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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:



Margaret Row, M.D.By Lindsey Garner

A self-proclaimed acute care junkie, Margaret Row, M.D., can be found in our Emergency Center most Thursdays taking care of patients. In her other role as vice president of operations for the MD Anderson Cancer Network, she helps expand our standard of care throughout the world through clinical partnerships.

What was your first job?
I started delivering newspapers when I was 7 for my father's weekly newspaper, The Lemmon Leader, in my hometown of Lemmon, South Dakota. Over the years, I did everything from managing subscriptions and bookkeeping to writing features and editing.

Do you visit South Dakota much?
We try to go as much as possible in the spring and summer. My husband, Jim, and I own 200 acres in Deadwood. It's our family getaway. We like to be outdoors hiking and riding all-terrain vehicles, and I like riding with Jim on his motorcycle.

Tell us something others would be surprised to know about you.
After learning how to sew in home economics, I sewed all my own clothes until I went to graduate school.

What words best describe you?
Determined and dedicated.

Were you always interested in being a physician?

I always had an interest in health care but not necessarily in medicine. During graduate school at Arizona State University, I became interested in practicing medicine while working with a cardiologist on my exercise physiology thesis.

Conquest Garden photos (1).JPGFrom the gardens to the skybridge to our leading doctors and kind volunteers, there are many things that set MD Anderson apart and help our patients feel at home. 

Whether it's your first appointment or you've become an old pro, you're likely to appreciate these 17 unique features.

1. Our 69 aquariums. The 66 freshwater and three saltwater live coral reef aquariums in our clinics are home to 3,000 fish -- mostly cichlids, angelfish and rainbow fish. The largest freshwater aquarium, by the Pharmacy in the Main Building, holds 850 gallons.

2. The Observation Deck.
Located on the 24th Floor of the Main Building, the Observation Deck offers peace and quiet, as well as a scenic view of Houston. You're also welcome to play the piano up there.

3. Our volunteers. MD Anderson is fortunate to have more than 1,200 volunteers who contributed  193,921 hours of service last year. Stop by our Hospitality Centers for a cup of coffee and to visit with these caring individuals, many of whom are survivors or caregivers themselves.

4. Our pianos. Twenty-five of our volunteers play the piano in The Park and the Mays Clinic between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. They also play at the Rotary House each day. If you're lucky, you may hear our harpist or one of our two flautists as well.

5. Room service. Inpatients -- as well as their families, caregivers and friends -- can order whatever they want from room service each day from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Our classically trained senior executive chef comes up with the menu of fresh, cooked-to-order meals.  

HarleyHudson.jpg

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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