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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.

amanda42.jpgBy Amanda Woodward

As a melanoma survivor, I know how important it is to find the right dermatologist. After all, I've spent my fair share of time doing just that. My husband is in the Army, and we move often. Each time, I have to find a new dermatologist. It is one of the most stressful parts of moving around for me. It takes a while to build mutual trust.

But I've been fortunate to find some really great dermatologists who listen to my concerns and whom I trust to find any abnormal moles that could lead to skin cancer recurrence.

Here's what I look for in dermatologists:

Are they listening to me?
Like really listening. I spotted the abnormal mole that led to my original melanoma diagnosis. It was just a gut feeling. No, I'm not a doctor, but I do know my body and expect my dermatologist to at least listen and acknowledge my questions and concerns. In the same breath, however, I need my dermatologist to hear me when I say I'm anxious. I would have them remove all of my skin if that were a possibility! So, I also need my dermatologist to reign me in and help me determine what really needs to be examined or removed.

hagan312.jpgUndergoing surgery soon, or know someone who is? You may have questions about general anesthesia, which is typically used when patients undergo surgery. 


It's also sometimes used for endoscopies and colonoscopies, interventional radiology, and imaging studies, such as CT scans and MRIs. 

General anesthesia is used to keep you comfortable and still during a surgery or procedure. 

We recently spoke with Katherine Hagan, M.D., assistant professor in Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, to learn more. Here's what she had to say.

What do patients need to do to prepare for general anesthesia?
At MD Anderson, all inpatients see a physician assistant or anesthesia provider before surgery. Outpatients see an anesthesiologist, physician assistant, or registered nurse in the Anesthesia Assessment Center. For a small number of outpatient procedures, such as routine colonoscopies or endoscopies in patients without recent medical problems, we may just do a phone interview.

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.

Conquest.JPGWhether you have an upcoming CT scan or are expecting news from your doctor, waiting can cause anxiety, worry and stress. You might have trouble sleeping or feel impatient with your loved ones. All of this is completely normal. Here at MD Anderson, we call that scanxiety.

The good news is there are many ways to deal with scanxiety. To help make the waiting game a little easier, we asked our Facebook community how they cope with the stress or anxiety before an important scan or appointment. Here's what they had to say:

  • Pray. Many of our patients and caregivers said they found comfort in prayer. Because they feel a loss of control, praying allows them do what they can and then let go of those anxious feelings.
  • Have faith and confidence in your care team. Know that our doctors and the rest of your care team will take care of everything. That's their job.
  • Listen to your favorite music. Whether you're in the waiting room, in your car or at home or work, music can help you escape from the realities of cancer, or find the strength and determination to face them head-on.
  • Find humor. Nothing eases tension like laughter.

jaymee225.jpgBy Jaymee Fiskum

I wasn't the only one diagnosed with anaplastic large T cell lymphoma small cell variant (ALCL) in May 2013. My entire family took on my cancer journey as if it was their own.

Because of them, I consider myself lucky -- as weird as it may sound. I have so much support in my life. It motivated me to fight harder. I couldn't let myself down, but I couldn't let all of them down either.

How my family helped me cope with ALCL
Each one of my family members played a huge part in my cancer journey.

After my doctor told me I had ALCL. In September 2013, I began six cycles of chemotherapy, followed by a stem cell transplant. I was very fortunate enough to have my sister as my donor. Who would've thought letting her borrow my clothes all those years would pay off?

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."

kielaszek.jpgBy Barbara Kielaszek

My cancer story began over 40 years ago when my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, my grandmother waited too long to see a doctor. Even though she had a double mastectomy and showed her courageous spirit during her cancer journey, the cancer had spread and my grandmother died within a few years. 

About the same time my grandmother received her breast cancer diagnosis, my mom found a lump that turned out to be breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy of her left breast. Ten years later, Mom found a lump in her right breast followed by another mastectomy. It's been 30 years since Mom's second mastectomy -- and she's been cancer-free ever since then.
 
When I received my own breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 55 I had two examples of tremendous heart, spirit and courage to follow. For me, that made all the difference.

My breast cancer diagnosis
I started getting annual mammograms after my mom received her second diagnosis. Each year, I almost expected to hear the words, "You have cancer."

That phone call finally came in June 2013. I had infiltrating ductal carcinoma. 

Facebook_hearts2.jpgOften, cancer can put a strain on your relationships. Whether you're a patient, caregiver, family member or friend of a patient, it's emotionally tough for everyone. But those relationships can be what help you through your cancer journey the most. So, what can you do to stay close with your loved ones while dealing with cancer?

We asked our Facebook community what they do to stay connected with their loved ones during treatment. Here's what they had to say.

136197_Jonasch_E.jpgIn the 1980s, the American Cancer Society reported that 80% of kidney cancers were diagnosed in the late stages. Today, thanks to better screening methods, only about 40% of cases are discovered at the advanced stage even though patients may not have any kidney cancer symptoms

At MD Anderson, we're continuing to make progress in improving kidney cancer diagnoses and kidney cancer treatment. We spoke with Eric Jonasch, M.D., associate professor in Genitourinary Medical Oncology, to find out more about kidney cancer treatment and research, as well as prevention and diagnosis. Here's what he had to say.  

Who's at risk for kidney cancer? What signs and symptoms should people look for?
Those who have a first-degree relative, like a parent or sibling, who have had kidney cancer are more likely to develop kidney cancer. So are men, as this type of cancer is seen in men twice as often as in women.

In addition, the older we get, the greater our risk becomes. Most kidney cancer patients are over age 60. People who are obese, have high blood pressure or smoke also are more likely to be diagnosed with kidney cancer.

How is kidney cancer diagnosed?
Increasingly, kidney cancer is diagnosed incidentally, when a patient comes in for an unrelated complaint that requires a CT scan and the care team discovers a mass in the kidney.

Kidney cancer symptoms don't often show themselves, but patients whose cancer has progressed to a later stage may experience pain in the stomach or lower back, or blood in their urine.

Patients with kidney cancer also may experience unexplained high hemoglobin levels, unexplained uncontrollable blood pressure or unexplained and persistent weight loss.

Once the cancer is spotted through the CT scan, and there is no sign of spread to other organs, the surgical team may proceed directly to a surgical removal of the tumor. But if the tumor looks abnormal or like it has grown outside of the kidney, they may perform a biopsy to determine if it is a different cancer type.

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