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By Shannon Magee

I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on May 23, 2013. The statistics told me that the prognosis for pancreatic cancer is pretty dismal.

But, as I've learned, statistics are not a reason to give up hope. Since my pancreatic cancer diagnosis, I've met a lot of cancer patients and caregivers through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson's one-on-one support program. Together, they have shown me that we all find our own way to cope and to hope as we journey through the darkness. As I've learned from my own experience and from listening to others' stories, keeping hope alive and maintaining a positive mindset during treatment really makes a difference.

Using visualization to cope with cancer treatment

During chemotherapy, a friend suggested that I picture a bright candle dripping wax and snuffing out the cancer cells. That was WAY too mild for me. This was a war, and I told my doctors to throw everything they had at it.  

joaquin_altenberg522.jpgBy Joaquin Altenberg

Whenever I think about my amazingly brave strong mother, I can't help but thank MD Anderson for the moments they gave us.

My mother was 24 when she was diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer. Doctors in our city gave her less than 60 days to live. Luckily, she was in the medical profession and had heard of the work being done at MD Anderson.

Enjoying more time together

I was 6 years old then. I remember she went through a challenging experimental surgery, chemotherapy and numerous other treatments.

There were many days we lay together, not knowing if it was the last moment we would be together.

My mother was the only parent my sister and I had, so we were very scared for our future if she passed away. 

Those risky procedures gave us five more years together. After the procedure, we traveled to far off places together, lived abroad for two years and experienced a fantastic life together.

Tolley521.jpgBy Tolley St. Clair

One more treatment to go. ONE. MORE. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a long road since my melanoma diagnosis, to say the least. Scans, blood work and too many doctors' visits. You know the drill. To say cancer was a wake-up call is putting it mildly.

When I received my melanoma diagnosis, I was living and working in San Antonio (hundreds of miles away from my family), and dating someone. Now, a year-and-a-half later, I'm two years out of college, living with my parents (and not working) in Florida, participating in a clinical trial, and single as a bird.

I'm one treatment away from being free. Done with the clinical trial, done living at home, and hopefully closing this chapter of my life. And, while I'm looking forward to moving on, there have been some positives to my melanoma treatment.

How my life changed during melanoma treatment
I've been fortunate enough to live at home and not work during my treatment. My parents and sister have been amazingly supportive, and I will never be able to thank them enough or show them the gratitude they deserve.

Over the past year-and-a-half, I have found out who truly has my back and who loves me. Yes, it took something so drastic and big to figure that out, but I'm thankful that I've figured it out sooner rather than later.

smoking5.19.jpgBy Clayton Boldt

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that e-cigarette use has grown rapidly among teens in the past few years.
 
It may seem encouraging that this rise coincides with a drop in the use of tobacco products among kids. But e-cigarettes may not be harmless.

The truth is that we have very limited information on e-cigarettes. Their long-term impacts remain unknown, and we don't yet have enough data to support them as a healthy option.

E-cigarettes may create new tobacco users
Because e-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the FDA, manufacturers don't have to report their ingredients. Therefore, it's unclear what is used to flavor many of these products and what health risks might be linked to those chemicals.

E-cigarettes are available in thousands of flavors, such as bubblegum, cinnamon roll and peppermint. This has likely contributed to the increased use in young non-smokers. Most adult smokers started their habits as kids, and e-cigarettes may create a new generation of tobacco users.

6Ways.jpgFor cancer patients and caregivers, the support of friends and loved ones can make a big difference. But when you live in another city or state, this can be hard.

There are still ways you can help a cancer patient, though. We asked cancer patients, survivors and caregivers in our Facebook community to share their advice for helping loved ones with cancer from afar. Here's what they said.

  • Stay up to date on your friend or loved one's treatment. Learn as much as you can so you can  understand what he or she may be going though. If your friend is sharing updates through social media or on a website like CarePages, make sure you're following them. That way, you can respond when your friend or loved one needs it most.
  • Send a text message. Sending a short, simple message will let your friend know you care. Try to do this on days when he or she has treatments, follow-up appointments or important scans. Your message could make a big difference during a stressful time.

Traci3.JPGBy Traci Newsom, social work counselor

As a cancer patient, it often can feel like you've lost control.  You can't control your diagnosis, your test results or your cancer treatment side effects. You may even feel like you've loss control over your work, finances and the reactions you receive from loved ones.

When you feel that loss of control, it's important to focus on what you can control. Remind yourself that even when you can't control something, you have the power to decide how you will respond to the situation.

drew514.jpgWhen I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I immediately had a lot of questions. I needed to know what I was up against.  Personally, I wanted to know the basics: What stage was my cancer? What's the game plan? I didn't want statistics. I wanted to know what we needed to do to beat it, and I wanted to get started.

I wasn't the only one with questions. My friends and family had several as well. Below are some of the most common questions I received after my colorectal cancer diagnosis.

How did you know you had colorectal cancer?
I didn't know. I had been battling Crohn's disease for 10 years, and the symptoms of Crohn's are very similar to that of colorectal cancer. I assumed my recent increase in bowel movements and loose stools were just a Crohn's flare-up. I finally went to the emergency room after I'd started to experience pain and more blood in my stool. A colonoscopy and blood work confirmed I had cancer.

What was your colorectal cancer treatment?

My colorectal cancer treatment consisted of 28 days of chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery. The initial tumor was found in my rectum, so I had to undergo radiation before the doctors removed my large intestines.  

