August 2011 Archives

This is one story in a continuing series of profiles on unsung heroes at MD Anderson -- people who do extraordinary things in the service of patients, their families or colleagues.

Meet Sam Short, a senior administrative assistant for Anderson Network in the Department of Volunteer Services. When she is not moderating the Cancer Survivor Message Board or updating membership services, she is busy connecting cancer patients and caregivers on the Patient and Caregiver Support Line

Here, patients and caregivers are matched with survivors and caregivers who have similar cancer diagnoses and treatments, regardless of where they were treated.

"I enjoy the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of patients and caregivers during a difficult time," Short says. "Patients and caregivers need to know they are not alone in this cancer journey."

The Patient and Caregiver Support Line will celebrate its 25th anniversary in October. The program has made more than 25,000 matches since it was established in 1986.

To become a telephone support volunteer or to be connected with another survivor or caregiver, call 800-345-6324 or 713-792-2553, or contact Anderson Network.

In April 2000, 7-year-old Megan Evans moved from ballet lessons, gymnastics and Rollerblades into the more serious world of pediatric cancer.

Diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, she began treatment for her cancer and spent a semester in the MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital elementary school classroom. During that time, Megan was introduced to the Children's Art Project and has since been a CAP designer numerous times.

A fashionista at heart, Megan's hats became her major wardrobe accessory. To show support, her school held a monthly "hat day" until Megan was ready to take off her own head covering.

Even after completing treatment, Megan remained involved with the Children's Cancer Hospital. She never missed a summer at Camp Star Trails and Camp A.O.K., returning to Star Trails for several years as a counselor.

emily1 copy.jpgBy Emily Tickle Thomas

My name is Emily Tickle Thomas and I had cancer. I was diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma in 2007 while pregnant with my fourth son. I was referred to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston by my doctor in Memphis. I had successful surgery at MD Anderson and returned for checkups there every few months for two years. I have since remained cancer-free.

I consider my cancer experience "the lucky kind" -- one surgery at MD Anderson to remove the tumor on my tongue, followed by checkups and CT scans every few months for a few years. A serious and life-changing experience, definitely, but nothing really, compared to what so many people with cancer -- friends, family and strangers -- are going through every single day.

I had "a place" on my tongue biopsied a number of times over several years. It would heal after each biopsy, then show up again a year or so later. Each time the pathology report revealed abnormal cells, but I was assured that "It was probably nothing. Don't worry about it." So that is what I did, until the next time the ulcer began to bother me.

By this time, I was pregnant with our fourth son and was advised to put off a more invasive laser surgery as long as possible into the pregnancy.

By Lyndie Charnock

Mike Charnock of Houston was treated for high blood pressure and enlarged lymph nodes before doctors found the real cause. On July 26, 2010, at age 35, he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, which had spread to his brain.

With brain surgery under his belt and a strong treatment plan, Mike is defying the odds every day. His wife, Lyndie, shares her experiences as a caregiver to encourage others that complete faith and a good attitude may help them do the same.

"A new position of responsibility will usually show a man to be a far stronger creature than was supposed."
-- William James

Over the weekend, Saturday to be exact, I woke up with a 101.1 fever. I was sick to my stomach and could not keep anything down.

My husband, Mike, came to the rescue by running me a hot bath, making me soup and never leaving my side until my fever broke.

I remember thinking, "What is happening? I do not have time to be sick."

bestfriends.jpgBy Sandra Durrett

Sandra Durrett of Sugar Land, Texas, first came to MD Anderson in 1962 when her mother was treated for ovarian cancer. Little did she know forty-six years later, she would be back as a patient.

In the summer of 2008, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that is treatable but cannot be cured. I was not really surprised because I had been feeling different for many months.

My first reaction was, "What is this strange cancer?" At the urging of my family, I sought a second opinion.

Naturally, I chose MD Anderson.

Each August before school begins, patients and their siblings from MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital start packing their bags for one last hoorah at Camp A.O.K. -- otherwise known as Anderson's Older Kids.

