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Preparing for your first visit at MD Anderson: A patient's advice

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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. 

I learned then how important it is to communicate with the MD Anderson team before your appointment to make sure all of your materials have arrived successfully.

They're all trying their best to make sure your visit goes efficiently, but you have to remember that you are one of many people visiting the clinic that day, and paperwork and samples can get lost. 

My husband and I met with one of the oncologists in the breast center and discussed my diagnosis, prognosis and treatment options. I appreciated having my husband with me.  It was nice to have a second set of ears for the conversation and someone else who could ask questions.

Since I was in the middle of chemotherapy, I was already suffering from many of its side effects, including exhaustion and confusion, so it was critical to have someone else with me.

What I wish I would've known
In retrospect, it would've probably been even better if I had also brought someone with me who was more familiar with MD Anderson and had gone through treatment for breast cancer. 

I think we were unclear at times what questions we should be asking and how to compare this institution with the ones that we were more familiar with. 

I also didn't realize how big MD Anderson was before arriving. We fumbled our way to the parking garage instead of valeting the car, but looking back I realize that we should have valet parked just so we would have one less thing to worry about.

Advice for others
Be patient. It's a big institution and though everyone works hard to make sure it works without any problems, things do happen. You need to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture of why you are here. It's because you know you're going to get exceptional care and have access to resources that you wouldn't have at a smaller institution.

Sandra Bishnoi was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer with bone metastasis in January 2011; she currently has no evidence of disease. Prior to her diagnosis, she was a chemistry professor and scientist living in Chicago. She is now in pursuit of a new identity with the aid of her two young children, her supportive husband and the Houston scientific community.

Read more posts by Sandra Bishnoi

2 Comments

I too sought a second opinion from MD Anderson in Orlando after being rediagnosed with BC which has turned out to be inflammatory breast cancer. FYI....I'm 36.

I was diagnosed with IDC in my right breast in Sept 11 and finished all treatments in Oct 12. I had a clear mammogram in Dec 12. Then a couple of weeks later a rash appeared. I watched it and it began to spread and change very fast. I went my local oncologist who had me get ultrasound and biopsy. At first he was not concerned about the rash so only a mass that appeared was biopsied which came back positive. In my gut after looking online at IBC info I made sure my surgeon took a punch biopsy of the skin which did turn out to be cancer.

I went to MD Anderson to get their opinions. The team of doctors and I decided to do 6 rounds of chemo where I live so I wouldn't be away from my family for so long (8 year old daughter) then surgery in Orlando - modified radical mastectomy. I feel confident with my decision.

Sandra, thank you for sharing your journey, I was treated at MDAnderson for triple neg B.C. in 2007, I am employee of MDAnderson, but at a remote site.

You bring my attention to issue of new patients needing help in finding their way around this very large place. Even though lots of effort is placed on maps, signs, directions, etc., it is overwhelming. You inspire a wonderful idea for our employees to assist our incredible volunteer staff in being available (on call) to help patients navigate.

Best to you and hope you are doing well,
L.Coghlan

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