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February 2013 Archives

CT and MRI scans  Tips for coping with stress.JPGBy Emily Weaver, Social Work Counselor

You're sitting in the waiting room, your heart is racing, your palms are sweating and your blood pressure is rising. 

You've had difficulty sleeping the past few nights because your mind is racing with worries about your upcoming CT or MRI scans. 

You've considered cancelling your appointment, but know it will only delay your care in the long run.

Patients and cancer professionals call this "scanxiety." And, because CT and MRI scans are associated with the diagnosis of cancer, scanxiety is a normal feeling.

But sometimes scanxiety can interfere with your daily life and the ability to engage in your own medical care.

Here are strategies you can use to help manage scanxiety.

Sandra Bishnoi first appointment.JPGBy Sandra Bishnoi

I came to MD Anderson after I'd already started treatment in Chicago for Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer with bone metastasis. I had finished 4 rounds of neoadjuvant chemotherapy with Adriamycin / Cytoxin and was about to start with Taxol.

I knew I was likely to be moving to Houston in the near future, and wanted both a second opinion regarding my current treatment and help deciding whether to transfer my care to MD Anderson. 

Here's what helped me during my first visit to MD Anderson -- and what I wish I would have known.

Communicate with your medical team

We checked into the Breast Center and went through the registration process. The process had gone pretty smoothly, but some of the imaging results that I had sent prior to my arrival didn't get into the system in time for my appointment. 

Oliver Bogler, Ph.D.JPGThis past week I reached a major milestone in my male breast cancer treatment - my last chemo, certainly for now and hopefully forever.

It was only my fourth FAC -- the drug combo of 5-fluorouracil, adriamycin and cyclophosphamide, which is the second phase of my male breast cancer treatment, following 11 cycles of taxol.

It was the last step in the chemotherapy part of my 142-day, 15-treatment male breast cancer journey that has left me tired, hairless, with feet that manage to be numb and sore at the same time, with unsightly finger nails. Yet, above all, I'm very happy to be done.

I think the biggest, happiest surprise was that I managed to get through this without severe nausea and next to no vomiting. These were the classic symptoms that I feared, especially having seen my wife, Irene, struggle with them 5 years ago, when she battled the same disease with the same treatments.

By Randall Banks

I was diagnosed with metastatic stage IV melanoma in 2003 after a lymph node resection in Wichita Falls, Texas.

At that stage in my life, I was very active on the job and off, and I always felt sure that I was 100 percent healthy. In a matter of moments, I felt confused and then scared after I did some research and realized how serious the situation was. At that point, I became very angry.

The anger, I'm guessing, worked for me in a good way. I was determined to work harder than ever before, to make money to support my family as best I could.

But after chemotherapy, I couldn't work at my physically demanding job as a mail carrier, and I retired.

kims place-CW.JPGClose to 72,000 teens and young adults are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. Yet, if you look around MD Anderson or any other cancer center, you might wonder where all these young patients are.

When we asked young adult survivors what would've made their experience better, they overwhelmingly said they would've liked to have met someone like themselves. 

Here are a few places young patients can go and tips you can use to find other adolescents and young adults (AYA) at MD Anderson.

Top 4 hangouts:
1. Kim's Place (Floor 2, near The Park) - Pass the time between appointments in this space just for patients, family members and friends ages 15 to 30.

Kim's Place offers free arcade games, a pool table, jukebox, basketball hoops game, comfortable couches, microwaves and a coffee machine. Across from Kim's Place is a theater room with a large screen TV, comfortable seating and computer.

body image picture from AR.JPGBy Carol Bryce, MD Anderson Staff Writer

You can't always see cancer's side effects. Yet, changes in appearance or bodily functions sometimes lead to depression, anxiety and withdrawal.

MD Anderson's Body Image Therapy Program, directed by Michelle Fingeret, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science, is here to help.

From its beginnings in 2008 with a staff of just Fingeret and a part-time research assistant, the program has grown to include a psychologist, two psychology fellows and five full-time researchers.

The program consists of research and clinical components, and its staff works closely with multidisciplinary health care teams.

patient ed learning center pic- final.JPGThe internet can make life easier, but the answers it gives you can be overwhelming when you're dealing with cancer.

