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October 2012 Archives

cervical_cancer_survivor_beats_cancer_three_times_ME_strong.JPGBy Linda Ryan

I thought I had checked cancer off my list. Having just ran my first marathon it was hard to imagine that my cancer had returned after seven years. Cancer chose the wrong woman. I was ready to battle the disease for the third time with health, laughter and friendship.
Follow me at http://www.mestrong.net/

As I look forward to the approaching holidays, I feel excited and overwhelmed as most people do at this time of year.

My holidays will be very different this year. Last year, I was involved in the battle of my life. As a 43-year-old mother of two, I was battling recurring cervical cancer. I spent last Christmas in bed, sick from the effects of chemotherapy.    

Ten years ago I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, eight years ago with cervical cancer and last year, recurring cervical cancer.

When I was diagnosed last year I was in the best shape of my life. Four weeks before finding the suspect lymph node in my neck, I ran the San Diego Marathon.

breast_cancer_patient_brachytherapy_radiation_treatment.jpgBy Carla Dickerson

For me, curling up with a good book is a relaxing evening. I particularly enjoy reading autobiographies. Other times, when my creative juices flow, I'll write some poetry or prose.
 
During a difficult time several years ago, I started to write parables and devotionals. My first book was self-published, and I feel it revealed to me that God's purpose for my life was to minister to others as part of my own healing.

As Maya Angelou eloquently stated, "I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it." I'm hopeful this blog post will provide comfort to someone else on a similar journey.


Breast Cancer Awareness Month has taken on an entirely new meaning for me since the discovery of a suspicious mass on my mammogram this past March (a few days shy of a milestone birthday). I complied with the requisite ultrasound, still claiming that it was some calcification and nothing serious. 

Once the ultrasound results confirmed the same suspicious mass, I was directed to have a biopsy. At that point, it was time to switch gears and doctors. With my fiercest advocate, my daughter, I became a patient at the No. 1 rated cancer hospital in the nation, MD Anderson Cancer Center.  

After another mammogram, ultrasound and subsequent biopsy, the mass actually turned out to be negative, and I rejoiced hearing the good news. With wise counsel, I met with the surgeon, Gildy Babiera, M.D., to schedule the removal of the mass and some surrounding margins. Again, my faith was unwavering and I expected the pathology report to be clear again.

Alas, that wasn't quite the case. The margins revealed the cancerous cells and I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma, stage 0. While most people probably cringe at even the mention of cancer, and ask "why me," I had faith that this would be but a blip on the journey of life. With my family, friends and church family, I had plenty of support to face whatever lay ahead.

While my treatment may not have been as arduous as some, it was a journey. 

By Simona Shaitelman, M.D., assistant professor, Department of Radiation Oncology

Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation APBI_Simona Shaitelman_JPG.JPGWomen with early stage breast cancer have so many different treatment options that the choices can be overwhelming. For almost all women who choose to keep their breast (and avoid mastectomy), radiation therapy is almost always a part of the treatment plan.

The radiation regimen for which we have the longest follow-up data involves treating the whole breast, every day for five weeks, typically with an additional one-week "boost" to the area where the tumor used to be. 

For women who want the most conservative modality of radiation treatment, I recommend this longer course of treatment.

The question has become, as technology has improved, can we be more focal and efficient in how we deliver radiation therapy. Accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI) lets me deliver relatively higher doses of radiation to the area where the tumor used to be, twice a day for five days.

This technique is still actively being compared to the traditional longer course of whole breast radiation. What we do have is follow-up data from multiple institutions in the United States and Europe that have shown very high rates of tumor control in appropriately selected patients, with 5-12 years of follow-up.

Who qualifies?
I use very strict criteria before offering APBI to patients and encourage all of my patients to be treated on protocol. The patients I treat with APBI have very early stage, small breast cancer that has been completely removed by their surgeon. I also evaluate each of my patients with a CT scan after surgery.

lymphoma patient on living with cancer.JPGBy Andrew Griffith

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and had auto (2009) and allo (2011) stem cell transplants. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at www.lymphomajourney.wordpress.com, has published "Living with Cancer: A Journey," and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

Part II of  Lessons from living with cancer

Some lessons emerge from the experience of having cancer, all of which contribute to our overall attitude toward life and living.


Be in the moment

My lessons about time, people and sharing all require that I be in the moment. At the same time, planning moments and making the space for them gives them meaning.

