November 2011 Archives

By Lauren Schoenemann, MD Anderson Staff Writer

GetOrganizedfinal.jpgJanice Simon believes that cancer patients can, and should, get organized.

A project director in MD Anderson's Department of Faculty Development, Simon says that though collecting and sorting paperwork is time-consuming and may seem overwhelming, consolidating personal documents, health records and questions benefits both patient and physician by making appointments more efficient and productive.

So that they don't feel overwhelmed, Simon recommends that patients take small steps toward organization.

First, they should decide which documents to keep and discard, dividing the process into less intimidating "chunks" to increase their chances of completing each task.

Patients can then use a three-ring binder with subject dividers to categorize documents according to type. Categories may include bills, insurance information or medical records.

Preparing for a doctor visit
Before the all-important appointment with a physician, patients can prepare an updated list of their medications, as well as any current research gathered on their cancer or condition.

"Medical visits run more smoothly when patients come prepared with a list of questions for their doctors," Simon says. "It can also lead to shorter and more productive appointments."

The Gift of Strength

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junedovepost.jpgJune Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. Then, she visited MD Anderson doctor Andrezj Kudelk for a second opinion. June has been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will offer comfort and peace to those who are beginning their journey with (or after) a diagnosis of cancer.

This is a reflection on a touching experience during one of the hardest times in my life. Every spring, within 2-3 days of hanging a fern on the patio outside my bedroom, birds have built nests. One year the nest was built by a dove, and I believe it was sent by God to comfort and strengthen me during some very difficult days.

From the day I had felt this large, palpable mass on March 23, 2000, I was calm and unafraid. I wanted to have surgery, see what options were available and begin a treatment plan.

A devastating prognosis

I had surgery on April 5, 2000. The tumor mass was the size of a soccer ball. It had twisted and turned around all the organs in my pelvis, including the colon, and had moved my bladder to my right side. 

Pathology findings were stage IV cancer in both ovaries and the fallopian tubes, and it had spread to the omentum and spleen. The prognosis was devastating to my family. We were told I had one year to live; two years at the most.   
My first chemotherapy treatment was on May 3, 2000. On the morning of Tuesday, May 15, 2000, while taking a shower, I noticed excessive hair in my hands. I was not expecting this so soon, as I had understood it would be after the second cycle of chemo that I would lose my hair.

In two days, I was completely bald except for a few strands sparsely on the back of my head. This was overwhelming!

I was not mentally prepared to cope with the person I saw staring back at me in the mirror. This person seemed to be very old, very sick and very ugly. This was terribly depressing and I simply could not believe it happened so fast.

At MD Anderson, we continue to focus on improving the effectiveness of cancer treatments for our patients.

Today, with the announcement of the new Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS), we intend to develop a more robust process for testing new cancer targets and drugs. The institute will make that possible by accelerating the translation of scientific discoveries into new, safe and effective drugs for cancer patients.

In 2011, we reached the 40th anniversary of the landmark National Cancer Act, heralded in when President Richard Nixon declared a "war on cancer" in 1971 and increased the federal dollars devoted to winning that war.

While far too many people still die from cancer, real progress has been made. Between 1990 and 2007, death rates in the United States for all cancers combined decreased by 22% for men and 14% for women. This means that 898,000 fewer people died from cancer during this time period (American Cancer Society, Facts & Figures, 2011).

Leaky pipeline for new drugs

This progress we've achieved in curbing cancer death rates is a direct result of ongoing drug discovery and development, an incredibly time-consuming and expensive endeavor.

According to statistics from the American Association for Cancer Research, completing the clinical trials and getting Food and Drug Administration approval for every cancer drug that makes it into the clinic takes more than seven years and $1 billion.

Moonstruck at MD Anderson

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WallyandLinda.jpgA surprise hospital visit from her childhood baseball hero put Linda Lindquist over the moon.

Just three days after surgery at MD Anderson to remove a large tumor in her abdomen, Linda was shocked one morning when she answered a knock at her hospital room door.

Instead of her sister, a nurse or food server walking in, her all-time favorite baseball player who had come a half-century out of her past strode through the door with a keepsake in hand.  

Wally Moon starred for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1959 to 1965. Now 81, the former National League Rookie of the Year and three-time World Series champion came to Houston from his home in Bryan, Texas, to meet Linda when he heard about her surgery and abiding support as a fan.

