By Ian Cion
For the past five months, I've been working with more than 1,300 patients, family members, and staff at MD Anderson to create a monumental scale river dragon sculpture entitled Okoa the Wave Rider. The sculpture, a project made possible by the Arts in Medicine Program, was built entirely on site in the Main Building. You may have seen it on display, or maybe even contributed to it, in The Park.
The name, "Okoa," was selected through a vote by the patients and families who helped create the dragon. It's a Swahili word that means "rescue, save, redeem or deliver."
It's a fitting name, as Okoa was built to demonstrate the effectiveness of community art in bringing joy and relief into the cancer center.
The sculpture and the art table where patients, families and staff joined together to make it were actually both works of art. What make the dragon so beautiful are the sculpture and the time shared in its creation, the simple fact that these thousands of people were excited to contribute, to take time out of their day, to stop and laugh and draw or paint, to share their stories with each other around the table.
How we made the dragon
Since its inception in 2010, the Arts in Medicine Program has focused on large-scale, long-term creative collaborations with patients and families undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital. But this project was the first to bring together patients, families and staff from the entire hospital.
By Ian Cion
By Alex Magdaleno
When I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in December 2008, I thought my life as I knew it was over. I thought it was not only a death sentence, but I also feared my love for exercise would cease.
I had always been active. I lifted weights and played football. But when I received my CLL diagnosis at age 25, I decided to take up marathon running to prove to myself that I could do it in spite of my cancer. Although it's been a challenge, I believe marathon running has helped keep me alive.
Marathon training during CLL treatment
Since my CLL diagnosis, I've undergone various treatments, ranging from radiation to a chemotherapy regimen called R-CHOP (cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone). Now I'm taking an oral drug, Zydelig and rituxan. Through it all, running has allowed me to put my energy into something that gives me life. I completed my first marathon in May 2009, less than a year after my diagnosis. Since then, I've completed 12 more marathons. I try to run 50 to 60 miles a week, working around my dosages and doctors appointments.
Many days, what should be a simple 10-mile run involves a handful bouts of vomiting induced nausea, but there is no greater feeling than the satisfaction I get when I finish a run. I envision my disease as an actual person. With every run or marathon I complete, it's me telling HIM that I'm winning!
For 5-year-old Khyrstin Andrews, better known as Kyssi, and her mom, Marla, it was just as tough when Kyssi lost her hair the third time as it was the first.
In 2012, Kyssi was diagnosed with a Wilms' Tumor, a type of childhood cancer that affects the kidneys. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, she was declared cancer-free. But not long after that, her Wilms' Tumor returned and metastasized to her lungs. She underwent a surgery and an intense type of chemotherapy called ICE (a combination of ifosfamide, carboplatin and etoposide).
In January 2014, Kyssi was declared cancer-free once again. But at her six-month follow-up appointment, doctors found that Kyssi's cancer had returned a third time. As always, Kyssi and her family, friends and more than 160,000 Facebook page supporters and more than 9,000 Instagram followers, were ready to beat Wilms' Tumor -- and smile while doing it.
Kyssi and Marla, an inseparable pair, know it's important to look on the bright side even on the toughest days, so they decided to make shaving Kyssi's head as fun as possible.
Here are Marla's tips for those helping others cope with hair loss:
This year, nearly 75,000 people will be diagnosed with bladder cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The vast majority of people diagnosed with this disease are white men over age 55, but bladder cancer can -- and does -- affect men and women of all ages and races.
For many, blood in the urine will be the first tell-tale bladder cancer symptom. But many patients don't come to MD Anderson until their disease is late-stage and the bladder cancer has spread. And that, says, Arlene Siefker-Radtke, M.D., associate professor in Genitourinary Medical Oncology, can make it harder to treat.
Here's what Dr. Siefker-Radtke wants bladder cancer patients and caregivers to know so they can get the best treatment possible and boost their chances of beating this disease.
What factors make someone more likely to develop bladder cancer?
Tobacco use is one of the biggest risk factors for bladder cancer. That includes smoking, as well as every other kind of tobacco use, including snuff, dip and chew.
