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Roslin Sweat osteosarcoma survivor

By Roslin Sweat

When I was first diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in 1990, I was a 22-year-old college student. 

I woke up one morning and noticed my face was swollen on the left side. The doctor said it was allergies and gave me a prescription. Several days later, my face was still swollen, I had severe headaches, and my left eye was protruding. I saw an optometrist, who scheduled an MRI. 

That's how we figured out a tumor was causing these problems. 

My rhabdomyosarcoma diagnosis 
My doctor referred me to MD Anderson, where I was assigned to Robert Benjamin, M.D. I now call him My Dr. B. He's the best doctor this side of heaven. 

Dr. Benjamin gave me a concrete diagnosis -- ethmoid sinus rhabdomyosarcoma. Though rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common childhood sarcoma, it's rare in adults. At that point, there was no statistic for a survival rate. 

sexual intimacy in cancer patients

By Clayton Boldt

Sexual intimacy problems are one of the most common long-term side effects that cancer patients face. In a survey of MD Anderson cancer patients, almost half of men and women said they had new sexual intimacy problems after treatment. Common sexual intimacy problems include:

  • Erection problems in men
  • Vaginal dryness and pain in women
  • Loss of sexual desire

Below, Leslie Schover, Ph.D., professor in Behavioral Science and Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine, answers common questions about sexual problems affecting cancer patients and how to address them.

Why do cancer patients often experience sexual side effects?

A major cause of these issues is physical damage or changes from cancer treatment. Radiation or surgery in the pelvic area can make sex painful or difficult, and may damage blood vessels or nerves critical for male performance.

In women, chemotherapy may cause premature menopause, and hormone therapies can be linked to pain during sex.

MyrnaMontes_radOnc_BellRing_004.jpgFinishing cancer treatment can be a momentous occasion -- one that calls for celebrating in ways both big and small. But there's no right way to celebrate.

We recently asked some of our bloggers how they celebrated. Below, they share what they did to ring in life after cancer treatment.

Ringing the bell
"Every week, as I was weighed before my chemo treatments, I saw the bell, which patients ring to signal the end of their treatment. As I got closer to finishing my 16 rounds of chemo, I knew I had to celebrate! And I knew I had to include the bell and my awesome support system. When the day came, about 30 people joined me to ring the bell. I showed cancer who won! It was a special moment, and I was so happy and moved to be able to share it with my loved ones. After the actual ringing, we stepped out into the lobby on the 8th floor of Mays Clinic and had a toast (with sparkling juice, of course). It's a day I will never forget."

-- Mariana Torrado, breast cancer survivor

CLL p17 Dan Rooker

By Dan Rooker

In 2007, I noticed the lymph nodes under my jaw were swollen. But it took more than two years and a routine trip to the dermatologist to get my diagnosis in March 2010: chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). I was only 49 years old.

My CLL showed a 17p abnormality. This meant the cancer would probably spread more rapidly, be more resistant to treatment and have shorter periods of remission.

Two of my colleagues at home in Raleigh, North Carolina, were leukemia patients at MD Anderson, and I listened when they suggested I go there, too. 

My CLL treatment at MD Anderson
I felt blessed that I got assigned to Michael Keating, M.D., whom I'd read about in my CLL research. Dr. Keating specializes in 17p cases. At that point, he'd been treating leukemia for nearly 40 years and had published groundbreaking research on CLL treatment. 

As expected, my disease progressed rapidly. Dr. Keating ordered a course of fludarabine- cyclophosphamide-rituximab therapy, which took place in early 2011. Unfortunately, that only partly destroyed the cancer. I rested and recovered while Dr. Keating plotted our next move.  

malignant melanoma survivor Kai Dunbar

By Kai Dunbar

Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma.

I didn't spend a lot of time in the sun before my malignant melanoma diagnosis. And I wasn't someone you'd consider at high risk for melanoma. I was only 9 years old.

I was actually born with a small penpoint-sized mole on my right cheek. Over time, it grew, and when I was 8 years old, it became raised and had irregular borders. When I told my pediatrician that it was starting to bleed and itch, he sent us to a dermatologist, who removed the mole and sent it to be biopsied. 

Three days later, the dermatologist called. She said I had pediatric melanoma and that we needed to go to MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

My parents looked devastated. I was scared and nervous. I worried about my little sister and brother. Did they understand? Were they scared, too?

Investigational Pharmacy Services for cancer patients

By Jacqueline Mason

Our doctors are dreamers. They dream of conquering cancer and adding meaningful years to our patients' lives. Our Investigational Pharmacy Services team helps them turn those dreams into reality.

This highly specialized team of eight pharmacists and 11 pharmacy technicians enables MD Anderson to have the largest clinical trials program in the world.

Every investigational drug that enters our institution travels through the Investigational Pharmacy Services area on Floor 1 of the Main Building. We have 1,100 clinical research protocols underway, involving more than 8,000 patients. That translates to 35,000 investigational doses a year, or one dose every 15 minutes.

By centralizing the way we administer investigational drug trials, the team enables breakthroughs in cancer care for doctors and researchers like Hagop Kantarjian, M.D.

