Recently by Gail Goodwin

Surviviorship_balloons.JPGDid you know that MD Anderson claims more than 200,000 cancer survivors? That doesn't count their caregivers, who by the American Cancer Society's definition, are survivors themselves.

This is a club that none of us ever wanted to join, but we've all found ourselves as members. And, come June 1-8, we'll all be celebrated for this membership as part of Survivorship Week at MD Anderson. There will be all kinds of fun and interesting activities.

If you're in the neighborhood, we hope you'll stop by.

A week full of survivorship events
The week kicks off with an event sponsored by Riders for the Cure. Join these MD Anderson employees and supporters at their annual Ride for Life, which begins at Stubbs Harley-Davidson on Telephone Road. It's a great way to get revved up for the rest of the week.

Beginning on Monday, June 2, you'll feel the survivor spirit when you walk in the doors at MD Anderson.

CCH FB CW1.JPGA stay in the hospital is not on most kids' top 10 list, but it's often a necessity for young cancer patients. Now, the redesigned and expanded MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital will make stays easier on children.

When the idea to expand the Children's Cancer Hospital and centralize its services became a reality, pediatric caregivers on the Family Advisory Council began to work hand-in-hand with the architects and hospital staff. They considered everything from pod names to colors to furniture to floor layout.

The result: mood lighting, plasma TV screens and a basketball goal down the hall ‒ which may sound like a child's idea of a dream vacation. The good news is that the innovative treatment that is synonymous with cancer care at MD Anderson is still part of the plan.

Each patient still receives care from a multidisciplinary team of specialists who partner with families to provide the best comprehensive care for their children. Patients will be able to receive infusion therapy and inpatient services, including intermediate and intensive care, all on the same floor - a first among area children's hospitals.

The guilt-free Goodwin Christmas

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GAIlxmasfinal.jpgI've been an MD Anderson patient for close to four years and, in spite of it all, I've continued with our annual Christmas explosion. There's never been anything left undone ― from gifts for all, to decorations everywhere, to special goodies in the kitchen. Here's a secret: it hasn't always been fun.

Two years ago, my son and his wife gave me one of the best gifts ever. I walked in the back door after our trek home from a Dallas Thanksgiving and discovered a note on our kitchen door: "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!"

That was news to me. But when I walked inside, I soon understood what the message meant.

The 12 large plastic tubs full of decorations that live in my attic were now in the laundry room. I walked into the living room and found the Christmas tree with the lights sparkling and all ready to go.

What a present! Still working through the fatigue of my cancer, I hadn't been certain how I would get everything ready for the holidays. Having that shining tree up gave me the motivation I needed and we had a Christmas to remember.

Now, once again, it's the most wonderful time of the year. My fatigue is much better, but my right hip is not. I've decided to give myself a present.

A Festival of Fun

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Fallfest.jpgThere were princesses and transformers, ladybugs and cowboys wandering the halls of MD Anderson last week. If any of them jumped out and said "BOO!," we hope it didn't scare you.

The annual Fall Festival, sponsored by the Department of Volunteer Services, was the source of the fun. But coordinators of the festival report that this was a true collaboration of individuals and departments from across MD Anderson.

Pediatric patients in the Children's Cancer Hospital were decked out in funny, silly and sometimes even spooky costumes to get an early start on Halloween trick or treating.

The event began with a dual parade, one leaving from the Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Clinic and the other from the Children's Cancer Hospital inpatient floor. Employees lined the hospital hallways and were ready to fill pumpkins, bags and little hands with sweet treats.

Employees offered every variety of candy to the pedi paraders. Tootsie Pops, Snickers, Milk Duds, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Hot Tamales, M&M's, Jolly Ranchers, Hershey's Kisses, Jelly Beans, Skittles, Starburst Fruit Chews -- does your stomach hurt yet? This was trick or treat paradise.

I Will Survive!

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CCHsurvivorsdayfinal1.jpgThey weren't playing that song, but you could tell by the big smiles on every face that they were all celebrating.