Chemical exposure also can increase a person's risk of bladder cancer. People who work around a lot of chemicals are more likely to develop bladder cancer.
By Lindsey Garner
When our patients undergo treatment, the focus is on them and their needs. But cancer often affects the entire family, especially caregivers. To help, we have employees and programs that provide support to those who care for cancer patients.
"I've made a special effort in my role to acknowledge caregivers and how tough it can be to take care of somebody you love," Traci Newsom says.
A social work counselor at MD Anderson in the Bay Area, Newsom serves as an outlet for caregivers to share their feelings and the challenges they face.
Caregivers often neglect their own needs when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Because MD Anderson values family-centered care, we have employees like Newsom who are devoted to supporting our patients' supporters -- ensuring they never feel alone or lost.
Helping caregivers find balance
Caregivers experience an interesting combination of facing challenging duties and savoring precious moments with their loved ones.
By Laura Harvey
Everyone loves a parade. And there's something special about the processions of patients that occur on Floor 18 (G18) in the Main Building four times a year -- at Easter, Independence Day, Halloween and Christmas.
"The tradition started here long before I did," says Katherine Beetle, clinical nurse on G18, where most of the patients have had stem cell transplants. "They're immunosuppressed and sometimes very sick, and that can be isolating. The parades offer a chance for them and their families to be creative making and decorating their IV poles. Hopefully it takes their minds off being here."
Reminding patients that they're not alone
Staff from the floor participates in preparations and also during the events. You might see doctors, physical therapists and even staff, patients and caregivers from other floors getting involved with crafts and marching in the parades around the G18 hallway.
By Madylan Eskridge
At 10 years old, Kenady Strutz was diagnosed with melanoma, often thought of as a cancer that only affects adults. Kenady has turned her pediatric melanoma diagnosis into a platform for educating others about protecting their skin.
Laurie Strutz always had heard that the skin cancer melanoma took more than a decade to develop after a blistering sunburn. So she was shocked when her 10-year-old daughter was diagnosed with the disease.
"I didn't think it was possible for someone Kenady's age, especially since she'd never had a bad sunburn," Laurie says.
A surprising pediatric melanoma diagnosis
Kenady, now 14, remembers noticing a purplish spot on her knee when she was 9.
"I told my mom I didn't like it because kids at school stared at it," Kenady recalls.
At her 10-year checkup, Kenady and her mom pointed it out to a pediatrician, who referred them to a dermatologist.
But even then, her mom didn't think much of it.
After the pathology results confirmed it was melanoma, Kenady began her cancer journey at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.
By Carol Bryce
When Annamma Thomas began working here in 1981 as a nurse in the ICU, her colleagues soon dubbed her "Little Anna" to distinguish her from the other two "Annas" who worked on the same floor. Today she's affectionately called "Anna T." by her co-workers in our Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
Whatever you call Thomas, you only have to spend a few moments with her to be inspired by her enthusiasm. She's been here for 33 years, and this 4-foot-11-inch dynamo loves her job.
Thomas' co-worker, Clinical Nurse Joyace Ussin, confirms Thomas' positive attitude.
"Anna's always happy, laughing and keeping everyone focused on our most important task: taking excellent care of our patients," Ussin says.
A model for other nurses
Thomas' real passion is sharing her knowledge with her co-workers. She's mentored more than 40 nurses in the 14 years she's worked in the PACU, Ussin reports.
When it comes to teaching others, Thomas' philosophy is simple.
"I share what I know. But I don't criticize anyone," she says. "I do lots of mentoring because I feel like I can teach nurses simple things, like how to make sure patients are comfortable."
Being diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 is unusual enough, but Raylene Hollrah was also diagnosed with an extremely rare type of lymphoma just a few years after her first cancer diagnosis and before her 40th birthday.
Raylene, an outgoing insurance advisor who prefers to be called Ray, is only the 25th person in the U.S. -- and the 61st in the world -- to be diagnosed with breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). It's a diagnosis that has changed her life in many ways.
