December 2011 Archives

This year, we've had the good fortune to meet some amazing patients. The stories they tell of diagnosis, treatment and hope are inspiring.

Are you a patient at MD Anderson with a story you'd like to share? Email us at and tell us more about you and your cancer-fighting spirit.

patientstoriescancerwisefinal.jpgWith Faith, Family and a Plan, Man Beats Prostate Cancer
After treatment was completed, Easton's PSA level fell dramatically to less than 1.

To celebrate, he rang the radiation bell, a tradition at MD Anderson, on March 8, 2011. His wife, son, two close friends, "Dr. K," as Easton affectionately calls Deborah Kuban, M.D., and his whole treatment team joined in the celebration.

"When I grabbed that bell and rang it, I couldn't believe it was really over," he says. "I'd gotten so used to the routine of my treatment."

Eating the right food is one way to lower your cancer risk. But there are a few specific ingredients that are shown to give a boost to those benefits.

Although further study is needed, tumeric, cinnamon and soy products have shown promise as cancer fighters. The articles below explain how chemicals in these ingredients work, and how to best include them in your diet. 

turmericcancerfighting.jpgTurmeric Adds Spice to Your Health
One of the keys to tumor suppression could possibly lie in the Indian spice turmeric. Often used in curry dishes, it's commonly known as "Indian solid gold" for its proven health benefits.

Various scientific studies have shown that the yellow compound in turmeric, curcumin, contains potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These can inhibit tumor cell growth and suppress enzymes that activate carcinogens.

Cancer isn't the terminal sentence that it used to be. According to the American Cancer Society, this decline started in 1991 for men and in 1992 for women. Since that time, death rates have fallen 21% among men and 12% among women.

Lower death rates mean more cancer survivors. Below are the most remarkable stories from cancer survivors that we posted in 2011. These stories about life on the other side of cancer will change the way you think about the diagnosis of cancer.

Shelbyrobin2011.jpgWhat Cancer Has Taught Me
Last summer, I was a professional student nurse extern at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital. I must say it was strange to work in the same halls of the pediatric floor where I learned to walk again, and work with some of the same nurses who took care of me when I was sick.

I remember going into a patient's room to change an IV dressing and realized it was that same room where I was diagnosed and this whole journey began.

This year was full of scientific breakthroughs that directly benefited cancer patients. Three of the most exciting innovations came in the form of new treatment options for lymphoma, pancreatic cancer and inflammatory breast cancer.

Dr.Younes copy.jpgThese new treatments wouldn't have been possible without patient participation in clinical trials. To learn more about these treatments and clinical trials available at MD Anderson see the stories below.

A Good Day for Patients With Lymphoma

7/2011 - Today, the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee, an FDA advisory panel, voted 10-0 to recommend accelerated approval for Adcetris to treat patients with relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma after having a stem cell transplant, and for patients with relapsed or resistant systemic ALCL.
Adcetris (Brentuximab vedotin), which is made by Seattle Genetics, combines an antibody that targets CD30 receptor with a toxic drug. This combination is called Antibody Drug Conjugate (ADC, hence the first three letters in the name Adcetris). 

By Dawn Dorsey, Staff Writer

protonsanta.jpgFor Wayne Murray, the chance to light up children's faces by playing Santa Claus at MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center is a way to give back, as well as one of the greatest gifts he receives every year.

A few days before Christmas two years ago, Murray completed successful treatment for prostate cancer at the Proton Therapy Center. During his visits there, he saw children waiting for treatment, and he wondered how he might help make their Christmas brighter. As he was preparing to be released, he asked a staff member if Santa ever visited the center.

"I just thought I'd make an offer," he says. "A few days later, I was playing Santa, and I've been doing it and loving it for three Christmases. It makes the kids so happy, and that's what it's all about."

A chance to give back

Murray, who owns a Houston real estate company, makes sure to schedule his annual check-up at the Proton Therapy Center for the week before Christmas. Then, from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., he takes orders for gifts, gives lots of jolly chuckles and gently coaxes those who are a little shy.

