By Linda Ryan
During my recurrent cervical cancer treatment, I knew that mental strength was as important as my physical strength. But it was something I had to work on each day, especially on days when I felt weak.
After lying in bed for several days after my chemotherapy, I forced myself to get up and walk around the block. I rarely wanted to walk, but I knew if I got up and got moving outside in the fresh air, I would feel stronger. Those were days when it took considerable mental strength to power through and regain my physical strength.
Through my experience, I've learned that there are several things that can help cancer patients stay mentally and physically strong.
1. Don't feel sorry for yourself. As a cancer patient, it is natural to want to feel sorry for yourself. What good does that do?
When I first received my cervical cancer diagnosis, a friend noticed I didn't sound down or upset. I told her that feeling sorry for myself would let cancer win. As I've learned from reading blog posts by other cancer survivors, many people are grateful for their cancer or that goodness came out of it. I agree. The people I have met and the friendships that have been strengthened are the top my list of good things that have resulted from my cancer.
By Linda Ryan
Options. That's all Richard Ware wanted when he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a form of leukemia, in July 2013.
Unfortunately, the doctors he saw in his hometown gave him only one.
"In my first consultation, I felt very rushed into a certain type of treatment program," Richard says. "As I asked questions about how the treatment would affect me, I felt very pressured into this one form of treatment."
When Richard asked about alternative forms of MDS treatment, he was told there weren't any.
He refused to believe that, so he began researching on his own and learned about MD Anderson.
Choosing MD Anderson
for MDS treatment
"I reached out to MD Anderson and was very surprised at how quickly the doctors in the leukemia department got back to me," Richard says.
He recalls how important he felt when the doctors really took an interest into what he wanted. He flew down to Houston for a consultation and instantly felt at home.
"The most important thing in my life is my family, and MD Anderson takes a family approach to the healing process," he says. "They helped me understand what I was going through and gave me the tools to overcome it, which allowed me to get my life back as soon as possible."
By Mike Snyder
The thoughts start kicking in about a week before I leave for MD Anderson. Once I've finished all the practical preparations, I struggle to stay optimistic and hopeful about my chondrosarcoma treatment.I push those thoughts to the back of my mind, but as my travel date gets closer, they become more insistent. During my drive to the airport, they squeeze in close, like fellow passengers on an overcrowded bus. What will my scans show? Are my tumors bigger? Have they changed shape? Are there any new tumors?
Coping with doubt during chondrosarcoma treatment
The idea of new tumors makes the really morbid thoughts kick in: Will I be able to stay on my clinical trial? What if there isn't another trial I qualify for? Is this the time when my doctor will tell me there isn't anything else they can do for me? Will he send me home to face whatever the future holds for me without medication or treatment? Without hope?
On the fifth anniversary of the day she entered remission, Mai Salem was told her pancreatic cancer had returned.
At first, Mai was devastated. For five years, Mai had provided hope for other pancreatic cancer patients as a volunteer for the Anderson Network, a support group that pairs new patients with survivors who share their same cancer diagnosis. But after her recurrence, she wasn't so sure she could still be a voice of hope.
Over time, though, Mai has come to realize that despite her pancreatic cancer recurrence, the way she continues to live her life remains an inspiration to her fellow patients.
"I enjoy life to the maximum," she says. "That's what I do. I try to enjoy everything I can, when I can."
Mai's pancreatic cancer symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
Mai had been experiencing stomach pain for several months, but her local doctor kept dismissing her complaints, telling her it was all the spicy Thai food she ate.
Eventually, she sought a second opinion. Tests showed that Mai had pancreatic cancer -- more specifically, a neuroendocrine tumor that metastasized to her liver.
By Hank Lech
As I reflect on my chordoma diagnosis, surgery and setbacks, I think back to my most recent surgery and smile. I remember Sujit Prabhu, M.D., professor of Neurosurgery, telling me there was no sign of cancer.
He then he told me the bad news: the screws holding my head on had come loose -- again.
I have been told I have a few loose screws before, but I did not realize he was serious. The screws doctors put in during my original chordoma surgery were actually loose, and I needed another surgery to correct the problem.
I wanted to shake my head in disbelief. Then I remembered I couldn't shake my head. It might fall off. But then I began joking with Dr. Prabhu and asked if they were using recycled parts in my head.
Finding humor in my chordoma treatment
Since receiving my chordoma diagnosis and undergoing two surgeries to fix loose screws, bolts, rods and other hardware, I have run the course of emotions. Anger has shown its ugly head, but I used humor to heal my spirit and the spirit of others. The science behind laughter is proven to help with pain, depression and anxiety, and that's proven to be the case for me.
By Brandie Sellers
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011. Several holidays came and went while I was in treatment. Each holiday I woke up and thought, "I'm still here. No matter what happens today, I still get to be here."
I felt pretty rotten for some of the holidays -- the Fourth of July, in particular. But during each and every one of them, my eyes opened and I got to see my children.
Surviving breast cancer changed how my family and I celebrate the holidays, but we know it's for the better.
Holidays are different after breast cancer treatment
Holidays are different for us now. We don't have as much money as we had when I was diagnosed with cancer. Our house is simple, our meals are simple, and my expectations of the holidays are few, as are my children's expectations.
We have trouble with Christmas lists around here. Gifts given out of love are always welcome, but nobody here is making a long list of wants. All we want is to be together and giggle. And maybe to have some time to read some books and dance around the kitchen. Oh, and my kids do always want snow on Christmas, which, although not common in Dallas, actually happened last year.
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 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.
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- Cervical cancer survivor: 7 ways cancer patients can stay mentally strong
- Exploring your options: Why a myelodysplastic syndrome patient didn't settle
- Chondrosarcoma patient: Dealing with pre-appointment anxiety and doubt
- Pancreatic cancer patient: 'I try to enjoy everything I can, when I can'
- Learning to laugh through my chordoma treatment
- Celebrating the holidays with NED
- 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
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