For more than 20 years, the camp has been a place where kids age 13-18 come to experience a fun, week-long adventure away from the hospital.

judy tom wedding.jpgAfter a long and successful career in broadcast journalism in Houston, North Texas and Oklahoma, Judy Overton joined MD Anderson in 2008 as a senior communications specialist. Her husband, Tom, was treated at MD Anderson for renal cancer. He died in April 2007. Judy's occasional posts will cover aspects of the cancer experience from the caregiver's perspective. Read more posts in this series

Today, Aug. 22, is Judy and Tom's 30th wedding anniversary.

August also marks the first anniversary of Caregivers Chronicles.

I'm grateful to several colleagues in the Communications Office for suggesting I share my journey with you, and to MD Anderson for allowing me to post the stories on Cancerwise.

I hope it's been reassuring to know that, although you don't forget your loved one, life goes on. You do get better.

What makes the experience more bearable is the establishment of special friendships with people who also have lost loved ones. One of my friends is Bev Warner, who was widowed 14 years ago.

"Remarkable" is an overused adjective.

Dravecky .jpgBut it fits each of the four keynote speakers at Anderson Network's Cancer Survivorship Conference Sept. 16-17 at the Omni Houston Hotel Westside.

Three were already on the path to success when cancer struck.

PromoLargePadilla.jpgDave Dravecky was a star pitcher for the San Francisco Giants when a desmoid tumor on his pitching arm ended his career.

Barbara Padilla was a talented young soprano hoping to be an opera star when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

rueffert clan.jpgAnd Hans Rueffert had just made it to the finals on the first season of "The Next Food Network Star" when a diagnosis of gastric cancer sidelined him.

The fourth, -- Sean Swarner, -- was just 13 when he was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin's lymphoma.
swarnersm.jpgThree years later, he faced and beat another cancer -- Askin's sarcoma.

Swarner went on to become an elite athlete who competes in Ironman competitions and was the first cancer survivor to climb Mount Everest.

man with his doctor.jpgBy Laura Nathan-Garner, MD Anderson Staff Writer

You probably know prostate health is important. After all, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men (skin cancer excluded) and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in men.

But what's the best way to protect your prostate? If you've read recent headlines, you might be confused.

One day, we hear that PSA screening is the best way to catch the disease early, and then we hear that PSA screening isn't always effective. And, we hear conflicting information about whether it's actually beneficial to undergo treatment for prostate cancer.

MD Anderson prostate experts are ready to clear up the confusion. On Saturday, Sept. 10, MD Anderson is hosting its fourth annual Prostate Health Conference in Houston and you're invited to this free event.

"By taking the time to learn about screening guidelines and treatment options, men can make more informed decisions about preventing and treating this disease," says John Davis, assistant professor in the Department of Urology at MD Anderson and organizer of Prostate Health Conference 2011. "This will help men get the best care possible."

Check-in begins at 8 a.m., followed by the program and a Q&A session. During the event, attendees learn:

By Meghan Campione

joseph.jpgWhen Joseph Campione was born, his parents adoringly held their first child -- a healthy 6-pounder with a head of black hair. But when he was only two weeks old, they were told that a small growth on his bottom that was present at birth and had been thought to be benign was diagnosed as rhabdomyosarcoma, an extremely rare form of muscle cancer. Now, five years later, as Joseph prepares to enter kindergarten, his mother Meghan reflects on the milestone and the emotions that come with it.

Five years ago, an oncologist walked into our hospital room and told my husband and me that our son, Joseph, was born with cancer. Today, we're preparing to send him off to kindergarten and that moment seems like a lifetime ago.
As Joseph meets yet another milestone, I'm left with mixed emotions. Our prayers were answered. We have been blessed with an incredibly wonderful, healthy boy who is ready for school. However, my little baby who needed me to hold his hand, sing to him and assure him that he was "the little engine that could" and he could do anything he put his mind to, is now off to face the world.

He's definitely ready. I'm just not sure that I am.

