October 2013 Archives

JSchoger.jpgby Jody Schoger

I was doing what I do every day: advocating for breast cancer survivors through various social and traditional media outlets. I advocate, write, review grants, educate, read research studies and, yes, even joke about it when conditions are right.

Until this year. Last Christmas, there were some physical changes I couldn't ignore. I blamed a sudden weight loss on stress. It simply did not register that cancer was about to re-enter my life after a 15-year remission.

But it did. I was diagnosed with metastatic lobular breast cancer on my annual visit to MD Anderson's Survivorship Clinic in April.

Coping with metastatic breast cancer recurrence
Cancer is wily. Invasive lobular breast cancer is especially so. It doesn't always cause lumps and can be difficult to image. The cancer skipped my remaining breast for better territory, landing in the opposite lymph nodes under my arm, then traveling up into my neck before traveling into my abdomen.

beckyandsteve.jpgBy Becky Remetta

Steve and I dated when we were in our 20s. We always had a great time together, but I was completely surprised when he asked me to marry him. I told him I needed to think about it, but the subject never came up again.  

Things happened, Steve moved to another state and after a while, we lost touch. Through the years, marriage, kids, and all that goes with life, I never forgot about Steve. He always had a special place in my heart.

Thirty years later, thanks to the Internet and Facebook, we got in touch again. When we finally saw each other, we picked up where we left off, but we still had the fun of getting to know each other again.  

A mantle cell lymphoma diagnosis
Two months after I moved in with Steve, he had his first colonoscopy. A few polyps were removed during the procedure, and we were told that he had cancer, the type that could be removed surgically.  

The next week, Steve met with a surgeon who said he had a completely different type of cancer- mantle cell lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that was not treatable surgically. 

bowl of fruit.jpgBy Brittany Cordeiro

As a cancer caregiver, you face unique challenges. The loved one you're nurturing often requires your time, energy and attention, making it hard to focus on your health and wellness.

But an unhealthy caregiver could do more harm than good. Your loved one needs you to stay in fighting shape, so you can provide the care he or she needs. Plus, maintaining a healthy diet and weight helps lower your cancer risks.  

Not sure where to start?

"Research shows that making small changes can lead to bigger diet changes over time and better health," says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson.

Try these smart food tips to maintain good health.

Dine out less
"Restaurant foods are usually loaded with extra fat, salt and calories," Herndon says. "Eating out or getting takeout even just a few times a week can cause weight gain over time."


By Karen Mae Perdon

My mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, just four years after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.


This year her breast cancer returned. When I heard the news, I kept thinking, why her? Why is this happening again to the person least deserving of this? I thought we had said goodbye to cancer, but I guess God had other plans.


Yet, despite being a bit shocked, I was surprisingly calm about the news. I knew that my job as a nurse here at MD Anderson was not just to help my patients, but also to help my family.


An inspiring first experience with MD Anderson

I haven't always been a nurse at MD Anderson. In fact, it was my sister's breast cancer diagnosis that led me to MD Anderson, first as a caregiver and now as a nurse.


by Miriam Smith

Reba Kennedy had her first and second lung cancer surgically removed by doctors in her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., in 1997 and 1999, respectively. They also removed her breast cancer in 2002.

But two years later, Reba felt an excruciating pain worse than ever before. Her lung cancer had returned in a large mass wrapped around her ribs. Local doctors said this tumor -- which was at stage 4 -- was inoperable. They recommended she seek a second opinion at MD Anderson.

"I knew I needed something major," Reba recalls. "I was facing death." She got to MD Anderson as quickly as she could.

Undergoing lung cancer treatment at MD Anderson
Reba remembers her first visit to MD Anderson as being surprisingly warm.

"From the time I came through the door, everybody was fighting for me," she says. "They were going to do everything possible to make me well. And I knew no matter what, I was going to the best place in the world."

Anne Tsao, M.D., associate professor of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology, and David Rice, M.D., professor of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, determined that the tumor could be removed if they replaced part of Kennedy's rib cage with an artificial one.


By Miriam Smith

Marion Meyer was told she had just three years to live when doctors diagnosed her with an aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in 2002. But she had three children and seven grandchildren, and, at age 59, she wasn't ready to die. 

Marion vowed to get a second opinion, no matter how far she'd have to travel.