Moon brought Linda a baseball and signed it at her bedside to take the place of a foul ball he hit into the stands where she sat as an 11-year-old with her father in 1960. When the foul ball came down, it bounced hard off her seat and hit Linda in the small of the back. When it came to rest behind her, a fan in the next row grabbed the souvenir. She always felt that ball was hers.

The surprise visit to MD Anderson was cooked up by Linda's sister, Mary Lee, her brother, Bill, and the author of Moon's biography.

tistheseason.jpgBy Stephen Collazo, Department of Social Work

Shopping, putting out decorations, going to parties, cooking food, attending religious services, mailing cards, wrapping gifts,hosting the in-laws. Stressed out yet?

Making it through the holiday season without a cancer diagnosis affecting you or someone you love can be difficult in itself. Now add blood tests, chemotherapy, nausea, doctor's appointments, scans, fatigue, radiation, inpatient hospital stays, and waiting for test results. 

The holiday season can be an especially trying time for people with cancer based on the sheer number of expectations that get added during these few months.

But it's more than just how overbooked your schedule can become in December. 

Everywhere around us on TV, the Internet, radio, even inside the stores we visit, we're told on a daily basis to "be merry" and "have cheer."

If you or someone you know is going through cancer, trying to live up to the expectations of how the holidays are supposed to make us feel can be almost impossible.

Dealing with a serious illness like cancer during these upcoming weeks can leave many feeling lonely and confused, when everything and everyone seems to be so full of joy. 

Here are a few suggestions to help you and your support system cope during the holidays.

dara.jpgDara Insley is a pain warrior.

Treatment for breast cancer in 2009 and 2010 involved two extensive and delicate surgeries -- one a double mastectomy and another in her armpit and neck -- as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Although Insley is relieved and grateful to be free of cancer, she's dealt with chronic pain and discomfort since treatment ended last year.
Pain is considered chronic when it persists for longer than three months. Insley says her pain is varied and unpredictable.

"Sometimes, it's like a gripping vice around my whole arm. Other times, my shoulder feels like someone is clamping down on it. And sometimes it's actual sharp pins-and-needles pain in my arm or finger," she says.

She prefers to use nonmedical means of controlling her pain.

"Dark chocolate, music, exercise," she says. "Crying. Praying."

And her secret weapon.


Caregivers17.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

I haven't been myself lately.

I haven't felt like doing much beyond getting up and going to work.

Four-and-a-half years have passed since Tom died. His 58th birthday would have been Nov. 2.

Sometimes I can't believe he's gone. I don't think I'm depressed, but maybe I am. It's all catching up with me.

I've held the fort for so long, and now it feels like my psychological and emotional walls are caving in.

By Robert E. Lee

JoEllen_caregiversweek.jpgCaring for a loved one with a serious illness can be exhausting and disheartening. Robert Lee of Oolitic, Ind., shares the story of his wife's 2009 diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme,and the physical, cognitive and emotional losses that have followed.

I never wanted to get married. A happy, 40-year-old bachelor, I didn't need the added stress.

I was already stressed out doing two jobs: an environmental compliance inspector and a major in the Army Reserve.

Then I moved to an apartment located next to a Wendy's restaurant.

That's where I met Jo. Actually, I watched and admired her from afar for a while. She was the hardest worker I'd ever seen.

Every day, I saw her little red truck parked at the side of the restaurant. I watched her carry out the trash every morning, even if it was rainy, snowy or icy.

I saw her carry out the grease from the grease traps in buckets that weighed her down, her pretty hair matted with snow and ice.

Finally, after three years, I asked her for a date. She accepted. We dated. I asked her to marry me. She accepted, and we lived happily ever after ... until Aug. 26, 2009.

Lyndie1114.jpgMike 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.

"I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future." -- author unknown"

Do you ever wake up thinking of the life you've led and the things you've done, and ask yourself, "What is my purpose?"

I have to admit that I've asked myself this several times in my life. I can't say I have a "perfect" lifestyle, by any means. I've made many mistakes and a lot of bad choices, and still my faith has continued to lift me up, put me back on my feet and point me in the right direction.

It feels like it was just yesterday when we sat in the doctor's office and received news about Mike's cancer diagnosis. But as I sit here and look at my calendar, I realize it has been a little more than a year. Wow!

When we received information about Mike's treatment plan we were told that if it didn't work he would have 5-6 months to live, and might not celebrate his birthday in 2011.

