By Holly Holmes, M.D., assistant professor, General Internal Medicine
Patients often make an appointment with me to get help reducing the number of drugs they're taking. Because I'm a geriatrician and was a pharmacist, I have a real passion for the appropriate use of medication.
Patients are surprised when, looking through their list, the first thing I suggest dropping is a vitamin. This leads to a lengthy and interesting conversation (sometimes an argument).
Trying to sort out why a patient is taking a multivitamin is a really good starting point to understanding the kinds of goals they have to create and maintain a healthy life. I applaud my patients' desire to really do something to make a change, and I do my best to redirect that positive energy away from multivitamins.
Health care professionals who recommend vitamins are doing a disservice to their patients.
There are two myths that need to be shattered:
By Holly Holmes, M.D., assistant professor, General Internal Medicine
By Madylan Eskridge
Intellectual and technical challenges keep the work of a research nurse interesting. But Lisa Marsh says the journey with her patients is one of her favorite things about her job.
"The 'ah-ha' moment when the trial results are discovered is exciting," says Marsh, research nurse supervisor, Infectious Diseases. "But my role allows me to interact with patients on trials for several months, or even years, and the relationships I build with them are especially rewarding."
Following protocol on protocols during clinical trials
Every clinical trial for cancer treatment follows a detailed plan called a protocol. Managing the clinical and operational aspects of protocols is a primary responsibility for Marsh and her fellow research nurses.
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.
In spring 2013, Will Schmidt underwent a colonoscopy after blood work showed he was extremely anemic.
Once the anesthesia had worn off, the father of three young children learned that he had a large mass in his colon, which the doctor said "was probably cancer."
"It was pretty alarming, but I wasn't completely surprised given my family history," Will says. His brother had been diagnosed with rectal cancer at age 21, their father had been diagnosed with colon cancer in his 30s and died of spinal cancer in his 40s, and his paternal great-grandmother had died of colon cancer.
Additional tests confirmed Will's colon cancer diagnosis. The doctor suggested a couple of places where Will could receive colon cancer treatment, including MD Anderson.
"As soon as MD Anderson was mentioned, I thought, why would I go anywhere else?" Will recalls.
"From knowing other people who'd beaten cancer that were treated at MD Anderson, we knew this was the best possible care that Will could get," adds his wife, Dawna.An atmosphere of hope
From the moment the Schmidts walked into MD Anderson, they were overwhelmed by the atmosphere of hope. "There was just this genuine feeling that this is beatable," Will recalls.
His doctor confirmed that Will had stage 2 colon cancer and scheduled him for surgery. After that, he'd undergo six months of chemotherapy.
By Cristi Dozier
Our family sat together around that kitchen table. It was the same kitchen table we had sat around countless times before sharing meals, celebrating holidays and birthdays. We usually begin by blessing the food and later end by cleaning the mess. However, it's what happens in between the two that pulls us together the most.
That particular day we had just finished a family dinner. It was one of those "just because" get-togethers on a random summer day in June 2012. As we were talking, our mom, Judy, somehow transitioned to a conversation that included three words. "I have cancer," she said.
We were stunned. All we could focus on was that one word: cancer.
Finding strength during cancer treatment
After mom's anal cancer diagnosis the news didn't feel real at first, and we all wrestled with questions and unknowns that seemed to hit us from all directions. Later in the discussion, our mom spoke something that would ultimately set the tone for our journey with her. "I just want to laugh," she said.
By Harley Hudson
As I sit here near MD Anderson's Sundial landmark watching people come and go, I see one thing they have in common: hope. A woman just came in holding her young son's arm, his legs moving in an uncoordinated lurch. They come here hoping for a miracle. An older gentleman is leaving, oxygen tank cradled on the back of his wheel chair helping him to breath. With help, he gets into a car, hoping for a cure.
People come from all over the world to MD Anderson for cancer treatment. They all come with one thing on their minds that they cannot get at home: hope. As I look around and observe, I hear languages that I cannot understand. Every conversation expresses hope, not so much in the words, but the emotion.
The care teams here create healing protocols. In my opinion, patients who cannot be healed completely are given a better quality of life and extended years.Coming to MD Anderson for a CLL clinical trial
I, for one, came hoping that MD Anderson could provide a cure for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), either through new drugs or a stem cell transplant. All other approved protocols had failed to control my disease. When I entered the clinical trial for ABT-199, I was given that hope. Now a new drug has been approved, ibrutinib. It was researched and tried at MD Anderson. Should ABT-199 cease working, this newly approved drug may be the next step. Even more drugs are on the horizon -- all giving hope for CLL patients, hope we didn't have even a few years ago.
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.
