By Sabrina Dominguez
I have a problem with the saying "Love yourself." People say it as if it could cure world hunger: "I know it's hard, sweetie, but all you have to do is love yourself." What kind of advice is that?
It's as if they're saying my medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor, is going to be magically healed through my ability to love myself. I don't think so.
But during medulloblastoma treatment, I learned something important. Loving yourself does not heal you. It does not stop your disease or make the chemo work faster.
Yet loving yourself does allow you to cherish the nurses and the techs. It allows you to appreciate your friends and family who have stuck by your side and encouraged you.
Loving yourself allows you to enjoy the rollercoaster of life you've been given.
Finding pride after my medulloblastoma diagnosis
For the first couple of months after my medulloblastoma diagnosis, I refused to listen to anybody about the necessity of loving myself. I stayed in my hospital room. I refused to leave the house. I preferred to stay within my comfort zone rather than broaden my horizons.
Then it hit me: Why does it matter what other people think of me? I am my own person. I make my decisions. I can sulk and cry about how life isn't fair, or I can be an inspiration to those who are newly diagnosed, to those who have a problem with themselves because of the image chemo so generously gives them.
Recently in Childhood Cancer Category
By Sabrina Dominguez
When Chase Jones was an 18-year-old baseball player at The University of North Carolina, he was diagnosed with germinoma,a type of brain tumor. The rest of his team shaved their heads in support.
Their gesture had a huge impact on Chase and led him to start the Vs. Cancer Foundation. The organization empowers sports teams, from little league to the pros, to raise awareness and money in hopes of ending childhood cancer.
Since it started in 2013, Vs. Cancer has raised more than $1.5 million for children's hospitals and cancer research. They've worked with The University of North Carolina, Duke University, Texas A&M University and the Seattle Mariners, among others.
"Every age, every sport, every form -- college, high school, youth -- we've given them the platform to make a difference," Chase says. "As a cancer survivor, I couldn't be more excited about that."
Finding hope during pineal region germinoma treatment
One day after baseball practice, Chase walked off the field with a sharp headache. It was unlike any pain he'd known before. He never thought it was a brain tumor symptom.
Chase was diagnosed with stage four pineal region germinoma. This type of tumor starts in the center of the brain and had metastasized to his spine.
There were few treatment options for him close to home. So, after a series of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation at a North Carolina hospital, Chase came to the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.
In the summer of 2005, after her pediatrician noticed a lump on her neck, Krista and her parents went to see an endocrinologist near their hometown of Chicago. That's when they learned she'd need surgery to remove an egg-sized tumor in her neck.
Krista, who was just 11 years old at the time, barely understood the diagnosis. But she knew it was serious. "I went onto my dad's lap and cried because I was scared," she recalls.
A couple days after the surgery, doctors confirmed the diagnosis: follicular thyroid cancer.
Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for only about 10% of thyroid cancers, and most cases occur in adults, not children like Krista. In fact, according to Krista's doctor, Steven Waguespack, M.D., only about seven cases of follicular thyroid cancer are diagnosed in children ages 10-14 each year.
Krista wondered why this happened to her. "I felt normal and healthy," she says.
The diagnosis was a complete surprise for her parents, too. "We didn't know anything about follicular thyroid cancer when we got the phone call," says Krista's father, Jim. "I was devastated, but I could not let Krista see how scared I was."
Making the decision to come to MD Anderson
Ten days after Krista's first surgery and confirmed follicular thyroid cancer diagnosis, she had a second surgery to remove her left thyroid lobe.
Shortly afterwards, Krista's family learned that the second surgery had been an incomplete thyroidectomy and that she'd need another delicate surgery.
That's when the family started looking for hospitals with experience treating follicular thyroid cancer in children. The family researched and saw countless doctors and wrote many letters before deciding to make the 900-mile trip to MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.
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:
By John Chattaway
When Jameisha Brown was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a type of b-cell lymphoma, her 8-year-old mind reasoned that it couldn't be too serious. After all, B was close to A, the best grade you could get.
