March 2014 Archives

Gus325.jpgWhen Gus Kunze was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2011, his daughter Joyce Matula laid out all the facts for her 90-year-old dad. She presented him with all the possible esophageal cancer treatment options and told him that she would support him, whether or not he decided to receive treatment.

Undergoing esophageal cancer treatment
He began proton therapy treatment at MD Anderson.

"For a long time, MD Anderson has been the place to go if you have cancer," Joyce says. "People come here from all over the world. "

Michael_Snyder12.10.jpgBy Mike Snyder

"At this point, there isn't anything else we can do for you."

That sentence is one that cancer patients never want to hear their doctor say. It implies a finality, an ending, a loss of hope and a fear-come-true that we never want to face. The fear of hearing those words is something many cancer patients live with every day.

So what do you do when it's your doctor saying something like this to you? How do you react? What do you say, if anything? In my case, I initially said nothing. What my doctor said didn't register with me. Did he just say I was dying?

"Mike, do you understand what I just said?" my original oncologist in Albuquerque asked.

For a moment, I just stared at him. Then I asked, "Would you repeat that, please?"

"Your tumors are growing faster than I can remove them. More surgery isn't an option and there isn't anything else out there for chondrosarcoma that I know about. I'd like you to consider hospice care since the tumors will probably kill you within five to 10 years if they keep growing at the same rate they are now."

At the time, I was 54 years old. And my doctor just told me I was going to die, perhaps sooner rather than later. That wasn't fair or right. I wasn't ready to die.  There were still things I wanted to do with my family.

My doctor and I talked for a few more minutes. He closed by saying the one thing that did register and made sense: "If you want to get a second opinion, you won't offend me. I'd actually encourage it."

Seeking a second opinion for chondrosarcoma at MD Anderson
His advice about a second opinion led me to MD Anderson, and ultimately, to participate in a series of clinical trials. As I was signing up for the first trial, one of my questions was what would happen if we ran out of treatment options.

Aaron325.jpgWhen 17-year-old Aaron Miranda noticed his right eye drooping in his senior picture, he figured it was just the camera or a mistake the photographer made while editing the picture. But as time went on, it became clear that it wasn't just the photo. An MRI and a CT scan showed that a lesion was growing beside his right eye. Aaron had eye cancer.

After a biopsy, Aaron was diagnosed with high grade carcinoma with glandular and squamous differentiation of the right lacrimal gland. He and his mother traveled from their home in San Rafael, Cali., to MD Anderson for six weeks of chemotherapy and proton therapy.

Aaron had never heard of proton therapy before his cancer diagnosis. This type of cancer treatment uses radiation therapy to target specific areas and is relatively new. In fact, Aaron was MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center's 5,000th patient.When it opened in 2006, the center was one of only three in the nation and the first of its kind integrated within a comprehensive cancer hospital. Today, the center remains one of only 13 proton therapy centers nationally, and one of the few to use the even more innovative form of proton therapy known as intensity modulated proton therapy or IMPT.

paulneff326.jpgBy Paul Neff

I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil, a type of head and neck cancer, in December 2012. I met with some of the best doctors near my home in southern California, but I never left those appointments with confidence in their gameplan. Surgeons told us surgery was the solution, the oncologist said chemotherapy was the answer, and the radiation oncologist said radiation therapy was the way to go.

Feeling confused, we decided to visit MD Anderson. I had always heard they were the best in the world at fighting cancer, and, after a little bit of research on the Internet, it sure looked like the right place.

We did not want to leave our family, the incredible support network we have in California, and the very real blessing of living in our own comfortable home to go through what promised to be a very challenging head and neck cancer treatment. Even with all of those factors, our confidence was so high in what we heard that we decided to leave all that behind to benefit from MD Anderson's care. 

Visiting MD Anderson for head and neck cancer treatment

The head and neck surgeon was our first appointment. He said his preference was to avoid surgery unless it is absolutely necessary, and he did not think it would be necessary in my case. Wow, a surgeon telling you he does not recommend a surgical approach?

erikalewis325.jpgBy Erika Archer Lewis

Twenty years ago, while a college senior, I spent weekends commuting from Austin to Houston to care for my 42-year-old mother. She was battling an aggressive form of stage 4 breast cancer and was told her odds for survival were less than 20%. After witnessing first-hand her intense, four-year battle that included chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow extraction, a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, I wondered for years if and when breast cancer might strike me.

