2010, Edgar received the most shocking news of his life: he had colon cancer.

"I was scared," he says. "I didn't know what to expect and didn't know how to handle it."

amanda42.jpgBy Amanda Woodward

As a melanoma survivor, I know how important it is to find the right dermatologist. After all, I've spent my fair share of time doing just that. My husband is in the Army, and we move often. Each time, I have to find a new dermatologist. It is one of the most stressful parts of moving around for me. It takes a while to build mutual trust.

But I've been fortunate to find some really great dermatologists who listen to my concerns and whom I trust to find any abnormal moles that could lead to skin cancer recurrence.

Here's what I look for in dermatologists:

Are they listening to me?
Like really listening. I spotted the abnormal mole that led to my original melanoma diagnosis. It was just a gut feeling. No, I'm not a doctor, but I do know my body and expect my dermatologist to at least listen and acknowledge my questions and concerns. In the same breath, however, I need my dermatologist to hear me when I say I'm anxious. I would have them remove all of my skin if that were a possibility! So, I also need my dermatologist to reign me in and help me determine what really needs to be examined or removed.

hagan312.jpgUndergoing surgery soon, or know someone who is? You may have questions about general anesthesia, which is typically used when patients undergo surgery. 

It's also sometimes used for endoscopies and colonoscopies, interventional radiology, and imaging studies, such as CT scans and MRIs. 

General anesthesia is used to keep you comfortable and still during a surgery or procedure. 

We recently spoke with Katherine Hagan, M.D., assistant professor in Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, to learn more. Here's what she had to say.

What do patients need to do to prepare for general anesthesia?
At MD Anderson, all inpatients see a physician assistant or anesthesia provider before surgery. Outpatients see an anesthesiologist, physician assistant, or registered nurse in the Anesthesia Assessment Center. For a small number of outpatient procedures, such as routine colonoscopies or endoscopies in patients without recent medical problems, we may just do a phone interview.

mindfulness.jpgBy Eric Tidline, social work counselor

Coping with cancer isn't easy. So, how do you build the mental strength to cope with everything you're facing? Mindfulness is one thing that may help.

How mindfulness helps

Mindfulness allows us to step outside of our own minds and observe how we think about things. Over time, those who practice mindfulness learn to become less attached to their own thoughts, perceptions and beliefs. People begin to take actions based on the true nature of people and events, rather than how they wish or hope them to be.

By focusing on the details of our experiences, we are better able to understand what is happening in each moment. This new understanding will allow you to spot and avoid negative reactions. Mindfulness also better enables us to see the many ways we can positively respond to our situations. This helps us achieve inner peace and balance.

Studies show that patients who practice mindfulness begin to feel better despite their medical problems. Physical symptoms don't necessarily go away, but that's not the aim of mindfulness. Rather, the goal is to help you find a different perspective and a new way of coping with your illness.

What is mindfulness? And how do I do it?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on your thoughts, emotions and feelings in the present moment with acceptance and without judgement.

It is one simple coping technique that's been found to reduce stress, boost energy and improve well-being.

While it may sound complicated, mindfulness practices are simple. One easy way to stay mindful is to focus on your breath.


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