Harley731.jpgBy Harley Hudson

I decided to keep a diary of my stem cell transplant experience so it might help others in preparing for their stem cell transplants. Here are the first two entries.

Day 0, 5:16 a.m.: The day of my stem cell transplant
That's right. Day 0. The day my family and I have been anticipating for over 465 days, since last March. And, oh what a day it is: my rebirthday, the day of my stem cell transplant, perhaps the most important part of my chronic lymphocyctic leukemia (CLL) treatment.

Somewhere in the U.S., a young man is in a collection center donating his O+ stem cells, which will be airlifted to MD Anderson and infused into my O- system.

His stem cells will engraft in my bone marrow and begin to produce stem cells that will become white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. His white cells will destroy what remains of my own white cells, healthy and unhealthy alike, and will become my cells. I will be reborn, given a new opportunity at life.

jaxondavis.jpgBy Lenzie Davis

After being diagnosed with brain cancer, our son, Jaxon, spent his 4th birthday at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.  

Our world had changed just a few months earlier when Jaxon began having seizures. When doctors found a cancerous tumor, we researched treatment options and discovered proton therapy would be the best for Jaxon.

Jaxon's cancer journey
Jaxon spent his time at the Proton Therapy Center wearing a smile, riding a tricycle around the waiting room, or making wishes in the fountain. After Jaxon hit the gong to mark his last day of proton therapy treatment, we surprised him with a tricycle identical to the one he'd spent countless hours on in the waiting room.  

Jaxon had always had a heart of gold, even before his brain tumor diagnosis. When he was 2 years old, he received a toy he already had. He chose to keep the old toy for himself and give the nicer, new one to another kid.

helenvollmer723.jpgBy Helen Vollmer

When I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer almost a year ago, I went through all the standard emotions: disbelief, anger, fear and utter confusion.

As someone in perfect health, according to my charts, I was suddenly confronted with something beyond my control. No matter what I did, I still had cancer, and there were no guarantees that I would be cured.

Deciding where to go for breast cancer treatment
After the initial shock of the diagnosis lifted, I knew that I needed to act. Where to start? An oncologist? A surgeon? Was it more important where they had studied, what hospital they were associated with, how many patients they treated or the personal connection between us? I, like others who go down this path, had a dizzying array of choices to make with, frankly, only limited guidance.

My gynecologist had given me the name of three Houston oncologists to choose from for breast cancer treatment, but it was up to me to check them out. I started calling friends and colleagues who either had personal or professional connections to the Texas Medical Center.

ashleyandmarshalllauen428.jpgBy Ashley Lauen    

My husband, Marshall, was diagnosed with stage 2B Hodgkin's lymphoma about a year-and-a-half ago. Through our lymphoma treatment journey, we spent a lot of time at MD Anderson.

My mom has always taught me to "make fun" wherever I am, so to encourage my husband and try to maintain some sense of normalcy, I am always dreaming up ways to make the hospital more enjoyable. After all, we are fighting for his life, not just a clean PET scan.

Here are five ways we made the hospital more fun:

lindi723.jpgBy 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?"

CCH_School_0287_master.jpgBy 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.

anthony722.jpgIn 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.

Traci721.jpgBy 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.

hannah717.jpgBy Gaylene Meeson

We didn't hesitate to sign our daughter Hannah up for MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital's Camp Star Trails.

When we learned about the camp back in April, Hannah and I had just returned from a weekend at a camp outside Houston, so Hannah knew all about camp and she really wanted to go.  

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.

greene717.jpgWhen 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.

friends walking.jpgResearch 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.

donnabaumer715.jpgBy 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.


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