April 2014 Archives

anna jackson 2.5.14.jpgBy Anna Jackson

Discouragement is one of those common experiences that we have all faced at some time or another. But when you're fighting cancer, discouragement is no small threat. 

Because it can be such a powerful force, I tried to learn to recognize it and be prepared to deal with it throughout my cancer treatment.
When I was diagnosed with stage 4 thymoma, I began to note the various situations that set me up for discouragement. As a cancer patient, I can experience all of those conditions in one day. I learned a few tricks to keep those conditions from making me vulnerable. 

Here is what I learned.
When sick and tired:
I have to take good care of myself. I try to rest when my body needs rest, eat healthy foods, and stay physically active when I up to it. My grandmother always said that a little sunshine was good for the soul. On days I feel puny, I try to at least get out and walk around my backyard. If I focus on how I feel, I tend to feel worse, so I do my best to focus on being well.

ashleyandmarshalllauen428.jpgLess than a year after Ashley and Marshall Lauren celebrated their wedding, Marshall was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma. The couple put their plans on hold and moved from their home in Oklahoma to Houston for months of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

Today, Marshall is cancer-free and on his way to completing radiation therapy. Here's what they learned during Marshall's Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment.

Finding strength during Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment
I've learned what it's like to be weak. It is hard lesson to learn   that most men would rather avoid than embrace. The disease as well as the treatment will chip away at any physical strength you have built up, and to get better you will be forced to let others do physical stuff for you while you rest and recover.

It's hard to go from "the man who gets it done" to "the man who watches it done." Taking that change with dignity and honor is hard to do, especially when you add the aspects of weight loss, hair loss and looking in the mirror to see a person who looks sick.

You've probably seen someone walking down the street or sitting on an airplane smoking an electronic cigarette -- a smokeless electronic device that allows the user to imitate traditional smoking methods by inhaling a vapor of liquid nicotine. Tobacco companies have recently begun promoting e-cigarettes to hook young people on tobacco, claiming they're harmless and can even help people quit smoking.

But now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped in, proposing new rules to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

"The reality is we have limited knowledge of what is in e-cigarettes, and if the actual nicotine content on the label is reflective of what's inside. There are no standards for reporting or measuring," says Paul Cinciripini, Ph.D., director of MD Anderson's Tobacco Treatment Program. "Regulation is welcome and further clinical research is needed before e-cigarettes can be promoted as a safe alternative to smoking or as an effective means to quit smoking."

Cracking down on e-cigarettes

E-cigarette sales have jumped from $500 million in 2012 to nearly $2 billion today. This is partly due to hip packing and flavoring options that make e-cigarettes attractive to a new generation of younger smokers. Our tobacco experts are concerned that e-cigarettes may become a gateway form of nicotine for never-smokers, while also preventing those who are trying to quit from kicking their nicotine addiction.

iStock_000007172534Small.jpgBy John Chattaway

As a part of MD Anderson's mission to end cancer, we're aspiring to raise the first tobacco-free generation. It's this goal that led to the creation of the ASPIRE program.

ASPIRE, which stands for A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience, aims to educate teens about the dangers of tobacco use, so they never start smoking. For teens who already use tobacco, it provides information and strategies to quit smoking.

This free, web-based school curriculum has enrolled participants from 28 states and one international city. The program is available in both English and Spanish.

"Young people are very picky about what and how they are taught," says Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Behavioral Science and director of the Tobacco Outreach Education Program. "That's why we created this online course that is fun, interactive and entertaining while still being educational."

Online tobacco and smoking prevention
ASPIRE can be accessed by anyone through the MD Anderson website. It offers information tailored specifically for one person or for groups. Those who have never smoked can use ASPIRE to learn why it's important to avoid tobacco and how to talk to others about the harms of tobacco.

harley1.7.jpgBy Harley Hudson

Perhaps the hardest thing a spouse can do is become a caregiver for their other half. This may sound absurd since we all agreed to "for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health 'til death do us part."

Still, the task is not easy. I've been a caregiver, and I've been a patient. I believe being a caregiver is the more difficult task.

Throughout our marriage, my wife Melanie and I have taken care of each other. But until my chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) diagnosis in 2006, all our caregiver roles were short-term.    

