By Robert Matney
In April 2013, a mole on my right shoulder began to itch. I thought little of it, but a week later, I noted the same itch and decided to pay careful attention. When it happened again, I knew I should see a doctor.
The dermatologist said that while he thought the mole was likely nothing, he was concerned enough to remove and test it. That test came back positive for stage 1 malignant melanoma.
But further tests elevated my melanoma diagnosis to stage 3a, and I realized I needed a melanoma specialist.
So, I came to MD Anderson, where I met with Merrick Ross, M.D. We discussed the next step: another surgery. With Dr. Ross, there was more confidence and more clarity than I'd heard elsewhere, and crucially, he was more familiar with cutting-edge research that might inform my choices and my prospects. He took more time. He answered more questions. Also, he exhibited a kind of bravado that, frankly, I wanted in my doctor.
And so another surgery followed, during which 39 lymph nodes were removed. Fortunately, none of those came back positive. Along with my CT/PET scans, this confirmed a stage 3 melanoma diagnosis.
By Robert Matney
By Carol A. Turni
That third week in August 2011 is one I will never forget. That's when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I was 44 years old with no family history of cancer. It seemed like I was on a bad news train. Not only did I have breast cancer, but it was caused by a BRCA 2 genetic mutation, which extended my breast cancer treatment course drastically. I was married with two young girls, 5 and 7 years old at the time. My world changed so drastically that I am not sure you can put it into words.
My family and friends were all very supportive. However, one piece was missing: my older brother, whom I had not spoken to in more than seven years.
An unexpected call from my brother
The details of our disagreement had long faded, but there was no communication and a painful feeling of loss. Shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis, though, the phone rang.
By Andrew Davison
I lost my dad to lung cancer. Thirteen years later, I was diagnosed with the same illness that took his life.
The difference was that he smoked two packs of cigarettes day, and I did not.
While I did smoke occasionally in my early 20s, I have been active and healthy for most of my life. But whether a person smokes or not shouldn't matter in how we approach lung cancer patients. Through my lung cancer treatment journey, I've learned we need to end the stigma surrounding lung cancer.
My lung cancer diagnosis
Almost four months ago, I was riding on top of the world, literally. In the midst of a five-hour mountain bike ride at a ski resort in Colorado, I crashed. I was a little banged up and went in to get checked out. After a few stitches and a chest x-ray, I was cleared to go home with a bag of ice and some ibuprofen.
Two hours later, while grilling at a summer BBQ, I missed a call from the clinic. The doctor left a voicemail saying that, after a second review, the radiologist had noticed a spot on the upper apex of my left lung. He said it was probably nothing, perhaps even just some scar tissue, and that I should schedule a CT scan. I turned to my wife and said, "There is no way that is good news."
By Paul Taylor
In June 2012, I was a 41-year old husband, father of three and Army squadron commander in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I was about to deploy to Afghanistan, when a stage 4 prostate cancer diagnosis changed everything.
Well, not everything.
Instead of retiring or changing jobs in order to focus solely on my health, I made the difficult choice, supported by my commanders, to remain in command. I wasn't able to deploy but I did continue in command of almost 700 soldiers while doing all my treatment.
In retrospect, this decision was the best one I could have made. Doing what I loved allowed me to continue my normal life with my family and soldiers, while still undergoing an aggressive prostate cancer treatment program at MD Anderson.
My prostate cancer treatment
When I received my diagnosis, I tackled prostate cancer the same way I had looked at any other problem I've encountered in my 20 years of military training. I wanted another opinion and more aggressive prostate cancer treatment options, which brought me to MD Anderson.
By Liz Hill
When my mom was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, I became her main caregiver. For two years, I cared for her through several surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy. I drove her from our home in Louisiana to MD Anderson, and stayed there with her for weeks at a time.
After my mom died, I felt lost. I kept thinking I needed to be taking Mom's temperature, giving her medicine, sitting with her, holding her hand, something. Mom hadn't even been 70 years old. Watching an exceptionally physically and mentally strong woman just slip away was one of the hardest things I have had to endure.
