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bethematch326.jpgBy Gillian Kruse

After starting chemotherapy, it became clear that my acute myeloid leukemia (AML) was going to be tough to beat. The chemo would kill it, but it could come back. To lower the chances of this, my doctors suggested I consider a bone marrow transplant.

I made an appointment to learn about the bone marrow transplant process. Afterwards, my care team and I decided that getting a bone marrow donation was the best option for me. 

The next step was to find a bone marrow donor. 

Finding my bone marrow donor

Both of my younger brothers got tested to see if he could be my bone marrow donor. The best "match" for a donor is one whose cells have the same protein markers as those of the patient.

The more markers that match, the less likely you are to have problems with your body rejecting the transplant after the procedure. Because your protein markers are hereditary, it's more likely that a patient's siblings will have similar markings.

In the end, my middle brother Jeff was my perfect match, so we scheduled his bone marrow donation. Once my AML went into remission, I would undergo the transplant.

BillLambert325.jpgBy Bill Lambert

After my my rectal cancer surgery, walking was a challenge. But thanks to my care team, my supportive family and friends and lots of hard work over the past year, I plan to run across the finish line at the 2015 SCOPE Run at MD Anderson on Saturday, March 28.
Well, run might be a stretch. But just the fact that I can entertain running that distance is a testament to so many factors. I now feel I've come full circle.

My rectal cancer treatment

I once read that getting a cancer diagnosis for a second time is like surviving a plane crash only to be involved later in a train wreck. That sums up how I felt. My recurrence came during my five-year annual CT scan, and I had had no reason to believe anything was wrong.  

The second diagnosis was devastating, but I began treatment: a long, complicated surgery and chemotherapy.

hurst324.jpgBy Brittany Hurst

I think most young people picture their lives as college, engagement, marriage and having a family. My husband and I were no different. We'd always wanted to have a family of our own.  But my cancer diagnosis and my ovarian cancer recurrence threw a wrench into these plans.

We were fortunate to have other options for becoming parents. We considered a few of them before deciding that adoption is the best choice for us.

Why we chose adoption

Once we found out I had ovarian cancer, we realized we needed to start planning right away if we wanted to have a family. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve and freeze some of my eggs before my ovaries were removed during my ovarian cancer treatment.

We hoped that I'd be able to carry our children once I had been in remission two years. But when the cancer returned in May 2014, my husband and I decided that may be too risky. So, we looked into surrogacy. But the cost of surrogacy was an absolute shock! 

By Amanda Swennes
MCC facebook.jpg
Our program that connects cancer patients, caregivers and survivors through one-on-one support has a new name. But the mission and motto remain the same: "Sometimes the best help comes from someone who's been there."

Formerly known as Anderson Network, a program of volunteer services, myCancerConnection pairs cancer patients, survivors and caregivers with trained volunteers who've had the same or similar diagnosis, treatment or experience. This one-on-one support program gives cancer patients someone to talk to throughout their cancer journey. 

We recently asked a few myCancerConnection volunteers why our one-on-one program is important to them. Here's what they said.

myCancerConnection brings cancer patients hope and understanding.
"I signed up to volunteer because I was so grateful for the individuals that spoke to me upon my diagnosis. It was so comforting to talk with someone who had been through it. It helped dissipate the fear. I love that someone can call myCancerConnection and get matched by diagnosis. I never know exactly what someone wants to hear or where they are with what they are going through. But I always find it's hope and understanding that become the common ground." -- Lou Russell, colon cancer survivor

Talking to others gave me strength and hope.
"Just knowing there was someone to talk to that knew exactly what I was going through gave me that extra strength and hope I needed to get through the rough times. I will always be thankful for MD Anderson's staff and that one volunteer who took the time to reach out to me." -- Stacie Strebeck, breast cancer survivor

pam.jpgBy Pamela J. Schlembach, M.D.

"I just want a good night's sleep, doctor." This is something I hear very frequently from my cancer patients on our weekly visits.

Insomnia is common in cancer patients as well as the general population. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to a host of medical problems, including chronic fatigue, depression, obesity, diabetes and heart  disease.

Insomnia can be caused by a number of medical conditions, medications, stress, lifestyle and diet. Before assuming all sleep issues are due to medical conditions alone, I frequently run through the following healthy sleep hygiene list with my patients. Many make some of these adjustments, and their sleeping problems vanish.

