By Lindi Senez

Fighting cancer is truly a team effort. But what happens when the caregiver of the team is no longer the caregiver? What happens when your loved one passes away, and you have to find your new normal?

This is what I've struggled to figure out since my husband, Dave, died one year ago on June 30, 2014.

Saying goodbye to Dave and my role as his caregiver
For eight years, Dave fought hemangiopericytoma, a type of brain tumor, in the most relentless, selfless journey I've ever witnessed. I was his full-time caregiver while continuing to teach high school science, run our family's brain tumor foundation and care for our beautiful, blue-eyed baby boy.

After sleepless nights researching brain tumors and clinical trials that might provide relief, I began to listen when Dave said, "You'll be OK."

Still, I wasn't quite sure how I would find meaning in my life again.

Debra-Ruzensky caregiverBy Debra Ruzensky

In 2013, my role at MD Anderson changed when my husband was diagnosed with stage three diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Now I wasn't just a registered dietitian. I was a caregiver, too.

Seeing a new side of MD Anderson during lymphoma treatment
Every three weeks, my husband was admitted at MD Anderson for five to six days. Each time, I moved into his hospital room with him. I worked here during the day and went up to his room in the evenings. I ate here, showered and dressed here, heated my meals in the family lounge and made my morning cup of coffee here.

It was mentally difficult to "change hats." My eyes and ears were always in tune to his nutrition and the value it plays in treatment tolerance and recovery. Meeting some of the other caregivers on the floor and comparing notes was helpful, but at times it added to my worry and stress. I didn't want to hear any negative stories. I was trying to hold it all together and stay positive.

I had a great support system of family, friends, and coworkers praying and offering to help in other ways. The chapel was a special place for me to quietly sit and pray or just be calm.  Sunday morning masses were also a huge comfort to me.

Garza_Library_049.jpgBy Gillian Kruse

The room is kept cold and dim, but it's not for medicine or lab samples.

Instead, this helps maintain the archives in the Historical Resources Center of the Research Medical Library.

Rare texts share shelf space with boxes and files from our past presidents and early leaders.

"We had a man come from out of state to view one of the rare books," says Javier Garza, an archivist in the library. "We were the only library out of all the institutions he contacted that had this specific pathology book."

Most items in the archives can't be found anywhere else.

The archives tell our story and the story of the Texas Medical Center. Our own doctors and researchers wrote many of the books.

Preserving MD Anderson's history

Founded in 2000, the Historical Resources Center is a collection of books, photographs, papers and artifacts about MD Anderson and the people who helped build the cancer center we know today. The archives are available to anyone.

Items typically come to the archives when retiring doctors or researchers donate their materials, or when employees of a department or lab find hidden things when they're moving to a new space. In both instances, the library preserves the items that best illustrate our history and the evolution of cancer care.

Thyroid_Lockey_249.jpgBy Lori Baker

Hugh Lokey travels 497 miles each time he comes to MD Anderson for thyroid cancer treatment. Then it's 497 miles back home to Broken Arrow, Okla. He's been making the trip for five years, sometimes twice a month.

"It's been tremendously worth it," says Hugh, a 70-year-old Marine Corps veteran who's benefited from, and perhaps even survived because of, lenvatinib. This new thyroid cancer drug was tested here and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in February.

Like Hugh, the drug had a long journey, and each step was taken at MD Anderson.

New hope after decades with one treatment
Until recently, patients with radioiodine-refractory thyroid cancer had only one treatment option. And it didn't work for more than half.

Their fates took a turn for the better in 2006.
"In 2006, we began testing a drug called E7080 and found that several tumor types responded," says David Hong, M.D., in Investigational Cancer Therapeutics. "The response was particularly remarkable in thyroid cancer patients."

almashirani611.jpgBy Almas Hirani

A year ago, I started working at MD Anderson, and every day has been an amazing journey. 

