By Caroline Brown
In 2012, my husband and I moved back to Texas from New York City. We were excited to be back in our home state and ready to start a family. Breast cancer, infertility and finding a surrogate were not part of our plans.
My breast cancer diagnosis
I remember like it was yesterday. One night in the shower, I stumbled upon a lump on my left breast. I knew it was not supposed to be there.
I called the doctor the next morning. After a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy, I learned that I had stage two ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer. I was stunned. I was young -- 30 years old -- with no family history of breast cancer. I had recently had my annual exam and thought I was healthy.
Learning about infertility during cancer treatment
I already knew of MD Anderson's reputation. Since it was in my new hometown of Houston, I made an appointment there right away.
By Caroline Brown
By Dawn Dorsey
Frank Bauer wasn't looking to be a trailblazer when he made an appointment at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center nine years ago. He just wanted the best prostate cancer treatment.
Little did he know, he'd become our first patient treated with proton therapy.
Finding the best prostate cancer treatment
Frank, an attorney who lives near Sulphur Springs, Texas, was researching prostate cancer treatments options online when he found proton therapy. Proton therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses external beam radiation made of protons instead of photons (e.g., X-rays to treat tumors).
"A couple of my friends had gone to California for treatment, but I didn't want to leave Texas if I didn't have to," Frank says. MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center was being built at the time and just beginning to consult with prospective patients.
Being a nurse is much more than just a job. At MD Anderson, our nurses provide care and compassion for our patients throughout their cancer treatment. Every nurse here plays a crucial part in our mission to end cancer.
Each year, we honor our nurses' caring hearts and commitment to our patients during Nurses' Week. In celebration, we asked a few patients and survivors how our nurses helped them during cancer treatment.
Here's what they had to say.
"The nurse that helped me and was the most memorable administered my chemo and checked on me during the process. She had a shaved head. Very striking and pretty. I asked her if she was going through chemo too, and she said, 'No, I do this in honor of my patients, to make them feel more comfortable, and because I just like it this short!' It was nice to see her show her support that way with the patients she cared for.
The nurses in the gynecologic radiation area in Mays Clinic are some of the nicest, most patient nurses I have ever met. They were always answering my questions and helping me understand things. Especially Dr. Patricia Eifel's nurses. They made me smile during a very difficult time with radiation, and I will always appreciate them all!"
"Nurses are the right hand AND the left hand of many doctors. They are the person in between the doctor and the patient. At MD Anderson, the nurses are devoted, caring, sensitive, concerned, firm and loyal to their patients. That's why I call them angels.
I'd like to thank Golie at the Lymphoma and Myeloma Center, Laura in the Stem Cell Transplant Center and all the wonderful nurses on my floor after my stem cell transplant. There are too many of them to mention."
By Michele Longabough
Since my own stage four anal cancer diagnosis five years ago, I have done plenty of reading surrounding what not to say to someone with a stage four cancer diagnosis. Through these articles, I've noticed the list can be quite extensive. After all, there are so many types of cancers and personalities.
But the top comments that seem to appear over and again include, but are not limited to:
- "You can beat this!"
- "Everything will OK!"
- "If you pray and believe enough, God will heal you!"
- "_____ can cure you!"
Sometimes, the wrong words just come out
Trust me when I say this: I have heard it all. And yes, some of the things that people said to me after my anal cancer diagnosis hurt my feelings.
But after thinking about why anybody would say such things, I thought about what I would say if I were faced with a close friend's diagnosis. I knew I, too, would say the wrong things.
When doctors diagnose breast cancer, they look for three types of receptors -- estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) -- expressed in the breast cancer. These are what cause most breast cancers to grow. They're also what our doctors typically target when treating breast cancer.
But some breast cancer patients lack these receptors. When this happens, the breast cancer is called triple-negative. And, without any receptors, it can be more challenging to treat. This is why triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is one of the cancers we're focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths.
We recently spoke with Naoto T. Ueno, M.D., Ph.D., section chief of Translational Breast Cancer Research in Breast Medical Oncology, to better understand TNBC. Here's what he had to say.
Are some people more likely to develop TNBC?
TNBC affects women and men of all races and ages. Compared to other types of breast cancer, we tend to see this disease more in premenopausal women than older women. We're still trying to understand why these groups are more likely to develop TNBC.
Triple-negative patients are more likely to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation compared to non-TNBC patients. But you can still develop TNBC even if you don't have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. We're still trying to understand the link between TNBC and BRCA.
In 2004, Mike Mason was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. His doctors said he had four to six months to live. Just days away from his 60th birthday, he was devastated.
"I thought to myself, 'Happy birthday, Mike. You have cancer,'" he recalls.
Mike accepted the diagnosis, but he refused to accept his prognosis. So, Mike returned home to Coffeyville, Kansas, and contacted MD Anderson for a second opinion.
Mike's hepatocellular carcinoma treatment
"As luck would have it, I was assigned to Jean-Nicolas Vauthey, M.D., one of the best at liver resections and liver cancer," says the retired English teacher.
He started hepatocellular carcinoma treatment in in October 2004. First, he did eight rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. After that, he had surgery to remove part of his liver.
By Bobby Fariza
During my 38-year career, I had many opportunities to move my family to other parts of the country, but I always decided to stay in Houston. I became grateful for that decision in spring 2010, when I was diagnosed with diffuse large b-cell lymphoma.
Going to MD Anderson for diffuse large b-cell lymphoma treatment
Shortly after my diffuse large b-cell lymphoma diagnosis, my wife suggested we go to MD Anderson.
"It's right in our backyard," she said.
My three daughters, all in their 20s, agreed. I scheduled the appointment right away.