A family history of breast cancer
When my young, healthy, active mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, there was no pattern of women with breast cancer in her family history. But shortly after she was diagnosed, her cousin was diagnosed with the same cancer, even in the same breast. Since that time, there have been four other women on my maternal grandmother's side of the family who have struggled with or lost their lives to breast cancer.

In late 2013, after a series of suspicious mammograms, ultrasounds, an MRI, and three biopsies, I wondered if I was doomed by the pattern within my family that had reared its ugly head decades before. With recent advances in technology and medicine, I learned there was a simple blood test for identifying genetic mutations for breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA 1 and 2. I felt an overwhelming need to know if I had what felt like a ticking time bomb inside my chest.


By Harley Hudson

I've been on many teams over the decades. Some have been very successful. Others, not so much. Now I find myself on a new team, my cancer treatment team.

Like the other teams I've been a part, as my cancer treatment team has grown and changed, I've learned that communication is essential.

How my team has changed during my CLL treatment
When I received my chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) diagnoses in 2001, I had a small team: my primary care physician and my oncologist. They were members of the same medical group and worked together to administer my CLL treatment.). To be honest, at the time I was overwhelmed. I trusted both physicians to do what was best for me. The team worked.

After a while, my primary care physician gave up her practice, and I was left with my oncologist. She took good care of me. By this time I had gained a significant amount of knowledge about CLL. My oncologist and I could converse. Mostly I asked intelligent questions and she gave intelligent answers.


By Robert Bresalier, M.D.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States, and the third leading cause of cancer death.

Colorectal cancer develops in the colon or rectum, and grows slowly. In 2014, there will be an estimated 141,000 new colorectal cancer cases in the United States and 49,000 related deaths.  But colorectal cancer is preventable and curable when detected early.

Here are my top four tips to help lower your risks for colorectal cancer:

Tip 1: Get screened for colorectal cancer
Screening remains the most important method to prevent colorectal cancer. People at average risk, age 50 and older, should get a colonoscopy every 10 years. A colonoscopy enables your doctor to detect potentially cancer-causing lesions or polyps early, and remove them.


By Pam Schlembach, M.D.

Thanks to recent developments in the medical field, more and more people are surviving and thriving after cancer treatment. However, patients who undergo this rigorous process can experience uncomfortable side-effects years after treatment, such as lymphedema. While researchers are identifying solutions to these side-effects, patients need to know there are methods available to help them cope with lymphedema.

Lymphedema symptoms
Lymphedema occurs when the body's lymph system has been damaged or blocked.  It is typically caused by an abnormal flow of protein-rich lymphatic fluid into the arm or leg. The flow of lymphatic fluid flowing into the arm or leg should be equal to that flowing out. Lymphedema develops when the amount of lymphatic fluid entering the area is greater than what is coming out, causing blockage and swelling. It is most common in patients who are overweight, had axillary surgery and radiation, a large number of lymph nodes removed, or developed an infection after surgery.

bryanframe318.jpgBy Bryan Frame

On March 23, 2011, I was told I wouldn't live to be an old man. I was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and was told by my doctor in Colorado that I only had two to four years to live. 

"But, I'm only 44. I have a 1 and a half year-old little girl. I've only been married five years," I said. "I'm sorry," the doctor responded.

Would my daughter Kaila even remember who I was? Would she know how much her daddy loved her? My wife Cinthia and I were faced with an unbearable outlook for our future. All our hopes and dreams for our family, our girls and my role in their lives were circling the drain.

Everything in me and the loved ones around us were desperate for a way to fight back. We all felt completely helpless. It just felt like, swallow your medicine and deal with it. 

Amidst the darkness, we made a few plans. I have a strong faith in God and I felt he was leading us to take some steps.

Coming to MD Anderson for prostate cancer treatment  
I decided to come to MD Anderson for prostate cancer treatment based on high recommendations from a few family and friends. My first appointment with Ana Aparicio, M.D., assistant professor in Genitourinary Medical Oncology, was in May 2011. I was not given false hope, but through her thorough approach and sensitive manner, she gave me something to fight for. She gave me a plan with systematic steps to my treatment.  Revolutionary, no. But it was exactly what I needed. 

celebrating_caregiver_5_tips_to_help_manage_the_caregiving_role.JPGBy Sarah Hines, Social Work Counselor

"Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past, what to enjoy in the present, and what to plan for in the future." - Arnold H. Glascow

It's normal for patients and loved ones to get caught up in "planning mode" during cancer treatment. However, it is important not to  forget the joy of living.