Coping with losing my mom to melanoma
A few days after my mom's memorial service, I went back to work and tried to keep my mind focused, but it was difficult. After work, I returned home, got in the shower and cried.
But this behavior was so unlike me. I was my mother's daughter. I came from a long line of strong women. I thought I needed to just suck it up and get it together. But I couldn't. No matter how many friends I leaned on, no matter how much I prayed, no matter how much I cried, the sadness just wouldn't go away. After about six months, I just couldn't take it anymore.
By Harley Hudson
Eight weeks. That's how long my wife and I have been in Houston, where I entered a Phase 1 drug trial for ABT-199, a new experimental drug that may provide at least a long-term solution, if not a cure, for my chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
We came not knowing what would happen or what to expect. We were amateurs, neophytes, newbies, 76-year-old children going to the doctor for the first time, figuratively speaking.
Beginning a Phase 1 clinical trial for CLL treatment
We had read the protocol and knew a bit about what we were facing. We were willing to sign the documents to allow both the drug company and MD Anderson to use this drug on me for my CLL treatment. But what would happen?
Would I have serious adverse reactions to the drug? I was in a high-risk category because of the size of a mass of lymph nodes in my abdomen.
As such, the risk of Tumor Lysis Syndrome (TLS), a metabolic complication that can occur after cancer treatment, was pretty high, but the trial protocol was designed to reduce the risks. We knew I would be hospitalized for every drug dosage increase so that if something happened, I would be ready for immediate treatment.
We knew a lot. We knew nothing. We were excited. We were leery.
By Sabrina Dominguez
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" As I grazed through elementary school, the answer was never an Olympic gymnast or an astronaut. I never wanted to be the president or a princess. I wanted to save lives.
But little did I know that years later, doctors would save my life after I received a diagnosis of medulloblastoma, a common type of brain tumor in children, just a few days before my 16th birthday.
Today, four months after my medulloblastoma diagnosis, I do not see my disease as something terrible. I don't accept pity, nor do I feel sorry for myself. I see this as a learning opportunity and a story to tell to my peers when I'm allowed to go back to school.
My medulloblastoma symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
I had been having bad headaches in the back of my head. Occasionally, I would even black out and collapse. We knew something was wrong.
On Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, I received my medulloblastoma diagnosis. I underwent surgery, but the doctors in El Paso could only remove 20 percent of the tumor. That's when my family traveled to MD Anderson.
Every day, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) survivor Erika Evans runs four miles around Lake Austin. Just two years ago she thought she'd never run again. Worse, she thought she might not live.
Erika's AML symptoms
On that same running trail in 2011, Erika felt her first AML symptom: a relentless cough. She assumed it was allergies.
She tried cold medications, but the cough grew worse, until Erika could barely walk short distances without coughing. She decided to see a doctor.
A series of blood test showed she had chronic leukemia. Erika didn't waste a moment. She told her doctor, "Well, at least we can treat it."
Doctors concluded Erika had acute lymphocyte leukemia (ALL) and began chemotherapy. But by the time the treatment was complete, the size of her cancer had doubled. Erika had been misdiagnosed.
By Gerard Neumann
It saved my life. But before I underwent the stem cell transplant as part of my acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment, I had seriously considered backing out.
My AML treatment plan
A stem cell transplant was not what I'd been hoping for. I'd hoped that the clinical trial I was on as part of my AML treatment would put me in remission.
However, that was not to be. So my leukemia doctor at MD Anderson sent me to the stem cell unit for a transplant.
When I landed at the airport in Houston to go meet with a stem cell doctor at MD Anderson, I met a man and told him why I was there. Like many I met on my AML journey, he encouraged me and said I would be in his prayers.
Afterwards, I went to MD Anderson for final testing and an appointment with Chitra Hosing, M.D., professor in Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Therapy. I told her my concerns about the transplant, and she reassured me. She never pressed me to go forward, but she talked about windows of opportunity. I was in remission, albeit incomplete, and remission was the time for a stem cell transplant. I left her office ready to move forward.