Whenever Melanie played caregiver before my CLL diagnosis, healing was always just around the corner. This time it's different.

How our roles changed during my CLL treatment
Melanie's responsibilities have changed as my CLL treatment has progressed. During my first round of chemotherapy, I remained strong. In four months, I only missed 20 minutes of work. Melanie's role was relatively easy.

mikegivens422.jpgOligodendroglioma survivor Mike Givens has been a dedicated fundraiser and philanthropist for many years. But it wasn't until after his second brain tumor diagnosis that he became dedicated to helping other brain tumor patients.

After undergoing brain tumor treatment at MD Anderson, Mike was so impressed with the level of care he received that he decided to get involved and give back.

"I believe it is our responsibility to give back in life. It's the greatest privilege I have," Mike says. "I love to give back because I feel so blessed."  

Traveling to MD Anderson for oligodendroglioma surgery and proton therapy treatment
Mike's second brain tumor was found during a routine check-up. The tumor was small, but Mike knew from experience that he had to act quickly. Eight years ago, Mike underwent treatment for a brain tumor on the left side of his head. 

This time, Mike's brain tumor treatment began with chemotherapy. After five months, Mike's tumor still hadn't shrunk. His doctors suggested radiation therapy.

"I just wasn't satisfied with this option," Mike says.

He began looking for someone willing to perform brain surgery. 

rani422.jpgBy Logan Carver

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) survivor Rani Kabra and her husband, Tej, cried as they crossed the finish line together at the 2014 BP MS 150 bike ride on April 13.

When Rani received her MDS diagnosis in 1998, the couple thought their days together were numbered. They never dreamed they'd one day pedal a tandem bicycle 150 miles from Houston to Austin. 

But the same positive attitude that empowered Rani to beat cancer 16 years ago pushed her over the hilly highways to the Texas state capital.

"It was like a dream come true," Rani says. "I felt like I was on the top of the world. I want to thank all my doctors, family, friends and the whole staff at MD Anderson. I felt an unbelievable sense of accomplishment."

Rani's MDS diagnosis
Rani first started experiencing MDS symptoms in September 1997, but she didn't think they were indicative of cancer.

Heavy periods lasting 10 to 12 days prompted her gynecologist to treat her for early menopause. She started a regimen of hormone pills, which stabilized her, but she became cripplingly ill a few months later. Multiple courses of antibiotics did nothing to allay the symptoms, and she began bruising excessively at the slightest bump. By March, it had become too much.

mehran417.jpgBy Madylan Eskridge

When Reza Mehran, M.D., isn't in the operating room, he's flying a twin engine plane or helicopter. When he's not taking to the skies, he may be scuba diving or hunting for dinosaur fossils.

His colleagues liken him to a Renaissance man, but he humbly attributes his extraordinary resume to his affinity for new things and new places.

For example, Mehran studied what appeared to be a tumor on the left scapula of a gorgosaurus dinosaur in Houston's Museum of Natural History. Turns out, the growth was a callus, which implied this dinosaur had suffered a bone-breaking injury. Mehran's discovery gave scientists a unique perspective on this creature's ability to heal and survive. He'll continue pursuing paleontology this summer when he participates in a fossil dig in South Dakota.

"I'm an old-fashioned adventurer," Mehran says. "If I had lived in the 16th century, I probably would've sailed the world searching for unexplored lands."

JenniferPonce415.jpgBy Jennifer Ponce

Nearly eight years ago, I rang the bell at MD Anderson, signifying the end of my stage 2, large b-cell, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment.

This day was far more emotional than I ever could have anticipated. I had thought it would really be no big deal. In fact, I didn't even know the bell existed until a couple of days before my last radiation treatment.

I took a hold of that string and rang that bell with every ounce of my being while warm tears streamed down my face and onto the floor. I knew then that I had come so far since my non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis.

My non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms and diagnosis

It all started in January 2006. I had been suffering from an earache and cough and went to see my primary care physician. She ordered a few X-rays to see if I had pneumonia.

I didn't have pneumonia, but the X-ray results show a large mass on my left lung that appeared to be a tumor. My doctor scheduled a CT scan for that afternoon.