I did not take the news well. I drove home from work, barely able to see through the tears. I stopped in the grocery store and bought the biggest bottle of wine before arriving home. Mike and I sat in the back yard until 1:00 a.m., drinking, crying, laughing and sharing stories we'd never talked about before.

I remember looking at him through red, swollen eyes and saying, "No matter what, from this day forward we are to look at this as a journey and be positive. We're not going to sulk or get depressed, for we do not know at this time why we were chosen, but it's what has been given to us."

Megansili.jpgMegan Silianoff was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer just 13 months ago. She says three abdominal surgeries and one prescription for a pain reliever were instrumental to her current status of remission. Cancer has provided Megan with wisdom beyond her 29 years. She says her most profound take-aways are that life is short and painkillers are fantastic. Megan uses her blog, Greetings from Texas, to share about her cancer drama, in addition to other musings she finds comical.

I had a checkup last week at MD Anderson. It started as they always do, getting a bracelet placed around my wrist. This bracelet has your medical number, date of birth and picture.
In my case, it's a terrible picture.

You'd think that being in a cancer hospital, surrounded by people who are truly sick, I'd check my shallowness at the door and not be bothered by such frivolity. Thinking that, of course, is wrong.

I decided to ask the front desk lady to retake my picture.

Me: "Excuse me, miss? I really hate this picture. Can we retake it?"

Front desk lady: "What do you want? A glamour shot?"

Me: (Noting her sarcasm but choosing to ignore it) "Yes, please!"

Thanksgiving cheat sheet-turkey-web.jpgThanksgiving is just the first of many winter celebrations that focus on food. At each event, you're surrounded by mouth-watering holiday foods, constantly tempting you to overeat.
"Don't give in, or you might get into the habit of overeating," says Mary Ellen Herndon, MPH, RD, wellness dietitian at MD Anderson. "This can result in unhealthy weight gain that, in the long-run, may make it harder for your body to fight off diseases like cancer."

Test your Thanksgiving serving size IQ by answering the questions below. It'll get you on a healthy start to portion control this holiday season. 

1. How many calories should men and women aim for on their Thanksgiving plate?

a. Men should aim for 700 calories and women 500 calories. That's one-third of their daily caloric needs.
b. Men should aim for 2,000 calories and women 1,500. That's a full day worth of calories. Who needs food the rest of the day?
c. Thanksgiving is just once a year. Forget about the calories!

GeriatricSupport.jpgBy Heather Valladarez and Midge Myhre, Department of Social Work

Did you know that one in every eight Americans is 65 or older? That comprises 13% of the United States' entire population.  

An important concern for individuals in this age group is their health. With advances in modern medicine, Americans are living longer and healthier lives.

However, as with people of all ages, life experiences and social situations can have a dramatic effect on quality of life, especially when dealing with an illness.

More than 60% of new cancers are diagnosed in individuals 65 years or older. Feeling stressed or lonely is fairly normal for patients and caregivers in this age group.

If you or someone you love is in this age group and navigating through a cancer diagnosis, it's important to remember that you are the same person you have always been. Even though you're in a different situation, you may be able to draw on some of your experiences to help you cope with the stress you now may be feeling.

If you're having difficulty coping or adjusting, here are some strategies you might find helpful.

Can't Run Fast Enough

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By Isaac Van Sligtenhorst

running-offroad-running.jpgIsaac van Sligtenhorst is a physician-in-training in the Texas Medical Center. He blogs about his training, as well as battling cancer from the perspective of a caregiver. Read more of his approach to grief, hope and life-in-general at  

Monday morning, brand new week.

I took a jog in the morning sun before the thermometer had a chance to flirt with triple digits. I don't particularly like running.

In fact, after about the first mile, I pretty much hate it. But I need to exercise and I need something mindless. So I go for a Monday morning run. Exercising means music and I crank it up.

And out of the blue, a line from a song hits me like a blow to the stomach.

"Suddenly, you were gone
from all the lives
you left your mark upon... "

Waves of sadness

The waves of grief and sadness over the loss of my brother from thymic cancer have been flowing over me with greater occurrence lately.

Sometimes, they are triggered by events that warrant anticipation or expectation - holidays, birthdays, special occasions. Surprisingly, those I can handle because I expect it and brace myself for the emotions.

Donate Blood, Save Lives

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By Ashton Marchand

aM.jpgAshton Marchand has been writing since she can remember; and thanks to the help of her mother's choice to take part in a homeschooling education, her passion flourished.

