June 2013 Archives

tennis shoes

By Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D.

Earlier this month, during Cancer Survivorship Week, we had our first exercise flash mobs here at MD Anderson. The music began, and doctors, nurses, research staff and survivors spontaneously began dancing. 

It was a lot of fun, but that's not the only reason we did it. We wanted to send the message that exercise can be both fun and beneficial for cancer survivors.

Why should a cancer survivor exercise? 
Cancer survivors should exercise for the same reasons the rest of us should. Exercise reduces the risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. It can help prevent weight gain and improve your mood. 

But those aren't the only reasons cancer survivors should exercise. 

Ben Sanders

By Ben Sanders

When I was diagnosed with an aggressive prostate cancer in 2002, I swallowed hard as my urologist explained my rather limited options. I felt emptied of incentive, devoid of purpose. I just wanted to be rid of the tumor.

Within weeks, I underwent surgery and began my long recovery. I had no idea what I was getting into and sought no help in coping.

Being an old school male, I just toughed it out. 

My silent struggle with prostate cancer
I wasn
't prepared for the complications, mainly infections. Though I acted courageous, I was seething inside. At times, my anger overflowed onto my wife or the dog, but mostly it feasted on me. I became depressed. I functioned, but I didn't engage with others or with life. 

Oliver Bogler survivors Week post (2) CW.JPGIt's been 259 days since my male breast cancer diagnosis. Since then, I've undergone 15 chemotherapy infusions, 35 doses of Zofran, 1.2 liters of drained fluid, 30 radiation treatments, dozens of clinic visits and countless needle sticks.

On my last radiation treatment, I celebrated by ringing the end of treatment bell, an MD Anderson tradition that allows patients to mark the end of a treatment phase.

I rang the bell with Irene, my wife and fellow breast cancer survivor, by my side. Also there were members of the great team that has been delivering my radiation therapy over the past six weeks and my friends from Riders for the Cure motorcycle club. To me, that's the best finish imaginable.

So how did it feel? Mostly, I was relieved at having successfully completed active treatment, with its physical and emotional challenges, not to mention the demands of fitting it into a busy work and family life.

man with his doctor.jpg

By Rosemary Catallo

Patients and their families often come into The Learning Center, where I work as a librarian, to seek information. After interacting with people for many years -- and from reviewing the large amount of information we have access to here -- I've come to understand what information newly diagnosed patients and their families need.

Some patients are anxious if they don't have enough information. Other people get stressed or feel overwhelmed by too much information.

No matter which type of cancer patient you are, asking your health care team the right questions about your disease and cancer treatment can play an important part in managing your care. 

I recommend the following basic questions for newly diagnosed cancer patients. Answers to these questions may allow you to feel less overwhelmed and better able to manage your cancer journey.

Jennifer BurzawaBy Jennifer Burzawa, M.D.

A staggering 75-80% of us will have contracted a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection by age 50. Although HPV infections don't always result in long-term health problems, this sexually transmitted infection can lead to genital warts and many types of cancer.

In fact, almost 100% of cervical cancer cases are attributed to HPV, which also accounts for a significant percentage of vaginal, vulvar and anal cancers. Increasingly, HPV is considered a contributing cause of oral cancers as well.

Luckily, the HPV vaccine can help significantly reduce many of these cancer cases. In fact, since the HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006, HPV infections have dropped by more than half among teenage girls ages 14-19, according to a recent study.

Jeffrey Wefel, Ph.D.,By Jeffrey Wefel, Ph.D.

A clinical neuropsychologist is an expert in identifying, diagnosing and treating changes in a person's cognitive function (ability to think), personality, behavior and mood. 

While brain tumor identification and localization are done primarily with MRI, the picture of the brain that's generated does not tell us about the functional impact of the lesion (such as a brain tumor) on a person's cognition, behavior and mood. (All cancer types can affect cognition and behavior.) That's where a neuropsychologist comes in.

Below, I answer some common questions about neuropsychology and its role in cancer care.

What role does a neuropsychologist play in brain cancer diagnosis and treatment

A neuropsychological evaluation enables us to better understand how a patient has been affected cognitively and behaviorally by his or her
brain tumor. 

In addition, many treatments used to combat cancer also place normal healthy brain tissue at risk, which may result in changes in cognition, behavior and mood that adversely affects quality of life and patients' abilities to maintain their occupational, academic or family and social roles.

Holly Easley new beginnings.JPGBy Holly Easley

The day before Easter, my husband Wade and I were outside doing yard work. Thanks to the drought, there was plenty of dirt from dust storms and the plants and grass were suffering.  It wasn't a pretty sight.

The following morning I noticed one lonely, lovely purple flower growing along the driveway. For me, it was a sign of new growth, hope, rebirth and new beginnings. The sort of the thing we're mindful about on Easter.  It was a sign. I was in awe.

Two days later, Wade's daughter gave birth to a girl named Ella. It was another new beginning.  Since then, there have been new beginnings everywhere in my great, big, wonderful family and families of friends. There have been relationships mended, old friendships renewed, new friendships nurtured, new jobs and new opportunities and school graduations.

And for me, there has been a rebirth in my health. At my appointment at MD Anderson a couple of weeks ago, everything was good. I had my blood checked and received the most normal blood test results I've had in years.

Tom Barber Triathlon pics (2) CW.JPGBy Tom Barber

We did it.

With a good coach and you, my fellow cancer patients, as inspiration, I was able to complete the Long Boat Key Sprint Triathlon on May 5. 

It was a beautiful place and a fun day I will long remember.