"I always say cancer is like breaking a window," she says. "You've got shattered glass everywhere; you've got to clean up the mess and try to figure out how to fix it."
A breast cancer diagnosis -- and cause for breast implants
The discovery of a lump in her breast during an annual physical in 2007 launched Ray on a roller coaster ride that has tested her strength and spirit. After a negative mammogram and ultrasound, a needle biopsy came back positive for breast cancer.
By Lindsey Garner
Did you know that MD Anderson has its own post office? Located in the Main Building, the post office serves patients, visitors and employees. It's also where patient and Main Building employee mail is delivered and sorted by a team of three mail clerks.
From letters to parcels and interoffice to international mail, MD Anderson has 24 employees working behind the scenes to ensure that more than 268,000 pieces of mail each month are transported and received. Most of our mail clerks and transportation representatives had long careers in the mail industry prior to coming here, either with the U.S. Postal Service or in mailrooms at other organizations.
How our mail gets sorted
By 7:30 a.m., Mondays through Fridays, large bins of mail are picked up from the post office and brought to the mailroom at an MD Anderson facility offsite from our main hospital campus.
A team of eight mail clerks sorts the mail into bins for each building.
By Erika Archer Lewis
The importance of laughter grows even greater when life gets heavy, although it can be hard to see the need for it when you're right in the thick of things. Life can feel overwhelming.
I'm usually private about health matters, and tend to keep troublesome life events bottled up inside until I have them all figured out. But, in this case, I knew immediately that the situation was bigger than me. I had just found out that I carried the BRCA1 genetic mutation, putting me at greater risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I was about to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy, and I had an overwhelming urge to reach out to people in all areas of my life.
What happened when I opened up
What happened because of it was truly amazing. Almost everyone I crossed paths with for a few months had a story they wanted to share. Sometimes it was their own story, sometimes a friend's story, and some people needed to talk about the mother or grandmother they had lost to breast cancer.
Each interaction had something in common: people with huge hearts who wanted to share when they sensed my pain or struggle. People want to know and want to help. For the first time in my life, it felt incredibly right to let people help, and in turn, I could help them heal by listening.
By Harley Hudson
I decided to keep a diary of my stem cell transplant experience so it might help others in preparing for their stem cell transplants. You can read my previous entry here.
I thought you might be interested in a typical day in the life of a stem cell transplant patient on floors G17 and G18 at MD Anderson. I spent several days in the hospital following my stem cell transplant, a part of my chronic lymphocyctic leukemia (CLL) treatment. After a while, I developed a routine.
Mornings on G18
The patient day begins at 4 a.m. Yes, you read that correctly. Every morning at that horrible time, the night nurse comes in to draw several vials of blood. They do this for a very good reason. The complete blood count (CBC) numbers are a vital part of diagnosis and treatment. By drawing blood that early, our blood is first on the list for the lab to process. The results are back in time for the doctor in charge to read, analyze and make decisions when he or she visits later that morning.
The patient may then return to sleep ... until 6 a.m. At this time the nursing assistant comes in to take the morning vital signs. There were a few times I came really close to sleeping through this one.
The handoff from the night nurse to the day nurse takes place at 7 a.m. Both nurses come in to get acquainted if the day nurse is new to me. Now is the time to schedule a shower. The central venous catheter (CVC)must be covered and protected from water contamination. It is a process. I may order breakfast just before the shower.
After I've eaten breakfast, it is time to wait for the doctor and his entourage. This can be as few as two or as many as five or six people. The larger the number, the smaller the room feels. It does get crowded.
Connect on social media
- How an art project gave our patients hope and a community
- How marathon running helped me through my CLL treatment
- Kyssi Andrews' three lessons on coping with hair loss
- What you should know about bladder cancer
- How we help cancer caregivers
- Patients strut their stuff during holiday parades
- Spotting melanoma in children
- How a PACU nurse helps our patients, one smile at a time
- Survivor raises awareness for breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma
- What happens when you send a letter to a patient or your care team?
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