I was scared of the unknown when I came to MD Anderson for my first appointment. But I had worked in hospital labs for 38 years. It helped to think of my treatment as just another study.
My cancer was aggressive. So, after five rounds of chemotherapy, my doctor, Jorge Romaguera, M.D., recommended that I undergo a stem cell transplant.
The transplant took place in September. I was able to use my own stem cells, which had been harvested earlier.
5 things that helped me through my stem cell transplant
Recovering from the stem cell transplant was not easy, but several things helped me cope. Here are some of the biggest ones.
Scheduled to get a PET scan? Also known as a positron emission tomography scan, these screening exams cause anxiety for many patients. But knowing what to expect and following the recommended PET scan prep can make a big difference.
What is a PET scan?
A PET scan uses a radiotracer to measure things like blood flow, oxygen use and sugar metabolism.
A PET scan shows how your tissues and organs are functioning. It also can let you and your doctors know if cancer treatment is working.
Follow your PET scan prep for best results
To make sure your doctor gets the information he or she needs, it's important to prepare for your PET scan. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, don't eat or drink anything, except for water or prescribed medicines for six hours before a PET scan.
By Shannon Magee
On May 23, 2013, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The next week, my husband and I came to MD Anderson for my first appointment.
My friend, a doctor, had recommended I seek treatment at MD Anderson if I needed a Whipple procedure, a difficult surgery used to treat pancreatic cancer. I didn't yet know if I needed a Whipple procedure. But I didn't want to waste any time or look back with any regrets.
Plotting my attack against my pancreatic cancer
During my first appointment at MD Anderson, my amazing surgeon, Matthew Katz, M.D., told me that I would be dead in a year if I did nothing.
I wanted to live, so I asked my doctors to throw everything they had at me. Pancreatic cancer has a very high recurrence rate, and I didn't want the cancer to spread or come back.
My care team decided my best option was a new pancreatic cancer clinical trial. I was the first person to enroll.
My pancreatic cancer treatment: Chemo, radiation and the Whipple procedure.
The trial started with eight weeks of FOLFIRINOX, a chemotherapy regimen for advanced pancreatic cancer. Then, I underwent six more weeks of chemo with radiation.
After that, it was time for the Whipple procedure. During the surgery, they removed part of my pancreas, half my stomach, my small intestine, 28 lymph nodes and my portal vein. I went to the hospital for the Whipple procedure at 5 a.m. The surgery was finished about 11 hours later. By 2:00 a.m. the next morning, I was resting comfortably in the Intermediate Care ward.
By Cara Sorrell
When I first went away to college after completing sarcoma treatment, I thought I'd be leaving cancer behind me, except for the occasional checkup.
Unfortunately, I was quite mistaken. The end of my sarcoma treatment brought lymphedema, a type of swelling usually occurs in the arm or leg as a result of lymph node damage caused by cancer treatment.
Noticing my lymphedema symptoms
One day, I was walking back to my dorm with a group of friends. I started lagging far behind and couldn't speed up. Something was wrong. I didn't know it then, but this was the first sign of lymphedema.
In the following weeks, I began experiencing pain in my right calf. I had trouble walking short distances. My entire leg felt so heavy, so exhausted. I had no idea what was going on, and I began to worry that my sarcoma was back.
I called MD Anderson's Center for Reconstructive Surgery and asked about the pain in my calf. I was told to go get checked for a blood clot. The tests ruled that out, but there was some minor swelling in my right leg. I knew something was wrong. Soon after that, I was diagnosed with lymphedema.
How I managed my lymphedema
At the next checkup at MD Anderson, my doctor prescribed lymphedema physical therapy and told me to wear a compression garment on my leg. I had only seen older people wearing compression garments and never imagined this was something I'd do in my 20s.
My physical therapist taught me how to massage my leg, wake up my lymphatic system and properly wrap my whole leg with compression garments.
By Lindsey Garner
Nova Sprague always has had a passion for animals, especially dogs. And she never thought she'd work with them instead of people. But MD Anderson drew her in, she says.
After completing her Bachelor of Animal Science from Texas State University, Sprague put her passion for animals to work at an emergency animal clinic in Austin, Texas.
There, as a veterinary technician, she assisted with cases that needed ultrasounds.
She decided to learn to perform the procedure herself and moved home to Houston to enroll in ultrasound school and work at a local veterinary clinic. While doing clinical rotations at MD Anderson, she entertained the idea of working outside veterinary medicine.
"I knew that if I was ever going to do something different, MD Anderson was the only place for me," she says. "There's something special about this place."
Now she works here as a cardiac ultrasound technologist.
Working with people and animals
Sprague enjoys the differences between working with people and with animals.
"Animals don't know what's happening and can't tell you what's wrong," she says. "Our patients share so much with me - from their life stories and struggles to simply how their days are going."
By Gillian Kruse
A globe-trotting chemist turned-lawyer-turned businessman, Ferran Prat, Ph.D., J.D., sees himself as an agent for some of cancer medicine's biggest stars. As vice president for Strategic Industry Ventures, he helps connect our researchers with pharmaceutical companies, resources and tools to help in their efforts to end cancer.
We recently spoke with Prat to learn more about him. Here's what he had to say.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in a small village on the border of Spain and France called Sant Joan de les Abadesses. It's north of Barcelona and has about 4,000 people. The village is surrounded mostly by factories and sheep.
How many languages do you speak?
I can speak Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese and English.
How did you end up in the United States?
I've always been fascinated by the U.S. and the American way of life. My father taught me that there was a lot to be learned from this country, which led me to pursue a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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- Coping with infertility during breast cancer treatment
- Meet MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center's first patient
- How our nurses help our patients
- Why I don't feel offended when people say the wrong things about my cancer diagnosis
- Triple-negative breast cancer: 5 things you should know
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