Planning for the Future
Here are some tasks you might consider as you plan for your or your loved one's future:

•Medical Decision-Making: Do you have a clear understanding of your diagnosis, treatment plan, current medications and prognosis? Keep a running list of questions for your multi-disciplinary team. Visit the Learning Center for up-to-date educational materials from reputable resources.

Have you had a discussion with your loved ones about your end-of-life decisions? Complete Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will documents. Social Work can assist with these documents.


Marie Cavazos never expected the stomach pain she had been experiencing was a colon cancer symptom.

 In April 2010, Marie started feeling a tightening sensation in her lower abdomen. Each day it grew a little worse.

"It felt as if I had on a belt that was really tight," she says. 

Finally, when Marie was so uncomfortable she could no longer sit, she decided to go to the emergency room. Fearing that the wait would be long, she told her husband to leave and come back later. She didn't think it would be anything serious. A half an hour later she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

Undergoing colon cancer treatment
Marie's cancer journey has been full of ups and downs. After her diagnosis, her doctors in her hometown, Harlingen, Texas, told her there was nothing they could do for her. So she came to MD Anderson for colon cancer treatment.


By Amanda Woodward

Because of my melanoma diagnosis, I consider myself a student of sun safety. I've learned to be diligent and cautious about my sun exposure while still getting out and enjoying the season.

However, there's a bit more to it than that. I needed to redefine beautiful as it pertains to skin. As a teen, I saw my peers tanning and was very much aware that tanned skin  was their idea of attractive. Thankfully, society seems to be moving to a place where we see pale skin and consider it healthy, beautiful and classic. I'll take that!

Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks to being safe in the sun and fashionably pale:


By Mary Ginley

What is it about hair?  Why would I dread getting my head shaved more than having chemo?

My husband Jerry and I were at MD Anderson for blood work bright and early one Monday morning before my chemotherapy for my esophageal cancer treatment.  I decided today would be THE day.  It was silly to hang onto the last few clumps of thin hair that graced my cute little head.  So immediately after I got poked for the millionth time (I'm exaggerating), Jerry and I headed to MD Anderson's Beauty and Barber Shop to get everything shaved off.

Visiting MD Anderson's Beauty and Barber Shop
Lin Munoz, the staff cosmetologist who cut my hair, was delightful. We took pictures before, during and after. Half way through, she said to me, "You probably won't ever have a chance to do this again.  Want to try a mohawk?"

By Ashley Smith

There are few positive words associated with cancer. It's hard, it's hectic, it's nerve wracking, and it consumes your life. As a caregiver, I found myself at a loss for how I was supposed to approach cancer after my then-fiancé, Austin, received his testicular cancer diagnosis. (Don't worry, we didn't break up. In fact, we got married.) 

Twenty-four hours after Austin checked in to MD Anderson, I came up with a hashtag that I could use to share our experiences with our family and friends on social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Using the hashtag would allow our friends to see all of our posts about Austin's cancer journey in one place. As an almost-tech-savvy 24-year-old, I was looking for a way to document Austin's testicular cancer treatment without being depressing. I began taking sometimes goofy, sometimes serious, but always informative pictures.

Here are some of the photos we shared with the world on our journey, our own little hash tag to share our #MDAadventures:

stephaniesoriaforblog.jpgWhen Stephanie Soria finds herself becoming stressed, sad or worried during her colon cancer treatment, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a stack of note cards. Each one has a different scripture passage that helps Stephanie find strength, hope and comfort: things that are essential to the 24-year-old patient.

"You have to find the stuff that helps. Find something that can give you hope and not look at all the scary things," Stephanie says.

 Throughout her colon cancer treatment, Stephanie has leaned on her family, friends, fellow church members, her faith and music to help get through the tough times.

"It's helped me learn to accept the things that I can't change and take everything day by day," she says.

A colon cancer diagnosis
In March 2013, Stephanie started experiencing stomach pains. Thinking it was a virus, she went to see a doctor near her home just outside of Houston. The medical team began a colonoscopy, but the scope wouldn't even go through. Stephanie had stage four colon cancer with lung metastases.