Marking September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, almost 300 pediatric cancer survivors and their caregivers gathered to honor the occasion, along with faculty and staff from MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital. The event was held Sept 10 at the John P. McGovern Health and Medical Science Museum in Houston.

Highlighting the evening was a special presentation of medals to the survivors. After an introduction about the Childhood Cancer Survivors Clinic in the Children's Cancer Hospital by Joann Ater, M.D., Child Life Director Kate Shamszad called out the honoree names. Ater gave the medals to  the survivors to much applause from the crowd. Cesar Nunez, M.D., closed the ceremony with some heartfelt words about surviving cancer.

Tree of Life

Another feature of the event was the debut of the Tree of Life, which was created by more than 300 Children's Cancer Hospital patients and their siblings over the course of a year. Ian Cion, artist-in-residence for the hospital, guided the children to make flowers, birds, bugs and grass, as well as the tree itself.

emily2.jpgHigh hopes and high fashion strutted their stuff at the recent MD Anderson Children's Art Project 2011 Holiday Collection kickoff celebration at The Galleria in Houston.

It was Simon Fashion Now Week at The Galleria and the Children's Art Project joined in to introduce its new holiday line of cards and gifts.

On this day, however, the designers of the Children's Art Project products took center stage. Thirteen young current and former cancer patients did their part to highlight the Children's Art Project and National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Each designer was introduced by a local media personality before receiving a trophy and then making the traditional walk down the runway to show off their award. The audience learned a little about each designer, whose interests range from playing in the school band, to video games to one young lady who explained that she likes to create fancy fingernail designs and bottle cap bracelets.

Award-winning artists

Emily Freeman sported a fashionable soft green chapeau that she brought back as a souvenir from her Make-A-Wish trip to Paris. Emily, who was presented with the Autumn Wonder Award for her beautiful Autumn Tree design, was eager to express her thanks to the Children's Art Project for its support during her treatment.

In April 2000, 7-year-old Megan Evans moved from ballet lessons, gymnastics and Rollerblades into the more serious world of pediatric cancer.

Diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, she began treatment for her cancer and spent a semester in the MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital elementary school classroom. During that time, Megan was introduced to the Children's Art Project and has since been a CAP designer numerous times.

A fashionista at heart, Megan's hats became her major wardrobe accessory. To show support, her school held a monthly "hat day" until Megan was ready to take off her own head covering.

Even after completing treatment, Megan remained involved with the Children's Cancer Hospital. She never missed a summer at Camp Star Trails and Camp A.O.K., returning to Star Trails for several years as a counselor.

WeAreFamily4.jpgGail Goodwin, program manager in External Communications at MD Anderson, is a survivor of a stage III oligodendroglioma, a rare malignant brain tumor. She is grateful for her "dream team" in the MD Anderson Brain and Spine Center -- specifically, her surgeon Jeffrey Weinberg, M.D., who was one of the conference chairs, and her oncologist Charles Conrad, M.D., who spoke at the conference.

Two years ago, when I was only a few weeks out of brain surgery, I was waiting in the Brain and Spine Center, and someone came by with information about a brain tumor conference. Since my entire situation was still a little much for me to comprehend, I said maybe next time.

Next time did come. Together in Hope, a conference for brain tumor patients and their families, was held this May 20-22. Once again, the Brain and Spine Center at MD Anderson and the National Brain Tumor Society teamed up to provide patients and their caregivers information on:

  • pathology
  • surgery
  • the newest treatment strategies
  • what current research advances can mean for future therapies

I'm a survivor.

Collage.jpgThat's a bold statement to make when I'm just a little more than two years out from brain surgery. But according to the American Cancer Society, you and your caregivers are survivors from the day of your diagnosis. So, I'll take that definition and celebrate.

I hope that all survivors will join me as MD Anderson observes National Survivorship Day with an entire week of events and activities, June 4-10. This is held in conjunction with National Cancer Survivors Day, which occurs annually on the first Sunday in June in hundreds of communities worldwide to celebrate survivors and their caregivers.  