The week before he arrives, the Proton Therapy Center child life specialist gives Murray a wish list of gifts for the children who will be there the day he visits. Members of his staff then work with employees of a local relocation company to buy gifts. They ensure there are enough gifts for every child at the center, including patients' siblings. It's grown into one of the company's most important annual events.

Getting Through Cancer

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By Andrew Griffith

copingwithcancer.jpgAndrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and has had an auto (November 2009) and an allo (August 2011) stem cell transplant. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

During the past few years, I have done more than my share of navigating through the emotional and practical aspects of my treatment for mantle cell lymphoma. While in the back of my mind, the broader questions -- Why me? How long will I live? -- remain.

Tips to help

Once I got over the initial anger and depression after the initial diagnosis (and after my relapse), I found these practical tips and approaches helped me and my family get through it all:

  • Be thankful for what you have. I'm unlucky. I have an aggressive form of lymphoma that can be treated, not cured. However, if I'm unlucky with cancer, I'm lucky in the strong support of my wife, family and friends on the emotional and practical side. I also have a good benefits plan, so I have no financial worries. And whenever I go to the hospital, I am reminded that there are people worse off than me.
  • Take it one step at a time. I could not process all the information and treatment plan at the same time. I couldn't worry about whether the allo stem cell transplant would work and whether I would get GvHD, a disease that occurs when cells from a donated stem cell graft attack the normal tissue of the transplant patient. The best advice I got from the medical team was to take it step by step. Worry about the current stage, not the future. By dividing treatment into "chewable chunks," I could also celebrate each milestone -- getting through each round of chemo, getting past the first month post-transplant, making it to the 100-day milestone.

By Bonnie Nelson

prostateaid.jpgKnow your options
Your doctor has just told you that you have localized prostate cancer. While he's explaining your treatment options, all you're trying to do is not panic.

He's discussing different types of surgery or radiation therapies, while you're probably wondering, "What is localized prostate cancer?" and "How am I supposed to decide which treatment option is best?"

This decision can be overwhelming and at times frightening. There are so many different things to consider, so many new terms to learn and so many opinions. Take a deep breath; here's some advice.

"Take your time, get the facts, and make a 'game plan.' "

Decision aid

Decision aids exist in various forms (e.g., pamphlets or videos) and are designed to help people understand their health care options, consider the personal importance of possible benefits and harms, and participate in decision making. Decision aids are used when there's more than one medically reasonable option.

Recently, a new decision aid for men with localized prostate cancer was released on the web and is available to the public. "Knowing Your Options" is an interactive, web-based decision aid designed to prepare men who have been diagnosed with clinically localized prostate cancer to have an informed discussion with their doctor about which treatment options are best for them.

Uterine Cancer Strikes Suddenly

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arya.jpgFlorence Arya was on top of the world.

Newly retired from a rewarding career as a geologist, eager to travel with her husband and seemingly healthy, she was stunned when a well-woman exam in 2004 revealed she had a rare form of uterine cancer.

"I was in the best shape of my life, exercising 11-1/2 hours a week," she recalls. "Then suddenly, I'm dying. I have a death sentence."

Then 57, Arya was diagnosed with stage III uterine papillary serous carcinoma, an aggressive type that accounts for less than 15% of endometrial cancers.

Arya, who was postmenopausal, had experienced some vaginal bleeding, but hadn't been too concerned about it.

Her treatment consisted of a complete hysterectomy, five weeks of radiation and five sessions of chemotherapy.

Seven years later, Arya is immensely grateful for her recovery and quick to give credit where it's due.

By Sara Farris

santapedi copy.jpgLoads of toys coming in, gingerbread houses being made, choirs singing, delicious treats being shared -- it must be the holidays at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

While the hospital is the last place a child wants to be during the holiday season, the Children's Cancer Hospital partners with community groups to make it a special time for patients and their families.

