March 2013 Archives

constance with family blog post image.JPGBy Constance Blanchard

"Unfortunately, it appears the tumor has returned."

Those were the first words the emergency room doctor said after seeing my CT scans. My husband's face dropped.

 "How can that be? I must be dreaming. It's only been nine months since my craniotomy." Those are the words I wanted to say, but struggled to get out. 

I was having seizure after seizure with barely a five-minute break in between.

The emergency room nurses were giving me anticonvulsants intravenously, trying to get my seizures to stop. Eventually, my seizing stopped. I was so exhausted, I fell right asleep.

I was still not ready to digest the news. My brain tumor, a glioblastoma multiforme, had returned less than five months since my radiation therapy ended and within the first year of my chemotherapy treatment.

DT with dad at beach.JPGMarch 28 is my father's birthday. He would have been 84 today. We lost him 18 years ago to colon cancer.

Cancer is no stranger to my family. Almost all of my relatives have had cancer and usually died from it. So when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 19 years ago, she thought that was the end.

She was the first in our family to conquer this disease, and my father assumed he would be just as lucky.

He had stage IV colon cancer. When they attempted to operate, it had already spread and the doctors said there was nothing they could do.

Dad tried chemo, but he didn't take care of himself, so his white blood cell counts were usually too low and he continued to eat like a bird.

My dad was certain, though, that he would make it through cancer just like my mom. Without my mom knowing, he even ordered items for their next vacation. They were delivered after he died.

chemo myths dr patel.JPGBy Sunil Patel, M.D.

When newly diagnosed cancer patients are prescribed chemotherapy, they are understandably apprehensive.

The word "chemotherapy" evokes images of very ill people suffering through their cancer treatment. But we've made enormous strides over the last couple of decades that have minimized chemotherapy's side effects for many cancer patients.

My patients ask a lot of questions about chemotherapy. They want to know how their life will be impacted. Often, they have concerns about how they will feel and what they will experience.

Here are some of the biggest myths I hear about chemotherapy. 

Margaret with two sons in train stations posrt 2.JPGBy Margaret Rose

This is a continuation of yesterday's post on traveling to MD Anderson for pancreatic cancer treatment.

I'm fortunate to have a strong network of friends and family who've stuck with me since my initial diagnosis

When they heard I would be away from home for seven weeks for radiation therapy, they asked if I could handle being alone, away from my local support network.

In response, I arranged for family and friends to spend week-long shifts with me in Houston.

Even though I was never so sick that I couldn't take care of myself physically, I did need the emotional and mental support my family and friends provided.

pancreatic cancer MR.JPGBy Margaret Rose

Once you're diagnosed with cancer, what's the first thing you're likely to do? Call your sister? Call your children? Cry? Get mad?

When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, I did all of the above. Then, I was calm enough to listen to my doctor and friends who asked about getting a second opinion. But where?  

My answer brought me to MD Anderson, a compassionate place that has come to play a role in my life that I wouldn't have dreamed necessary or possible a year ago.

My pancreatic cancer treatment plan
MD Anderson's specialists confirmed the original diagnosis -- inoperable stage III pancreatic cancer.

But MD Anderson prescribed a longer chemotherapy regimen -- eight rounds of chemotherapy, each round being two weeks -- as well as two months of radiation.

brandie deserving blog post.JPGBy Brandie Sellers

A constant theme in my brain and body for the past several months is the struggle to figure out how to be a "regular" person after cancer treatment

It feels like people expect me to be "normal" now that I'm out of cancer treatment. I expect that of myself, too.  

By and large, people have stopped asking how I am and if I needed help, and moved on with their lives. Yet, I feel a bit stuck.

Have we earned this?
All of this brings me around to the idea of deserving. I grew up with the idea of deserving from my grandmother. She does one good deed a day so she can get into heaven. 

My mom always bought extra fries at the drive-through because we deserve it. 

We're taught that if we work hard we'll have nice things. If we go to college, we'll get great jobs. 

We deserve those things because we've earned them. But have we really? 

one more time Dickey.jpgBurton Dickey, M.D., doesn't slow down. The chair of
MD Anderson's Department of Pulmonary Medicine runs three miles four times a week, even after a cancer diagnosis in October followed by a stem cell transplant last month. 

