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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.

Vickie Sayed

By Vickie Sayed

My cancer story started in December 2013, when I was 36 years old. I was raising my 11-year-old son, busy with nursing school and just weeks away from my wedding. 

I never thought the pain I first felt after a fall was a symptom of ependymoma, a type of spinal tumor

My ependymoma symptoms and diagnosis
My journey started when I was getting out of the shower one day. I lost balance and fell hard right on my tailbone. I stayed on the floor for a couple minutes, trying to refocus myself. Over the next couple of weeks, the pain intensified, and I finally went to the emergency room. The doctors suspected it was caused by a herniated disc. 

A couple of days later, the pain subsided, and life continued as usual.

But a few weeks later, not long after my wedding, the pain returned. My husband and I made four trips to the emergency room in one week. Each time, the pain intensified, but our questions remained unanswered. When the pain became crippling and I could no longer move, my husband decided it was time to call a neurosurgeon. An EMS team had to take me to the appointment the following day.  

The neurosurgeon admitted me to the hospital and ordered an MRI, which showed a tumor between two vertebrae. A couple of hours later, I was undergoing surgery.

Dianna Ray130.jpgBy Dianna Ray

I had a very short breast cancer treatment journey -- a scant six weeks from diagnosis to cure, thanks to  early detection following a routine mammogram and the care I received at MD Anderson in the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center's Multi Team Clinic. I'm lucky to have been able to get all of my care in one place close to my home in Houston.

Early detection saved my life

I've been getting annual mammograms since my 30s because I have fibrocystic breasts, a common condition that causes benign lumps or pain in the breasts.  

About 10 years ago, my doctor found an area of microcalcifications (a small cluster of calcium) and ordered a biopsy. Thankfully, everything was fine.

So, when the same condition presented itself again on my most recent mammogram in August 2014, I wasn't too concerned. But five days after the biopsy, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer.

quotes.jpgA cancer diagnosis can feel lonely and overwhelming. But listening to the experiences of those who have been there before -- other cancer survivors -- can help.

We talked with four cancer survivors and caregivers and asked them to share their advice for those who've recently received a cancer diagnosis. Here's what they had to say.

Trust your care team at MD Anderson
"Know that you're going to have the best doctors in the nation that are going to be looking out for you. And it's not just the best doctors, it's a team. MD Anderson is the best in the world at having a team concept." -- Frank Mellen, B-cell lymphoma survivor

Watch Frank share more advice.

Keep living your life

"I continued with my life as I had lived it before. I do a lot of walking. I do a lot of reading. I used to do a lot of dancing. I think it's important to just keep living." -- Nancy Kahn, ovarian cancer survivor

Watch Nancy share more advice.

shanescott128.jpgBy Shane Scott

I had been married to the love of my life for about two years and we were just getting our feet on the ground when I received my testicular cancer diagnosis. It happened so fast. I went from having an ultrasound to having an operation the next week. After the surgery, we found out the testicular cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I would need chemotherapy.

At that point, fertility was the last thing on my mind. I was so worried about beating cancer that I didn't think about how the chemotherapy could cause infertility. How do you look past a life-changing diagnosis and think about the future you may or may not have?

Once I learned about options for addressing infertility, though, the idea of having children was one of the main things that helped me make it through chemo.

My testicular cancer treatment
After my testicular cancer diagnosis, it seemed any news we got was not good. Despite undergoing chemotherapy five hours a day for five days a week, my tumor weren't shrinking. I also lost my hair and didn't have any energy. Then, finally on my third cycle of chemo we started to see some positive progress. I was ecstatic, but I knew my treatments were far from over.

brittanynurse127.jpgBy Brittany Hurst

I did not realize how much I depended on my medical team until my second ovarian cancer diagnosis. During summer 2014, I spent a total of 70 days in the hospital. I spent 58 of them at MD Anderson.

I can honestly say that those days might have been some of the toughest days of my life. I have always been a happy person even in spite of my ovarian cancer journey, but that summer was physically and emotionally exhausting. I had a nasogastric (or NG) tube to help me breathe, underwent two surgeries and started chemotherapy again. I did not know when I would be going home, and every day I prayed it was that day. But I made it through that tough time, thanks to a lot of help from my family, friends -- and my nurses.

Coping with my second ovarian cancer diagnosis with help from nurses

Your nurses are with you 24/7 during a hospital stay. They are the ones you email if you have questions, and they are your lifeline to your doctor. They are constantly writing notes in your chart to update your doctors and are by your bedside at the press of the button.

I not only looked at my nurses as my caregivers, but I also felt as if they were some of my best friends. As I learned, having a great relationship with your nurses helps them know the best way to help take care of you. If it was time for one of my dreaded shots, I had certain nurses give them to me. If I was having a bad day, they made sure to get me out of the room. They were kind when I needed someone besides my family and friends to talk to, and they were stern when they needed to be.

yasupport.jpgBy Wendy Griffith, Social work counselor

Appointments. Side-effects. Medications. Side-effects from medications. More sickness. Lengthy tests. Hospitalizations. It can be a lot at any age, but for young adults (generally those ages of 18 to 39), it can be especially so at a time when it feels like life is just really getting started. How are you supposed to manage all of that, much less cope with it?  