Toys galore
There's no better way to cheer up a young patient than with a shiny new toy. With the support of many community groups, the Children's Cancer Hospital provides patients and siblings with bundles of gifts. There's a variety of gifts for all ages to choose from -- video games, digital audio players, dolls, art kits, remote-controlled cars and more.

Houston Performance Driving, led by Troy Dixon, organized a toy drive with local car enthusiasts at their December "Coffee and Cars" show. Bringing in more than 3,000 toys, it's the biggest donation that MD Anderson receives each year.

In addition, other organizations such as Quanex, Aramco and the Rainbows and Roses Foundation contributed toys for pediatric patients at MD Anderson. Quanex also donated money to the hospital's Pediatric Education and Creative Arts Program for school-related equipment, while Aramco helped stock the video game and movie cart that goes room to room on the inpatient floor.

Toys that aren't given away during the holidays are used for birthday presents and bingo prizes for patients throughout the year.

Thank You, MD Anderson

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By Ken Birt

Pat rings bell.jpgKen Birt's wife, Pat, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer more than two years ago. What could have been a devastating prognosis became a journey of comfort and hope.

At our engagement party on Dec. 27, 2009, we never realized the journey that our lives would take together during the following two years.

In February 2009, I decided to move nearer to Pat in southeast Missouri. She had been suffering from some pain for a year or more, but all the colonoscopies showed no growths.  

Devastating prognosis
That February, just two days after I joined Pat, a growth the size of a grapefruit was discovered outside the colon. Surgery was performed at the local hospital, removing two feet of colon.  

After the procedure, I asked the surgeon about her prognosis. He answered, "Not good." I asked, "Not good, as in terminal?" He responded, "Yes, she has stage IV colon cancer and even though I think I removed all the malignant growth, the life expectancy for this cancer is a year."

We were devastated, but we didn't give up.

By Francois Pouliot, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care and Susan Gaeta, M.D., assistant professor, Department of Critical Care

Providing information and counseling to patients and families about care options at the end of life is often difficult for even well-trained professionals, yet such information is essential to patient care and empowerment. We will look at the initiatives launched recently in New York and California, before assessing the situation in Texas.

New York - The "Palliative Care Information Act"
Since Feb. 9, 2011, information and counseling concerning palliative care and end-of-life options must be offered in the State of New York to patients with an illness or condition expected to cause death within six months.

According to the law, palliative care is "health care treatment, including interdisciplinary end-of-life care, and consultation with patients and family members to prevent or relieve pain and suffering and to enhance the patient's quality of life, including hospice care."

Patients will be fully informed of the options available to them, so that they are empowered to make choices consistent with their goals for care, wishes and beliefs, and to optimize their quality of life. The law is not intended to limit the options available to terminally-ill patients. Nor is it intended to discourage conversations about palliative care with patients whose life expectancy exceeds six months.

The information provided will include

  • Prognosis;
  • Range of options appropriate to the patient; 
  • Risks and benefits of various options; 
  • Patients' "legal rights to comprehensive pain and symptom management at the end of life."

By Ed Steger

ED1STPOST.jpgEd Steger was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2005. After 36 radiation treatments, 2 years in palliative care and 5 surgeries he is now in remission. He blogs about living with head and neck cancer at

In order to give back to the medical team that saved him, Ed is currently a SPORE Patient Research Advocate at MD Anderson.

Today, Dec. 13, 2011, is my five-year cancerversary. I was originally diagnosed in April, at age 53, with stage III/IV head and neck cancer at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Throughout my cancer journey, the largest setback came five years ago today. Here's my story.

Difficult journey

Between April 2005 and December 2006, I had 36 IMRT radiation treatments, Taxol chemotherapy and four surgeries. One surgery that I often refer to as the "salvage surgery" lasted 12 hours and was followed by two terrifying days in the ICU and a week longer stay in the hospital.

At the time, it was either this surgical procedure or getting my affairs in order. After careful deliberation, driven largely by wanting to see my 12-year-old daughter grow up along with strong encouragement and support from my family, I chose the salvage surgery that took place on July 12, 2006.

