December 2013 Archives


This past year, we recorded more than two-dozen audio podcasts with our doctors on groundbreaking research, prevention insight, and the latest cancer diagnosis and treatment options.

Here are five of our best Cancer Newsline podcasts recorded in 2013. Download and listen to one or all of them to find out what you need to know about cancer.

Cancer and teeth
It's not uncommon to experience ulcers, dry mouth and other oral conditions before, during and after cancer treatment. Mark Chambers, D.M.D., professor in Head and Neck Oncology, talks about why it's so important to pay attention to your oral health and what you need to know no matter where you are in your cancer journey. Listen to the podcast.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer basics
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the seventh most common cancer in the United States. And, it's often misdiagnosed. Jason Westin, M.D., assistant professor in Lymphoma/Myeloma, talks about Non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms to watch for, as well as diagnosis, treatment options and clinical trials. Listen to the podcast.


The holidays can be difficult when you or a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment. But while your usual traditions may be interrupted, the holiday spirit can still be found.

We asked several survivors how they coped with cancer during the holidays and what advice they had for patients undergoing treatment during the holidays.

Here's what they had to say.

 Focus on what makes you happiest about the holidays
"Life has changed, and every holiday provides me with a deeper appreciation for being given another year. Cancer hasn't changed the way I celebrate holidays, but it makes being around family and friends much more special.

Find what makes you the happiest about the holidays and nourish it, feed it, water it. And then watch it grow, empower and inspire." 
Justin Ozuna, chronic myeloid leukemia survivor

In 2013, we shot videos covering everything from groundbreaking research to wisdom from our patients and caregivers to MD Anderson's hidden gems and major milestones. We even recorded our first music video.

Here are our five most-watched videos from the past year.

"Hold On" -- a message of hope for cancer patients
One of our doctors, Greg Lizee, Ph.D., has written and recorded a song of hope called "Hold On." We've dedicated the song to all those touched by cancer.

Watch Dr. Lizee's "Hold On" music video:

Moon Shots Program 1-year milestones
When we launched our Moon Shots Program in Sept. 2012, we vowed to significantly reduce cancer deaths for several cancers and ultimately find cures for these and other cancers. Learn about the progress we've already and what's ahead for our efforts to end cancer.

Watch the Moon Shots Program 1-year milestones video:

tennis shoes

No matter where you are in your journey, cancer can raise more questions than answers. But by doing your research and adhering to the adage that "knowledge is power," you can make your cancer journey more manageable.

Here's some of the most helpful advice and insight shared by our doctors and other experts in 2013.

4 common myths about cancer doctors
In getting to know his patients, Nikesh Jasani, M.D., has learned that there are a lot of misperceptions about oncologists. Find out what he wishes more patients knew.

CT and MRI scans: Tips for coping with stress
Do upcoming MRI or CT scans cause you to lose sleep and interfere with your daily life? Good news: it is possible to manage this so-called scanxiety. Learn how to reign in scanxiety.

apple and girl.jpgCaring for a cancer patient can be very rewarding, but it can  be stressful, too. During the past year, some of our experts and caregivers have shared great advice for caregivers.

Check out these blog posts for our most helpful advice for cancer caregivers.

5 health tips for cancer caregivers
When caring for a loved one, it's easy for your own health to take a backseat. But it's essential that you stay healthy so you can provide the best care. Read these tips.

Sonia Byrd Throughout the year, our cancer patients and cancer survivors shared insight, advice and stories from their cancer journeys, giving us inspiration and hope.

Here are some of our best stories from patients and survivors in 2013.

Getting married after cancer: Guilt is part of the diagnosis
Before proposing to his girlfriend, Justin Ozuna couldn't stop thinking about how the proposal would align with his cancer diagnosis and his uncertain future. Find out how the couple accepted their new reality.

Bodybuilding: How a breast cancer survivor regained confidence
After a breast cancer diagnosis, double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, Sonia Byrd decided to retake control of her body and life. So, she signed up for a bodybuilding fitness contest. Read her story.

