July 2012 Archives

120731Joel.JPGBy Claudia Giertz, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Deciding what field of work to pursue is a journey many believe begins in college. One man, however, began his in an MD Anderson clinic.

Joel Pequeno, now a radiation therapist at the Proton Therapy Center, was 21 years old when he received his diagnosis of medullary thyroid cancer. At the time, he was working in a call center and planned on returning to school to become a teacher.

"My sister's mother-in-law noticed a lump on my neck. I was in excellent health and felt great, so I didn't even notice it. Later on, another lump appeared a little higher and it just grew from there."

By Mike Snyder

120730Mike.JPGThe reasons for enrolling in a clinical drug trial are undoubtedly as varied as the patients themselves.  

For me, the reason is simple: I have a rare type of bone cancer called chondrosarcoma and surgery -- the usual treatment for someone like me -- is no longer a viable option.  

Cutting out one malignant tumor agitates the many benign tumors close by and they become malignant. Chemo and radiation aren't treatment options either, since neither one is effective in stopping or even slowing down my cancer.    

When I first visited MD Anderson last year for an evaluation about treatment options, participating in clinical drug trials were among the first things my doctors and I discussed.

A helpful guide
Enrolling in a trial isn't a decision to be taken lightly. Like any other treatment option, it's something you need to discuss thoroughly with your health care team, family and friends, and anyone who is a part of your care and support system.  

MD Anderson offers a handy guide listing the questions you should ask and treatment factors you should consider. Speaking as someone who has "been there, done that" I highly recommend reading this guide.

A lasting legacy

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120727JJat38.JPGBy June Stokes

June Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. 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 Part III of the July 20 post, "My sister's treatment at MD Anderson."

Joan was in the hospital until the end.

On Wednesday, March 19, 1975, she slipped into a coma. It was then that I had to accept she was dying. I placed my chair next to her bed and sat there all day, only leaving to bathe and change clothes.

My father stood at the foot of the hospital bed and when her physician came in, he asked, "Mr. McArthur, please let me know if there is anything you all may need." My dad answered, "I want my girl to get well and come home to her family."

Part of me is gone

Her breathing was loud and death was imminent, according to her physician. You could hear her taking breaths at the nurses' station.

120726Shelby.jpgShelby Robin speaks to her "12-year-old self"

Shelby Robin was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma at age 12. An athletic child, she continued to participate in sports and cheerleading, even after the cancer necessitated the amputation of her left foot.

Now a clinical nurse in the Children's Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson, Shelby is a featured speaker at the 24th annual Anderson Network Cancer Survivorship Conference Sept. 14-15 at the Omni Westside, 13210 Katy Freeway.

In this video, she gives advice to her 12-year-old self.

She also explains how her childhood experience with cancer led her to choose a career helping other children facing life-threatening illnesses.

"As a nurse, I hope to show these kids that when I say, 'I understand,' I truly do understand. I hope that for them I can be a sort of 'light at the end of the tunnel,'" she says.

Shelby's inspirational story will wrap up the conference, which is open to all those who want to learn more about the issues cancer survivors face, meet and share with other survivors, take wellness classes and have fun.

120724_Janice_.JPGSeven years after successful treatment at MD Anderson, Janice thought she had closed the book on breast cancer. Her life was back to normal and she was busy helping others, volunteering for the American Cancer Society, the Komen Foundation and MD Anderson.

Then, on a fun weekend in New Orleans, she noticed some subtle changes.

"I love Mardi Gras," says Janice, a native of Louisiana who lives in Houston. "In 2007, I was checking out a few parades with my sisters when I noticed my balance was off and my attention span was short."

An unwelcome diagnosis
When her husband noticed the changes, too, Janice decided she should investigate. Not too concerned, she visited her primary care physician, who ordered an immediate MRI.

The test showed a lesion in Janice's brain, and she was admitted to MD Anderson.

Doctors told her that her breast cancer cells had spread, or metastasized, to her brain.

"When I heard the diagnosis, it was hard," she remembers. "The first thing I thought was, 'I'm not going to be here much longer.' But I've proved myself wrong. The second thing was that I needed to talk to someone. I didn't know anything about metastatic breast cancer, and suddenly I was in the learning process again."

120717Joneswesternization.JPGBy Desiree Jones, Ph.D.

Can our nutritional choices measurably help prevent certain cancers?

Over the last three decades, researchers have gathered substantial evidence to answer that question with a definite "Yes." 