When you have ups and downs in your treatment, you will quickly identify whether the present moment is a "this too shall pass" one, or whether you're in a moment when your health and mental state will allow you to enjoy and be enthusiastic about life.

Given that my first part of the journey could be compared to boxing rounds (knocked down only to get up again) or a roller coaster (choose your metaphor), planning for the moments when I would feel better helped me take advantage of those moments.

lessonsfromlivingwithcancer.JPGBy Andrew Griffith

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and had auto (2009) and allo (2011) stem cell transplants. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at www.lymphomajourney.wordpress.com, has published "Living with Cancer: A Journey," and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.


Some lessons emerge from the experience of having cancer, all of which contribute to our overall attitude toward life and living.

In contrast to my dualities, which helped me understand what I was going through and how I was reacting - and should react - to my lymphoma treatment, a number of themes or general lessons were important to me over the longer term.

These first occurred to me about a month or so into my diagnosis, and I kept coming back to them, during good days and bad, as reminders of what I wanted to take away for the future. Thinking about these lessons during treatment, and having them to refer to in the future, is my way of ensuring that I continue to reflect on what matters as I return to "normal" life.

While my relapse threw into question whether my life would ever be "normal" again, my perspective on these lessons has remained, at least so far, remarkably consistent with my first thoughts on the subject two years ago.

Time changes
After a cancer diagnosis, one's mortality becomes more imminent, no matter how good - or bad - the prognosis. The question of how to best use one's time in the short, medium and long term becomes more important.

A message to my breast cancer sisters.jpgBy Mary Issa Zwald

In the fall 2008 issue of Network, Mary Issa Zwald shared the story of her cancer diagnosis and treatment. An Arab-American of Lebanese descent, she volunteered to appear on an Arabic television segment to raise awareness among Arabic speakers about breast cancer. She continues to support and encourage people facing cancer around the globe.

I'm a 12-year breast cancer survivor.  

October brings lots of memories of the day I was diagnosed and began to follow my recommended treatment protocol.  

I described my ordeal then as a storm with a black cloud, and wished it would disappear.

Today, I thank my lucky stars that I had the opportunity to be treated at MD Anderson. The research and treatment of breast cancer has greatly advanced. There are lots of caring and brilliant minds who oversee the treatment of each patient. I'm a validation of that personally tailored treatment.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's a global effort to encourage women to have their mammograms and do their monthly checkups.

For survivors, it's a time for reflection and gratitude toward those who've supported us and for our doctors who still care for us.

Second Chances.JPGBy Janet Ruffin

Janet Hull Ruffin is an artist, arts educator and poet. She is finishing a book of poems showing what it's like to work with critically ill children in a major cancer center. She focuses on hospital culture, the therapeutic nature of art and spirituality.

She retired from MD Anderson in January 2009 after serving as the art teacher in the Children's Cancer Hospital for more than 10 years. Her position was special because the time she spent with patients and their families was not about diagnoses, examinations or treatments. They made art together. Currently, she volunteers with the Children's Art Project working with pediatric patients.


Working in a cancer hospital taught me to periodically look at my priorities and regrets. What will I regret not having done if I die in the next moment? Recently, I read a poem that a friend of mine had posted on her blog, http://paint-paper-pencils-collageart.blogspot.com.

What breast cancer awareness really looks like.JPGBy Brandie Sellers

Brandie Sellers teaches yoga, meditation, nutrition and cooking. She paints, writes, runs and plays with her children. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor and a divorcee.

Brandie is crazy about her three children, and is blessed with a slew of sister friends who pick her up when she's down, keep her honest with herself when she's full of it, and make her laugh until she cries. Follow her at http://simplelifeyoga.com/.


Cancer survivors laugh a bit at this cancer awareness stuff. Nobody is more aware of cancer than we are. It's either in us or has been in us, and it's all around us in the form of friends and all those ribbons of various colors.

There is a difference between awareness and marketing. Using cancer to sell products is shameful. If I see one more carcinogenic product made in China in the color of breast cancer pink I might throw up.

I don't think there is a cancer donation police checking to make sure those companies really donate a percentage to cancer. And even if they do, they're probably causing more harm with those awful products than good with whatever meager money they donate.

Those products are increasing awareness of their brand, not cancer, and trying to link themselves to cancer and capitalize on that. That burns me up.

