September 2013 Archives

By Chuck Martinez

Six years after a stage III lung cancer diagnosis and 13 years after a superficial bladder cancer diagnosis and two recurrences, it's starting to sink in: I am a true survivor of this disease. 

During these last 13 years, I've learned that my body is stronger than I ever thought possible.


My lung cancer diagnosis

The x-ray in 2007 was just a part of my semi-annual follow-up. Everything had looked great just six months earlier, and I was hopeful and confident that all my tests would be clear once again. But the usual time to hear the results had come and gone.  


One afternoon, my office phone rang. My urologist was on the other end. He sounded straight, serious, concerned: There was a mass in my right lung. My heart began pounding in my ears. After surviving bladder cancer, I now had stage III non-small cell lung cancer.


Hearing "you have cancer -- again" is almost worse than hearing "you have cancer" for the first time. I had just finished treatment for the second recurrence of my bladder cancer. And, after facing more clinic visits, scopes, biopsies and major surgeries than most men my age, I was more than ready to move on and finally put cancer behind me. 

But with a wife and a 3-year-old daughter at home, I couldn't let it beat my spirit. There was little time to feel sorry for myself. 


Undergoing proton therapy treatment for lung cancer

On April 17, 2007, the tumor was removed along with the entire middle lobe of my right lung. But that wasn't the end of my lung cancer treatment. I made my way to MD Anderson, where doctors found cancerous cells in a lymph node. My diagnosis changed, and my idea of what treatment changed, too.


Dr. Ritsuko Komaki, M.D., and Dr. David Grosshans, M.D., thought I was a great candidate for proton therapy treatment. Knowing very little about the technology, I put all my faith into whatever I was told I needed. That August, I began weekly chemotherapy and daily proton therapy treatment for about seven weeks. When I was done, my family had a small party to celebrate the end of my treatment. It was a true milestone that I won't forget. 

By Denise Rager

As the mother of a seventh grade cancer survivor, I have a lot of friends who know exactly what it means to hear the words, "I am sorry, your child has cancer." And, when Childhood Cancer Awareness Month rolls around every September, I know my Facebook Newsfeed will be filled with pictures of kids who have won and lost battles against cancer. 


But September also reminds me that our society has not really embraced Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The color pink is already everywhere in anticipation of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. We all know the struggles of women fighting breast cancer, but our kids are forgotten. Cancer moms and dads are forgotten. 


The only way we can change this is by telling the stories of families affected by pediatric cancer. September is our month to remind people of the battles that our kids fought and that many are still fighting. 


Trouble imagining the future

In 2007, my son Matthew was diagnosed with a malignant glioma brain tumor. He was just 5 years old. I remember thinking I would never see him start junior high school. In those dark times, it was sometimes hard to imagine the future. My son had brain cancer. My world was shattered.  

My faith and lots of prayer got me through those early days of despair, as did Matthew's positive progress. After a successful surgery in California, our home state, we moved our family to Houston so Matthew could get the best care possible. At MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital, Matthew received six weeks of proton radiation and completed 15 cycles of chemotherapy


By Harley Hudson

It was supposed to be a routine annual physical, and that is how it started. Lungs ... check. Heart ... check. Prostate ... check. Everything was A-OK.

At the close of the physical, I pointed out a swollen place on my neck. I thought it was a fatty tumor.

"I'm going to send you to an endocrinologist," my doctor said. "He will probably do a biopsy."

About that time, the nurse brought in the results from my complete blood count. My white blood count was high, way high. "No. I'm going to send you to an oncologist," my doctor said, correcting herself.

Scary words indeed. Something I never thought I'd hear nor wanted to hear in December 2006.

"What do you think it is?" I asked. My doctor suggested it was chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

She felt really bad for giving me the news. I hugged her and told her it was OK. She was right. 

Six days later, I saw an oncologist who confirmed my chronic lymphocytic leukemia diagnosis, but ran further tests to verify it. Thus began my dance with cancer.

My first seven years of CLL treatment 
In reality, my journey began like that of many other CLL patients -- with a routine checkup. Until lumps or swollen lymph nodes appear or the white blood count is off the charts, CLL usually goes undetected. Once discovered, many patients are only watched for continued progress until treatment is needed, perhaps years down the road.

MikeSnyder.jpg By Mike Snyder 

Thank you, cancer. Yes, I'm serious when I say that. No, I haven't lost my mind. And I haven't discovered a strange, new side effect of the cancer drug I'm on.

When I first received my chondrosarcoma diagnosis, and then faced a recurrence several years later, I felt many of the same emotions all of us cancer patients feel. I was scared, angry, upset and fearful about what the outcome might be. I had lots of questions, but I soon learned that answers tended to show up when they felt like it, not when I needed them. But that's not the only lesson I've learned from my cancer journey.