I've heard people say that they want to change the world. They want to do something outstanding to make this world better. Well, I get an opportunity to make a difference right here at MD Anderson. I work in the Sterile Processing Department where tools used for surgery are processed. This gives me an opportunity to show my attitude, my strength and my passion -- and make a difference in so many people's lives.

The instruments processed in my department help save so many lives every day. These are the very instruments that help us connect with our patients, doctors and others in the operating room. They help patients get a new life. Being part of this is an amazing feeling.

Staying at the forefront of technology
MD Anderson strives to stay at the forefront of advances in technology. As technology improves, my coworkers and I get to expand our abilities and work on newer and more complex instruments. Our department provides us the training we need to expand our knowledge and skills.   

Yoga_SmithaMallaiah_067.jpgBy Lindsey Garner

The room is quiet. Soft light streams through the shaded windows. A soothing voice breaks the silence and addresses the cancer patients and caregivers sitting on yoga mats.

"Focus on your breath. Inhale deeply and exhale," Smitha Mallaiah says. "Bring in positivity and let go of your tension."

Mallaiah, a mind-body intervention specialist at MD Anderson, leads our Yoga for Health class. This is one of several group classes offered for cancer patients and caregivers at our Integrative Medicine Center. The class teaches gentle stretching, breathing and meditation.

Our mind-body intervention specialists offer practices like yoga and meditation to complement cancer treatment and help improve quality of life for our patients and their families.

Mallaiah's goal is to help people taking her class relax and enjoy mindfulness. She says mindfulness is being in the present moment without judgment and realizing your potential for love and kindness.

Cancer affects patients in many ways, Mallaiah says. They're affected by the disease, treatments and side effects such as fatigue. And they're facing the stress of cancer and still needing to manage work and other aspects of life.

"Mind-body practices such as yoga give people the opportunity to be more accepting of their situation and face it and feel more in control," Mallaiah says. "It also provides great physical benefits."

What our mind-body intervention specialists do
Mallaiah, her mind-body intervention specialist colleagues, Rosalinda Engle and Amie Koronczok, along with Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., assistant professor in Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine, are trained in a variety of mind-body techniques. They work together to promote and model habits of health for our patients, caregivers and employees. Recently, they started a yoga class for pediatric patients in MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

bryanframe611.jpgBy Bryan Frame

In 2011, I was diagnosed with aggressive metastatic prostate cancer. Because of this, my doctors had very little hope I would still be here four years later.

But after hormone treatments, injections, a radical prostectomy and lymphectomy to treat my metastatic prostate cancer, I'm still here. Not only that, but my doctor, Ana Aparicio, M.D., tells me I have reasons to hope.

Finding hope at MD Anderson after my metastatic diagnosis
Dr. Aparicio told me there are two immunotherapy treatments coming down the pike that could be game-changers for metastatic prostate cancer patients like me. They are in the last stages of clinical trials and are showing very encouraging results. Prostate cancer treatment is progressing at a very rapid pace. The longer I'm alive, the greater the chances that more therapies can benefit me.

Because of my prolonged successful time on hormone therapy, Dr. Aparicio indicated that I may respond well to other treatments.

Nurse_Training_218 - cw.jpgBy Lindsay Lewis

As a nurse right out of school, Carlos Hernandez knows it can take time to master the skills needed to become a good nurse.

"New nurses come to work every day hoping to learn something new, build trust with our teams and become comfortable with our practice," says Hernandez, a clinical nurse on our stem cell transplant unit. "But what we really need is confidence -- and to know that we're making a difference for our patients."

To help build that confidence and ensure that our patients are getting the best care possible, MD Anderson has started a simulation training program. It gives new nurses role-playing situations with real patients.

"It's really important that we give our new nurses a way to develop relationship-building and communication skills with patients early in their nursing careers," says Kelly LaFrentz, who manages the program.

A new approach for training nurses
The simulation program is designed to bridge the gap between what new nurses learn in school and what they experience at patients' bedsides. It gives nurses a safe environment to run through real-life scenarios and gain valuable feedback.