Ueno.jpgBy Danielle Walsh, Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic

TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) is a global set of conferences curated by the American private, non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate "ideas worth spreading." TEDxTokyo 2011 - Enter the Unknown was a symposium of more than 30 speakers focused on exploring "practical and inventive ways of rebuilding and renewing Japan" following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. This event, streamed live online in May, brought together experts in sustainability, finance, health and social change with musicians and entertainers to address issues related to human coexistence, solutions, life of purpose and forward thinking.

Naoto Ueno, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program and chief of the Section of Translational Research in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology at MD Anderson, was one of the invited speakers. Although he was speaking to the people of Japan, the lessons he shared with the audience are applicable to patients everywhere.

Wearing a T-shirt that says "I'm not a doctor," breast medical oncologist Naoto Ueno, M.D., Ph.D., engaged an audience at TEDxTokyo 2011 in a presentation on mutual empowerment in health care. Who better to address this paradigm of the patient-physician relationship than someone self-described as "The 3 C's": cancer doctor, cancer researcher and cancer patient? Ueno's unique perspective can help others seeking the best care for oneself or for one's patient.

hurricane2.jpgIn September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the coast of Galveston and through the medical center, with winds up to 110 mph. MD Anderson was closed for business from Thursday to Sunday and housed 1,842 employees and around 500 patients.

Hurricane season is from June 1 to Nov. 30. And, although Texas needs the rain, hurricane damage, on average, accounts for $5.1 billion and 20 deaths per year. (NOAA)

Who remains at MD Anderson during a hurricane?
When a hurricane is approaching the Texas Gulf Coast, MD Anderson staff is busy ensuring that our patients, visitors and employees are as safe as possible.

Emergencies at MD Anderson are prioritized based on the severity of an event and its effect on the health and safety of the people throughout our institution. If a hurricane makes landfall in the Houston/Galveston area, we call in our hurricane ride-out team members to maintain operations of the institution.

The ride-out team is a group of MD Anderson employees who remain on campus during the storm to provide essential patient care. These vital roles include physicians, nurses, pharmacists and dining services personnel to prepare meals.

cellphone1.jpgBy Soumen Khatua, M.D., assistant professor, Department of Pediatrics

The use of cell phones among children has increased dramatically over the last decade. So has the rising concern over whether cell phone use causes brain tumors.

A survey in 2003 showed 30% of Americans believe there's a correlation between the two. Since then, many studies have been done, which have failed to draw any robust conclusions Thus, the controversy continues.

Radiation effects

The effects of continuous exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emitted from mobile devices have been studied intensely. Some preliminary studies of EMR effects on animals have raised concern.

Dysfunction of the blood brain barrier due to radiation has been reported in animals, which could allow leakage of cancer-causing substances into brain. This could result in the potential increase of tumor formation.

cancer180.jpgBy Marisa Mir, program coordinator, Anderson Network

Cancer can be a lonely experience for a young adult. Since there usually aren't many others their age dealing with the same issues, feelings of isolation kick in. Healthy friends can't relate and often distance themselves, which only makes the problem worse.

Many cancer organizations and treatment facilities, like MD Anderson, are realizing the unique challenges faced by young adult cancer patients, and are addressing their unique psychosocial needs.

For example, Anderson Network's Cancer180 program provides a social environment where young adult patients, survivors, caregivers, family and friends in their 20s and 30s can connect with other young adults affected by cancer.

Support is offered through social outings, educational activities and our just-launched Cancer180 Facebook page.

Now, young adults can connect at our social and educational events and meet and stay connected with each other. For those who live in areas where resources are scarce, the hope is that our Facebook page can be a lifeline.

focus.jpgBy  Laura Nathan-Garner

Peanut butter and banana sandwiches with hearts cut out of the middle. Magic wands made of vegetables and raisins. This is just one of the princess-themed box lunches that a co-worker whipped up for her 7-year-old twins.

The reason? She wanted her girls to eat more fruits and veggies, and the usual bagged lunch wasn't cutting it.