By Ginasenda Rodriguez and Stephen Collazo, Social Work Counselors

The effect of domestic violence on cancer patients children.JPGOctober is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Intimate parent violence (IPV), more commonly known as domestic violence, occurs any time a partner willfully hurts or threatens to hurt his or her partner in any way, physically, sexually or verbally. 

All too often, there are children present in the homes where this type of abuse occurs. 

Studies show that children who witness domestic violence against a parent while growing up have a higher incidence of mental health issues than the general population.

In the article "More Than You Might Think: Cancer Victims and Domestic Violence," we discussed some of the differences with how people diagnosed with cancer experience IPV compared to the general population.

Based on certain risk factors, we know that patients with cancer and other chronic illnesses are at a greater risk for IPV. Therefore, we can assume that kids whose parents have cancer may have a higher risk of being exposed to IPV in the home.

If you, as a parent with cancer, are in a situation where you're being abused by your partner, there are some strategies to help reduce or heal the emotional trauma your child may experience. Many of these tools are very similar to those that are recommended for helping children cope with a parent's cancer.

reconstructive plastic surgery Art Hill.JPGThe last thing on 64-year-old Art Hill's mind while hiking Machu Picchu this fall is the microvascular muscle flap on his scalp.

But for Jesse Selber, M.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson's Department of Plastic Surgery, it's a reminder that robotics may one day improve outcomes in reconstructive plastic surgery.

Hill was diagnosed in March 2011 with melanoma at the peak of his scalp. When surgeons went deeper and wider to remove more surrounding tissue, it was vital to cover the palm-sized area.

Not only did Hill want to get back to his family and business in Boerne, Texas, but he also needed radiation treatment.

Hill is among the first patients anywhere -- not just MD Anderson -- to have portions of his latissmus dorsi (the large muscle under the arm that wraps around to the back) harvested robotically and transplanted microsurgically.

glioblastoma_multiforme_patient_surgery_doug.JPGBy Karen Clendenin

Doug Clendenin was diagnosed with stage IV glioblastoma multiforme on May 15, 2012. Neurosurgeon Dr. Sujit S. Prabhu performed a lifesaving craniotomy on May 29, successfully removing 100% of the tumor. Due to the size and location of the tumor, however, surgery left Doug hemiplegic. He remained inpatient for 24 days in the neuro-rehabilitation unit and continues outpatient therapy at MD Anderson. His journey can be followed at http://prayersfordoug.com.

We have likened our brain cancer journey to a category 5 hurricane. We were hit hard with full impact:
-Diagnosis and surgery
-Entered the calm eye of the storm - tumor completely removed
-Lived through the dirty side of the storm - post-surgical physical deficiencies, radiation and chemotherapy

Now we are in the aftermath of building a new normal life that includes physical and occupational therapy and regular doctor visits.

We say "new normal" because life will never return to normal as we once knew it. And finding a new normal for a hemiplegic can be trying at times. You are warned and told to be patient and that recovery will come slowly, but hearing the words and practicing them daily are sometimes a struggle.

While each phase of Doug's journey is noteworthy, it is the steps that are taken through physical and occupational therapy that are guiding us to a new normal life.

Acinic cell carcinoma Tsimberidou_Doctor.JPGAcinic cell carcinoma (ACC) of the parotid is a rare tumor and therefore information compared to other tumor types is relatively limited. 

Answering questions about ACC is Apostolia Tsimberidou, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics at MD Anderson.

What is acinic cell carcinoma?

Acinic (or acinar) cell carcinoma of the parotid gland is a rare tumor that represents approximately 10% of salivary gland tumors. This tumor is usually a low-grade, highly differentiated carcinoma. Women are affected with salivary gland tumors more than men, and the average age of diagnosis of all salivary gland tumors is approximately 44 years old.

What causes ACC?
While the cause of salivary gland tumors is unknown, risk factors include: cigarette smoking, genetic predisposition, viral infections, rubber manufacturing, plumbing equipment and some types of woodworking, as well as asbestos mining and exposure to nickel compounds. The only well-established risk factor is ionizing radiation.

Workplace exposure to certain radioactive substances may also increase the risk of salivary gland cancer. In rare instances, members of some families seem to have a higher than usual risk of developing this type of cancer.

Fighting cancer with hope

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acinic cell carcinoma patient Jamie.JPGBy Erica Quiroz, MD Anderson staff writer

Although Jamie Gilmore's cancer has relapsed three times, she's hoping the fourth time will be the charm to finally beat it.