The 59-year-old says he didn't have any symptoms. The only thing he noticed was his running pace was a little slower.

A multiple myeloma diagnosis
After a routine blood test, his cardiologist, looking gray, said all of his blood counts were down. "I work at a pretty good place to follow up on that," Dickey told his doctor.

He came back to MD Anderson and walked right into the office of his colleague, Michael Kroll, M.D.

"Dr. Kroll often serves as an entry point for patients with undiagnosed blood cancers," Dickey says. "That includes people like me with low blood counts."

newly diagnosed with cancer photo.JPGBy Christine Durlam and Amy LaMarca Lyon, social work counselors

When you're a newly diagnosed cancer patient, all the questions and concerns can be overwhelming.  

How will you tell your family and friends? Will your friends treat you differently? Will you have to quit your job? Who will take care of your kids?

It's normal to have these questions and thoughts. But it's important for you to know that you're not alone and that many others are facing these same challenges. 

Here are a few tips for coping with a new diagnosis of cancer.

scanxiety by linda ryan.JPGBy Linda Ryan

As I get ready to go to Houston for a follow-up appointment, I'm having scanxiety. It's that feeling of anxiety and worry that comes with doctor appointments.

For me, anxiety strikes when I'm about to have scans to measure or confirm my cancer is gone. That's when I start thinking about recurrence and how I could battle cancer again.   

Anxiety over cancer recurrence

Anxiety about my cancer returning isn't always at the front of my mind unless I'm headed for a scan or doctor's appointment. 

But I leave for Houston this coming Wednesday, so those thoughts are currently on my mind.

The feelings aren't there because I'm feeling any differently or have any concerns. They are there simply because going to the doctor brings my cancer close to the surface again. 

It's a reminder that I had cancer and that I fought hard, but it's also a stronger reminder that cancer is a part of my life.

DT with her mom.JPG

Time flies.

I've worked for MD Anderson for over six years now. 

People ask me if I find it depressing to work here and, for the most part, my answer is no. 

I work in the Communications Office, so I usually communicate patient stories, news on cancer research and education on cancer prevention and treatment. 

I'm happy in my job since I'm helping others tell uplifting stories and find information not readily available. 

However, things are about to change. My mother, who's my best friend in the world, has been diagnosed with stage III breast cancer.

Cancer runs in my family
There's an abundance of cancer in my family; almost all my relatives have had at least one form of cancer. Even my mother is a 19-year breast cancer survivor, as well as a bladder cancer and basal cell survivor.

I thought her bout with cancer was over, but I should've known better. You always have to be on guard against the ugly beast, cancer.

ana C.JPGMelanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. And, although many cases of skin melanoma can be prevented, it's becoming increasingly common in the United States, especially among young adults.

MD Anderson is working hard to combat melanoma through our Moon Shot Program.

Below, Ana M. Ciurea, M.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson's Department of Dermatology and associate medical director of MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center, answers questions about skin melanoma.

What is melanoma of the skin?

Melanoma of the skin originates in the cells that make melanin, the substance that gives the skin its color. Sometimes these cells change, often due to damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial light. Over time, this can result in melanoma.

How common is skin melanoma in the United States?
Since 1950, melanoma cases have increased by 600% in the United States, and death rates have risen by 150%. In recent years, there's been an especially disturbing trend of increased incidence in young adults -- especially women ages 20-30.The American Cancer Society projects that 76,690 new cases will be diagnosed in 2013, and about 9,480 people will die of melanoma this year.

quinoa.JPGBy Amber Presley

If you're focused on eating a balanced diet, don't forget your whole grains!

A diet rich in whole grains may help curb your risk of colon cancer - the third most common cancer among Americans.

In addition to helping prevent cancer, fiber from whole grains can help you stay full longer and maintain a healthy weight.

"Studies show that most Americans aren't eating enough whole grains," says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson and the Healthy Bites challenge coach. "This means they're potentially missing out on vital nutrients."

So, how can you make sure you're getting enough whole grains in your diet? Use these resources from our Healthy Bites challenge to find out.

holly easley new normal.JPGBy Holly Easley

My friend, Julie, a cord blood transplant survivor, wrote me a sweet note a few weeks ago. She mentioned that she was trying to find her "new normal."
As a stem cell transplant survivor, I've recently been thinking a lot about it myself, and struggling.