Different types of cancer are dominant in different parts of the world. However, one glance at the map, regarding estimated breast cancer incidence worldwide, indicates clearly that developed areas of the world (North America, Western Europe, Australia, and parts of South America) bear the brunt of certain cancers, like breast

Ironically, research also indicates that cancers like prostate, colon and pancreatic are predominant in those parts of the world as well. 

Further, data suggest that people who migrate from developing to developed nations experience a dramatic increase in rates of chronic diseases, including cancer, after just one generation in the adopted country. 

Why is this?  

Walter Willett, M.D., chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health has spent nearly a lifetime investigating the relationship between nutrition and chronic diseases.

When kids go off to camp, some things are certain -- they'll come back with new friends, lasting memories, perhaps some dirty laundry and a bug bite or two.

The same rings true for patients and siblings at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital who attend one of the hospital's summer camps.

In June, more than 150 patients and siblings, ages 5 to 12, packed their bags and headed to Camp Star Trails for a week of fun. The special camp is hosted each year at Camp For All's facility in Burton, Texas, which is completely handicap-accessible.

Just like at any camp, patients and siblings have the opportunity to build their skills in archery, arts and crafts, canoeing, cooking, dance, creative arts, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, team sports and swimming. They also visit a small animal farm, a nature center and tackle the ropes challenge course.

Safe retreat
Children's Cancer Hospital's program manager Linda Blankenship makes sure that regardless of the campers' physical capabilities, there are activities that everyone can participate in.

120720treatmentatMDAbyJune_usethisone.JPGBy June Stokes

June Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. 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 Part II of the July 12 post
, "Breast cancer took my twin too soon."

Joan did not have an oncologist for follow-up where we lived in Alexandria, La, so she saw her surgeon. He advised her it would be best to go to MD Anderson.

Hopes renewed
On her first trip to the institution, all of her siblings came with her. It was terrifying for us to see other ill patients. She went from one huge waiting area to another. It was difficult for her because she saw patients who were young, middle aged and elderly all together waiting for their name to be called.

120719sprint for life finish line.JPGBy Marcy Kurtz

Most importantly, I'm a daughter, sister, aunt and dependable friend to many. I practice law as a vocation and yoga as an avocation. I'm deeply committed to helping people, as a lawyer and as a yoga instructor. I'm a two-time cancer survivor, beating breast cancer diagnosed in October 2005 and uterine cancer diagnosed in August 2010. I'm just another ordinary person living an ordinary life, one day at a time.

We all know that fairy tale -- the one where the girl kisses the frog and he turns into a handsome prince and they ride off together happily into the sunset to live forever.

In fact, right now you may be recalling a happy childhood memory where you sat around with your girlfriends giggling about this very thing. I was no different. 

While I wasn't looking forward to kissing a frog, I knew that when I got older I would meet someone I least suspected to sweep me off my feet, who would in fact be my "prince!" 

Well, I wasn't a little girl when I met my prince. I was fully grown and so was he.
He was, I believed, perfect for me. He was age appropriate, smart, tall, trim, fit, athletic and totally charming with mesmerizing blue eyes and a beautiful, picture-perfect, white toothed smile. 

We fell madly in love. Well, I did. I think he did also, at least for a while.

By Johnny Rigg, MD Anderson Staff Writer

When 17-year-old Brad Coleman began having intense headaches and numbness in his arms and hands, his family took him to their doctor in Camden, Tenn.

An MRI produced normal results and Brad was prescribed a pain reliever for apparent migraines.

By the end of 2008, however, the pain became more severe even as his medication was increased.

Brad returned to Camden, where doctors discovered he had a very low blood count. They started a blood transfusion and he was transported to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville.

In the ER, doctors discovered a mass in his lower abdomen along with multiple bleeding ulcers, which would require surgery to repair.

After several more tests and scans, they discovered Brad had lesions in his liver and lungs and two in his brain that had developed after his first MRI in October, says his father, John Coleman.

Brad was diagnosed with testicular germ cell cancer on Jan. 1, 2009.

brainandspineChristy.JPGIn 2007, brain cancer survivor Christine Butterfield added two new words to her vocabulary. Words she wishes she didn't know so much about.

"Anaplastic astrocytoma of the right frontal lobe. That was my diagnosis when I came to MD Anderson," she says. "Big words I never wanted to learn - even how to spell!"

Snowed in
In 2007, Christine and her extended family - including her husband and 18-month-old daughter -- were having a great time in Breckenridge, Colo., about 80 miles from Denver. Then, she started to have severe headaches and nausea. The local hospital didn't have imaging equipment, so they took her by ambulance to the closest larger town for a CT scan.