By Stephanie Schmidt
I'm pretty accustomed to Transportation Security Administration agents, little clear bags with less than 3.2 oz. of fluid, pat downs, bag searches, the mad rush to place all of your items into those plastic bins before putting them through the scanner, etc., but as a caregiver, traveling with a cancer patient was completely new to me.
A million questions raced through my mind as my dad and I prepared to fly to Houston for his colon cancer treatment. Do we need a doctor's note explaining that he cannot go through typical security scanning machines? Will other people be pushy and impatient, as it takes longer for us to go through security checks? The list goes on.
After numerous trips to and from MD Anderson, I'd consider myself a seasoned pro. Here's my advice for any other caregivers preparing to travel to Houston with a loved one for cancer treatment:
Arrive earlier than you typically would.
Everything takes longer than you think it is going to, from checking in for a flight to waiting for TSA assistance for a wheelchair.
By Carla Fallick
About two years ago my dad was diagnosed with what we thought was terminal oral cancer. The day before Christmas 2011, we were told he had two months to live. My 24th birthday was exactly two months from that day.
Lucky for us not only was my dad there for my birthday two months later, he beat the odds and he was in remission about six months after that devastating prognosis. However, this Christmas we discovered my dad's cancer has returned. While some of the feelings I've experienced are all too familiar, I've decided to handle the situation differently this time.
My dad's oral cancer treatment
My dad endured several rounds of chemotherapy followed by radiation. The treatment left him unable to talk or even swallow for a long time.
Seeing the pain my dad was living in was unbearable. It's very hard to see someone who you've spent your entire life looking up to, and thinking is invincible, in such pain.
By Janet Tu, M.D.
You might forget an appointment, or where you last saw your car keys. Or you might struggle with remembering the name of an acquaintance you run into at the grocery store. Sometimes after chemotherapy, people experience side effects of cancer treatment including "foggy" moments or lapses in memory that can be frustrating, particularly since it can linger for a few months to long after chemotherapy is complete. Chemobrain can be challenging, but there are methods to help you cope.Keep a calendar
Between work, family and social engagements, we all have a lot on our plates. Chemobrain can make keeping up with dates and appointments even more difficult. Spend time entering important dates in your calendar and check it regularly. Similarly, make lists of tasks you need to accomplish and cross them off when you've completed them.
Like cancer patients, caregivers are subject to stress throughout their loved ones' cancer treatment. Taking time to participate in a stress-relieving activity may help ease anxiety, especially if you're traveling to MD Anderson from out of town or staying at the hospital for an extended time period.
We offer a variety of programs and services especially for our caregivers. Here are six things caregivers can do while at MD Anderson:
Visit the chapels: For many caregivers, helping a loved one through their cancer journey is a test of faith. The Freeman-Dunn Chapel in the Main Building, the Muslim Prayer Room in the Main Building, the Louise J. Morgan Chapel in the Lowry and Peggy Mays Clinic are open to anyone of any faith who needs time to pray or meditate.
Doug Neal didn't waste a moment. After his prostate cancer diagnosis, he started researching, determined to find the best treatment. He talked to his friends and friends of friends. He consulted doctors and read books and various articles. Finding the right care that would help him beat prostate cancer was crucial.
"I have people relying on me to stick around," Doug says.
Researching prostate cancer treatment
Two years ago, Doug's wife passed away after 23 years of marriage. The youngest of their children was still in high school.
"I became Mr. Mom," Doug says. It was an unexpected role for a commercial fisherman.
When Doug received his prostate cancer diagnosis, he was busy helping his son finish high school and to start a career as a chef. Another son's wife had just learned a baby was on the way -- Doug's first grandchild. Cancer didn't fit into the picture.
By Emily Neumann
When my mom and dad called me downstairs to talk, I rolled my eyes. My grades hadn't been as good as they should have been my second semester of college, and I was not prepared to discuss it...again. What I didn't realize is the news that would come would shake me far worse than any plummet in my grades: My dad had cancer.
My dad's AML diagnosis and treatment
When my dad was initially diagnosed in El Paso, Texas, he was told he had chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) --which could be kept at bay for some time by using daily medications. My parents left for MD Anderson to get a second opinion, where they learned it actually was acute myeloid leukemia (AML)--and much worse than we first thought. My sister and I spent the summer at our home in El Paso while mom and dad went back and forth for treatments.
My dad's primary treatment -- a research chemotherapy that seemed to work on others -- failed on my dad. I vividly remember when my mom got the call with the brutal news. We were walking to the hospital. My mom broke down crying, my sister's shrieks echoed in the parking garage, and I was in shock.
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- CLL patient: Observations from an MD Anderson waiting area
- How my ovarian cancer diagnosis strengthened my marriage
- Tips for traveling to MD Anderson for cancer treatment
- Choosing to live in hope: Watching my dad battle oral cancer twice
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