Coming to terms with my chrondrosarcoma journey
Several different things helped me come to terms with my chondrosarcoma journey: a bit of time in counseling; conversations with my family about how I was feeling and my regular meetings with a group of friends and fellow cancer survivors -- my Chemo-Sabes, as we call ourselves. All of that, along with prayers from friends and the acceptance that comes with time, have calmed my nerves and anxiety.

It's not that I don't get scared or worried anymore. I do. My own scanxiety, as a fellow MD Anderson patient calls it, shows up regularly. But I seem to be handling it better. And I wonder why. What happened that changed me? I recently looked back at my life in the time since cancer returned, and I realized my priorities have changed.


By Sandra Bishnoi

After I found out I had no evidence of disease (NED), my gynecologic oncologist told me to "live life fully."

I am not sure what this really means, but based on my conversation with her, she was trying to say I should move forward with my life without constantly thinking about cancer.

Finding a "new normal" -- or a "new reality," as I like to say -- is a process most cancer patients go through. But knowing this hasn't made this process any easier, as my thoughts have changed with the different stages of my inflammatory breast cancer treatment.

Returning to work after inflammatory breast cancer treatment

I was a full-time assistant professor in chemistry when I was diagnosed with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer.


For cancer patients and caregivers, it can often be difficult to find a reason to smile. Depression, stress and fatigue brought on by cancer treatment are some of the factors patients and caregivers face daily.


But even in the toughest times, it's important to maintain hope. Studies show that mental health and social well-being can impact treatment outcomes.


So, we asked several cancer patients and caregivers what makes them smile, especially on tough days. We hope their answers -- shared below -- will give you a reason to smile, too.

Reasons cancer patients and caregivers smile even on their hardest days

"So many things make me happy. I am especially happy when I think about the smile I get from my grandson John-Paul. He had just been born when I was diagnosed. I spent a lot of time at his home while being treated and feel a special closeness to him. Even though he was just an infant, I really believe he remembers me being there and is happy that his grandpa survived." 

-- Gerard Neumann, acute myeloid leukemia survivor


By Caroline Meirs

All cancer patients face challenges, but few challenges are as great as being diagnosed with a rare cancer for which there is no known treatment protocols.

Rare cancers may not be diagnosed early, it may be difficult to find a doctor familiar with your specific disease, and there are most likely no FDA-approved drugs to treat your particular cancer.

As a salivary gland cancer patient, I've experienced many of these challenges first-hand. Here are some tips that have helped me before, during and after my rare head and neck cancer diagnosis.

Be aware of unexplained changes in your body
Members of both sides of my family on both sides have suffered from many different cancers. So when I found a lump under my jawbone that did not respond to antibiotics, I immediately consulted an otolaryngologist.

Given my family history of cancer, I insisted that my doctor perform tests until cancer was either diagnosed or ruled out. 

A sample from the surgical biopsy revealed my salivary gland cancer diagnosis. My particular cancer -- an adenocarcinoma -- was in the minor salivary glands.


By Erin Pisters and Mary Brolley

Although some cancer survivors distance themselves from cancer after treatment, Art Herzog has taken another route.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in March 1990, he weathered radiation therapy with the love and support of his family and doctors.

Even after three recurrences, Art's positive outlook on life -- and cancer -- is contagious. 

Giving back to other prostate cancer patients 
The prospect of improving other patients' experiences has always been important to Art.

For 22 years, he's been an active and devoted volunteer with the Anderson Network, a community of almost 2,000 cancer patients and survivors who share their experiences, advice and encouragement with other patients facing similar obstacles.

Matched by age, diagnosis and treatment, prostate cancer patients know they can count on Art to answer their questions or concerns.

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By Brittany Cordeiro


Cancer survivors: If you're feeling a little sluggish, it's better to get active than hit the couch. Exercise curbs fatigue, reduces stress, strengthens your immune system and can help prevent weight gain.

Regular exercise also reduces your risks of diabetes and heart disease, and for survivors of certain types of cancers, it can reduce their risk of recurrence and death from their disease.  


For these reasons, the American Cancer Society recommends that cancer survivors return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after their cancer diagnosis, working their way up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.


If you're ready to get moving, take note. There are a lot of white lies floating around about the do's and don'ts of exercise.


So, we asked MD Anderson senior exercise physiologist Carol Harrison to give us the truths about exercise to help you stay in fighting shape.  


Exercise smarter, not longer

"How you work out matters more than spending hours in the gym," Harrison says.