Gilmore was first diagnosed at 14 years old with acinic cell carcinoma (ACC), a rare salivary gland cancer. But her most notable experience with ACC happened when she was 20.

She had pain on the left side of her face -- the exact spot where she had a mass removed six years earlier -- and was scheduled for surgery.

A happy surprise
"This time the tumor was all around my facial nerves," Gilmore says. "The surgery was going to be five to six hours for removal of the tumor and then another five to six hours for reconstructive surgery."

As Gilmore's husband and family waited, the anesthesiologist noticed her hormone levels were elevated.

"My mom had me on a lot of natural remedies, and I thought that was why," she says. "When the anesthesiologist came in and said I was pregnant, I was shocked."

tips to improve your body image_Desiree.JPGBy Desirée Gonzales Phillips

Desirée Gonzales Phillips is a senior health education specialist in the Patient Education Office and has worked at MD Anderson 10 years.

Bathing suit season is over, thank goodness! Time to put the suit and cover-up back in the drawer until next season's magazine cover says "10 Tips to Get Bathing Suit Ready." When summer rolls around again -- no pun intended -- I will need 25 tips.

Like most people, I often complain or criticize my body or want to change something about it. But for many of our patients, body image can go much deeper. It can be a lifetime concern.

Whether due to hair loss, scars, lymphedema or other treatment side effects, some people have a hard time dealing with appearance and body image changes.

Are you placing unrealistic demands on your body to look the way it did before cancer?

By Erin Buck, Ph.D., and Michelle Fingeret, Ph.D., Body Image Therapy Service

Body image services_Buck.JPGWouldn't it be nice to put aside all those negative feelings about your body? What about eliminating the pressure you place on yourself to look a certain way?

Can you image what it would be like to accept and nurture your body for what it is rather than criticizing it?

We're inviting you to celebrate "Love Your Body Day" with MD Anderson on Oct. 17. Love your Body Day is a campaign established by the National Organization for Women to raise awareness about women's health and to increase acceptance of the various sizes, shapes and forms of the human body.

The Body Image Therapy Service at MD Anderson is taking this one step further by encouraging not only women -- but men, patients, caregivers and employees alike -- to focus on showing their body some love.

Your relationship with your body is just like any other relationship -- it needs attention, work and compassion. Patients with cancer can experience a number of changes to the way they look and how their bodies function. Some of these changes are temporary, while others may be more long term. 

Although it is entirely normal for these changes to upset you, we want to help you focus today on different ways you can learn to accept, appreciate and honor your body.

Get involved
What are some different ways you can help celebrate Love Your Body Day?

Moon_Shots_Program_Val_DePinho.jpgBy Val Marshall

Val Marshall's cancer journey began in May 2009, when her son Addison was diagnosed 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


Friday, Sept. 21, was a special day, as I was invited to two very different events.

MD Anderson hosted a press conference highlighting the new Moon Shots Program, boldly defining the next frontier of cancer research. Eight diseases (lung, melanoma, breast/ovarian, prostate and several blood cancers) have been sniper-targeted for eradication in the coming decade.

True to form, MD Anderson invited family and caregivers to meet with MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., before the press conference and be awarded assigned seats. I'm not sure if I would be impressed meeting Lady Gaga, but I was gaga over meeting Dr. D.

chronic_myeloid_leukemia_survivor_l.JPGBy Justin Ozuna

It's difficult to remember what it was like in December 2004, a season of life before bone marrow biopsies, oral chemotherapy, doctor's visits, frequent blood tests and medication-adherence anxiety.

Cancer was foreign and I was invincible, naïve and concerned only with the agenda of being young and carefree, parallel to the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."

Little did I know that the endless highway with unlimited dreams would detour to a cancer center, where schedules and procedures represent a different kind of freedom -- one closer associated with the songs of a more reflective and introspective Johnny Cash. 

Last great milestone
A week and a half ago, I received the news that leukemia finally raised its white flag. The collaborative efforts of my incredible medical team have led me to the last great milestone in the fight against CML, a complete molecular remission.

121012CaraFamily.JPGBy Justin Hobbs

Justin Hobbs' wife, Cara, passed away from brain cancer in March 2011. With the support of MD Anderson, family and friends, he found ways to cope through her treatment and since her passing. Now, he is raising money to help find a cure for brain cancer. He blogs at www.haileykateandme.blogspot.com.
Cancer is a dirty word.

