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Simmons-family_Cancerwise.jpgBy Van Simmons

I didn't think much of it when my neck got sore during a hunting trip in November 2014. But after my wife Vicky pointed out that I had a swollen lymph node in the area where I was experiencing pain, she scheduled an appointment for me to see a doctor in our hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. 

When antibiotics didn't help, I had a needle biopsy. My results came back negative, but my doctor urged me to have the node surgically removed, just to be safe. Two weeks after the procedure, I had my stitches removed.

That's when I learned why I'd been experiencing the soreness and swelling: I had tongue cancer -- specifically, stage IV squamous cell carcinoma of the left base of the tongue. My doctor had only ever seen four squamous cell carcinoma cases like mine. He gave me only a 50% chance for survival.

Elaine-and-mom_Cancerwise.jpgBy Elaine Turner

As the daughter of a long-term breast cancer survivor, cancer has shaped the life I lead both personally and as the president and creative director of Elaine Turner, my luxury lifestyle brand.

My mom is now 74 years old and has survived a recurrence of breast cancer after going 23 years cancer-free. She is currently being treated at MD Anderson and is not only surviving but thriving.

Here are three ways my mom's diagnosis has changed me.

Lisa-Photo.jpgBy Lisa Nieto

At age 43, I had never been sick with more than a cold. So when I found out I had stage IV inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) in December 2011, I was shocked and scared. It didn't help that the doctors said I only had a 1% chance of going into remission.

After watching my own mother lose her battle to cancer, I knew I needed to get treatment somewhere that was devoted to its patients and had a leading reputation. I quickly chose MD Anderson, which has a clinic dedicated to treating inflammatory breast cancer, the most aggressive type of breast cancer. It was just a few hours from my home in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, and I knew my life was worth the drive.

Nose Cropped Two.jpg

Cancers of the nose and sinuses account for less than 1% of all tumors, but the nose and sinus give rise to a greater variety of tumors than any other site in the body. In fact, there are hundreds of types of tumors that can arise in the nose and sinuses. The most common are:

• squamous cell carcinoma
• adenoid cystic carcinoma
• adenocarcinoma
• esthesioneuroblastoma and sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC)

Other nose and sinus cancers include neuroendocrine carcinoma, mucoepidermoid carcinoma, melanoma and all types of sarcomas.

To learn more about nose cancer and sinus cancer, we spoke with Shirley Su, M.D., assistant professor in Head and Neck Surgery. Here's what she had to say.

Debra Ruzensky on being a dietitian and caregiver

By Debra Ruzensky

As a registered dietitian at MD Anderson, I know that nausea and other side effects of cancer and treatment make eating difficult, if not impossible. Even though our doctors, nurses and mid-level providers do a great job of educating our patients and caregivers about these possibilities, it is hard to prepare for them.

I didn't realize just how hard it can be, though, until I became my husband's caregiver during his B-cell lymphoma treatment, which included chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

Diet challenges after chemo
My husband Bob is a fighter and a very compliant patient. But the chemo leading up to his stem cell transplant caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and mouth and throat sores. Together, they made it almost impossible for him to eat and drink enough for over a month. He lost about 25 pounds -- mostly muscle. 

Patrick Hwu melanoma immunology expert

By Lori Baker

Many melanoma patients know Patrick Hwu, M.D., as the oncologist and immunology expert who saved their lives. But Hwu, who has headed up our Melanoma and Sarcoma departments, now also leads our largest academic division: Cancer Medicine.

We recently spoke with Dr. Hwu to learn more about what drives and inspires him both here at MD Anderson and at home. Here's what he had to say.

Where were you raised?

I grew up in St. Albans, West Virginia, which had only 13,000 residents at that time. I often think about MD Anderson having more people than my hometown.

What words best describe you?

Passionate, committed and enthusiastic.


By Lindi Senez

Fighting cancer is truly a team effort. But what happens when the caregiver of the team is no longer the caregiver? What happens when your loved one passes away, and you have to find your new normal?

This is what I've struggled to figure out since my husband, Dave, died one year ago on June 30, 2014.

Saying goodbye to Dave and my role as his caregiver
For eight years, Dave fought hemangiopericytoma, a type of brain tumor, in the most relentless, selfless journey I've ever witnessed. I was his full-time caregiver while continuing to teach high school science, run our family's brain tumor foundation and care for our beautiful, blue-eyed baby boy.

After sleepless nights researching brain tumors and clinical trials that might provide relief, I began to listen when Dave said, "You'll be OK."

Still, I wasn't quite sure how I would find meaning in my life again.

Debra-Ruzensky caregiverBy Debra Ruzensky

In 2013, my role at MD Anderson changed when my husband was diagnosed with stage three diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Now I wasn't just a registered dietitian. I was a caregiver, too.

