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LR headstands.JPGBy Linda Ryan

Who ever thought a dare would turn into the way you told your friends there's no evidence of cancer in your body?

I traveled to Houston with my friend Barbara for every other cancer treatment. Around the fifth treatment, she was waiting for me while I was seeing Shannon Westin, M.D., after a scan.   

Barbara was texting with a friend of hers who dared her to stand on her head and sing songs in the gynecological clinic waiting room. She promptly flipped her feet above her head onto the fish tank and sang.  

When she was done, she took a bow for the family watching her and motioned for them to clap for her. They did, cautiously. She even asked a stranger to video her doing it.   

I'm not sure I laughed harder during those six months of treatment than I did when I watched the video.    

Headstands to celebrate the end of my cancer
On the day of my ninth treatment, we decided that we would do headstands if Dr. Westin told me the cancer was gone. We'd post a picture on Facebook so everyone would know I was done with treatment.

alvarez MD.JPGInflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is the most aggressive form of breast cancer. Symptoms for this rare type of breast cancer often include itching, dimpling of the skin of the breast, and a pink, red or dark-colored area of the breast. As a result, IBC is frequently misdiagnosed as a rash or infection.

Because IBC is very fast growing, it's crucial that IBC be treated as quickly as possible and by specialized experts.

MD Anderson established the world's first IBC clinic in 2007 to treat women who've been treated before as well as those who are newly diagnosed. MD Anderson's doctors see more IBC patients than any other center in the world.

Ricardo  H. Alvarez, M.D., is a breast medical oncologist in the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic.

one more time Dickey.jpgBurton Dickey, M.D., doesn't slow down. The chair of
MD Anderson's Department of Pulmonary Medicine runs three miles four times a week, even after a cancer diagnosis in October followed by a stem cell transplant last month. 

The 59-year-old says he didn't have any symptoms. The only thing he noticed was his running pace was a little slower.

A multiple myeloma diagnosis
After a routine blood test, his cardiologist, looking gray, said all of his blood counts were down. "I work at a pretty good place to follow up on that," Dickey told his doctor.

He came back to MD Anderson and walked right into the office of his colleague, Michael Kroll, M.D.

"Dr. Kroll often serves as an entry point for patients with undiagnosed blood cancers," Dickey says. "That includes people like me with low blood counts."

Couple fights leukemia together.JPGNewlyweds Harry and Marie Moore have a lot in common.

They both share a strong faith in God, enjoy music and being outdoors, and love to spend time with their families.

They also recently discovered Marie has leukemia, and like Harry, she is a patient at MD Anderson. 

"It's just one more thing we have in common," Marie says.

Cancer couldn't stop their wedding
85-year-old Harry has been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) for 35 years. He met 72-year-old Marie at a retiree luncheon on Oct. 19, 2011.

"It was love at first sight," the couple says.

After a short courtship, the pair planned to marry on February 11, 2012. But, just weeks before the wedding, Harry was admitted to the hospital for nausea and shortness of breath. 

Determined, Harry pushed forward and was released less than 24 hours before the ceremony, which took place at his daughter's house in Montgomery, Texas.

male breast cancer what you should know.JPGBreast cancer is typically thought of as a woman's disease. But men develop the disease, too. And, due to a lack of awareness about male breast cancer, it's often found at later stages, when the disease is more difficult to treat.

We recently discussed male breast cancer with Sharon Giordano, M.D., chair of Health Services Research and associate professor of Breast Medical Oncology at MD Anderson. Dr. Giordano sees more male breast cancer patients than any other doctor in the world.

Here's what she had to say.

How common is male breast cancer?  

Male breast cancer represents approximately 1% of all cases of breast cancer. In the United States, 2,190 new cases of male breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in 2012, as compared to 229,060 cases in women.  

What causes male breast cancer?  

The cause of male breast cancer is not known. Risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, prior radiation exposure and Klinefelter syndrome, which is the presence of an extra X chromosome in a man.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations also are a risk factor for breast cancer in men. In particular, BRCA2 mutations are linked to male breast cancer. Men with a BRCA2 mutation may have close to a 10% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. 

Family gets screened for esophageal cancer.JPGMom knows best.

The Muth family knows this statement all too well. Their mother, Ann Jennings, asked for only one thing to ring in her 90th birthday, for her four children to have endoscopies at MD Anderson.

Yes, you read that right.

So, when the four children traveled to Houston from all over the country for their mother's birthday party, they gave her the gift she wanted.