Second thoughts about my stem cell transplant
The next Saturday, my daughter-in-law, Ali, and I got in the car to drive to the hospital for my transplant.
About halfway there I got a call from the sister of a friend I had made at the transfusion unit. Her brother, Jesus, was a leukemia patient, like me. I had been jealous of him because he'd gotten his treatment and gone home to El Paso to recover. I had really thought that is what I would be doing, too.
Jesus' sister told me that he died from chemo poisoning. The call could not have come at a worse time. I could no longer think about myself. This woman had just lost her brother. He'd left behind two young children and a wife.
Being a cancer caregiver can be very rewarding, but it isn't easy. As a caregiver, you may experience stress, worry, fear and anger -- among other feelings -- throughout the cancer treatment and beyond. After all, you're busy caring for your loved ones, helping them schedule appointments and making tough decisions. That's why we call caregivers survivors.
We asked a few caregivers to share what they wish they'd have known before their cancer journeys. Here's what they had to say.You can find light within the dark
"I didn't know, but learned, that the cancer journey will be what you make of it. There's always light within the dark, if you're willing to see it.
Through our darkest times, my fiancé and I learned to communicate more effectively, find joy in the smallest things, and appreciate the daily gift of life. Those happy habits have carried over into our married life and strengthened our bond in wonderful ways: we're more selfless, we take time to express our appreciation, we're much more patient, and we forgive each other quickly. The cancer journey has given us that gift."
By Brittany Cordeiro
Each day in the United States, about 4,000 kids smoke their first cigarette. Many of them will become daily smokers.
"For teens, it may seem cool to smoke. But tobacco use at a young age can cause immediate and long-term health problems like cancer," says Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Tobacco Outreach Education Program at MD Anderson.
Recent data shows that the declining number of teen tobacco users has stalled. And, the tobacco industry may be to blame.
The industry advertises products, like e-cigarettes, flavored cigarillos and hookahs, as "safe" and is capturing the attention of kids.
"All tobacco products are dangerous," Prokhorov says. "We need to be proactive about educating our communities, schools and governments about the dangers of these products."
Use the facts below to educate kids about the health risks of trendy tobacco products.
Cigar use among high school students rose from 7% in 2009 to 12% in 2011. One main factor: flavored cigarillos.
At MD Anderson, we're constantly looking for innovative new ways to provide the best possible cancer treatment options for our patients as we work toward our mission of Making Cancer History®. To help with this, we've enlisted a cognitive computing system powered by IBM Watson.
This technology, known as Oncology Expert Advisor™ (OEA), will soon be used by our doctors and researchers as part of our Moon Shots Program, starting with our fight against leukemia. Ultimately, we hope to use the OEA in all of our clinics to help our patients regardless of their cancer type.
By pulling together and analyzing vast amounts of information from patient and research databases, the OEA is expected to help our care teams identify and fine-tune the best possible cancer treatments for our patients, while also alerting them to problems that arise during a patient's care. The OEA is also expected to help our researchers advance new discoveries in our fight against cancer.
We recently spoke with Courtney DiNardo, M.D., assistant professor in Leukemia, who's been testing the OEA before it debuts in our leukemia clinic. Here's what she had to say.
What are the benefits
of using the OEA to organize and collect data about
The OEA can extract patient information from various data sources and synthesize all available medical records into a clear, concise and accurate synopsis. It can analyze clinical information, medical history, as well as leukemia-related information, such as specific genetic and molecular features, and look at all available information in the context of published evidence-based guidelines and available clinical trials.
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- Melanoma patient: My second cancer journey
- How breast cancer brought me closer to my brother
- Confronting the lung cancer stigma
- Prostate cancer survivor: Cancer doesn't mean you have to stop living
- Overcoming PTSD after losing my mom to melanoma
- My CLL clinical trial: The end of the beginning
- Medulloblastoma patient: I don't see my disease as something terrible
- AML survivor: My road to recovery
- AML patient: My stem cell transplant, a life-saving decision
- What cancer caregivers wish they would have known
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