By Sandra Bishnoi
It has been almost two-and-a-half years since I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer with bone metastasis.
For now, I've reached a point of stability and a NED (no evidence of disease) status.
Although the psychological aspects of this diagnosis and the resulting changes in my body have taken their toll, I've been lucky enough to have found a couple of cancer support groups along the way.
My first cancer support group
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I didn't know anyone who had cancer or who'd been through cancer treatment. I decided to find a cancer support group.
By Sandra Bishnoi
By Lindi Senez
Our brain tumor journey began in 2006, when my husband Dave first began experiencing double vision. We didn't know it at the time, but we later discovered it was a symptom of hemangiopericytoma, a rare tumor that involves the blood vessels. Dave's was located in his brain.
The next eight years were the greatest challenge Dave and I have ever faced, but he never let the brain tumor stop him. He achieved many accomplishments during his brain tumor treatment: celebrating the birth of our son, graduating from architecture school and founding a benefit race.
Dave lost his battle on June 30, 2014, but with all the bravery and love that he showed each step of the way, to me, in a way, he won.
Dave's brave hemangiopericytoma treatment
After his hemangiopericytoma diagnosis, Dave underwent brain surgery and radiation in 2007, but the tumor returned in 2010. He underwent gamma knife radiosurgery that summer and then continued his hemangiopericytoma treatment with more radiation and chemotherapy. With few options left, Dave enrolled in a clinical trial. He underwent a laser ablation, a procedure that had never been done on this type of tumor before.
Through it all, Dave showed limitless bravery. He was never scared. After each new step, he simply asked, "What's next?"
By Bonnie Butler
Teaching in MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital school has helped me fall deeper in love with the art of education. I owe this to each child and family with whom I have had the pleasure of working. After all, they have truly inspired me and showed me what it means to be passionate about education, what it means to teach and to be taught.
Teaching pediatric cancer patients is my dream job
If someone had told me a year ago that I would have this job, I would have said they were lying. For me, teaching children at a hospital was always a dream, I knew that working with children facing an aggressive disease who still desired to learn new things would be especially rewarding. But I had convinced myself that it always would be.
I used to be a public school elementary educator. But after the birth of our second child in 2013, my husband and I decided that I would stay home with our children. So, with a leap of faith, I resigned from the school district that I had been so committed to for the past six years.
Not long after that -- truly out of nowhere -- I learned MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital was hiring a pediatric school English as a Second Language coordinator. I thought, "There's absolutely no way that I'll get this job, but I'll go ahead and apply."
In my eyes, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and here I am today, blessed beyond measure to work with amazing fellow educators, pediatric cancer patients and their families.
In 2000, Chris Anthony visited MD Anderson for a consultation with Mark Gilbert, M.D., deputy chair of Neuro-Oncology. Chris had been diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and most aggressive brain tumor, and had undergone surgery to remove his tumor just two weeks earlier.
Chris had traveled to MD Anderson with wife, Kirsten, and brother, Matt. All three understood the seriousness of his diagnosis and low survival rate of less than two years. They felt Chris could receive the best treatment possible at MD Anderson.
Chris immediately felt comfortable with Dr. Gilbert -- his honesty and candor, balanced with optimism and compassion.
Entering a revolution to cure brain cancer
"I remember Chris asking Dr. Gilbert about the odds and the path forward, both in length of time and quality of life," Matt says.
Dr. Gilbert told them: "We're on an evolution, a path to successful outcomes. Every evolution ultimately has a revolution. That revolution will be a cure for brain cancer, and you're entering into that path."
"They were words of hope without unrealistic expectations, a scientist's perspective delivered in a human way," Matt says.
By Traci Newsom, Social Work Counselor
A cancer diagnosis affects people differently. However, every cancer patient has one thing in common: At some point during their journey, they undoubtedly experience stress. As a social work counselor here at MD Anderson, it's part of my job to help alleviate some of that stress. I do this by enabling patients to better focus on themselves and their actual care.
What our social workers do
People expect to see medical providers at their appointments. But they often forget to ask about or are not aware of the additional support available to them. This support may include counseling services for patients and family members, providing resources specifically designed for children dealing with a parent's cancer diagnosis through the KIWI program (Children's Lives Include Moments of Bravery), or advanced care planning such as assistance completing a Medical Power of Attorney or Living Will. Social Work services are available to patients receiving care at the Main Campus in the Medical Center as well as our other locations in Katy, Memorial City, Bay Area, The Woodlands and Sugar Land.
As a social worker, I can enter the picture at any point in a patient's cancer journey depending upon their needs and concerns. However, I often begin working with patients when they receive a cancer diagnosis. At that point, most are feeling particularly overwhelmed and confused.
By Gaylene Meeson
We didn't hesitate to sign our daughter Hannah up for MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital's Camp Star Trails.
A few months later, I began packing Hannah's things for camp. That's when it dawned on me that my 6-year-old daughter, who'd been diagnosed with anaplastic medulloblastoma in 2012, would be in someone else's care for six days.
Not only that, but Hannah had become scared and no longer wanted to go to camp. She didn't remember the previous camping trip at all.
Oh no. What had I done? I hated knowing that Hannah would be away from me. What if she soils her underwear? What if she doesn't like the food? What if she doesn't make any friends? All these questions were racing through my head as I tried to pack her bag for every scenario.
Arriving at Camp Star Trails
We arrived at the campgrounds, greeted by a dining hall full of cancer kids, their siblings and volunteers. It was like a sea of faces and noise, but we found the familiar faces of our MD Anderson nurse and child life specialists. After Hannah was registered and I had turned in her medicine, she was ready to meet the other kids in cabin 9.