"You don't know what you don't know until you've been through it," says James Cavalier, Jr., who runs the simulation center. "With this type of learning, nurses are able to identify their own opportunities for improvement as well as validate what they're doing right. It quickly builds their confidence."

Stephanie_madsen 611.jpgBy Stephanie Madsen

Three years after my large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer diagnosis, I've defied the odds. The statistics gave me less than a 20% chance of surviving one year.

But I have yet to make it an entire year without cancer. I've hit the three-month mark and have even made it to eight months cancer-free. Soon, I'll lie on the cold, hard, metallic table while a machine takes pictures of my insides from head to toe. Then, I'll wait for my results. I'm hoping this time I'll be able to say I've been cancer-free for a whole year.

Praying to remain cancer-free
Once I learned that my life was not guaranteed, my prayers were taken to new heights. 

Have you ever had a prayer so desperate it crashed loudly in the torrential storm of your spirit? A plea so full of depth, it couldn't be given an audible voice? One equally full of hope and fear? Lately, my prayers have been carnal cries or petitions that bring me to my knees.

Not one of my prayers ends without the utterance of a plea to remain cancer-free for the rest of my life here on Earth. I ask for my dreams to come to fruition.

"I'd love to grow old with my husband. Please allow me to experience motherhood. I want to watch my children grow into adults and have their own children. I ask that I live until I'm wrinkled, hard of hearing and gray."

Truth be told, I'm desperate.

kimberly610.jpgFatigue. Hot flashes. Thinning hair. The nagging feeling that something just wasn't right.

In 2010, Kimberly Hill began experiencing these symptoms, so she turned to doctors in her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. They diagnosed the mother of three with thyroid cancer. Kimberly, who was 40 at the time, underwent a thyroidectomy and radical neck surgeries for treatment.

But years later, the symptoms wouldn't go away. In fact, they increased.

"I was beginning to feel like a hypochondriac," Kimberly says. "I wasn't feeling better. I was getting worse."

When doctors wanted to perform additional surgeries, Kimberly refused. She conducted her own research and was impressed by the expertise of MD Anderson's endocrine cancer team.

A different diagnosis: stage 4 lymphoma

At MD Anderson, Kimberly received a new diagnosis stage 4 lymphocyte predominate Hodgkin's lymphoma. The disease had spread to her lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow and throughout her gastrointestinal tract.

linda69.jpgBy Linda Ryan

It's been almost four years since my cervical cancer recurrence, but my two sons, Matthew (17) and Ethan (13), never traveled with me to MD Anderson until my check-up last month. I planned my appointment over their spring break so we could fit in a few college visits in Texas. I knew it might be emotionally difficult for them to go to MD Anderson. So, I did my best to handle the visit the same way I handled my treatment. I tried to let them see and feel my confidence.

Not only were we there for my appointment, but they joined me on the visits with all of the wonderful people I've have met in Houston through my journey. Both boys agreed that it was cool to see my home away from home.
How our visit affected my sons

After our visit, I gave Matthew and Ethan a few weeks to digest the emotions associated with going my oncology appointment before asking them a few questions separately about the experience. They both agreed that MD Anderson was not what they expected.

They were both surprised and saddened by how many people -- of all ages, races and genders -- were treated at MD Anderson. Matthew said being there made him sad because he knew what the families he saw were going through. 

claudiaschloeter.jpgBy Dawn Dorsey

As a personal trainer, Houston native Claudia Schloeter has spent 18 years helping others get in shape. She has always worked out six days a week and lives a healthy lifestyle, so she was shocked when she was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

An unexpected diagnosis
Claudia, now 42, started having regular mammograms at 35 because she has benign fibrocystic breast disease. While MD Anderson recommends that most women don't begin having annual mammograms until 40, Claudia often found lumps during breast self-exams. After her mammograms, doctors used ultrasound and needle biopsies to be sure suspicious areas weren't cancer.

But after a mammogram last year, a needle biopsy showed she had stage 2 breast cancer.

"I was very scared when I found out I had cancer, especially the first few days," Claudia says. "I have a little boy, and I wanted to see him grow up."


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