"The doctor came into my room and said, 'There is a large mass on your right frontal lobe. We don't know what it is, so we have to get you to Denver,'" she remembers. "The problem was the chopper was grounded, and the highway was closed because of the weather."

To make matters worse, it was New Year's Eve. Finally, the doctor found a neurosurgeon in Denver who would see Christine, and they tracked down an ambulance willing to make the drive.

"The doctor in Denver said it really looked like cancer, but that I needed a biopsy to find out for sure," Christine says. "He recommended that I find a place where I had support. My family lives in Houston, and MD Anderson was the first hospital I thought of."

120716Spinetumorpatient_chris.JPGBy Christina Collier

April 16, 2010, is a day forever etched into my brain.

I went to see a neurologist, regarding numbness in my foot and lack of strength in my leg. He ordered an MRI.

I was barely back to work when his nurse called and asked if I could return to the neurology office. I naturally assumed nothing was wrong. However, when he entered the room, I knew by the look on his face that the news was not good.

I can only describe what happened next as "an out of body experience" - it was like watching a movie in which I was the lead character.

The neurologist said that I had a tumor on my spinal cord that needed to be removed as soon as possible. I tried to gather myself, but only managed to yelp, "A WHAT in my WHERE?" 

There was a possibility my tumor could be cancerous, and it was located in a dangerous, complex area. For these reasons, Cliff, my wonderful husband and soon-to-be caregiver, and I decided to go to the best place in the world for treating cancer. So on April 24, my birthday, we headed to MD Anderson for our first visit.

120612MikeSnyder-howthejourneystarted.JPGBy Mike Snyder

I've been a patient at the MD Anderson for just over a year now. In that time I've come to realize there are three things all the patients here have in common: 

  • First, and most obvious, we have cancer.
  • Second, we're being treated at the premier cancer facility in the country, if not the world. 
  • Finally, we all took a different path on our cancer journey to get here. 
My cancer journey began with a sore left knee in the mid-1990s while living in Denver. After a variety of tests and minor surgery to correct the problem, I was diagnosed with a specific type of bone cancer called chondrosarcoma.  

My doctor told me it had come from a bone disease that I had as a kid.  

The treatment for the bone cancer would be a knee joint replacement for my left leg.  

The battle wasn't over

Initially, the surgery seemed to have cured me, and I enjoyed four pain-free years with no worry about the bone cancer returning.  

Then, in early 2000, my doctor determined that my artificial knee was loose, a not uncommon occurrence. She would need to do a procedure called a resection, which involved removing the old artificial knee components and replacing them with new ones.

By June Stokes

juneandjoan3yrsold.JPGJune Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. 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.
I remember how wonderful life was growing up with a constant companion. Then,my twin sister, Joan, died from complications of breast cancer at 38. We had separate hearts, but they beat as one.

Joan and I were born on September 18, 1936. In that era, twins always dressed alike even if they were fraternal. Joan and I were complete opposites; she was fair with green eyes and curly blonde hair, left-handed, loud and always the life of the party.

I had dark olive skin, brown eyes and straight hair that Mama rolled every night to make it curly like Joan's. I was right-handed, and though I was friendly, I was much more reserved than Joan.

120711Leukemia_Verstovsek.JPGFor Mike Harris, life is good.

"I'm alive today because of a clinical trial," he says of a Phase I study he entered at MD Anderson four years ago for his myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer that had no standard treatment at the time.

Last year, he and wife Sandy celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. They live in Kingwood, north of Houston, near their son's family, and enjoy strong connections to their two grandchildren.

First sign of hope

The drug Harris received on that earliest-stage study -- and has taken ever since -- went on to become in November 2011 the first drug ever approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat myelofibrosis.

Srdan Verstovsek, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in MD Anderson's Department of Leukemia, led that Phase I study and was principal investigator on every U.S. clinical trial for ruxolitinib, developed by Incyte Corporation. It is known commercially as Jakafi™.

braincancersurvivorGBG.JPGChances are you've worked with someone like Gail Goodwin, a program manager in MD Anderson's External Communications office. She's the one in the office who cheers everyone up with her easy smile and sunny disposition, likely to break into song at a moment's notice.

Goodwin is also a brain cancer survivor.

April Fool's to remember

On April 1, 2009, a co-worker stopped by Goodwin's office to ask several questions, but got no response. She knew something was very wrong when she noticed Goodwin was not talking, which Goodwin points out is a rarity for her.

"My brain was playing a really bad April Fool's joke on me," Goodwin says with her signature sense of humor.

Immediately, Goodwin's office mates called 911. Since her symptoms pointed to a possible stroke, the paramedics took her to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. But over the next couple of days, she was diagnosed with a stage III oligodendroglioma, a rare malignant brain tumor.