When Zach Greene was diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma brain tumor in 2010, his younger brother Spencer knew what to expect. Just two years earlier Spencer had just begun his own oligodendroglioma treatment.
There's no genetic explanation behind the brothers' brain tumor diagnosis -- just bad luck, the brothers say, knowing quite well that it's an understatement.
And while they wish it would have happened any other way, the family's shared oligodendroglioma diagnosis has made them closer.
"That's been the silver lining in this mess of a situation," Zach says.
His dad, Brock, agrees.
"We're connected at a level that most people don't know exists," he says. "The love that we feel and express as a family is just different because of that."
Spencer's oligodendroglioma diagnosis
The family's oligodendroglioma journey started in August 2008. That's when Spencer suffered his first seizure, and it wasn't long before he endured another and another. Spencer was 16, traveling with his soccer team and preparing for a doubleheader. The first focal seizure occurred in his right arm during the first game, then a second seizure during the second game. A few months later, he suffered a third.
Research shows that exercise is safe and beneficial for most cancer patients and survivors. In fact, in most cases, it is important to keep exercising during cancer treatment.
"Exercise has the potential to help reduce some of the fatigue experienced during and after treatment, especially if you're undergoing radiation therapy. And, it can help prevent weight gain commonly experienced during chemotherapy treatment," says Carol Harrison, senior exercise physiologist.
Exercise also has the potential to improve your psychological outlook and improve your quality of life. But you may need to make some adjustments before you exercise during cancer treatment.
"It depends on treatment, type of cancer and when you need to get back into what you were doing before," Harrison says.
Use this advice to help you get started.
By Donna Baumer
For years, I suffered with pain, constipation and diarrhea and just accepted it as my norm. That is, until a night of severe pain landed me in the hospital and a CT scan revealed a thickening in my colon. I was sent home with a high-fiber diet to follow and given a follow-up appointment with a gastroenterologist who scheduled a colonoscopy.
When the procedure was over, I woke up in an anesthesia stupor. I heard the doctor standing over me saying, "Likely malignant, surgery, probably chemo, you'll be fine."
What?! Was he really talking to me? I didn't cry, but the flood of tears did come later that day. At first I felt numb and could not believe this was happening to me. The fear of the unknown set in as I began to think about what to expect from surgery and chemo.
I knew I was about to travel down a path of uncertainly. I was frightened, but I can honestly say that I found peace with my situation. I choose to face my fears with determination and strength. This attitude would bode well for me down the road.
I started colon cancer treatment right away, undergoing surgery followed by chemotherapy six weeks later. Nine months after starting my colon cancer treatment, I was declared cancer-free.
Receiving colon cancer treatment at MD Anderson
Two years after I'd been declared cancer-free, a follow-up PET scan revealed a small spot on my liver. I asked my oncologist about possible surgery. He said that no hepatic surgeon would even consider it. I decided to seek a second opinion at MD Anderson.
Melanoma was the last thing on Saoirse Murray's mind when she made her first appointment with a dermatologist at age 17. Prom was around the corner, and she was hoping to have a perfect complexion for the big night.
She never guessed that she'd end up with a skin cancer diagnosis.
Saoirse's melanoma diagnosis and treatment
At her first appointment, the dermatologist found two concerning moles on Saoirse's back. He asked Saoirse if she used tanning beds.
Saoirse nodded. She didn't use a tanning bed often. She already had an olive skin tone. But like she'd mentioned, prom was coming up, and she wanted to look perfect. She'd only gone to the tanning salon a few times -- just like all her friends.
The doctor removed the two moles.
A few days later, Saoirse received a phone call from her doctor asking her to come back for another appointment as soon as possible.
"I thought it was weird that they had called me it work," she says. "It was a little alarming, but I had no idea what was coming."
By Logan Carver
Marjane Green might never have found the tumor in her left breast if she hadn't felt a pain in her right breast.
The Houston-area resident wasn't too concerned since she'd had a mammogram just two months earlier. And, she had been dealing with recurring cysts in her breasts for more than 30 years as a result of hormone therapy following a hysterectomy. But this pain was different than anything she'd felt before.
Marjane's right breast was infected, and during her treatment, her doctor decided to biopsy an abnormality in the left. That's when Marjane received her breast cancer diagnosis.
Marjane says the seemingly serendipitous sequence of events was part of a higher plan.
"I did not worry at all," Marjane says.
Her faith allowed her to face breast cancer without fear.
Receiving breast cancer treatment close to home
But the care she received at MD Anderson helped, too.
Marjane knew she needed to take an active role in her treatment from the moment she received her diagnosis. She wanted to have the best doctors and breast cancer treatment options, and she knew she didn't need to leave Houston to find them.
By Victor Hassid, M.D.
Fortunately, patients have choices when it comes to breast reconstruction. There is no cookie-cutter approach, and patients need to discuss their options in depth with their physician.
Here are five of the most common breast reconstruction myths I hear.
Myth: Breast reconstruction must take place immediately after a mastectomy.
Some women aren't certain they want breast reconstruction and wait months or even years before having surgery. Patients still undergoing breast cancer treatment may want to wait until after they have completed radiation, as radiation can limit your options for reconstruction and affect the final result. However, other women want to have breast reconstruction when they have their mastectomy.
There is no right time to undergo breast reconstruction. The timing of your reconstruction should be up to you and your physician.
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- My husband's courageous hemangiopericytoma journey
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