Today, Jameisha, who goes by Meisha, knows a bit more about cancer. Motivated by her own childhood cancer journey, she's currently working to earn a master's degree in health studies in hopes of becoming a cancer researcher.
Making time for school during Burkitt's lymphoma treatment
In June 1998, Meisha had just completed second grade and was looking forward to summer vacation when she began experiencing severe abdominal pain, nausea and fatigue. After a trip to her pediatrician and an emergency CT scan, she was diagnosed with cancer. She was immediately referred to MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital, where she underwent three days of tests, followed by emergency surgery to remove tumors on her small intestine, colon, ovaries and appendix.
"My initial treatment lasted just over eight months. This included multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, some that were particularly hard on me," Meisha recalls.
By Gaylene Meeson
In July 2012, my husband and I heard the words "your daughter has a brain tumor," and our lives changed forever. You hear about adults being diagnosed all the time, but we didn't even know that children could have cancer.
At the time, Hannah was only 4 years old and getting ready to start school in the Cayman Islands, where we live. But when the doctors said she had anaplastic medulloblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor, we found ourselves embarking on our epic battle to help her stay alive.
Our childhood cancer journey: Starting medulloblastoma treatment
After a surgery in Miami, we moved from the Cayman Islands to Houston so that Hannah could undergo proton therapy at MD Anderson, followed by six months of chemotherapy. Our family was split up, and the treatment was brutal. Hannah was wasting away before our eyes, and we could do nothing but pump more drugs into her to try and stop the cancer.
We kept focused on the end date of May 2013, when we thought we could finally go home and life would return to normal. But in April 2013, we received further devastating news: the cancer had progressed.
By Ian Cion
For the past five months, I've been working with more than 1,300 patients, family members, and staff at MD Anderson to create a monumental scale river dragon sculpture entitled Okoa the Wave Rider. The sculpture, a project made possible by the Arts in Medicine Program, was built entirely on site in the Main Building. You may have seen it on display, or maybe even contributed to it, in The Park.
The name, "Okoa," was selected through a vote by the patients and families who helped create the dragon. It's a Swahili word that means "rescue, save, redeem or deliver."
It's a fitting name, as Okoa was built to demonstrate the effectiveness of community art in bringing joy and relief into the cancer center.
The sculpture and the art table where patients, families and staff joined together to make it were actually both works of art. What make the dragon so beautiful are the sculpture and the time shared in its creation, the simple fact that these thousands of people were excited to contribute, to take time out of their day, to stop and laugh and draw or paint, to share their stories with each other around the table.
How we made the dragon
Since its inception in 2010, the Arts in Medicine Program has focused on large-scale, long-term creative collaborations with patients and families undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital. But this project was the first to bring together patients, families and staff from the entire hospital.
For 5-year-old Khyrstin Andrews, better known as Kyssi, and her mom, Marla, it was just as tough when Kyssi lost her hair the third time as it was the first.
In 2012, Kyssi was diagnosed with a Wilms' Tumor, a type of childhood cancer that affects the kidneys. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, she was declared cancer-free. But not long after that, her Wilms' Tumor returned and metastasized to her lungs. She underwent a surgery and an intense type of chemotherapy called ICE (a combination of ifosfamide, carboplatin and etoposide).
In January 2014, Kyssi was declared cancer-free once again. But at her six-month follow-up appointment, doctors found that Kyssi's cancer had returned a third time. As always, Kyssi and her family, friends and more than 160,000 Facebook page supporters and more than 9,000 Instagram followers, were ready to beat Wilms' Tumor -- and smile while doing it.
Kyssi and Marla, an inseparable pair, know it's important to look on the bright side even on the toughest days, so they decided to make shaving Kyssi's head as fun as possible.