It was an incredibly difficult surgery involving the removal of my left side jaw bone, a large section on my upper esophagus, part of my soft palate and a piece of my tongue.  

If that wasn't enough, my tibia bone was cut from my leg to replace the portion of my jaw that was removed, necessitating a skin graft on the tibia area.

By Nita Pyle, associate director, Patient Education

pated121211.jpgThink about the last time you wanted to learn something. What did you do? Did you attend a lecture? Did you "Google" the topic? How about read a book or magazine? Maybe, take a course?

As adults, we have developed ways of learning that suit us best. Some of us are listeners, some prefer reading and digesting information slowly, and some want that hands-on experience that uses all our senses.

What you really need to know
As patient educators, we know that patients have a preferred learning style. We also know that there are barriers to learning at any particular moment. Your pain level might be too high or you are sick to your stomach. Your brain function seems fuzzy or maybe you don't have your glasses.

Health care professionals know patients are motivated to learn because the content pertains to you and your well-being.

As a patient, you no doubt have been inundated with printed materials to read. Has anyone told you what's really important in that material for you to know and remember? Some of it may be nice to know, but not critical.

Tips to take control

Here are things you might want to consider when you want to learn, need to learn or when it's just not a good time to learn.

By William Fitzgerald, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Seven years ago, Suzanne Hebert was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that spread to her liver and bones. After four rounds of chemotherapy and decreasing response rates, she decided it was time for a change. That change came after advice from a friend, who also had advanced breast cancer, and was enrolled on a clinical trial at MD Anderson.

The trial combined two drugs, everolimus, and a hormone therapy called arimidex. A different trial named BOLERO-2, or Breast Cancer Trials of Oral Everolimus, showed that combining everolimus with a different hormone therapy, exemestane, dramatically improved progression-free survival for women with advanced breast cancer. 

This week, the BOLERO-2 study was presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium by Gabriel Hortobagyi, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Breast Medical Oncology at MD Anderson.

In the below video, Hebert shares her story from diagnosis through treatment.  To learn more about the BOLERO-2 trial, read Combination Drug Therapy Promising for Advanced Breast Cancer.

holiday baking - cancerwise.jpgBy Laura Nathan-Garner, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Who said holiday food had to be unhealthy? Whip up these tasty (and easy!) recipes to serve some cancer-fighting nutrients at this year's holiday parties.

Dark Bark with Cranberries and Almonds

Baking? Don't miss the chance to use this season's sweetest cancer-fighting ingredient -- dark chocolate.

Research suggests that the antioxidants in dark chocolate help protect the body from cancer. Added bonus: regularly eating small amounts of chocolate may reduce your chances of both heart disease and stroke.

Get our recipe for dark chocolate bark with almonds and cranberries.

Spiced Toasted Almonds
Want to serve up a hefty dose of cancer-fighting vitamin E? Almonds get the job done. And that's not the only good news. Almonds also are rich in magnesium and fiber, which can help control blood cholesterol.

Try our recipe for spiced toasted almonds.

By Maggie Newell, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Newells.jpgPart II of Monday's post- A 10-Year Triumph

Maggie Newell is a program manager in MD Anderson's Internal Communications department. A native Houstonian, she's been with the institution for seven years.

Answering the call
Saturday, Nov. 26, was cold and bleak. I was with my daughter in her father's London home when I called Tim. And the diagnosis was confirmed: Hodgkin's lymphoma, stage 3b, metastases on his liver and lungs.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to throw things, smash windows and rage at the world. How could a non-smoking, non-drinking guy who wasn't a bit overweight (and getting more gaunt by the day) develop cancer? And why wasn't this caught sooner?

I turned and saw my daughter watching me wide-eyed as tears rolled down my face. I couldn't fall apart. It would scare her, and it wouldn't help Tim, and Tim needed me.

And I needed Tim.

It was a stunning realization: I really, really did not want this man to die. I didn't know what the future held, but I knew what he meant to me.

In an instant, my frustration and fear turned to anger and affirmation. How dare this insidious assailant try to take him away from me, from us, from our friends and family. It clearly doesn't know how stubborn we can be. But it's going to find out.