Debra Ruzensky on being a dietitian and caregiver

By Debra Ruzensky

As a registered dietitian at MD Anderson, I know that nausea and other side effects of cancer and treatment make eating difficult, if not impossible. Even though our doctors, nurses and mid-level providers do a great job of educating our patients and caregivers about these possibilities, it is hard to prepare for them.

I didn't realize just how hard it can be, though, until I became my husband's caregiver during his B-cell lymphoma treatment, which included chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

Diet challenges after chemo
My husband Bob is a fighter and a very compliant patient. But the chemo leading up to his stem cell transplant caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and mouth and throat sores. Together, they made it almost impossible for him to eat and drink enough for over a month. He lost about 25 pounds -- mostly muscle. 

room service for cancer patients

By Trevor Mitchell

Picking up the phone to order a nutritious, freshly prepared meal that's delivered by an attendant wearing a tuxedo might seem more common at a four-or five-star hotel than a cancer center. But it's a luxury our patients have enjoyed for more than 15 years.

The days of traditional hospital food on pre-prepared trays brought to all patient rooms at the same time are long gone, says Mohammad Tekrouri, associate director of Room Service. Room Service programs like ours that provide efficient, high quality, cooked-to-order culinary options have become essential to ensuring a better patient experience.

"Patients prefer to be in control of their dining experience because there are times when they're resting, the medical staff is in the room, or they simply don't feel like eating," Tekrouri says. "Our service offers them the flexibility to order food when they feel like it at multiple times throughout the day."

A personalized touch
When cancer patients are admitted, they receive a brief orientation from our room service staff. They're given menus and told how to place their orders. Room Service is included in each patient's stay and is available 365 days a year, from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Family members also can order meals for a fee.

"Patients and family members eating together can encourage the patient to eat and offers convenience for those who can't leave their loved one even for a minute," Tekrouri says.

working and parenting through chemo

Rashe Bowie hadn't been working at her current company very long when she and her colleagues played Two Truths and a Lie during an offsite meeting. When it was her turn, she shared her son's name, that she'd been in pageants growing up and that she was undergoing chemotherapy.

The lie, they guessed, was the chemo part. But the lie was her son's name.

"I'm undergoing chemo for breast cancer, and this is a wig I'm wearing," she revealed.

"They were in total disbelief," recalls Rashe, who was 37 years old at the time of her diagnosis.

The company's CEO told Rashe to take time off if she needed to.

But she has yet to accept that offer. A single mom to a high school senior, Rashe never missed a day of work while undergoing 12 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation.

Patrick Hwu melanoma immunology expert

By Lori Baker

Many melanoma patients know Patrick Hwu, M.D., as the oncologist and immunology expert who saved their lives. But Hwu, who has headed up our Melanoma and Sarcoma departments, now also leads our largest academic division: Cancer Medicine.

We recently spoke with Dr. Hwu to learn more about what drives and inspires him both here at MD Anderson and at home. Here's what he had to say.

Where were you raised?

I grew up in St. Albans, West Virginia, which had only 13,000 residents at that time. I often think about MD Anderson having more people than my hometown.

What words best describe you?

Passionate, committed and enthusiastic.

What I pack for chemo

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StephanieMadsen.jpg

By Stephanie Madsen

When I was diagnosed with large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer nearly four years ago, I felt utterly lost.

And I felt overwhelmed when my doctor said I needed chemotherapy. I didn't know what to expect or what to pack. So I decided to bring everything.

Since then, I've had nearly 55 chemo treatments using several chemo drugs, 28 radiation sessions and four major surgeries (not including port placement). In the process, I've become an expert on what to bring to chemo and what to leave at home.

Here's what I recommend packing to make chemo more comfortable. I've included a couple of items that won't fit in a bag but are definite musts.

1. Comfortable clothes: Chemo can last anywhere from one to eight hours and may involve overnight hospital stays. So, it helps to wear comfortable clothes. You'll want to keep your port accessible, so consider wearing a V-neck shirt.

2. Socks and/or close-toed shoes: The hospital or clinic will be chilly. Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes and or slippers with a hard sole. If you insist on open-toed shoes, bring socks just in case. The softer and fuzzier, the better. 

Physician assistant moonlights as aerial dancer

By Jenny Montgomery

Like millions of other people, physician assistant Aki Ohinata gets bored with exercise. But instead of longing for a comfy couch and a bag of chips, she prefers a bigger challenge and a shot of adrenaline. That's how she ended up getting her workout while dangling 20 feet in the air. For an hour and a half a night. Four nights a week.

Ohinata, who works in Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology by day, is an aerial dancer by night. Think strength and endurance, Cirque du Soleil and mid-air acrobatics.

"It started as a New Year's resolution to try something new," says Ohinata, who's held the same job at MD Anderson since becoming a physician assistant over a decade ago. "I love my patients, and I love my job, but I need those hours after work to re-energize myself. Then I use that energy to treat patients the next day."

The thrill of a challenge: Becoming an aerial dancer
Pushing herself to the limit is a lifetime habit.

As a child in Dallas, Ohinata set her sights on becoming an Olympic gymnast. For years, she dashed straight from school to the gym, and gymnastic competitions filled her weekends. That came to a stop when her family moved to Tokyo when she was a teenager. But her attraction to active pursuits never diminished.

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