The former biochemist wanted to receive CLL treatment from the doctor who had done the most research on her disease, and that -- as she learned through her research -- was Michael Keating, M.D., professor in Leukemia and co-leader of the CLL Moon Shot at MD Anderson.

Undergoing CLL treatment at MD Anderson
"Dr. Keating gave me a big bear hug the first time I saw him," Marion recalls. "He told me 80% of my bone marrow was diseased, and if it was his wife, he'd recommend she start tomorrow. I never questioned him."

After Marion underwent chemotherapy, her doctors began the difficult task of finding a bone marrow donor so she could undergo a bone marrow transplant. When her donor ended up becoming pregnant, the date of her transplant was pushed back a year.

Kenneth and Clara Woo.jpg
Eight years after undergoing treatment for a Hodgkin disease recurrence, Kenneth Woo was just about to graduate from his oncologist's care at MD Anderson.

Then, the unthinkable happened: he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) after suffering from fatigue and dizziness that he'd thought was anemia.

"I'll never forget the sad look on my doctor's face when he told me I probably had leukemia," Kenneth says. "At that point, going from Hodgkin disease to leukemia felt like getting a death sentence."

Doctors told Kenneth that AML was a common side effect of the type of radiation and chemotherapy he'd received as part of his Hodgkin disease treatment. "Because two of my chromosomes were mutated from previous cancer treatments, it didn't look promising," Kenneth recalls.

At that point, Kenneth and his wife Clara -- who were raising two young daughters -- agreed to ensure neither faced this AML diagnosis alone. They agreed to tell each other exactly what they were feeling, even on their worst days.

AML treatment: A clinical trial and chemotherapy
For his AML treatment, Kenneth immediately began chemotherapy and enrolled in a clinical trial that kept him in isolation for weeks. He couldn't see his daughters at all. And, when his blood cell count dropped to zero, Kenneth could only see Clara through a glass window.

BettyWhite.jpgBetty White helped doctors catch her ovarian cancer in its earliest stages by being her own best advocate.

She first went to her gynecologist after she'd been experiencing continual fatigue and lower abdominal pain in 1997. But the first tests the doctor ran didn't raise any red flags.

When Betty's symptoms were still bothering her three months later, she underwent a laparoscopy and then a complete hysterectomy. At that point, the lab results showed high-grade serous and clear cell ovarian cancer -- "a rather surprise diagnosis," Betty recalls.

"You know your body better than anyone else, so you need to pay attention to what it's telling you so that you can talk to your doctor," she advises others. "No one realized it was going to be cancer, not even my gynecologist."

Receiving ovarian cancer treatment at MD Anderson
Once her ovarian cancer diagnosis was made, Betty's doctor referred her to MD Anderson, a place she'd grown to love while working here as a computer programmer until her daughter's birth in 1982.

"I already knew MD Anderson was a special place, but I'd never realized I'd need their services as well," she says.

For her ovarian cancer treatment, Betty underwent six courses of chemotherapy. She's been cancer-free ever since then and "continues to knock on wood every day."

Michael Keating, M.jpgby Michael Keating, M.D.

Last year, on Sept. 21, 2012, MD Anderson took another step toward fulfilling our mission of Making Cancer History when we officially launched our Moon Shots Program.


This ambitious and innovative program seeks to significantly reduce the mortality rates for several cancers -- including melanomatriple-negative breast, high-grade serous ovarian, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), lung and prostate -- and ultimately find cures for these and other cancers.


Over the last year, the Moon Shots Program provided a tremendous boost to cancer research. My colleagues at MD Anderson and I have spent the last 12 months collaborating to make significant advancements for our patients as well as those patients not yet diagnosed.


Meaningful progress made in the first year

The Moon Shots Program became a reality after MD Anderson's president Ronald DePinho, M.D., issued a formidable challenge to our doctors and researchers: to develop a comprehensive action plan to significantly increase survival rates of cancer patients in the near-term and accelerate cures in the long-term.


Thyroid cancer is the number one fastest rising cancer in women. Although it accounts for about 1% of all cancers, it is becoming much more common. At least 450,000 people in the United States have completed treatment or are living with thyroid cancer. 


We recently spoke with Steven Sherman, M.D., chair of Endocrine Neoplasia and Hormonal Disorders, about the rise in thyroid cancer cases, thyroid cancer symptomsthyroid cancer diagnosis and thyroid cancer treatment. Here's what he had to say.