When I returned from London, we began planning the next stage of our lives.

A 10-Year Triumph

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By Maggie Newell, MD Anderson Staff Writer

newellszoofinal.jpgMaggie Newell is a program manager in MD Anderson's Internal Communications department. A native Houstonian, she's been with the institution for seven years.

Times of stress can distance many of us from the very people we need most. And when the stress involves a loved one with cancer, that distance can be a daunting gap to cross.

For my husband Tim and me, a December 2000 a phone call from London to Houston proved to be the moment that confirmed our relationship -- and led to our future as a family.

Scratchy summer

We'd been dating for a year that summer when The Itch arrived. Day and night, Tim scratched himself incessantly, to the point of drawing blood. But it was worse at night.

In August, Tim saw a dermatologist, who diagnosed him with scabies. We thought it was odd given that I wasn't itchy, but we dutifully went through the inconvenient treatment.

The Itch didn't go away.

We did the treatment again. The Itch remained.

Taking a different approach, we tried different creams, lotions, soaps and detergents, but The Itch wouldn't budge. Nothing gave Tim any relief.

Then he started to keep track of other odd symptoms: a persistent low-grade fever, a lump on his clavicle and weight loss.

Tim's nights became sleepless. The only way he could fall asleep was to sit on the sofa with his feet in a tub of ice water. He'd try to catch up on sleep by taking naps in his car during breaks at work. We grew increasingly frustrated with each other and The Itch, but mostly with not knowing what was wrong.

Richard Trevino.jpgLicense to Win
Richard Trevino zips around town in a black Camaro with a license plate that reads "proton." It's a symbol of the life-saving treatment that helped him beat prostate cancer -- made even sweeter by the fact that his wife won the car for him.

Richard, 60, who retired from the Air Force in 2004, works for Defense Contracting Management Agency. The  agency provides crucial surveillance support to military bases in some of the most dangerous places in the world. When he came home to San Antonio from Afghanistan in 2010, he felt the need to be checked for prostate problems.

Delia, Richard's wife of 41 years, made an appointment for him to see the family doctor. The next thing he knew, he was referred to a urologist because his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level was high. Next came a biopsy and the news he had cancer.

Fewer side effects
"We took it as a blow," he says. "Delia was especially upset because she has a lot of cancer in her family. But I composed myself and took a step back to look at my choices."

Different physicians recommended different treatments: surgery and brachytherapy, a type of internal radiation. But Richard started hearing about proton therapy from his oldest son, and during some Internet research found out about the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.

"I was interested because I had heard proton therapy minimized side effects, like ED and incontinence," he says.

People make the difference
When the Trevinos visited the Proton Therapy Center, they were struck by the people they met.

By Sapna Patel, M.D., assistant professor, Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology

Eye cancerUveal melanoma is a term with which many people may be unfamiliar. In part, that's because it's a relatively rare type of cancer, but also because it's been called different names by different sources.

Essentially, uveal melanoma is a cancer, or melanoma, of the eye. While it's not seen as often as cutaneous (skin) melanoma, which accounts for the vast majority of melanoma cases, it's the second most common type of primary malignant melanoma in the body. It represents an estimated 5% to 6% of all melanoma diagnoses.

Uveal melanoma involves one of the three parts of the eye that comprise the uvea: the iris, the ciliary body and the choroid. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides useful information on uveal melanoma under the heading of intraocular melanoma, defined as a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the eye.

Intraocular disease starts in the middle layer -- the uvea -- of the wall of the eye. The uvea is located behind the sclera (the white of the eye) and the cornea, the window at the front of the eye. Of the three main components of the uvea, the iris is the colored area of the eye.

Behind the iris is the ciliary body, a ring of tissue with muscle fibers that alter the size of the pupil and the shape of the lens. The choroid (also known as the posterior uvea) is a layer of blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the eye; this is where most intraocular (hence, uveal) melanomas develop.

Risks and symptoms


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