Christmas_gingerbread house.jpgBy Morgan Henry, Social Work Counselor

The holiday season can bring comfort and joy through family traditions, social celebrations and school events. However, if you're a cancer patient with young kids or teenagers, you may face many changes and challenges during holiday season, including:

  • Limited financial resources: Mounting medical bills, reduced income or changes in work schedule could lead to fewer holiday celebrations or gifts, which kids may eventually notice.
  • Travel plans: Because of your cancer treatment schedule or health situation, long-distance travel to visit family may not be possible.
  • Traditions:  Families may not be able to keep up with all of their typical yearly holiday traditions simply because they have less time, money and energy.
  • School events: If you're coping with a cancer diagnosis, you may not be able to attend your child's holiday school functions as usual. While grandparents or other family members can always fill in, parents not being there could still have an effect on children.
How cancer patients can help their families and kids during the holidays
There are many things you can do to help your children and other family members cope with the changes you're facing while still enjoying the holiday season. Here are just a few strategies.

LindaRyan121013.jpgBy Linda Ryan

During my recurrent cervical cancer treatment, I knew that mental strength was as important as my physical strength. But it was something I had to work on each day, especially on days when I felt weak. 

After lying in bed for several days after my chemotherapy, I forced myself to get up and walk around the block. I rarely wanted to walk, but I knew if I got up and got moving outside in the fresh air, I would feel stronger. Those were days when it took considerable mental strength to power through and regain my physical strength. 

Through my experience, I've learned that there are several things that can help cancer patients stay mentally and physically strong.

1.    Don't feel sorry for yourself.
As a cancer patient, it is natural to want to feel sorry for yourself. What good does that do? 

When I first received my cervical cancer diagnosis, a friend noticed I didn't sound down or upset. I told her that feeling sorry for myself would let cancer win. As I've learned from reading blog posts by other cancer survivors, many people are grateful for their cancer or that goodness came out of it. I agree. The people I have met and the friendships that have been strengthened are the top my list of good things that have resulted from my cancer. 


Options. That's all Richard Ware wanted when he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a form of leukemia, in July 2013.

Unfortunately, the doctors he saw in his hometown gave him only one.

"In my first consultation, I felt very rushed into a certain type of treatment program," Richard says. "As I asked questions about how the treatment would affect me, I felt very pressured into this one form of treatment."

When Richard asked about alternative forms of MDS treatment, he was told there weren't any.

He refused to believe that, so he began researching on his own and learned about MD Anderson.

Choosing MD Anderson for MDS treatment
"I reached out to MD Anderson and was very surprised at how quickly the doctors in the leukemia department got back to me," Richard says.

He recalls how important he felt when the doctors really took an interest into what he wanted. He flew down to Houston for a consultation and instantly felt at home.

"The most important thing in my life is my family, and MD Anderson takes a family approach to the healing process," he says. "They helped me understand what I was going through and gave me the tools to overcome it, which allowed me to get my life back as soon as possible."

MikeSnyder12.10.jpg By Mike Snyder

The thoughts start kicking in about a week before I leave for MD Anderson. Once I've finished all the practical preparations, I struggle to stay optimistic and hopeful about my chondrosarcoma treatment.

I push those thoughts to the back of my mind, but as my travel date gets closer, they become more insistent. During my drive to the airport, they squeeze in close, like fellow passengers on an overcrowded bus. What will my scans show? Are my tumors bigger? Have they changed shape? Are there any new tumors?

Coping with doubt during chondrosarcoma treatment
The idea of new tumors makes the really morbid thoughts kick in: Will I be able to stay on my clinical trial? What if there isn't another trial I qualify for? Is this the time when my doctor will tell me there isn't anything else they can do for me? Will he send me home to face whatever the future holds for me without medication or treatment? Without hope?

Mai12.9.jpgOn the fifth anniversary of the day she entered remission, Mai Salem was told her pancreatic cancer had returned.

At first, Mai was devastated. For five years, Mai had provided hope for other pancreatic cancer patients as a volunteer for the Anderson Network, a support group that pairs new patients with survivors who share their same cancer diagnosis. But after her recurrence, she wasn't so sure she could still be a voice of hope.


Over time, though, Mai has come to realize that despite her pancreatic cancer recurrence, the way she continues to live her life remains an inspiration to her fellow patients.


"I enjoy life to the maximum," she says. "That's what I do. I try to enjoy everything I can, when I can."


Mai's pancreatic cancer symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Mai had been experiencing stomach pain for several months, but her local doctor kept dismissing her complaints, telling her it was all the spicy Thai food she ate.


Eventually, she sought a second opinion. Tests showed that Mai had pancreatic cancer -- more specifically, a neuroendocrine tumor that metastasized to her liver.

Hank12.6.jpgBy Hank Lech

As I reflect on my chordoma diagnosis, surgery and setbacks, I think back to my most recent surgery and smile. I remember Sujit Prabhu, M.D., professor of Neurosurgery, telling me there was no sign of cancer.