Rita318.jpgBy Rita Avila

When I was rediagnosed with tongue cancer at age 23, I had to deal with a lot of things most people my age had never considered. But whenever people suggested that I do advance care planning and complete a living will, I almost laughed. I wasn't even old enough to rent a car.

I kept putting it off. But as the date of my tongue cancer surgery crept closer, I decided I didn't want to leave my parents with any questions. It was time to complete the advance care planning forms.

Starting the advance care planning process
I started by emailing my social work counselor at MD Anderson. She gave me some paperwork and told me I could complete them during my upcoming visit to MD Anderson.

A few days later, I told my dad I wanted to add him to my checking and savings accounts. He looked at me like I'd grown two heads. As I expected, he asked why. My response was simple: "Because if anything happens to me, I want you to be able to access my money and pay off any bills in my name," I knew he would take it the best of anyone in my family. What daddy wants to cry in front of his little girl?

A couple weeks later, my dad and I returned to MD Anderson. During the trip, our social work counselor gave my dad my blank Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney forms. These legally binding documents would state my wishes about who would make decisions for me and what types of decisions would be made if I couldn't make them myself.

Gail Morse12015.jpgBy Gail Morse

After my breast cancer treatment, I was so inspired and gun ho about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I had just lost 10 pounds and felt good.

But I didn't stick with my healthy lifestyle. Just before my six-month check-up I realized, I had gained the weight back and then some. So, what happened?

Well, life happened. I'd struggled to deal with my new normal and get back on the old saddle again, and my healthy lifestyle took a backseat. 

Finding my new normal

I know I'm not alone in this. I've heard so many cancer patients say a few months after treatment that they felt lost not knowing what to do next. And that's the issue.

During cancer  treatment, I had unintentionally created a daily routine. I knew where to go, what to do, what I would feel like. Now the ritual was broken. I had to consider a big question. What did I want to do with my life after cancer? 

mindfulness.jpgBy Eric Tidline, social work counselor

Coping with cancer isn't easy. So, how do you build the mental strength to cope with everything you're facing? Mindfulness is one thing that may help.

How mindfulness helps

Mindfulness allows us to step outside of our own minds and observe how we think about things. Over time, those who practice mindfulness learn to become less attached to their own thoughts, perceptions and beliefs. People begin to take actions based on the true nature of people and events, rather than how they wish or hope them to be.

By focusing on the details of our experiences, we are better able to understand what is happening in each moment. This new understanding will allow you to spot and avoid negative reactions. Mindfulness also better enables us to see the many ways we can positively respond to our situations. This helps us achieve inner peace and balance.

Studies show that patients who practice mindfulness begin to feel better despite their medical problems. Physical symptoms don't necessarily go away, but that's not the aim of mindfulness. Rather, the goal is to help you find a different perspective and a new way of coping with your illness.

What is mindfulness? And how do I do it?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on your thoughts, emotions and feelings in the present moment with acceptance and without judgement.

It is one simple coping technique that's been found to reduce stress, boost energy and improve well-being.

While it may sound complicated, mindfulness practices are simple. One easy way to stay mindful is to focus on your breath.

MelMann310.jpgBy Mel Mann

In December 1997, Interferon -- the only available treatment to hold back my terminal chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)  -- was failing me. After nearly three years on the drug, that had been expected.

Sitting in my doctor's office at MD Anderson, 40 pounds lighter than my normal weight, my doctor offered a sliver of hope. He said, "We have a month-long clinical trial of a CML drug called PegIntron.  

I knew there were no guarantees that it would work. But I immediately said, "I'll go for it!" Time was running out for me, and I desperately needed a Hail Mary drug to survive CML.

Jumping from clinical trial to clinical trial isn't easy. But with no other options left, I had to have faith and keep trying.

Starting the PegIntron clinical trial to treat my CML
I started the PEG Intron trial in January 1998. Since it was the middle of the school year, I reluctantly left my wife and young daughter 800 miles behind. A lifelong distance runner, I remember looking out the hotel window at the Rotary House International at MD Anderson, thinking about going for a jog, but realizing that I couldn't jog even one city block.