My first experience with cancer at MD Anderson was from afar, through friends of friends and distant family members. It was a place I really never wanted to visit, but after seeing their extraordinary cancer battles, my wife, Cara, and I decided that if we ever heard the word cancer again in our lives, we would head straight to MD Anderson.

In 2010, that decision stared us in the face and without hesitation, we were knocking on MD Anderson's door.

A family's battle
Cara started having very bad migraines, which we thought were brought on by her pregnancy. We later found out that she had a brain tumor, a stage IV glioblastoma multiforme. It's the most aggressive primary brain tumor in humans and, basically, the worst words in brain cancer you can hear.

At the time, we had a two-year-old little girl, Hailey, and a less than two-month-old little girl, Kate. Our world was flipped upside down.

Take This Breast Test

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121011PinkRibbon3.jpgBreast Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to test your breast IQ. Find out how much you really know about what it takes to be on guard against this common disease.

Separate fact from fiction
Can you guess which of the statements below are true and which are false?

1. True or false? Breast cancer always comes in the form of a lump.

FALSE. Breast cancer in its earliest stages usually doesn't have any symptoms. When symptoms do appear, it's not always in the form of a lump. Be on the lookout for any of the signs below and report them to your doctor right away.

    • Lump in your breast
    • Swelling in or around your breast, collarbone or armpit
    • Skin thickening or redness in or around your breast
    • Breast warmth and itching
    • Nipple changes or discharge
    • Breast pain
2. True or false? If you have a male relative who's had breast cancer, you may be more likely to get breast cancer.

When healing is job one

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Make a plan, know your rights to get through cancer treatment without losing your job

workingwithcancer.JPGIn the rush of emotions following a cancer diagnosis, a nagging worry may surface: How will I manage to do my job -- keep my job -- while in treatment?

It's only natural. You're overwhelmed with choices and decisions, and fulfilling your job responsibilities during this time may seem too much to handle.

But the decisions you make in the first days and weeks after diagnosis are important, so let's consider your options.

What are the first steps for those who must work during treatment?

Depending on how long it takes to get a treatment plan in place, you have a bit of time to decide what and how much to tell your employer about your health.

'How much do I tell?'

When a recurrence of ovarian cancer necessitated immediate surgery followed by months of chemotherapy, Debbie Netterville, a bus monitor in a school district in a Houston suburb, decided to level with her boss. 

Can we talk?

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talking to your health care team.JPGBy Cindy Carmack, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Behavioral Science

A cancer diagnosis causes patients and their families to have many emotions. It's normal to feel sad, angry and worried about the future. These feelings may intensify right before a medical appointment due to concerns about possibly receiving bad news.

Unfortunately, patients don't always discuss their feelings with their health care team. We at MD Anderson asked patients why they keep their feelings to themselves, and the top answer was, "I don't want to bother my doctor."

Why it's important to open up

Why is managing distress important for cancer patients and their families? Of course, how you're feeling emotionally is important to your quality of life. Also, consider that your distress may:

  • interfere with your ability to improve your overall health, such as by quitting tobacco, engaging in regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight;
  • interfere with your ability to complete difficult treatments; and
  • reduce your body's ability to be healthy and fight off infection.
How you feel is important for your health and may affect how you respond to your treatment.

Get the support you need

Is your distress "normal"? When should you be concerned about how you are coping?

Fatigue_clinical_trial.JPGBy Erica Quiroz, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Are you a head and neck cancer patient who's experienced fatigue after completing radiation treatment or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation? If so, you may qualify for a new clinical trial in the Department of Symptom Research.

The primary objective of this protocol is to evaluate the ability of the drug armodafinil to lessen the fatigue experienced by this group of patients.

"Fatigue related symptoms can include drowsiness, sleepiness, difficulty with sleep and feeling tired," says G. Brandon Gunn, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and principal investigator on the trial, "By using armodafinil, we're trying to stimulate the central nervous system to overcome these patient-reported symptoms."

Gunn says fatigue is the number one symptom that head and neck cancer patients report after radiation treatment.

What you need to know
"Patients should know they are not alone in experiencing it, but medical causes for fatigue should be ruled out first," Gunn says. "They should also know that armodafinil is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is being studied for fatigue."