MarshallLauen414.jpgShortly after Marshall and Ashley Lauen celebrated their wedding, Marshall started feeling fatigue, losing weight and was experiencing trouble breathing. He figured it was an allergy to something blowing in the Oklahoma wind. 

But when Ashley awoke in the middle of the night to see Marshall choking and drenched in sweat, they knew it was something more serious.

Marshall's Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis and treatment
After multiple biopsies and no diagnosis, Marshall came to MD Anderson in May 2013 looking for answers. Within the first two days, Marshall received his stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis and began treatment.

Marshall and Ashley made frequent trips to MD Anderson during Marshall's six months of chemotherapy, but continued living in Oklahoma so he could continue his work as a pastor and teacher. 

But when scans showed that the cancer was active and growing again, the couple moved to Houston to fight. Marshall underwent three rounds of an intense type of chemo commonly referred to as ICE (ICE is named for the initials of the drugs used: ifosfamide, carboplatin and etoposide) and a stem cell transplant

Last week, Marshall discovered he is cancer-free and will begin radiation therapy to ensure that the cancer is eliminated.

PamelaBowman.jpgThe scan that showed Pamela Bowman's broken pelvis -- the painful result of an afternoon of ice skating with her grandchildren -- also revealed the tumor inside her lung.

Years earlier, Pamela had undergone adrenal surgery at MD Anderson. So when she received her lung cancer diagnosis, there was no doubt in her mind where she would go for lung cancer treatment.

"There's no place like MD Anderson," she says. "When you've got cancer, you need to go to the best."

Pamela's lung cancer treatment: Finding a home away from home

Pamela's local doctors in Jackson, Miss., had warned her that her surgery would be difficult and that her lung cancer prognosis wasn't good. At MD Anderson, though, she got a different message.

dianachow410jpg.jpgBy Sarah Watson

Diana Chow calls herself a woman with options even though she has stage 4 high-grade serous ovarian cancer. She gives credit for this positive outlook to her MD Anderson care team, led by Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., associate professor in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.

"Thank God for MD Anderson," Diana says. "Otherwise, I'm certain that right now I wouldn't be here."

An unexpected ovarian cancer diagnosis
Diana's cancer journey began on Dec. 16, 2010. She'd been helping her sister move furniture when she pulled an abdominal muscle. That led to a trip to the emergency room and a CAT scan that resulted in a much more serious diagnosis: ovarian cancer.

Ironically, Diana received her ovarian cancer diagnosis a year to the day after she'd lost her husband to complications from diabetes.

Donald%20Lowd049.jpgBy Sarah Watson

"You can't let a problem contain you. You have to contain the problem." That's Donald Lowd's motto.

So the Air Force veteran was ready to fight when he received his prostate cancer diagnosis in 2009.

"Most people will say my life changed in 2009," Donald says. "I say that's when my fight began."

Seeking prostate cancer treatment 
From the beginning of his prostate cancer battle, Donald knew he needed the best team to help him win the fight for his life. One oncologist told him he'd probably die in five years, but he refused to accept those odds.

iStock_000011519043Small.jpgBy Brian M. Bruel, M.D.

Some cancer patients believe that pain is simply a part of cancer treatment, but pain is usually very treatable.

About one-third of cancer patients experience pain as a cancer treatment side effect. The severity and duration of pain differs widely from one patient to the next, depending on disease type, course of treatment and many other factors.

The best way to treat pain is to find the combination of treatments appropriate for each person's condition. It may even be possible to treat your cancer-related pain without medications.

How to alleviate pain during cancer treatment
Below are several ways to alleviate cancer-related pain alongside the medical treatment your doctor may prescribe. As with any symptom or side effect, it's important to discuss your pain with your physician so he or she can identify the best treatments for you.

AshleyandAustin47.jpgBy Ashley Smith

We hadn't even been engaged for two months when I got the call from Austin. He had just been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Austin was finishing up college at Louisiana Tech, and I was teaching in Houston. We were looking forward to starting our lives together. But we went from planning a big celebration to planning his testicular cancer treatment. I was scared and even a little angry.  