To get the most out of your workout, strength train before you do aerobic exercises. This order matches the order your body burns its fuel -- carbohydrates first, fat second. And carbohydrates are the best fuel for short-term and intense exercises, like lifting weights, while fat is the best fuel for aerobic exercises.

Harrison recommends that cancer survivors try to do strength building exercises two to three days each week. You can do aerobic activities every day. 

By Elaine Eppright 

My beloved husband, Frank Eppright, suffered a seizure on Christmas Eve 2010. We learned two days later he had a malignant brain tumor -- a stage IV glioblastoma, the most aggressive type.  

Surgery and brain tumor treatment
On January 4, 2011, at a hospital in Kansas, Frank underwent a left frontal craniotomy, the most common type of brain surgery for a tumor. The doctors removed 100% of the malignant tumor from his brain. But, since brain tumor cells are always lurking, Frank was given only 12 to 14 months to live.    

We wanted a second opinion and knew MD Anderson is renowned for diagnosing and treating all cancers. So we met neuro-oncologist Mark R. Gilbert, M.D., a few weeks later. Dr. Gilbert prescribed radiation therapy, chemotherapy and frequent MRIs. Frank underwent 30 radiation sessions while also taking the chemotherapy drug Temodar.

By Will Fitzgerald, MD Anderson staff writer

The news came while Judy Sager and her husband Jurgen were living in Scotland in 1999. Jurgen was on an overseas assignment as an engineer with an offshore drilling company, when he visited a local hospital to have a suspicious-looking mole examined.

The results soon returned: melanoma. They knew the news was not good, but remained optimistic. 

After surgery to remove the affected area, Jurgen transferred positions to be closer to home while being monitored by MD Anderson physicians.

After a year, the disease was thought to be completely removed, and, by all indications, life was improving. So, at age 40, Jurgen decided to run the Houston Marathon. 

A week after the marathon, feeling in the best shape of his life, Jurgen noticed a lump near his groin and immediately returned to MD Anderson. The melanoma was back and had spread throughout his lymph nodes. 

Melanoma treatment: An ongoing battle 
Jurgen underwent surgery and biochemotherapy, a melanoma treatment that combines standard chemotherapy and an immunotherapy agent designed to attack any remaining cancer cells.

For the next two years, Judy and Jurgen continued to raise their two sons and were determined to keep daily life as normal as possible. But when Jurgen returned to MD Anderson for routine scans, the doctors found tumors in his liver. He would have to undergo yet another surgery.

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By Mindy Loya

Terri Woodard, M.D., says her practice at MD Anderson hasn't yet produced any babies.

But that isn't her only measure of success. It's been less than nine months since Woodard started offering consultations to patients who seek guidance on fertility testing and treatment options for fertility preservation through the Oncofertility Consult Service housed within Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.

Along with Andrea Bradford, Ph.D., she's offering patients comprehensive resources for sexual health and reproductive function. Both services lead with conversations.

"Just having a conversation during an initial consultation doesn't commit anyone to fertility treatments or counseling sessions," Woodard says. "But it means a patient can make an informed choice about whether to seek further services, and it means a lot to patients to know they have options where their fertility and intimate relationships are concerned."

Starting the conversation about cancer and reproductive health
Thanks to advances in cancer treatments, patients are living longer. But those same lifesaving cancer treatments can take a heavy toll.

"We recognize that people don't just go back to being 'normal,' says Bradford, who points to the long-term impacts that chemotherapy, radiation, major abdominal and pelvic surgeries, and hormone therapies can have on patients' sexual function, body image and fertility.

But sexual and reproductive health aren't always high on a patient's list of questions for his or her oncologist. 

lindaRyan_patient_0006 cervical cancer.JPG
By Linda Ryan

I recently went on vacation to California with my two sons. We did all of the touristy San Francisco attractions, including driving down Lombard Street, going to Alcatraz and biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a great way to see the incredible views. 

As we started to cross the bridge, I realized that we were doing what a friend says we should do: We were being participators in life. Not spectators. We were right in the middle of the action, not observing from afar. 

Being a cancer survivor is like wearing a backpack

Shortly before I got to the bridge, I realized I hadn't thought about cancer in a while.

Even though I no longer have cancer, it's on my mind often. I'm not always worrying about it, but it's always there.

As I explained to a friend, for me, being a cancer survivor is like wearing a backpack. You know it's there, and it can be a little heavier at times, but it's always with you wherever you go. You don't notice that it's not there until you look for it. 


By Lindsay Lewis, MD Anderson staff writer

Just a year ago, AStar Thorns made a big change in her life. A housekeeper in Facilities at the time, she went back to school to become a phlebotomist -- a person trained to draw blood intravenously from our patients.