KayceSmith39.jpgBy Kayce Smith

Picture this: a 24-year-old football fan enjoying a game on a cold October night gets upset because her team is losing. She rips off her jacket in anger, leaving her bare shoulders exposed.

That girl was me. I am a die-hard Texas A&M fan. I also cover college football for ESPN. When I say sports are my life, I am not exaggerating.

Now picture this: a dermatologist sitting four rows behind me notices a birthmark on my shoulder that looks "off." Because of the chaos at the end of the game, she loses me in the crowd before she has time to mention her concern. Fortunately, her family recognizes me from my TV work and helps her track me down the next week.

Looking back, I had a guardian angel in those stands. It turned out the birthmark on my back was stage 1 melanoma.

Like most melanoma patients I have met, I was completely unaware of what was going on inside my body. I had been dealing with frequent colds and other immune system issues, but I had no idea a flat birthmark on the back of my shoulder was about to change my life.

One of the lucky ones
After a few trips to MD Anderson for testing, I had a wide excision, a surgery to remove the tumor.  My wonderful care team led by Merrick Ross, M.D., also performed a lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy. In other words, they removed several lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread.

Cancer_Detection_202.jpgBy Angela Young

When Samuel Loftin's blood work showed an unusual level of liver enzymes,  a gastroenterologist near his Alabama home recommended an ultrasound of his liver. When that test was negative, the doctor ordered an MRI, which showed two suspicious liver lesions, as well as an abnormality in his spine. Samuel's doctor said it was probably cancer and that spots on his spine meant it might have spread to his vertebrae. Samuel was referred to a nearby cancer center.

"My doctor set up the appointment, but it was three weeks away. I just couldn't wait that long," Samuel says.

He called MD Anderson and got an appointment right away at the Mary Ann Weiser Suspicion of Cancer Clinic. Created in 2001, the clinic is named for a former MD Anderson doctor who wanted to focus on detecting cancer at its earliest stages. Weiser always was looking for a challenge, according to colleagues.

"When patients try to come here without a clear diagnosis, it can be difficult for them to come in the front door," says John Patlan, M.D., in General Internal Medicine. "Dr. Weiser's goal was to make it easier for them."

After Weiser died in 2006, Patlan took over leadership of the clinic. Two years ago, the clinic received additional funding, and now it has a dedicated workspace in the Internal Medicine Center and a second doctor, Michael Perdon, M.D., in General Internal Medicine.

Patlan works in the clinic three days a week, and Perdon takes over on the other two days. Veronica Smith, a nurse practitioner, works full-time, and Maura Polansky, a physician assistant, works in the clinic one morning a week. Together, the team sees 15 to 20 concerned, but hopeful, new patients each week.

Patlan estimates they spend three or four hours with each patient beyond the initial one-hour clinic visit. That includes coordination of multiple diagnostic studies and phone calls to the patient and to other doctors.

Next-day appointments for Houston patients
Often, patients who live in the Houston area are surprised they can get an appointment at the Suspicion of Cancer Clinic the day after they call. When they arrive for their first appointment, Smith, the nurse practitioner  is usually the first provider they see, and they share their fears with her.

"Dealing with the unknown causes them so much anxiety," Smith says. "Some patients say they feel better even if they find out they do have cancer."

Melanie24.jpgBy Melanie Steel

Three years ago, my family began bracing for the battle of our lives. My dad had just been diagnosed with melanoma.

We knew very little about melanoma, so we began to read everything we could in order to know what we were facing. The numbers scared us. The survival rates paralyzed us. All of this was new and frightening. Then, we took a collective deep breath.

As we learned about this ugly disease, we could not stop thinking about two important, life-saving areas of education: melanoma risk factors and the importance of early detection. We realized that if more people knew what makes them more likely to develop melanoma, lives could be saved. We also realized that if more people recognized melanoma symptoms  early, more lives could be saved.

Finding a voice after my dad's melanoma diagnosis

My family was in a unique position. Due to my dad's melanoma diagnosis, we were learning about a disease that previously we had known little about. We were talking with friends, family members and acquaintances who were asking how they could help. These conversations gave us an opportunity to raise awareness and educate others about melanoma. This was a beautiful gem hidden in the midst of our difficulties.


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