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By Harley Hudson

It was supposed to be a routine annual physical, and that is how it started. Lungs ... check. Heart ... check. Prostate ... check. Everything was A-OK.

At the close of the physical, I pointed out a swollen place on my neck. I thought it was a fatty tumor.

"I'm going to send you to an endocrinologist," my doctor said. "He will probably do a biopsy."

About that time, the nurse brought in the results from my complete blood count. My white blood count was high, way high. "No. I'm going to send you to an oncologist," my doctor said, correcting herself.

Scary words indeed. Something I never thought I'd hear nor wanted to hear in December 2006.

"What do you think it is?" I asked. My doctor suggested it was chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

She felt really bad for giving me the news. I hugged her and told her it was OK. She was right. 

Six days later, I saw an oncologist who confirmed my chronic lymphocytic leukemia diagnosis, but ran further tests to verify it. Thus began my dance with cancer.

My first seven years of CLL treatment 
In reality, my journey began like that of many other CLL patients -- with a routine checkup. Until lumps or swollen lymph nodes appear or the white blood count is off the charts, CLL usually goes undetected. Once discovered, many patients are only watched for continued progress until treatment is needed, perhaps years down the road.

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By Sandra Bishnoi


After I found out I had no evidence of disease (NED), my gynecologic oncologist told me to "live life fully."


I am not sure what this really means, but based on my conversation with her, she was trying to say I should move forward with my life without constantly thinking about cancer.


Finding a "new normal" -- or a "new reality," as I like to say -- is a process most cancer patients go through. But knowing this hasn't made this process any easier, as my thoughts have changed with the different stages of my inflammatory breast cancer treatment.


Returning to work after inflammatory breast cancer treatment

I was a full-time assistant professor in chemistry when I was diagnosed with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer.

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By Caroline Meirs

All cancer patients face challenges, but few challenges are as great as being diagnosed with a rare cancer for which there is no known treatment protocols.

Rare cancers may not be diagnosed early, it may be difficult to find a doctor familiar with your specific disease, and there are most likely no FDA-approved drugs to treat your particular cancer.

As a salivary gland cancer patient, I've experienced many of these challenges first-hand. Here are some tips that have helped me before, during and after my rare head and neck cancer diagnosis.

Be aware of unexplained changes in your body
Members of both sides of my family on both sides have suffered from many different cancers. So when I found a lump under my jawbone that did not respond to antibiotics, I immediately consulted an otolaryngologist.

Given my family history of cancer, I insisted that my doctor perform tests until cancer was either diagnosed or ruled out. 

A sample from the surgical biopsy revealed my salivary gland cancer diagnosis. My particular cancer -- an adenocarcinoma -- was in the minor salivary glands.

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By Erin Pisters and Mary Brolley

Although some cancer survivors distance themselves from cancer after treatment, Art Herzog has taken another route.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in March 1990, he weathered radiation therapy with the love and support of his family and doctors.

Even after three recurrences, Art's positive outlook on life -- and cancer -- is contagious. 

Giving back to other prostate cancer patients 
The prospect of improving other patients' experiences has always been important to Art.

For 22 years, he's been an active and devoted volunteer with the Anderson Network, a community of almost 2,000 cancer patients and survivors who share their experiences, advice and encouragement with other patients facing similar obstacles.

Matched by age, diagnosis and treatment, prostate cancer patients know they can count on Art to answer their questions or concerns.

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By Elaine Eppright 

My beloved husband, Frank Eppright, suffered a seizure on Christmas Eve 2010. We learned two days later he had a malignant brain tumor -- a stage IV glioblastoma, the most aggressive type.  

Surgery and brain tumor treatment
On January 4, 2011, at a hospital in Kansas, Frank underwent a left frontal craniotomy, the most common type of brain surgery for a tumor. The doctors removed 100% of the malignant tumor from his brain. But, since brain tumor cells are always lurking, Frank was given only 12 to 14 months to live.    

We wanted a second opinion and knew MD Anderson is renowned for diagnosing and treating all cancers. So we met neuro-oncologist Mark R. Gilbert, M.D., a few weeks later. Dr. Gilbert prescribed radiation therapy, chemotherapy and frequent MRIs. Frank underwent 30 radiation sessions while also taking the chemotherapy drug Temodar.

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By Will Fitzgerald, MD Anderson staff writer

The news came while Judy Sager and her husband Jurgen were living in Scotland in 1999. Jurgen was on an overseas assignment as an engineer with an offshore drilling company, when he visited a local hospital to have a suspicious-looking mole examined.

The results soon returned: melanoma. They knew the news was not good, but remained optimistic. 

After surgery to remove the affected area, Jurgen transferred positions to be closer to home while being monitored by MD Anderson physicians.

After a year, the disease was thought to be completely removed, and, by all indications, life was improving. So, at age 40, Jurgen decided to run the Houston Marathon. 

A week after the marathon, feeling in the best shape of his life, Jurgen noticed a lump near his groin and immediately returned to MD Anderson. The melanoma was back and had spread throughout his lymph nodes. 

Melanoma treatment: An ongoing battle 
Jurgen underwent surgery and biochemotherapy, a melanoma treatment that combines standard chemotherapy and an immunotherapy agent designed to attack any remaining cancer cells.

For the next two years, Judy and Jurgen continued to raise their two sons and were determined to keep daily life as normal as possible. But when Jurgen returned to MD Anderson for routine scans, the doctors found tumors in his liver. He would have to undergo yet another surgery.