So what's the best way to find the most reliable, accurate information? Through The Learning Center at MD Anderson. We'll help you find the latest information about general health, cancer and issues related to cancer and cancer prevention. All services are free.

A credible resource

The Learning Center staff provides information that's current and accurate from trustworthy sources, including scientific and medical databases.

Adoption after cancer

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adoption and cancer.JPGBy Megan Silianoff

My most recent appointment at MD Anderson took place a week before Christmas. The hospital was decked out with trees, wreaths and red bows. There were even carolers singing outside the diagnostic lab where I was waiting to get blood drawn.

I sat on the outskirts of the lab -- partly so I could hear the music and partly so I could keep an eye on my husband, Danny, and our newly adopted baby. They had a front row seat at the show.

Danny and I began navigating the adoption process between my second and third surgeries on my ovarian area and breast. At that point, we knew having biological kids was no longer an option for us.

How the adoption process is like cancer
The adoption process is a lot of things: tedious, long, expensive and many other adjectives that aren't appropriate here. But adoption is similar to cancer in that you just do what you have to do to get through it. You can't really think about it. You just go into autopilot, put your head down and wait for it to be over.

Ependymoma patient no longer takes anything for granted  2.JPGAs far back as high school, Kendal Mills had numbness and tingling in his shoulder and arm. He was a baseball pitcher, and doctors ordered tests, which revealed nothing concerning, so they said it was a pinched nerve.

He had a serious motorcycle accident in 2003, during which his helmet cracked and fell off his head.

A few years later, on the job at an oil refinery, he stood up quickly, smacked his head on a pipe and cracked his hard hat.

Seizures persisted
Several months later, he began having seizures and had a CT scan.

healthy bites 2.JPGBy Amber Presley

Most people kicked off the New Year with plans for a healthier 2013. But many of us have already fallen off track.
    
Luckily, it's never too late to refocus. MD Anderson's Healthy Bites challenge is perfect for anyone who wants to take small steps to better health. 

"Each month, Healthy Bites focuses on one diet change that can potentially reduce your risk for cancer," says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson and the Healthy Bites challenge coach. "Last month, we focused on eating breakfast every day. In February, we're asking you to eat a healthy meal or snack every five to six hours."

Below, Herndon shares answers to questions she's received from Healthy Bites participants. 

social work v day post CAP pic.JPGBy Sarah Hines

"Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."

- Maya Angelou

While the masses are out shopping for long-stem roses, many of our patients and their loved ones find themselves preoccupied with MRI results, blood counts and chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, cancer doesn't only affect the individual who is diagnosed. Relationships are impacted, with spouses, partners, and significant others of patients facing many challenges and hurdles throughout the cancer journey. 

Communication concerns
As a couple adapts to a cancer diagnosis, it's important to understand that old communication patterns may no longer serve the same purpose. Couples often utilize very different coping styles to handle the diagnosis. Some openly express their emotions, while others reflect on them internally.  

hand holding heart shaped rock Cancerwise.JPGBy Liza Sanchez

I recently organized my closet, determined to find some old photos taken at the Houston Zoo during my childhood.

The photos evoke fond memories for me. In one of them taken in the late 1970s, I am proudly posing in front of the lion water fountain. That fountain is still a welcoming fixture in the zoo.

Years later, I find myself back in a place of wonder and discovery. I now volunteer at the Houston Zoo as a veterinary cardiac imaging specialist along with Jose Banchs, M.D., medical director for MD Anderson's Echocardiography Laboratory. We perform cardiac examinations on the primates such as chimpanzees and orangutans.

The animals' anatomies are very closely related to those of humans. So, volunteering at the zoo allows us to use our expertise to help out the primates. It also reminds me how important it is for us humans to take good care of our hearts.

Heart technology at MD Anderson
MD Anderson is one of only a handful of echocardiography labs in the world to use the latest techniques and ultrasound technology to evaluate our human cancer patients.

When we're dealing with cancer patients, the difference of a few percentage points in ejection fraction (the measure of overall heart function) can make a difference in treatment.

Couple fights leukemia together.JPGNewlyweds Harry and Marie Moore have a lot in common.

They both share a strong faith in God, enjoy music and being outdoors, and love to spend time with their families.

They also recently discovered Marie has leukemia, and like Harry, she is a patient at MD Anderson. 

"It's just one more thing we have in common," Marie says.