"Once I found out I had cancer, I got back to MD Anderson as quickly as I could," Gail says.

In 2004, after beating cancer twice, out of nowhere Reba Kennedy of Knoxville, Tenn., began experiencing constant, agonizing pain.

"We went several times to the doctor and they checked every way they knew how, but didn't see anything," she says. "But I knew that I was just in so much pain."

Finally, during a routine check-up with her oncologist they found the source -- a large mass wrapped around her ribs.

The diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer shocked Reba, a non-smoker, and her family.    

"My doctor told me that the tumor was inoperable and asked if I would like to go someplace else for a second opinion," Reba explains. "I asked him where he would go if it was someone in his family." His answer was MD Anderson.

locksoflove_Sandy.JPGBy Erica Quiroz, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Once Sandy Flores heard that Houston radio station KKHH-Hot 95.7 wanted listeners to donate their hair to Locks of Love, she jumped at the chance.

Flores donated the required amount of eight to ten inches of her hair on June 8, and was one of 15 people who took it a step further and shaved their heads.

"To me it seemed like the right thing to do," Flores says. "I see a lot of cancer patients come and go. Hair grows; mine will come back and it's not a big deal to me."

Flores is a medical assistant in the Mohs and Dermasurgery Unit, part of MD Anderson's Department of Dermatology. She says she felt like she had to donate her hair after working with cancer patients for the past five years.

By Trent Johnson

Trent_JohnsonI have a headache ... or not.

I was in elementary school when I started having headaches. The headaches seemed to hurt mostly when I was reading, so my parents took me to the eye doctor.

My parents and brother wear glasses and contacts, so we just assumed that my headaches were caused by vision problems. I was prescribed reading glasses. The glasses helped for a while, but in middle school my headaches started occurring more frequently.

Everyone thought I was faking a headache so I could go home and get out of school work, which was aggravating. I also started playing football, a hard-hitting sport, which we thought may have been why, at times, my headaches were so bad.

Placing blame on football and allergies
In high school, I continued playing football. Often, I played against teams with guys twice my size. One of the last games of my ninth grade season, I had to compete against a guy who weighed about 250 pounds, I weighed just 150 pounds. So, naturally, as my headaches persisted, I thought once again it was due to the head-to-head contact in football.

In late November 2009, my headaches became more severe and I began vomiting. Not knowing the cause, I blamed it on allergies, "my sinuses are flared," I thought.

Caroline Kimrey When a parent has cancerBy Caroline Kimrey

Caroline Kimrey is a wife and mom to a young son. After a few tumors were discovered on a CT scan, she had major surgery on Feb. 23, 2012. Pathologists needed almost a week to diagnose her cancer, even taking the tissue to an "unusual tumors" conference.

Finally, when she was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, she traveled to MD Anderson, prepared for (almost) anything. What she was not prepared for was to learn that she had been misdiagnosed.

She continues to be an MD Anderson patient, awaiting treatment for myxiod sarcoma. She chooses to blog at for others who might be going through a similar experience.

One of my first thoughts when the doctor said cancer was, what about my son? I'm sure I'm not unique among parents who have received a cancer diagnosis

It was difficult for me to get past the stigma that comes with the word cancer. I, like many others, immediately went to the negative. If I die, what happens to my son?

But a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. More people live with cancer now than die from it. When I was finally able to understand that, my focus moved to being sick. 

My son is young. At 2 1/2, he is neither able to understand what is happening nor express how he feels about it. When I was hospitalized, he went to stay with my in-laws for 10 days. 

This was not only the longest he had ever been apart from us, but we also had no time to prepare him for it. We went in expecting a doctor's appointment and wound up with a debulking and an 11-day hospital recovery period. 

By Terri Jason

I didn't focus much on losing my hair, until I had to.

I knew hair loss was one of the treatment side effects and there wasn't much I could do about it.

Although I've always loved hats and scarves on other people, I've never been much for wearing them myself. However, I knew I would need to start, so I purchased several solid-colored scarves to mix and match with my daily attire.

I played around with tying and wearing the scarves before I began to lose my hair, trying to get a feel for the process.

Once I actually began to lose my hair, I decided to speed up the process and shave it off myself. After that was done, I felt better. 

All it takes is practice
Each day I played around a bit more with the scarves to figure out what worked for me as far as fit and style. Although I had no idea what I was doing when I started, I found I was better than I'd ever imagined.

Believing I had mastered the art of scarf tying, I continued to go about my daily routine. That is, until I visited Volunteer Services at MD Anderson one day.


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