I was smiling the whole way, loving being a participant in the race, knowing it could end in a moment, but moving forward for the pure enjoyment of being part of it. 

To experience something for the first time always yields the unexpected, worth the difficulty and work of doing it. This was that way. 

Doing "normal" things: the path to normalcy
Many cancer patients are like me, wishing for life to be "normal" again. As obvious as it sounds, perhaps doing "normal" things is one of the pathways there. 

Cheri with daughters.JPG"I still do my spray tans. I still use my creams. I still go in the sun. Only I now wear sunscreen, hats, glasses -- everything I'm supposed to do," says Cheri Huber. "I didn't quit living after melanoma."

Like many women, Huber enjoys being tan. During the summer she was always lying out by the pool or on the beach. In the winter, she used a tanning bed.

Huber was 15 years old when she first used a tanning bed. "I probably went to the tanning salon three times a week," she says.  

As she got older, she and her mother bought their own tanning bed after realizing they could save money this way.

Huber's melanoma diagnosis

In 2008, when Huber turned 35, she was due for a baseline mammogram. She decided to get a full-body checkup and went to the dermatologist as well.

"My dermatologist was not very happy when I told her how much I tanned, and that I even owned my own tanning bed," Huber recalls. 

During the exam, the dermatologist noticed a scab on Huber's shin. "I don't really remember when it first showed up," she told her dermatologist. "I just assumed I cut myself shaving and kept irritating it."

patricia Brown CW picture.JPGBy Donna Patricia Brown

Even though I knew the odds were against me, I didn't want to face my reality. I have too much I want to do before I die.

But wishing wouldn't my change reality: My estrogen positive (ER+) breast cancer had returned.
My breast cancer treatment
My personal war against stage 3 breast cancer began on May 10, 2005.

Since then, I've endured eight rounds of chemotherapy (lost my hair), a mastectomy, 25 radiation treatments, staph infection, wound VAC for 30 days, a frozen shoulder, a year of physical therapy and reconstructive surgery, with seven surgeries total.

So it was game on for my breast cancer -- war two -- when my oncologist called me on June 29, 2012, to say there were metastatic breast cancer tumors in my lungs and bones. My stage was elevated to 4.

Sandra Bishnoi - patient 20130423_1069 CW.JPGBy Sandra Bishnoi

It has been almost two-and-a-half years since I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer with bone metastasis.

For now, I've reached a point of stability and a NED (no evidence of disease) status.

Although the psychological aspects of this diagnosis and the resulting changes in my body have taken their toll, I've been lucky enough to have found a couple of cancer support groups along the way.

My first cancer support group

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I didn't know anyone who had cancer or who'd been through cancer treatment. I decided to find a cancer support group.

Michael_Snyder__0013_1 CW.JPGBy Mike Snyder

Early in my cancer journey, my wife Sarah made an interesting observation. "You know what it's like to be a cancer patient," she said. "But you don't know what it's like to have a family member who's a cancer patient."

She was absolutely right. I had an idea of what my family was feeling, but I didn't really know how they felt. I wasn't the one who had a family member with cancer.  

I knew how to be a cancer patient, but not how to be a supporter or caregiver for someone with cancer.

From that point on, and especially after coming to MD Anderson, I've spent a lot of time thinking about cancer's impact on the people who love them.

As patients, we have resources to help us deal with the physical and emotional toll of cancer. But what about our family members, friends and caregivers? What's available to make their journey easier?

Heards first blog CW.JPGBy Bailey Heard

I met Andrew Heard at Baylor University in 2005. He was a seminary student who played on the Baylor football team, and I was a business major who cheered on the coed squad for Baylor.

We were set up on a blind date by mutual friends and married in 2007.

Andrew's history of Hodgkin lymphoma
From the moment I met Andrew, I was blown away by his intelligence and his drive.

One of the many things I found fascinating about him was that he'd already written a book about his cancer experience in high school. 

Andrew was 18 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, which was the size of a cantaloupe in his chest. 

Last summer, Oliver Bogler felt a lump in his chest -- one that sometimes seemed to grow and ache. Though his Internet searches told him it could be male breast cancer, Bogler put off telling his wife. He also put off going to see a doctor for several months.

Though the male breast cancer diagnosis that Bogler ultimately received is rare, stories like his are not. Men are far less likely than women to have visited the doctor in the past year, according to research.

But, as Bogler learned, waiting and avoiding the doctor doesn't usually make symptoms disappear. In fact, it may just cause more worrying.

Now Bogler is sharing his advice for others who put off doctor's visits, especially men who suspect they may have cancer.

In honor of National Men's Health Week from June 10-16, we encourage you to watch Bogler's video below and share it with the men in your life.

LR headstands.JPGBy Linda Ryan

Who ever thought a dare would turn into the way you told your friends there's no evidence of cancer in your body?

I traveled to Houston with my friend Barbara for every other cancer treatment. Around the fifth treatment, she was waiting for me while I was seeing Shannon Westin, M.D., after a scan.   

Barbara was texting with a friend of hers who dared her to stand on her head and sing songs in the gynecological clinic waiting room. She promptly flipped her feet above her head onto the fish tank and sang.  

When she was done, she took a bow for the family watching her and motioned for them to clap for her. They did, cautiously. She even asked a stranger to video her doing it.   

I'm not sure I laughed harder during those six months of treatment than I did when I watched the video.    

Headstands to celebrate the end of my cancer
On the day of my ninth treatment, we decided that we would do headstands if Dr. Westin told me the cancer was gone. We'd post a picture on Facebook so everyone would know I was done with treatment.


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