"If it wasn't for Dr. Manoop Bhutani making it easy, we might have never done it," says daughter, Karen Jones, the second oldest, of the four Muth children. "Dr. Bhutani said he could scope us all in the morning and we could leave on a plane that afternoon."

Why the unusual birthday request?

Karen Jones has a history of esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer runs in the family.

Pablo Romero isn't shy about singing in public.

"I've sung everywhere from cafés to gas stations and bus stops," Romero says.
Now, he's adding MD Anderson to this list. 

The young opera singer has been entertaining crowds for the past 10 years. He's currently in Houston while his mother receives cancer treatment.

"I was accompanying my mother to one of her appointments, and I saw a choir singing," Romero says. "We stopped for a moment to listen and discovered it was the MD Anderson employee choir."

Right away, he knew he wanted to sing with them.

Yesterday, he got his chance.

little_miss_sunshine_how_kyssi_kicked_cancers_butt_usethisone.JPGKhyrstin Andrews -- better known as Kyssi -- has never met a stranger.

Whether she's waiting for an appointment or receiving treatment, this outgoing four-year-old is full of smiles and personality. Kyssi comforts and befriends everyone she meets, so much that some might call her a hometown celebrity. In fact, it's not unusual for one of her more than 30,000 Facebook followers -- most of them total strangers -- to recognize her around MD Anderson and go up to speak with her.

Kyssi, usually dressed in head-to-toe pink Hello Kitty, sunglasses on top of her head, loves posing for pictures. "She doesn't like to cover up her bald head," says her mother Marla. "Instead, she wears it proud."

"Her big bright smile is now her best accessory."

Kyssi's Wilms' Tumor diagnosis
But as her mom also will tell you, "Kyssi's journey hasn't always been joyful."

Kyssi was diagnosed with Wilms' Tumor, a rare kidney cancer that affects children, on May 1, 2012 -- her father's birthday. She'd had no symptoms until she began urinating blood.

GarciaManero1.JPGMyelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a group of diseases where the bone marrow doesn't produce enough healthy blood cells. Instead, it makes too many underdeveloped cells, known as blasts. These blasts die in the bone marrow or soon after entering the bloodstream, causing too few healthy blood cells and low blood counts.

In its gentlest form, MDS may be anemia, low platelets or low white blood count, but about 10% to 20% of diagnosed cases progress to acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

In the early stages MDS often doesn't have any symptoms. If there are signs, they may be vague or like those for other medical conditions such as fatigue and fever.

Blood tests and bone marrow tests can be used to find out if you have myelodysplastic syndrome.

Who is at risk?

"Environmental factors can increase the risk of MDS," says Guillermo Garcia-Manero, M.D. professor in MD Anderson's Department of Leukemia

Meet Michelle Mahar - Kasten.

In 2006, while pregnant with her son, Michelle Mahar - Kasten knew something was wrong. She began to have worsening discomfort in her hip and numbness in her leg and foot.

She was eventually diagnosed with an osteosarcoma.

Because the cancer was so aggressive and the chance of recurrence so high, her oncologist suggested she seek treatment at MD Anderson.

Within a month, Mahar - Kasten was living in Houston with her family, including her mother and in-laws. "We made fighting cancer our number one job," she says.

After nine months, Mahar - Kasten completed chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor in her pelvis and spinal column. Then she had to learn to walk again.

"Surgery left me with limitations and pain for the rest of my life. But it's the reason I'm here," she says.

"I made the choice to fight to survive. I told my family I wasn't going anywhere, and I believed it," she says.

Tim Shiery was diagnosed with melanoma in 2005, at the age of 47. "I had a black mole on the back of my neck that could no longer be hidden with a band aid," Shiery says.

After a visit to the family physician, Shiery was referred to MD Anderson.

Under the care of surgeon Jeffrey Lee, M.D., and oncologist Patrick Hwu, M.D., he underwent a successful surgery and five rounds of interferon.

But two years later, the cancer was back. This time it was stage IV metastatic melanoma, which had spread to his brain and lungs.

After another surgery to remove the spots, Shiery was hopeful that he would once again be cancer free.

He was wrong.

A few more spots appeared on his liver, skin and bones.

Imagine flying from out of state to MD Anderson for treatment every week, paying thousands of dollars a year on plane tickets, hotel bills and ground transportation. 

Needless to say, it adds up quickly.

The Houston Ground Angels is a network of volunteers who donate their time to help provide patients in need free transportation to and from their health care facility.

All you have to do is ask, and a friendly face will be waiting at the airport ready to drive you to your next clinic visit.

In the past 10 years, with more than 6,800 missions completed (with patients traveling from 42 states), they've provided assistance to many.


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