The next few weeks were a blur of finishing college, packing up Austin's life, planning for the next few months and figuring out how Austin's testicular cancer treatment would work.

Planning a wedding during testicular cancer treatment

Austin and I didn't want to postpone the wedding. I believe that once you postpone something, it makes it easier to keep postponing or backing out. When I said I'd marry him, there were no "buts" involved. I was in, and so was he.

maisalem44.jpgWhen Mai Salem looks in the mirror, she sees a survivor.  After all, she's beaten pancreatic cancer twice. Her journey has changed the way she faces each day.

"Now I focus on the good and positive things," Mai says. "I don't think about anything but living."

A second pancreatic cancer treatment journey
Mai received her first pancreatic cancer diagnosis seven years ago. After three rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, Mai was cancer-free. But five years later, her pancreatic cancer returned.

Initially, Mai was devastated, but with the help of her family, friends and medical team, she found the strength to go through pancreatic cancer treatment for a second time. She underwent four rounds of chemotherapy before her doctors told her they didn't think her body could handle any more. She would have to return to her home in Virginia and wait to see if it had worked.

BrittanyHurstandMelanie43.jpgBy Brittany Hurst

When I told my friends about my ovarian cancer diagnosis, they had a lot of questions:  What stage was my cancer? What was my ovarian cancer treatment plan? How often would I go to Houston? What was MD Anderson like?

I started a website to help keep everyone updated, but I knew none of my friends would be able to grasp how amazing MD Anderson is. I have never seen a hospital that big or experienced such a friendly and helpful staff. I told my friends that even though I was exhausted and didn't feel well, I still looked forward to my trips to Texas just because MD Anderson's staff made me so comfortable. They helped me cope with my fears about my upcoming surgery and chemotherapy.

After about five or six months of traveling for my ovarian cancer treatment, I decided to let one of my friends come along instead of my husband or parents. This was a chance to show off my hospital and let a friend gain a better understanding of what ovarian cancer treatment is like.  

Traveling for ovarian cancer treatment with a friend
Before my next round of chemo, I invited my friend Melanie to travel with me.
With our flight and hotel booked, I warned her that Thursday would be a long day with blood work, appointments with doctors and then chemo. My body was becoming very sensitive to the Carboplatin, so treatments took anywhere from 7 to 12 hours.

amanda42.jpgBy Amanda Woodward

High strung, intense, a little worried. These are all words that have been used to describe me most of my life. But it was never a big deal. These tendencies never prevented me from enjoying life. But this, like many other things, changed after my melanoma diagnosis.

Coping with anxiety during my melanoma treatment

A prevalent side effect of Interferon, the drug I took as a part of my melanoma treatment, is depression. So, during my melanoma treatment I began speaking with a counselor and was prescribed an antidepressant for the first time.

When my melanoma treatment was over, I weaned off the antidepressant. The feelings of anxiety and depression came back.

I was overcome with worry. Paralyzed, even. Long after the melanoma treatment side effects subsided, I could not shake the random, unspecified worry, that constant feeling of nervousness.

I couldn't sleep because I couldn't quiet my mind. I didn't want to go out because sitting in the car was too much stillness, and stillness meant I had the opportunity to think, which would inevitably lead to tears.

annajackson_hair.jpgBy Anna Jackson

Possibly one of the most concerning parts of cancer treatment is the idea of losing your hair. Talk about adding insult to injury. When I first received my thymoma diagnosis , one of my first questions was, "Will I lose my hair?" Unfortunately, the chemotherapy required to treat my stage four thymoma made that answer a resounding yes.

Dealing with insecurities during cancer treatment

I'm a true Texas woman and I loved my long, big hair. Standing to lose it broke my heart. I was sad for me. I worried how it would impact my 12-year-old boys to have a bald mom. I hoped my husband would still think I was pretty.

Later I realized that although I couldn't change the fact I was losing my hair, I could sure control how I lost it. I would do this on my terms, not on cancer's. The planning began. I got online and purchased bald caps for all my family members, both near and far. I recruited them to be a part of my plan.

I was told that my hair would begin falling out 14 days after starting treatment. Like clockwork, on the 14th day I ran my fingers through my hair and watched it begin to fall to the ground. Time to work my plan.


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