He then told me the bad news: the screws holding my head on had come loose -- again.  

I have been told I have a few loose screws before, but I did not realize he was serious. The screws doctors put in during my original chordoma surgery were actually loose, and I needed another surgery to correct the problem.
I wanted to shake my head in disbelief. Then I remembered I couldn't shake my head. It might fall off. But then I began joking with Dr. Prabhu and asked if they were using recycled parts in my head.

Finding humor in my chordoma treatment
Since receiving my chordoma diagnosis and undergoing two surgeries to fix loose screws, bolts, rods and other hardware, I have run the course of emotions. Anger has shown its ugly head, but I used humor to heal my spirit and the spirit of others. The science behind laughter is proven to help with pain, depression and anxiety, and that's proven to be the case for me.

BrandieSellersandkids.jpgBy Brandie Sellers

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011. Several holidays came and went while I was in treatment. Each holiday I woke up and thought, "I'm still here. No matter what happens today, I still get to be here." 

I felt pretty rotten for some of the holidays -- the Fourth of July, in particular. But during each and every one of them, my eyes opened and I got to see my children.

Surviving breast cancer changed how my family and I celebrate the holidays, but we know it's for the better.

Holidays are different after breast cancer treatment

Holidays are different for us now. We don't have as much money as we had when I was diagnosed with cancer. Our house is simple, our meals are simple, and my expectations of the holidays are few, as are my children's expectations.

We have trouble with Christmas lists around here. Gifts given out of love are always welcome, but nobody here is making a long list of wants. All we want is to be together and giggle. And maybe to have some time to read some books and dance around the kitchen. Oh, and my kids do always want snow on Christmas, which, although not common in Dallas, actually happened last year.

Rob.jpgBy Robert Matney

In April 2013, a mole on my right shoulder began to itch. I thought little of it, but a week later, I noted the same itch and decided to pay careful attention. When it happened again, I knew I should see a doctor.

The dermatologist said that while he thought the mole was likely nothing, he was concerned enough to remove and test it. That test came back positive for stage 1 malignant melanoma.

But further tests elevated my melanoma diagnosis to stage 3a, and I realized I needed a melanoma specialist.

So, I came to MD Anderson, where I met with Merrick Ross, M.D. We discussed the next step: another surgery. With Dr. Ross, there was more confidence and more clarity than I'd heard elsewhere, and crucially, he was more familiar with cutting-edge research that might inform my choices and my prospects. He took more time. He answered more questions. Also, he exhibited a kind of bravado that, frankly, I wanted in my doctor.

And so another surgery followed, during which 39 lymph nodes were removed. Fortunately, none of those came back positive. Along with my CT/PET scans, this confirmed a stage 3 melanoma diagnosis.

carol.jpgBy Carol A. Turni
That third week in August 2011 is one I will never forget. That's when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I was 44 years old with no family history of cancer. It seemed like I was on a bad news train. Not only did I have breast cancer, but it was caused by a BRCA 2 genetic mutation, which extended my breast cancer treatment course drastically. I was married with two young girls, 5 and 7 years old at the time. My world changed so drastically that I am not sure you can put it into words.
My family and friends were all very supportive. However, one piece was missing: my older brother, whom I had not spoken to in more than seven years.

An unexpected call from my brother
The details of our disagreement had long faded, but there was no communication and a painful feeling of loss. Shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis, though, the phone rang. 

AndrewDavisonandchildren.jpgBy Andrew Davison
I lost my dad to lung cancer. Thirteen years later, I was diagnosed with the same illness that took his life.

The difference was that he smoked two packs of cigarettes day, and I did not.

While I did smoke occasionally in my early 20s, I have been active and healthy for most of my life. But whether a person smokes or not shouldn't matter in how we approach lung cancer patients. Through my lung cancer treatment journey, I've learned we need to end the stigma surrounding lung cancer.

My lung cancer diagnosis
Almost four months ago, I was riding on top of the world, literally. In the midst of a five-hour mountain bike ride at a ski resort in Colorado, I crashed. I was a little banged up and went in to get checked out. After a few stitches and a chest x-ray, I was cleared to go home with a bag of ice and some ibuprofen.

Two hours later, while grilling at a summer BBQ, I missed a call from the clinic. The doctor left a voicemail saying that, after a second review, the radiologist had noticed a spot on the upper apex of my left lung. He said it was probably nothing, perhaps even just some scar tissue, and that I should schedule a CT scan. I turned to my wife and said, "There is no way that is good news." 


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