Stephanie was shocked.

"I'm so young and seem so healthy," she says. "It was a huge surprise."

Erika Vandiver for blog.jpgBy Erika Vandiver

I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second child when my doctor told me, "You have breast cancer." I was only 28 years old -- 20 years younger than my mother when she received her breast cancer diagnosis.

The local medical team that performed my biopsy and lumpectomy had limited treatment options. My choices were bleak: terminate my pregnancy so I could try to live myself, or risk dying from cancer by allowing my child to live.

Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment while pregnant
Although this was my second child, it was my sixth pregnancy.  Four previous pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. I was determined to find an alternative for my breast cancer treatment.

messenger_468_EditKM_4x6.jpgBy Madylan Eskridge

Intellectual and technical challenges keep the work of a research nurse interesting. But Lisa Marsh says the journey with her patients is one of her favorite things about her job.

"The 'ah-ha' moment when the trial results are discovered is exciting," says Marsh, research nurse supervisor, Infectious Diseases. "But my role allows me to interact with patients on trials for several months, or even years, and the relationships I build with them are especially rewarding."

Following protocol on protocols during clinical trials
Every clinical trial for cancer treatment follows a detailed plan called a protocol. Managing the clinical and operational aspects of protocols is a primary responsibility for Marsh and her fellow research nurses.

My ovarian cancer journey

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Just before she received her ovarian cancer diagnosis, Meredith Ippolito traveled to the shores of Normandy, France. She stood on Omaha Beach and thought of the brave soldiers who fought in WWII. When she later began her ovarian cancer treatment she thought of those soldiers again. If they could do that, she thought, surely she could make it through her treatment.

Meredith always remembered the John Wayne quote, "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway."

An ovarian cancer diagnosis and treatment
Meredith inherited the BRCA1 gene mutation from her father.

"People think only women can have the gene," Meredith says. "We're the gender that manifests the trouble most, but women aren't the only gender that carries the gene."

After experiencing rectal bleeding in 2008, Meredith had a colonoscopy. Doctors found flat polyps, but no cancer. They decided to do a colon resection.

That's when Meredith's cancer was discovered. The doctors performed a debulking surgery and removed 50 lymph nodes. Meredith received the news when she awoke from surgery:  she had stage 3 ovarian cancer. She decided to seek treatment at MD Anderson.


In spring 2013, Will Schmidt underwent a colonoscopy after blood work showed he was extremely anemic.

Once the anesthesia had worn off, the father of three young children learned that he had a large mass in his colon, which the doctor said "was probably cancer."

"It was pretty alarming, but I wasn't completely surprised given my family history," Will says. His brother had been diagnosed with rectal cancer at age 21, their father had been diagnosed with colon cancer in his 30s and died of spinal cancer in his 40s, and his paternal great-grandmother had died of colon cancer.

Additional tests confirmed Will's colon cancer diagnosis. The doctor suggested a couple of places where Will could receive colon cancer treatment, including MD Anderson.  

"As soon as MD Anderson was mentioned, I thought, why would I go anywhere else?" Will recalls.

"From knowing other people who'd beaten cancer that were treated at MD Anderson, we knew this was the best possible care that Will could get," adds his wife, Dawna.

An atmosphere of hope
From the moment the Schmidts walked into MD Anderson, they were overwhelmed by the atmosphere of hope. "There was just this genuine feeling that this is beatable," Will recalls.

His doctor confirmed that Will had stage 2 colon cancer and scheduled him for surgery. After that, he'd undergo six months of chemotherapy.

judymoffett.jpgBy Cristi Dozier

Our family sat together around that kitchen table. It was the same kitchen table we had sat around countless times before sharing meals, celebrating holidays and birthdays. We usually begin by blessing the food and later end by cleaning the mess. However, it's what happens in between the two that pulls us together the most.

That particular day we had just finished a family dinner. It was one of those "just because" get-togethers on a random summer day in June 2012. As we were talking, our mom, Judy, somehow transitioned to a conversation that included three words. "I have cancer," she said. 

We were stunned. All we could focus on was that one word: cancer.

Finding strength during cancer treatment

After mom's anal cancer diagnosis the news didn't feel real at first, and we all wrestled with questions and unknowns that seemed to hit us from all directions.  Later in the discussion, our mom spoke something that would ultimately set the tone for our journey with her. "I just want to laugh," she said.


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