Seeing a new side of MD Anderson during lymphoma treatment
Every three weeks, my husband was admitted at MD Anderson for five to six days. Each time, I moved into his hospital room with him. I worked here during the day and went up to his room in the evenings. I ate here, showered and dressed here, heated my meals in the family lounge and made my morning cup of coffee here.

It was mentally difficult to "change hats." My eyes and ears were always in tune to his nutrition and the value it plays in treatment tolerance and recovery. Meeting some of the other caregivers on the floor and comparing notes was helpful, but at times it added to my worry and stress. I didn't want to hear any negative stories. I was trying to hold it all together and stay positive.

I had a great support system of family, friends, and coworkers praying and offering to help in other ways. The chapel was a special place for me to quietly sit and pray or just be calm.  Sunday morning masses were also a huge comfort to me.

almashirani611.jpgBy Almas Hirani

A year ago, I started working at MD Anderson, and every day has been an amazing journey. 

I've heard people say that they want to change the world. They want to do something outstanding to make this world better. Well, I get an opportunity to make a difference right here at MD Anderson. I work in the Sterile Processing Department where tools used for surgery are processed. This gives me an opportunity to show my attitude, my strength and my passion -- and make a difference in so many people's lives.

The instruments processed in my department help save so many lives every day. These are the very instruments that help us connect with our patients, doctors and others in the operating room. They help patients get a new life. Being part of this is an amazing feeling.

Staying at the forefront of technology
MD Anderson strives to stay at the forefront of advances in technology. As technology improves, my coworkers and I get to expand our abilities and work on newer and more complex instruments. Our department provides us the training we need to expand our knowledge and skills.   

Nurse_Training_218 - cw.jpgBy Lindsay Lewis

As a nurse right out of school, Carlos Hernandez knows it can take time to master the skills needed to become a good nurse.

"New nurses come to work every day hoping to learn something new, build trust with our teams and become comfortable with our practice," says Hernandez, a clinical nurse on our stem cell transplant unit. "But what we really need is confidence -- and to know that we're making a difference for our patients."

To help build that confidence and ensure that our patients are getting the best care possible, MD Anderson has started a simulation training program. It gives new nurses role-playing situations with real patients.

"It's really important that we give our new nurses a way to develop relationship-building and communication skills with patients early in their nursing careers," says Kelly LaFrentz, who manages the program.

A new approach for training nurses
The simulation program is designed to bridge the gap between what new nurses learn in school and what they experience at patients' bedsides. It gives nurses a safe environment to run through real-life scenarios and gain valuable feedback.

"You don't know what you don't know until you've been through it," says James Cavalier, Jr., who runs the simulation center. "With this type of learning, nurses are able to identify their own opportunities for improvement as well as validate what they're doing right. It quickly builds their confidence."

Stephanie_madsen 611.jpgBy Stephanie Madsen

Three years after my large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer diagnosis, I've defied the odds. The statistics gave me less than a 20% chance of surviving one year.

But I have yet to make it an entire year without cancer. I've hit the three-month mark and have even made it to eight months cancer-free. Soon, I'll lie on the cold, hard, metallic table while a machine takes pictures of my insides from head to toe. Then, I'll wait for my results. I'm hoping this time I'll be able to say I've been cancer-free for a whole year.

Praying to remain cancer-free
Once I learned that my life was not guaranteed, my prayers were taken to new heights. 

Have you ever had a prayer so desperate it crashed loudly in the torrential storm of your spirit? A plea so full of depth, it couldn't be given an audible voice? One equally full of hope and fear? Lately, my prayers have been carnal cries or petitions that bring me to my knees.

Not one of my prayers ends without the utterance of a plea to remain cancer-free for the rest of my life here on Earth. I ask for my dreams to come to fruition.

"I'd love to grow old with my husband. Please allow me to experience motherhood. I want to watch my children grow into adults and have their own children. I ask that I live until I'm wrinkled, hard of hearing and gray."

Truth be told, I'm desperate.

kimberly610.jpgFatigue. Hot flashes. Thinning hair. The nagging feeling that something just wasn't right.

In 2010, Kimberly Hill began experiencing these symptoms, so she turned to doctors in her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. They diagnosed the mother of three with thyroid cancer. Kimberly, who was 40 at the time, underwent a thyroidectomy and radical neck surgeries for treatment.

But years later, the symptoms wouldn't go away. In fact, they increased.

"I was beginning to feel like a hypochondriac," Kimberly says. "I wasn't feeling better. I was getting worse."

When doctors wanted to perform additional surgeries, Kimberly refused. She conducted her own research and was impressed by the expertise of MD Anderson's endocrine cancer team.

A different diagnosis: stage 4 lymphoma

At MD Anderson, Kimberly received a new diagnosis stage 4 lymphocyte predominate Hodgkin's lymphoma. The disease had spread to her lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow and throughout her gastrointestinal tract.


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