Just one year ago, Ashton discovered the Southeast Texas Red Cross Club and, by January, was hooked. The MD Anderson blood drive she and the other club members put on seemed to be the turning point for this young woman, who found in herself a new passion: serving the community.

Now a high school senior, Ashton is the vice president for her Red Cross Club, and always is looking for new and exciting ways to marry her two passions.

To Live
These two words embody the ultimate gift any human being can hope to receive.

More often than we would perhaps like to admit, our fellow man has this gift taken away.

Every breath we take is precious. Every moment we live needs be cherished.

As members of the human race, it's our obligation to help one another when possible, and to always extend kindness and compassion, even in the face of adversity.

Addie.jpgVal Marshall's cancer journey began in May 2009, when her son Addison was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. A visit to the family doctor for what they thought was a simple high school football injury turned out to be much more.

Inspired by her son's strength and hope, Val strives to be a voice that connects other parents on this journey. Her series shares insight into her life as a mom of a typical teenager who just happens to be fighting leukemia.

Addison Marshall Crush Cancer

Chemo only
Addie finished proton radiation at the beginning of July and commenced with "chemo only" visits.

Addie continued working as a lifeguard and training for football season throughout the summer. I guess I missed the small print on proton radiation to the brain saying that inflammation in the brain can be a "normal" side effect.

The morning football camp was to begin, Addie hovered over me and said the heart stopping words no cancer family wants to hear, "I have fever. Should I pack up food for the hospital?"

A Festival of Fun

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Fallfest.jpgThere were princesses and transformers, ladybugs and cowboys wandering the halls of MD Anderson last week. If any of them jumped out and said "BOO!," we hope it didn't scare you.

The annual Fall Festival, sponsored by the Department of Volunteer Services, was the source of the fun. But coordinators of the festival report that this was a true collaboration of individuals and departments from across MD Anderson.

Pediatric patients in the Children's Cancer Hospital were decked out in funny, silly and sometimes even spooky costumes to get an early start on Halloween trick or treating.

The event began with a dual parade, one leaving from the Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Clinic and the other from the Children's Cancer Hospital inpatient floor. Employees lined the hospital hallways and were ready to fill pumpkins, bags and little hands with sweet treats.

Employees offered every variety of candy to the pedi paraders. Tootsie Pops, Snickers, Milk Duds, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Hot Tamales, M&M's, Jolly Ranchers, Hershey's Kisses, Jelly Beans, Skittles, Starburst Fruit Chews -- does your stomach hurt yet? This was trick or treat paradise.

The Unexpected Gift

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Jquiltfinal.jpgBy June Stokes

June Stokes was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. Then, she visited MD Anderson doctor Andrezj Kudelk for a second opinion. She says she'd "never met someone with such bedside manner."

June has been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will encourage others.

Bumpy road
My twin sister, Joan, died at 38 from complications of breast cancer.

Seven months later, my husband was killed in an accident in our home. For the first time in my life, I had no partner.

I was barely 39 years old, and had three children, ages 10, 11 and 15.

Five months after my ovarian cancer diagnosis, my youngest daughter was in critical condition and on the transplant list for a liver.

On my third appointment with Dr. Kudelka, I showed him her picture and, "lost it," as people say.

Dr. Kudelka advised me to see his colleague, Dr. Michael Fisch, in the Supportive Care Center. When I asked if he was a psychiatrist, Dr. Kudelka replied, "no, he's an oncologist."

frumovitz .jpgCervical cancer forms in the tissues of the cervix. It is usually slow-growing and caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), but it rarely produces symptoms. Approximately 100 of the cases diagnosed in the United States each year are small cell cervical cancer (SCCC), an aggressive variant.

Despite the rarity of the disease, Michael Frumovitz, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine at MD Anderson, has worked to recruit patients with SCCC to participate in research at the institution.

He is also involved in fundraising efforts for the cause and plans to use the funding to help build a worldwide tumor registry to make patient information more readily accessible to all doctors interested in studying SCCC.

What is small cell cervical cancer?
Small cell cervical cancer is a rare subtype of cervical cancer. It is a high-grade variant of a larger group of tumors called neuroendocrine cancers. These are cancers that form in the hormone-producing cells of the body's neuroendocrine system, which is composed of cells that are a cross between traditional endocrine cells (or hormone-producing cells) and nerve cells.


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