Cancer couldn't stop their wedding
85-year-old Harry has been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) for 35 years. He met 72-year-old Marie at a retiree luncheon on Oct. 19, 2011.

"It was love at first sight," the couple says.

After a short courtship, the pair planned to marry on February 11, 2012. But, just weeks before the wedding, Harry was admitted to the hospital for nausea and shortness of breath. 

Determined, Harry pushed forward and was released less than 24 hours before the ceremony, which took place at his daughter's house in Montgomery, Texas.

massage therapy for cancer patient blog.JPGBy Sat Siri Sumler, massage therapist, Integrative Medicine Center

It has been known for thousands of years that massage feels good, helps relieve pain, stress and other symptoms, and is safe if given by an appropriately trained professional.

Wondering how to find a massage therapist who will take your cancer-related concerns into consideration during your massage? Here are some tips to help you find a trained massage therapist who can address your cancer and cancer treatment-related needs.

1. Consult your oncologist.

To ensure coordinated and safe care, speak with your primary oncologist before having a massage. Your doctor can address any concerns. If your doctor thinks massage can be integrated into your care plan, ask him or her to request massage services for you from MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Center through online consults.

Looking for massage therapy outside of Houston? Ask your doctor for a written order that you can give your local massage therapist.

triple_negative_breast_cancer_second_opinion_why_it_matters.JPGBy Donna Patricia Brown

My pathology report from Fort Smith said the new breast cancer tumors had mutated from my original breast cancer. It was now breast cancer - no receptors. Tumors were found in my lungs and bones. My oncologist told me it was treatable but not curable.

I wanted a second opinion, and I wanted to go to MD Anderson.

Getting to MD Anderson
MD Anderson is known for its champion work in the field of cancer. I figured if I was going to battle, I'd better get a top-notch team to help win the war.

So, I requested an appointment through MD Anderson's website and called to get my medical files expedited so I could get in as soon as possible.


Obtaining records from seven different places in two different cities was challenging. But cancer was trying to kill me, and I needed chemo drugs!

Failure is not an option

Two weeks after my diagnosis in Fort Smith, I arrived at MD Anderson dressed in camouflage with a splash of hot pink. I was ready to fight cancer, or so I thought.

living_with_cancer_writing_as_therapy.JPGThis is a continuation of yesterday's post on writing as therapy during cancer treatment.

As my cancer treatment progressed, so did my writing journey. Writing during cancer treatment became a way to help me understand, work out issues and accept and come to terms with my fate. It also allowed me to reflect on what my having cancer meant to me, my family and close friends.

Looking back, I can see that my writing progressed on several levels.

Blog updates: About two months into my cancer treatment when I was somewhat bored during a break in chemotherapy, I turned the weekly emails into a blog. I initially made sure people couldn't find it through web searches since I was not yet ready to share my story with the world.

I let people know when my weekly update was up, but after a while, I dropped that as the people who were interested could subscribe to receive new blog posts automatically. My weekly posts went beyond medical updates to what books I was reading and what films I was watching. (A number of colleagues were jealous of my reading list.) After a while, I opened my blog to the public to reach the wider community of people living with cancer.

cancer treatment writing as therapy.JPGBy Andrew Griffith

As my cancer treatment progressed, so did my writing journey. Writing during cancer treatment became a way to help me understand, work out issues and accept and come to terms with my fate. It also allowed me to reflect on what my having cancer meant to me, my family and close friends.

As Steve Jobs said, "you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever."

Looking back, I can see that my writing progressed on several levels.

Medical: I needed to track my symptoms, reactions and how I was feeling to be able to work with my medical team effectively. Such tracking exercise some control helped me become a more educated and empowered patient. This helped me feel more in control.

childlife and proton therapy.JPGWhen 6-year-old Allie Alvarado came to MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center, she was nervous and didn't know what to expect. Her fear, however, didn't last long.

Allie was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue, in her ear following a month-long battery of tests. Allie's mother, Cassandre, first suspected a problem when her daughter's smile seemed lopsided. The culprit was a tumor pushing against the cranial nerve, which caused facial paralysis.

It required six weeks of proton therapy, an advanced form of radiation that precisely localizes the dosage while sparing surrounding structures. It's especially beneficial for complicated tumors and young children since excess radiation can pose problems for developing bodies.

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