About 75% of people diagnosed with thyroid cancer are women. Why are women more likely than men to develop this disease?

Doctors aren't sure why more women develop thyroid cancer. All thyroid diseases are more common in women than men.


But when it comes to thyroid cancer, the difference of occurrences in gender disappears for children who have not entered puberty and older adults. So, thyroid cancer may be related to female hormones.

COHEN_FAMILY (2).jpgMonique Cohen was a healthy, busy mom of three when, in early 2011, she noticed a lump during a breast self-exam. A lumpectomy revealed it was benign, but a follow-up mammogram six months later found another breast lump.

"'You have cancer.' Those are the three worst words you'll ever hear in your life," she says. "The first question you ask is, 'Why?' I did everything I possibly could to stay healthy. I exercised regularly. It was not in my genetics. But the fact was that I had cancer and we needed to do what was necessary to eradicate it."

A neighbor told Monique to make an appointment at MD Anderson, a suggestion echoed by a family friend.

"It's the best care in the nation for cancer, and it's in our backyard," says the Austin, Texas resident. "When you're faced with a diagnosis as serious as cancer, why wouldn't you go to the best?"

Before traveling to Houston for Monique's first appointment, Monique and her husband Jamie shared the news of her breast cancer diagnosis with their children. 

"The hardest thing you ever have to do as a parent is to tell your children something like this," Monique says."You know it's going to be difficult for them and they're going to be scared, and as a parent and a mom, you're not supposed to do that to your kids. You're supposed to protect them."

hank.jpgBy Hank Lech


Recently, I was reflecting on everything that had come up since my chordoma diagnosis and surgery.


In the process, I recalled the F I made on my very first exam in seminary. That F turned out to be something to be thankful for. It motivated me. I ended up doing well in the class and in my other classes.


Could I be thankful for my cancer diagnosis, surgery and recovery, just as I had been thankful for the F?

woman stretching.JPGBy Matthew T. Ballo, M.D. 

"Dr. Ballo, I want to go on your Road to Wellness Program."

I love it when I hear this from patients, but there's one problem. It's not exactly a program. It's just the starting point for helping patients get and stay healthy.

What is The Road to Wellness?

The Road to Wellness was designed to help cancer patients and survivors live a healthier lifestyle. It introduces the concept of cancer survivorship to patients receiving active cancer treatment, while promoting wellness, reducing stress and fatigue, and preparing patients for life after cancer treatment. The Road to Wellness does all of this through education aimed at exercise, nutrition, stress management and smoking cessation.

The Road to Wellness was designed to be rolled out in the Regional Care Centers in the Houston suburbs, but the strategies it uses are available to patients at our Texas Medical Center Campus as well.

Whether you're coping with cancer or another challenge, a mantra can help you get through it. 

Many of the cancer patients, caregivers and survivors who have contributed to Cancerwise have shared wonderful words of wisdom that others have looked to for encouragement and inspiration throughout their cancer journeys. 

Here some of our most popular quotes from our Cancerwise bloggers.

test.jpgBy Alan Weatherwax

"Oh, so you are the guitar pick guy. I heard about you," a fellow MD Anderson patient said to me.

Just before leaving my home in Michigan for my two-month stay in Houston, I had decided to do something to make the experience more positive. While playing my guitar, I'd noticed the logo on my guitar pick. That's when I came up with the idea for "Winky."

I rush-ordered 1,000 guitar picks custom-printed with one of 12 encouraging phrases on one side and a winking smiley face on the other. The phrases included things like "I think I can, I think I can" "Never give up" and "Be Kind. We need it." The winking smiley face is my own trademark. It's how I have always signed birthday cards, gift cards and other notes I give to people.

During my throat cancer treatment at MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center, I handed the guitar picks to other patients and staff members.

My proton therapy treatment for throat cancer
After my throat cancer diagnosis, my wife Paula and I had decided to travel to MD Anderson for my proton therapy treatment. This relatively new kind of cancer treatment, which could target my throat cancer while limiting side effects, wasn't available in Michigan at the time. Plus, the cancer center is extremely organized, and their personalized approach to treating my specific cancer with a team of doctors and support staff made complete sense.