The answer is different for every person. But if there is one thing that can help young adults cope with cancer, it's social support. In fact, that's true for cancer patients of all ages.

What is social support?
Social support essentially refers to the feeling of comfort, care and connection that you get from others. "Others" could be immediate family, extended family, close friends, acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, and yes, even strangers. These individuals might help you by providing emotional support, physical support, financial assistance, laughter, motivation, distraction or a combination of all of the above. It all depends on what you need or want, and that can completely change from day to day.

Why social support is important

No matter what your exact situation is, being sick can get lonely.  

Even patients with incredible support systems feel alone from time to time, or need a little extra boost from outside their network. We need different things, at different times, from all kinds of different people.

jamiebernard121.jpgAs 2013 drew to a close, everything was normal for then 32-year-old Jamie Bernard. She was a healthy, active mom, running 5Ks and reveling in a 45-pound weight loss. The MD Anderson employee never thought that a few months later she'd be diagnosed breast cancer.

When Jamie went for her annual well woman exam in January 2013, her doctor asked if she'd been checking for changes in her breasts.

"I lied and said yes," she admits. But the guilt of being untruthful led her to start looking for changes that November. And on December 3, she discovered a lump in her left breast.
A few weeks passed before Jamie decided to make an appointment to have the lump checked.

She recalls telling herself, "I work for MD Anderson. If it's something and I didn't get it checked out, I'm to blame."

Jamie's breast cancer treatment
For Jamie, January 2014 was the start of a whirlwind year. Not long after her breast cancer diagnosis, a type test revealed her cancer was growing as a result of the estrogen produced by her body, making her chances of cancer recurrence higher. This meant Jamie had no choice but to undergo a mastectomy.  Her treatment plan also included 16 rounds of chemotherapy. Once her treatment was complete, she began a prescription for tamoxifen, a drug that is used to prevent breast cancer recurrence.

When Jamie received her cancer diagnosis, her thoughts immediately turned to her daughter, Caydin. There was no doubt Jamie would do whatever it took to be around to watch her grow up.

"I made a pact with God," she says. "If you keep waking me up, I will do whatever you need me to do."

pathology_group_163_Edited.jpgBy Carol Bryce

It's not unusual for a patient to arrive at MD Anderson with one diagnosis and leave with a different one.

For example, when approximately 2,700 patient cases were reviewed during September 2011, 25% showed discrepancies between the original pathologists' reports and our pathologists' reports. While the changes in diagnosis were minor in 18.7%, in the other 6.2%, the diagnosis change made a major difference.

"In some of those cases, we changed the diagnosis from malignant to benign or vice versa," explains Lavinia Middleton, M.D., professor in Pathology. "That adds up to approximately 2,000 cases per year where we can say that our pathologists' reviews have impacted patients' treatment.

"Changing the diagnosis from malignant to benign is the best call to make. This makes us feel really good."

"Review of outside material is a major component of the work done by our Pathology and Hematopathology departments," adds Stanley Hamilton, M.D., division head in Pathology/Laboratory Medicine. "The correct pathologic diagnosis and stage of each tumor are key to high quality care for patients."

How we make the correct diagnosis
So why do we find things overlooked by other health care institutions?

"Our system here helps us make the right cancer diagnosis. It's based on three things: sub-specialization, volume and redundancy," Middleton explains.

17shah.jpgEach year, about 24,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with multiple myeloma, according to the American Cancer Society. Most are over age 65, but people of all ages are diagnosed with this blood cancer.

Multiple myeloma is marked by the growth of malignant plasma cells found in the bone marrow. These myeloma cells typically make a protein found in blood and urine.

Over the past decade, we've made tremendous strides in treating multiple myeloma, enabling patients to live significantly longer.  

Jatin Shah, M.D., associate professor in Lymphoma/Myeloma, recently spoke with us about how multiple myeloma is diagnosed and treated, as well as new therapies on the horizon.
Here's what he had to say.

How is multiple myeloma diagnosed?
The most common way to diagnose myeloma in its earliest stages before symptoms appear is through routine blood work. If a patient has elevated protein levels, several tests are conducted and their combined results interpreted in order to make a myeloma diagnosis.
What are common myeloma symptoms?

Before they receive a definitive diagnosis, myeloma patients often have problems with anemia, high calcium or renal failure. Or, they may have broken bones or lytic lesions, where sections of bone are basically destroyed.

A monstrous art project. A groundbreaking lung cancer screening trial. Inspiring stories from our patients and caregivers. Our mission to end cancer. These are just a few of the topics that been popular on MD Anderson's YouTube channel in 2014.

To find out what you missed -- or rediscover some favorites -- check out our top five videos from 2014.

What drives MD Anderson to end cancer

What if we could end cancer? This is the bold idea that guides everything we do here at MD Anderson. Watch our patients, survivors, volunteers and employees describe the hope they feel here and share why they believe MD Anderson is the best place to treat and ultimately end cancer:



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