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By Mindy Loya

Terri Woodard, M.D., says her practice at MD Anderson hasn't yet produced any babies.

But that isn't her only measure of success. It's been less than nine months since Woodard started offering consultations to patients who seek guidance on fertility testing and treatment options for fertility preservation through the Oncofertility Consult Service housed within Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.

Along with Andrea Bradford, Ph.D., she's offering patients comprehensive resources for sexual health and reproductive function. Both services lead with conversations.

"Just having a conversation during an initial consultation doesn't commit anyone to fertility treatments or counseling sessions," Woodard says. "But it means a patient can make an informed choice about whether to seek further services, and it means a lot to patients to know they have options where their fertility and intimate relationships are concerned."

Starting the conversation about cancer and reproductive health
Thanks to advances in cancer treatments, patients are living longer. But those same lifesaving cancer treatments can take a heavy toll.

"We recognize that people don't just go back to being 'normal,' says Bradford, who points to the long-term impacts that chemotherapy, radiation, major abdominal and pelvic surgeries, and hormone therapies can have on patients' sexual function, body image and fertility.

But sexual and reproductive health aren't always high on a patient's list of questions for his or her oncologist. 

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By Lindsay Lewis, MD Anderson staff writer

Just a year ago, AStar Thorns made a big change in her life. A housekeeper in Facilities at the time, she went back to school to become a phlebotomist -- a person trained to draw blood intravenously from our patients.

After a four-month training program, Thorns was hired here as an extern. She recently transitioned into a full-time job as one of our more than 90 phlebotomists.

"I love coming to work every morning," says Thorns, who works in the Main Building Diagnostic Center. "I know I'm doing my part to help someone stay alive."

Treating patients as people, not numbers
The art of venipuncture, or blood collection, is a sticky situation at MD Anderson - and that's no joke. Our phlebotomists draw more than 1 million blood specimens every year. That's nearly every patient, every visit.

"We're extremely busy," admits Jeanette Martinez, a phlebotomist in Mays Clinic. "But even though we only have a brief time with patients, we try to make it meaningful. We treat our patients as people, not as numbers."

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By Mary Powell

I labeled the daily emails from our March trip to MD Anderson for my brother's stem cell transplant "our adventure," and that's exactly what it turned out to be.

I was excited to be a stem cell donor for my brother, Dan, who has leukemia. But when the doctors performed a chest x-ray, they discovered a questionable spot on my lung. We hoped it was nothing, but scheduled a CT scan to make sure.  

The scan revealed a tumor on my lung. I cried to my sister as I told her something was wrong.

"We've been here for a week, and you are the first person we have seen cry," she said to me, telling me to remain calm, be positive and toughen up.

"All these people knew they had cancer, and now I might have cancer," I responded.

Neuroendocrine tumor diagnosed by chance
Eleven days after I arrived in Houston, I was told I had a neuroendocrine tumor in my lung. 

This is so not happening to me, I thought. I had to tell Dan I couldn't be his donor. My husband arrived the next day, and the next two weeks we did follow up scans and tests to make sure the tumor hadn't metastasized.

This trip did not turn out the way it was supposed to. Or did it?

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by Mike Snyder

By nature, clinical drug trials are something of a gamble. Since the drug itself is either brand new or being used in a brand new way, there's no guarantee of the drug's effectiveness or favorable results. 

This is something that we cancer patients understand from the start. In my case, the decision to participate in a clinical trial for cancer treatment wasn't tough. It was my only remaining option. My chondrosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, was inoperable, so a clinical trial was my only cancer treatment option. 

Here's what some people don't realize about clinical trials: they can be stopped at any time for many reasons. Maybe the drug just isn't working, or maybe the side effects are too much of a burden. Or perhaps the drug company isn't seeing enough positive results. That's why my first clinical trial ended. The drug company found that the results from the actual drug wasn't yielding better results than the placebo. 

Reasons to be hopeful after changing clinical trials
I was actually relieved when that clinical trial ended. I'd actually been thinking about withdrawing because the side effects were brutal and my tumors weren't shrinking or stabilizing.  

Suitcase

Whether you're traveling one mile or 1,000 miles to get here, packing for your first visit to MD Anderson can be a little daunting. After all, you've got a million other things on your mind, and you're not sure exactly what to expect when you get here.

So, we asked several veteran cancer patients and caregivers what's on their must-bring list. We hope their answers -- shared below -- will help making packing for your first visit a little easier.

1.  Patience and calming distractions
A lot of patience. Families are under a lot of stress when they come to MD Anderson, but it's important to understand that you may have to wait a while before seeing the doctor or getting your scans. Bring a book or headphones or something that will help calm you during the wait. 
-- Sandra Bishnoi, breast cancer patient

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By Rosemary Catallo

Patients and their families often come into The Learning Center, where I work as a librarian, to seek information. After interacting with people for many years -- and from reviewing the large amount of information we have access to here -- I've come to understand what information newly diagnosed patients and their families need.

Some patients are anxious if they don't have enough information. Other people get stressed or feel overwhelmed by too much information.

No matter which type of cancer patient you are, asking your health care team the right questions about your disease and cancer treatment can play an important part in managing your care. 

I recommend the following basic questions for newly diagnosed cancer patients. Answers to these questions may allow you to feel less overwhelmed and better able to manage your cancer journey.

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