After a four-month training program, Thorns was hired here as an extern. She recently transitioned into a full-time job as one of our more than 90 phlebotomists.

"I love coming to work every morning," says Thorns, who works in the Main Building Diagnostic Center. "I know I'm doing my part to help someone stay alive."

Treating patients as people, not numbers
The art of venipuncture, or blood collection, is a sticky situation at MD Anderson - and that's no joke. Our phlebotomists draw more than 1 million blood specimens every year. That's nearly every patient, every visit.

"We're extremely busy," admits Jeanette Martinez, a phlebotomist in Mays Clinic. "But even though we only have a brief time with patients, we try to make it meaningful. We treat our patients as people, not as numbers."

By Dave Balachandran, M.D.


Sleep is fundamental to life. From the smallest single cell organisms to living, breathing human beings, every creature on earth gets rest or sleeps. For humans, sleep is vital to our existence. The quality of our sleep can determine whether we live vibrant, healthy lives or are inundated with illness.   

For cancer patients in particular, sleep quality may influence treatment outcomes. Poor quality sleep can influence the patient's prognosis and influence how well the body tolerates cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

Studies show that almost 80% of cancer patients will complain about disturbed sleep during their cancer journeys. Cancer and cancer therapies have side effects that impair good quality sleep, leading to insomnia, daytime sleepiness and fatigue. Sleep affects immune function, and a lack of sleep may put patients undergoing cancer therapy at greater risk of infections.

Sleep help for MD Anderson patients
To help our cancer patients who struggle with sleep, MD Anderson established a Sleep Center in 2006. So far, we have seen more than 3,000 patients with a variety of sleep disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, excess daytime sleepiness and fatigue, restless leg syndrome and other complex sleep disorders. 


By Lainie Jones

Many girls picture their wedding all the way down to the shoes.

I was never that girl. Yes, I wanted to marry the man of my dreams, but I never envisioned my wedding.

And I definitely didn't imagine I'd be planning a wedding while undergoing chemo.

"Challenges young adults should never have to face"
My husband, Joseph (JJ), and I met while working at a popular retail store when we were 21. (He was that shirtless dude in the front.) We started dating, and our love grew stronger each day. 

Four years later, in 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. JJ and I were faced with a challenge young adults should never have to face. We still weren't engaged, but JJ said to me, "I am never leaving your side." 

Since my breast cancer diagnosis, our journey with cancer has been a long one. I was subsequently diagnosed with two more cancers and had three recurrences. As we learned, I have a rare genetic disorder called Li-Fraumeni syndrome. My body is lacking a P53 gene, which helps prevent cancer. Cancer will be a permanent fixture in my life.

berries and weights - energy foods.JPGBy Katie Bispeck

It is well-known that obesity is an enormous problem in the United States. More than one-third of U.S. adults are considered obese. 18%  of children ages 6-11 and 18% of adolescents ages 12-19 are obese.

Obesity has been shown to contribute to the development of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol and osteoarthritis.

But research also shows that obesity can increase a person's risk of many types of cancer, including breast (after menopause), colon and rectum, endometrial, esophageal (adenocarcinoma), kidney, thyroid, gallbladder and pancreatic cancers.

Scientists say that obesity will soon be the number one preventable cause of cancer and that we should expect to see about 500,000 new cases of cancer as a result of obesity by 2030.

Defining obesity: What your BMI means
The term obese is used to describe a person with an unhealthy proportion of body fat. It's measured by taking a ratio of height-versus-weight. This is called your Body Mass Index (BMI). Adults with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese. This is typically 50 pounds overweight.

To determine your own BMI, take your weight (kilograms) and divide it by your height (meters squared).

Obesity has become such an important issue that the American Medical Association has recently classified it as a disease.


By Bre Tipps

I knew my body was trying to tell me something. The stomach problems, the bloating, the pain I felt when my children would accidently hit or my pets would jump on me. I never thought it would be cancer. I was 26 with a good life ahead of me. Or so I thought.

As a series of tests revealed, my journey back to health would be a long one.

When the symptoms first started showing, I tried treating them with different products from health stores. I saw different doctors, but they all dismissed me, saying it was not a big deal.

The symptoms just kept getting worse. The pain was so bad I couldn't stand it any longer. A trip to the emergency room and a CT scan revealed golf ball-sized fibroid tumors on my uterus. A second test by another doctor showed that the tumors were even larger -- softball-sized. But I was told the chance of cancer was only 1%.

My ovarian cancer diagnosis
I went in for what was supposed to be a simple surgery. I awoke from surgery and saw my husband. He looked upset. I asked him how big the tumors were. He said he wasn't sure and told me to wait for the doctors. 


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