Masthead

michele51.jpgBy 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.

430_ueno.jpgWhen 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.

mikemason429.jpgIn 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.

bobby427.jpgBy 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.

QE_CT_Scans_030_master.jpgScheduled 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.

shannonmagee424.jpgBy 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. 

cara423.jpgBy 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.

nova421.jpgBy 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

Fprat420.jpgA 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.

amandawhite417.jpgBy Amanda White

For the past ten years, I've been working as a photographer specializing in weddings, senior portraits, family portraits, editorial and commercial photography. I've also been battling thyroid cancer for the past five years.

I was -- and still am -- passionate about bringing important, yet often overlooked, subjects to light, all while dealing with my own story. That's what's led me to my latest photography project focusing on moms with cancer.

Facing thyroid cancer as a mom
I received my thyroid cancer diagnosis two months after the birth of my first son, Jack. I had to undergo two massive rounds of radioactive iodine. Each time I was isolated from my husband and young son for two weeks. I missed his first Easter and was forced to stop breastfeeding much sooner than I had intended.

Infection_Control_417.jpgBy Jacqueline Mason 
 
Infections can be dangerous to a cancer patient coming out of surgery or undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. So can the spread of infections from the community. Think tuberculosis, shingles and the flu.

Our highly specialized Infection Control team is committed to making sure these kinds of germs don't reach our patients.

"A mild infection can turn serious for one of our patients if it's not treated quickly and appropriately," says Roy Chemaly, M.D., medical director of Infection Control and chair of our Infection Control Committee. "That's why we screen when other hospitals may not screen for multi-resistant organisms."

Linda Graviss, manager for Infection Control, adds an important point: An infection may require a patient to pause treatment until the illness is under control and result in an extended hospital stay or a readmission. This is why prevention is key, says Chemaly.

"Instead of only focusing on high-risk areas or high-risk patients, our surveillance program covers all aspects of patient care - inpatients and outpatients," he says.

Our superheroes who fight the superbugs

Graviss is the longest-serving member of the Infection Control team at 17 years. She manages six infection preventionists who perform routine inspections of patient care areas. They also educate our care teams and patients on health threats.

4questions2.jpgBy Wendy Griffith, social work counselor

Many Americans are beginning to talk about their medical care wishes. This process of making decisions about your future health care is called advance care planning.

Some people avoid advance care planning because they think it's just for the sick or elderly. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Advance care planning is for everyone!

Many people also avoid discussing advance care planning with their loved ones because they're afraid of upsetting them. But most patients and loved ones actually report feeling a sense of relief after they've completed advance care planning.

Today, in honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, we're encouraging our cancer patients, survivors, and their families to start the advance care planning process. To help you begin, here are answers to some common questions about advance care planning.

What is advance care planning?
Advance care planning is the process of communicating information about a patient's diagnosis, treatment options, life goals, values and wishes. It involves the patient, loved ones, and health care providers. Advance care planning is also more than a one-time event. It will probably involve ongoing conversations. Having these conversations ensures that the patient's preferences are known by the health care team and incorporated into current and future health care plans.

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