Childhoodcancer_DD.JPGBy Sara Farris

When Devon Davis was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2011, his focus was to beat his cancer. What the 13-year-old didn't expect were the side effects he would experience as a result of treatment, including weight gain.

Davis is among many young cancer patients and survivors who experience changes in appetite and eating habits as a result of therapies they receive. Studies have shown that more than one-third of childhood cancer survivors are overweight or obese.

"When we recognized this trend in our survivors, we realized we had to do something to intervene while they were still active patients," says Joya Chandra, Ph.D., associate professor at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital and director of its ON (Optimizing Nutrition) to Life Program. "Now we are studying a variety of interventions, from nutritional counseling to educational video games, to see what methods will help our patients best."

More than 300 healthy recipes

One idea that came out of the ON to Life Program was the need for a cookbook of healthy recipes that families could easily make. Last week, the @TheTable Cookbook was launched with more than 300 nutritious recipes for cancer patients and healthy families.

Brain cancer couldn't stop me from dancing.jpgBy Andrea Garramone

Andrea Garramone lives in Dallas and was diagnosed with an anaplastic astrocytoma, a type of brain tumor, in 2009 at age 28 and shortly after getting married. Now in remission, she credits MD Anderson for her survival and blogs about her cancer experience at www.tumorrific.blogspot.com.

In 2009, neurosurgeon Dr. Frederick Lang saved my life. 

It all started when I began having horrible headaches. My primary doctor initially dismissed my concerns, telling me I was a hypochondriac. Yet, my gut was telling me something was seriously wrong, so I switched doctors.

Even then, I had to see my new doctor multiple times, as my symptoms -- vomiting and headaches -- went from bad to worse, before I finally convinced him that I needed an MRI.  

Finding the right surgeon

When the MRI came back abnormal, I knew my gut had been right. There was a large mass in my brain.

Breast_Cancer_Mom_of_three.JPGBy Brandie Sellers

Brandie Sellers teaches yoga, meditation, nutrition and cooking. She paints, writes, runs and plays with her children. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor and a divorcee.

Brandie is crazy about her three children, and is blessed with a slew of sister friends who pick her up when she's down, keep her honest with herself when she's full of it, and make her laugh till she cries. Follow her at http://simplifyyoga.com/.


My children were 4, 7 and 9 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I fretted over what to say and how to say it. Do I tell them with my ex-husband present? Do I tell them separately? How much do I tell them?

junemother.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.

On Oct. 3, 1988, my mother Ruby Mae Laird McArthur celebrated her 80th birthday. She was short in stature, had the prettiest white wavy hair and enormous soft brown eyes.

She never spoke unkindly about anyone; she always looked for and found the good in people.

About three weeks after her birthday, she was standing by the sink and suddenly leaned on the kitchen cabinet to keep from falling to the floor. "I'll be fine, it is just one of my 'weak spells.'" she said.

Mom was reluctant to go to the clinic in Lecompte, La. "I don't want to bother the doctors," she said. I insisted that she needed to let her physician, John Luke M.D., examine her.

After we arrived, I watched as Dr. Luke examined her abdomen. When he put some pressure on her left side she screamed in pain. Dr. Luke looked at me and said she had a mass on her left kidney.

cancersurvivorship_CR_RD.JPGBy Cristina Rodriguez

I'm a 30-year-old non-Hodgkin lymphoma fighter. It's not all that I am, but it's all I'm focused on at the moment. The purpose of my blog, lymphomamaniac, is manifold.


I shared in a previous blog entry that "I heart MD Anderson." Well, I'm saying it again, but this time with resounding emphasis and fervor: I heart MD Anderson! 

What epic event caused this sudden influx of "that loving" feeling?" The Anderson Network 24th Annual Cancer Survivorship Conference.

This two-day weekend event was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was food for my mind, my body, my soul and my spirit. 

It caused a much-needed paradigm shift in my brain -- an "a-ha moment," if you will. Oprah would be proud. 

Me, a survivor?
I'd seen the pamphlets and posters around MD Anderson announcing this event and it seemed interesting, but I wasn't sure it was something I should go to considering the word "survivorship." Why, you ask? It's because up until this weekend, I didn't consider myself a survivor.

The American Cancer Society defines a person as a cancer survivor "from the time of diagnosis throughout the balance of his or her life." I always had a problem with that definition. 

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