A week's worth of activities
The celebration kicks off with a police-escorted Ride for Life on Saturday, June 4. Sponsored by Riders for the Cure, this event supports Anderson Network's annual September Survivorship Conference for patients and caregivers.

When you visit MD Anderson June 6-10, you'll be aware that something special is going on. Large, brightly-colored balloon sculptures will be scattered around the hospital and clinic buildings, and pins to commemorate the week will be given to all survivors and caregivers.

From activities such as origami, collage and balloon twisting to special seminars on using makeup to make a difference, weight changes after cancer treatment, and learning that caregivers are survivors, too, the week is chock full of fun and entertainment.

You can try pilates, NIA dance play, two kinds of yoga and Kundalini meditation -- and then schedule a massage to just relax.

Stop by for a scarf-tying demonstration, learn relaxation techniques using music, and attend an expressive writing session led by one of the authors of "Chicken Soup for the Soul."

How Are You?

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gail.jpgWhat do you say when someone asks you how you're doing? What's the correct way to respond? Do they really want to know or is this just a rhetorical question?

Most of us do this all the time. We pass colleagues in the hallway, we run into friends at the store, we see acquaintances at a meeting. It's just natural. We say, "How are you?"

But since I've been in treatment for cancer, I'm never quite sure how I should respond to this question. Do they really want to know or is this just polite chit chat?

Do they want me to tell them how I'm truly feeling -- that my latest medicine makes my legs hurt, that my feet ache and that I'm so very tired? Are they actually interested in the fact that my lips are chapped and that my skin feels stretched across my face?

gailpolo1.jpgPolo, which has been referred to as the "Game of Kings," was probably first played by nomadic warriors more than 2,000 years ago. Imagine what those warriors would have thought about the annual Polo on the Prairie tournament that has been played on the Musselman Brothers' Lazy 3 Ranch near Albany, Texas, for the past 25 years.

As a first-timer at the event, I was amazed at the entire spectacle. From Friday evening's delightful fish fry on a beautiful green lawn to the real-deal polo game and barbecue dinner on Saturday, Polo on the Prairie was a weekend of tradition for many supporters of MD Anderson.

This was a landmark year for Polo because it turned 25. Over the years, the event has spread the news of MD Anderson's top-rated patient care and research and has also honored those whose lives have been touched by cancer.

Throughout the year, pediatric cancer patients spend time creating their own unique art designs, using vibrant colors and a steady hand. Upon completion, their designs are featured on a wide variety of stationery and gift items, with sale proceeds supporting patient-focused programs at MD Anderson.

The Children's Art Project Valentine Collection combines each artist's creative gusto with a brand new line of products. For the children, each collection is an opportunity to reveal their exciting work and inspire us with their dedication and spirit.

blackheart_domino.jpgThe "Black Hearts" design, created by Noura, 11, of the United Arab Emirates, is one of the pieces in the current Valentine Collection that is generating a lot of interest. It features pink and red watercolor hearts set against a bold black background. The use of color makes it seem as if the hearts are ready to jump off of the paper. This design can be found on the new iPhone covers and several stationery items.

The Valentine Collection also introduces a new addition to Children's Art Project jewelry line. The "Domino Necklace" is a distinctive piece featuring various heart designs surrounded by crystal accents. Three styles are available including "Black Hearts," "Silver Heart" and "Open Hearts." The artwork on the pieces was developed by Fadila, 10, of Egypt, Taylor, 9, of Alabama, and Noura, who is responsible for the "Black Hearts" artwork.

2010Valentines.jpgAnother popular item is the "Kids Valentine" collection. Each set contains 32 colorful fold-over cards featuring eight designs, complete with a place to write in the name of its lucky recipient. This longtime favorite provides a great overview of the different styles of each child's artwork.

With each new product and collection, the real significance is the young patients who spread optimism and love, and isn't that what Valentine's Day is all about.

Where to find Children's Art Project gifts

Houston shoppers can find items at area grocery stores and other retail establishments, the Children's Art Project Boutique in the Uptown Park Shopping Center and at all four MD Anderson gift shops.

Products are also available online at or by calling 800-231-1580 to place an order or receive a free catalog.

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