I catch myself saying, "Whenever I'm off my immune suppressant drug, sirolimus, I can do such and such," And then, "What if that never happens?"  

I had to take off my rose-colored glasses and realize that "normal" will never be the same as it was before cancer.

This doesn't mean it's bad. It just means my life is different.

I think it's impossible to go through cancer without being changed.  

In early December, I got sick with a sore throat. It was the first time I'd been sick since my transplant at MD Anderson a year-and-a-half ago. 

rachel chemo.JPGBy Rachel Midgett

. It's not a word people want to hear and certainly not something they want to go through. But, for those of us with cancer, we often don't have a choice.  

I remember how terrified I was of getting my first chemotherapy treatment.  

Would I be sick? Would I have a reaction to the medication? Would I be in a room by myself or with other chemo patients?

I really didn't know what to expect the first day. However, almost 4 years later, I feel like a pro.

Preparing for chemotherapy

First, you may be told to show up a couple of hours early to get blood work drawn. This is to make sure you're able to get your chemotherapy treatment.

It can be a pain, but, believe me, it's in your best interest. 

acoustic neuroma_keaton.JPGBy Keaton Nye

In summer 2012, I participated in a volleyball game at church camp. At times, I felt slightly lightheaded.

This sensation had been occurring for several weeks, but I had discounted since it had always resolved quickly and never caused me any pain or discomfort. However, the sensations became more frequent at camp.

I called my parents. My father thought it was likely a blood pressure issue and insisted that I see a cardiologist.

The cardiologist agreed, saying the sensation was the result of my body adjusting to the activities.

I mentioned that I also experienced a flushing sensation in the back of my head, behind my right ear. The cardiologist, wanting to rule out a possible aneurysm, ordered an MRI.

The result: I had an acoustic neuroma, a slow-growing tumor on the nerve that connects the brain to the ear. It affects hearing and balance and, as it enlarges, pushes on the brain and causes neurological issues.

buttefly in hands-CW.jpgThis is a continuation of yesterday's post on how pre-surgery visualization helped me.

Telling my surgical team about visualization
I didn't tell my surgical team about my new visualization practice right away.

I decided to bring it up during a surgery planning appointment. At the end of our visit, after we had discussed all of the medical aspects of the procedure, I mentioned the details of my request. "I'm very fond of integrative therapies because I believe in them, and I know they will help me heal better and faster," I said to my surgeon and nurse.

"But my surgical team has to be involved. Can you please help me?" I was relieved when they respectfully agreed to participate and put notes about my request in my chart.

guided imagery.JPGBy Jila Tanha

In July 2010, I was diagnosed with a serious disease that required three major surgeries over the course of a year-and-a-half.

Because I work in The Learning Center, you would think I would approach my own health with an "I know all that" attitude. Well, that didn't happen.

The reality of my diagnosis hit me, and anxiety took over.

I was facing three surgeries and wanted to do the right things to help my body prepare.

I wanted to heal quickly with fewer post-surgery complications.

Nikesh Jasan.JPGBy Nikesh Jasani, M.D.

When I tell people that I'm an oncologist, they frequently assume my job is depressing. The opposite is true.

Yes, I have to deliver difficult and sometimes sad news to patients and their families. But I also see many patients who go through their cancer care with incredible bravery and go on to live very full lives afterwards.

My patients inspire me every day.

In getting to know my patients, I often hear that they have certain perceptions of me and other physicians.

First and foremost, I want my patients to know that I care for them and am fully committed to do everything I can to help make their cancer treatment a success.

Patients sometimes have a few misconceptions that I want to address.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. That means it's a great time to think about scheduling a colonoscopy if needed.

Colorectal cancer, cancer of the colon and rectum, is the third most common type of cancer in the United States, not counting skin cancers. But many early stage colon cancers can be prevented through a colonoscopy.

According to Gottumukkala S. Raju, M.D., professor in the Department of Gastroenterology, cancer begins as benign polyps within the colon and develops into cancer over years when left untreated, mainly because they are undetected without a colonoscopy.


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