"If you've got a pick-eater in your house, finding creative ways to sneak in more fruits and veggies is definitely worth the effort," says Rhea Li, a research dietitian at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital. "That's because eating plant-based foods can help strengthen your child's immune system and protect the body's cells from damage that can lead to cancer later in life."

Of course, making fun-themed foods for your child's box lunch can be pretty time-consuming.

But busy parents, rest assured: we've got quick and easy ways to help your kids get an A+ when it comes to eating healthy foods. Find our tips and tricks in this month's issue of Focused on Health.

You'll get expert's tips for turning picky eaters into healthy eaters and our quick, kid-pleasing recipe for peanut butter grahams. You'll also find out how to choose video games that can actually help your kids get exercise. And, you'll learn why you should have the "tanning bed" talk with your kids -- and how to start the conversation.

For more tips to boost your kids' health, follow us on Twitter and join our conversations on Facebook.

By Monica Lewis, librarian, Patient Education Office-The Learning Center

Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul. -- Library at Thebes, inscription over the door.

A cancer diagnosis often triggers a frantic search for information. Unfortunately, your favorite search engine may not always be the best resource for health information. Websites can be full of inaccurate or outdated information.

The Learning Center at MD Anderson is a consumer health library that offers free access to pamphlets, books, databases and medical journals featuring current and reliable medical information to help answer your questions.

The staff will guide you through the research process and help you find information you need to make informed decisions. Common research topics include treatment options, drug information, clinical trials and treatment side effects.

abcde.jpgTorris Hornsby is a walking miracle.

Diagnosed with urachal cancer, an extremely rare bladder cancer, the Newton, Texas, resident has lived longer than anyone expected, even his oncologist, Arlene Siefker-Radtke, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at MD Anderson.

Hornsby's resolve to live outweighed his prognosis, but there would be other hills to climb in this journey.

A restful sleep
On one of his inpatient visits to the hospital last year, Hornsby forgot his sleep apnea machine at home about two hours from Houston. Feeling tired and what he called "washed out," he was referred to MD Anderson's Sleep Center. It had been six or more years since his last evaluation, so he participated in a sleep study and got a new machine.

From clinical care to clinical research
Started in 2006, the Sleep Center is a four-bed laboratory available to all cancer patients. Its director, Dave Balachandran, M.D., says the center was established because 80% of cancer patients experience fatigue.

greenblocls.jpgOr, in Our Case, Follow the Green-Blocked Carpet

By Lyndie Charnock

Mike Charnock of Houston was treated for high blood pressure and enlarged lymph nodes before doctors found the real cause. On July 26, 2010, at age 35, he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, which had spread to his brain.

With brain surgery under his belt and a strong treatment plan, Mike is defying the odds every day. His wife, Lyndie, shares her experiences as a caregiver to encourage others that complete faith and a good attitude may help them do the same.

When you arrive at MD Anderson, you realize that you're not in Kansas anymore. MD Anderson employs 18,000-plus people. That is an entire city. Actually, larger than some cities.  

The times I've been here with Mike, there has been a lot of hustle and bustle. It seems we go from appointment to appointment.   

The day after Mike's surgery, he had visitors throughout the day and night. On the second night of his stay, as some friends were leaving, I began walking them toward the entrance that led to their parking garage.

By Elaine Eppright

Frank Eppright of Lenexa, Kan., was diagnosed with a brain tumor in early 2011. He came to MD Anderson less than a month later to receive treatment under Mark Gilbert, M.D.

His wife, Elaine, shares her experience as a caregiver to her husband.

Our lives changed forever at 3:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 2010. My husband, Frank, was alone at work talking by phone with a client. The client told Frank he wasn't making any sense and to put the phone down and call 911. But Frank couldn't even dial 911.

Instead, he pushed his cell phone speed dial number for me. Together, the building security guard, our three wonderful daughters and I got Frank to The University of Kansas Medical Center by ambulance.

All through Christmas weekend we thought Frank had suffered a stroke, since his speech was so slurred and garbled. But on Dec. 26, we learned it was a brain tumor that triggered a seizure by leaking blood into his brain.


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