GerryNeumann_with_wife.jpgBy Gerard Neumann

When I was diagnosed and hospitalized with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), I received cards from many places. One card came from a new friend who told me I was beginning a journey.

One might think a cancer journey wouldn't be something to remember fondly, but I do have some really good memories associated with mine.

Remembering my first trip to MD Anderson
Flying to Houston for my AML treatment was not the exciting trip it had been just a month earlier when my wife and I went there for the birth of our grandson.

Stewart_tara.jpgBy Stewart Miyamoto

In winter 2001, I had this full feeling in my tummy. Kind of like I feel after eating Thanksgiving dinner. But the bloated feeling wouldn't go away, so I made an appointment with my doctor.

He ordered an x-ray of my abdomen. That x-ray changed my life. It showed my spleen was the size of a football. This alone was life-threatening, and my spleen needed to be removed.

Next came the pathology report. It said I had mantle cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Looking for my bone marrow transplant donor
Bone marrow transplants and stem cell transplants are often used to treat mantle cell lymphoma, and that's what the doctors prescribed me.


By Liz Hill

When my mom started her chemo treatments at MD Anderson, I had no idea that she and I would completely switch roles.

All through my teen years, struggling with puberty, high school, softball practice, boyfriends, etc., Mom was there. She taught me to keep fighting, and many times she just told me to "suck it up." So, when her journey with melanoma started, I was there for her, pushing her, and yes, sometimes telling her to "suck it up."

I became Mom's main caregiver, while my dad, her husband of 38 years, tended to my mentally handicapped older brother, David. I traveled with Mom to MD Anderson from our homes in Louisiana, and Dad was always there for her when she returned home from melanoma treatment. He became the main cook and maid at the house, and he loved every minute of doting on the love of his life, while I checked in on them throughout the day.

Being able to return home in between melanoma treatments made all the difference in the world to Mom. It lifted her spirits, allowed family and friends to visit, and gave her the ability to be close to the ones she loved most.

But many of my memories from that period are from the ones Mom and I made during our trips to MD Anderson.

Creating memories while caring for Mom 
During one of her hospital stays, doctors told Mom to walk around the nurses' station each day to stay mobile. I knew if I were the one lying in that hospital bed, Mom would have pushed me to get up and walk. So, that is what I did for her. Yes, Mom complained a little, and sometimes I let her skip the walk, but we walked a lot. 

medical files.jpg

By Janice Marie Simon

Managing cancer and health issues seems to conjure up a great deal of paperwork, and that paperwork can stack up quite quickly.


Paperwork is a necessary evil since you need to deal with insurance companies, hospitals, tests and medications. By organizing and managing your paperwork up front, you can keep ahead of the battle and stop it from overwhelming you and your family.


Since October is Organizing Your Medical Records Month, here are a few tips for you to organize your medical papers and other health-related information.

woman sad.JPG

By Emily Weaver


Depression is a serious illness that can have a major impact on an individual's quality of life. In fact, 15-25% of people diagnosed with cancer also suffer from depression. This is more than double that of the general population. Studies show that mental health and social well-being can affect the success of treatment.


Distinguishing depression from normal sadness

Depression is more than just the normal feelings of sadness. Depression is a when an individual experiences at least one of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:

  • Feeling sad most of the time
  • Loss of pleasure and interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Nervousness
  • Slow physical and mental responses
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling guilt for no reason
  • Decreased concentration ability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

BrandieSellers 10.1.13.jpgBy Brandie Sellers

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 37, I had no close friends who had been through cancer treatment. I felt alone. I felt like nobody on earth could know how I felt. 

My friends are amazing, and, yet, they could not relate to what I was going through. Nobody can unless they go through it themselves or walk the treatment path with a close loved one.

Creating my own breast cancer support group
Once I started seeing an oncologist, I noticed that most of the people I saw at his office were older. 

Then, as I was waiting on my first day of chemo, a woman walked in with a young child. She was only 40. I chatted her up right quick, thinking, "Hey, you're young, you're bald! We have to be friends!" Luckily, she was thinking the same thing, and we exchanged horror stories and contact information.  

Many friends tried to hook me up with other cancer survivor friends, but I resisted those connections most of the time. I felt like this was my journey, and I needed to find my own posse. Luckily, there were two exceptions to this, and the connections I made are invaluable to me.


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