I had radiation every weekday morning and took oral chemo medication (Xeloda) on the same day. I took the weekends off, then returned on Mondays for the next dose.  The radiation was tough on my body. I threw up every morning, and my body ached after the seventh treatment or so. After I completed the radiation, I rested for nearly two months. After that, had surgery.  

Once they removed my colon and rectum, my care team discovered 18 separate tumors in my colon. The cancer also had spread to 22 of the 118 lymph nodes they'd removed. Because of this, they started me on a four-month chemo regiment.

Each Monday, I went to the clinic to begin the two-day treatment of two drugs, 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) and Oxaliplatin for four to six hours on Monday mornings, I had my premeds and initial dose of chemo. Once I'd completed this infusion, they connected me to a pump that dripped over 36 hours. This allowed me to stay at home for the second chemo medication. On Wednesday mornings, I returned to have the pump disconnected and my port flushed.  After 10 to 12 days off, I started another round. I did a total of eight rounds.

513kayce.jpgBy Kayce Smith

I got the call on my 25th birthday. "Kayce," my dermatologist said. "You have stage one melanoma. You need to go to MD Anderson for cancer treatment."

I never thought I'd be facing a melanoma diagnosis -- or any kind of cancer, for that matter. And I certainly didn't expect to be a young adult cancer survivor.

Most of the time when people approached me after hearing about my melanoma diagnosis, they said things like:

  • "Wow, you are so young ..."
  • "How are your parents dealing with it?"
  • "Will you have help financially? If you need extra support, please don't hesitate to call."

FB_IMG_1429206144264.jpgBy Cora Connor

On April 19, 2012, my family's life changed forever. That's when my younger brother, Herman, was diagnosed with renal medullary carcinoma, a rare kidney cancer associated with sickle cell trait.

From the moment my brother received his diagnosis, I promised I would fight for him. It's a promise I've strived to keep.

Herman's renal medullary carcinoma diagnosis
Months before his renal medullary carcinoma diagnosis, Herman started experiencing back pain. He'd been healthy his entire life and thought it may have been a pulled muscle.

But when he saw traces of blood in his urine, he knew something was wrong. He drove to the emergency room and got an X-ray. It showed a mass inside his kidney. The doctor said it looked like cancer, but he'd have to follow up with a urologist to confirm. After several weeks of testing, the biopsy came back positive for renal medullary carcinoma.

511Sabrina.jpgBy Sabrina Dominguez

I have a problem with the saying "Love yourself." People say it as if it could cure world hunger: "I know it's hard, sweetie, but all you have to do is love yourself." What kind of advice is that?

It's as if they're saying my medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor, is going to be magically healed through my ability to love myself. I don't think so.

But during medulloblastoma treatment, I learned something important. Loving yourself does not heal you. It does not stop your disease or make the chemo work faster.

Yet loving yourself does allow you to cherish the nurses and the techs. It allows you to appreciate your friends and family who have stuck by your side and encouraged you.

Loving yourself allows you to enjoy the rollercoaster of life you've been given.

Finding pride after my medulloblastoma diagnosis
For the first couple of months after my medulloblastoma diagnosis, I refused to listen to anybody about the necessity of loving myself. I stayed in my hospital room. I refused to leave the house. I preferred to stay within my comfort zone rather than broaden my horizons.
 
Then it hit me: Why does it matter what other people think of me? I am my own person. I make my decisions. I can sulk and cry about how life isn't fair, or I can be an inspiration to those who are newly diagnosed, to those who have a problem with themselves because of the image chemo so generously gives them.

anna jackson.jpgBy Anna Masten Jackson

My husband and I recently made the familiar journey to MD Anderson again. It was time for another check-up. Since I was diagnosed with stage four  thymoma in 2013, this has become a normal part of our life. We do labs and scans, and then prayerfully meet with doctors, hoping for good news.

These trips always remind me of the frightening reality of cancer. On days like these, I reflect on the lessons I have learned from cancer.  There have been so many. They help calm me as I face my appointments.

Lately, I've been focusing a lot on being thankful. I've come to realize that for me, it's not a feeling. It's a choice.

Finding light in the dark times
One of the biggest things I have learned is that thankfulness leads me out of the fear and darkness cancer can bring. As soon as I begin to look for the blessings around me, the darkness fades a little. When I choose to be thankful, my focus shifts and the burden gets a little lighter. I may not FEEL thankful, but when I choose to BE thankful, I find strength for the trial.

FB_esophagealcancer.jpgEsophageal cancer is most common in middle-aged men who are overweight and have a history of acid reflux or heartburn. But our esophageal cancer team -- one of the few in the United States -- diagnoses this disease in all kinds of patients.

We talked with with Ara Vaporciyan, M.D., and Mara Antonoff, M.D., to find out what you need to know about esophageal cancer symptoms, risk factors and treatment. Here's what they had to say. 

Who's at risk for esophageal cancer?

Known risk factors for esophageal cancer include old age, male gender, obesity, longstanding heartburn, tobacco use, alcohol, and diets heavy in processed meats. Having reflux or Barrett's esophagus, a complication of reflux, poses the greatest risk.

People with exposure to certain chemicals, history of injury to the esophagus, human papillomavirus (HPV) or a history of cancer also are at increased risk.

Remember, having these risk factors doesn't mean that you'll get esophageal cancer. And some people who develop esophageal cancer don't have any risk factors.

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