Here are Marla's tips for those helping others cope with hair loss:
When 12-year-old Caroline Richards first mentioned a pain in her right arm last December, her mother, Lauren, chalked it up to a minor injury -- probably just a muscle pulled during basketball practice. But a few weeks later, Caroline woke up in the middle of the night, saying it felt like knives were stabbing her in the bone. That's when Lauren feared that it was something far worse.
Her fear was confirmed after a whirlwind day that included appointments with their pediatrician, a pediatric orthopedic specialist, an x-ray and an MRI. The diagnosis: osteosarcoma in Caroline's humerus, near the shoulder.
A new home base for osteosarcoma treatment
While the news sent the Richards family reeling, they soon got to work finding the best place for osteosarcoma treatment. After a few phone calls, a family friend put them in touch with MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.
While leaving behind family and friends was difficult, the Richards quickly found comfort and support at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.
"Along with the excellent physician care that we get, the nurturing environment of the Children's Cancer Hospital really is what keeps us at MD Anderson," Lauren says. "It really is like a little pediatric oasis. There's a lot of love there. Caroline gets disappointed if her blood counts aren't high enough to go in for chemo because she loves the nurses so much."
By Taylor Nance
By the fall of my freshman year, I was well on my way to navigating high school when something unexpected came up -- a stage 3 melanoma diagnosis.
I remember it vividly. It was November 3, 2011 -- the first Friday I'd been invited to sit with the varsity dance team at the Austin High School football game. I had made a trip to the dermatologist after a spot suddenly appeared on my ear and began growing quickly.
The next two years proved to be both challenging and inspirational for me, as I fought (and won!) my battle against skin cancer.
Undergoing melanoma treatment during high school
My melanoma treatment began right away. I was quickly scheduled for three surgeries on my ear. The first surgery removed the melanoma and the surrounding tissue along with the lymph nodes that surrounded the cancer. The second two surgeries were for the reconstruction of my ear. I also had to undergo a year of interferon, a type of immunotherapy.
For the first month, I had to leave school early so that my mom could drive me to MD Anderson to receive the interferon through my PICC line (a long, slender, flexible tube that is inserted into a peripheral vein, typically in the upper arm). Going to school with my PICC line always made me nervous. I hated walking through the crowded halls, trying to shield my arm so it wouldn't get bumped, but luckily, I was usually able to dodge the backpacks.
By Lenzie Davis
After being diagnosed with brain cancer, our son, Jaxon, spent his 4th birthday at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.
Our world had changed just a few months earlier when Jaxon began having seizures. When doctors found a cancerous tumor, we researched treatment options and discovered proton therapy would be the best for Jaxon.
Jaxon's cancer journey
Jaxon spent his time at the Proton Therapy Center wearing a smile, riding a tricycle around the waiting room, or making wishes in the fountain. After Jaxon hit the gong to mark his last day of proton therapy treatment, we surprised him with a tricycle identical to the one he'd spent countless hours on in the waiting room.
Jaxon had always had a heart of gold, even before his brain tumor diagnosis. When he was 2 years old, he received a toy he already had. He chose to keep the old toy for himself and give the nicer, new one to another kid.
By Bonnie Butler
Teaching in MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital school has helped me fall deeper in love with the art of education. I owe this to each child and family with whom I have had the pleasure of working. After all, they have truly inspired me and showed me what it means to be passionate about education, what it means to teach and to be taught.
Teaching pediatric cancer patients is my dream job
If someone had told me a year ago that I would have this job, I would have said they were lying. For me, teaching children at a hospital was always a dream, I knew that working with children facing an aggressive disease who still desired to learn new things would be especially rewarding. But I had convinced myself that it always would be.
I used to be a public school elementary educator. But after the birth of our second child in 2013, my husband and I decided that I would stay home with our children. So, with a leap of faith, I resigned from the school district that I had been so committed to for the past six years.
Not long after that -- truly out of nowhere -- I learned MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital was hiring a pediatric school English as a Second Language coordinator. I thought, "There's absolutely no way that I'll get this job, but I'll go ahead and apply."
In my eyes, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and here I am today, blessed beyond measure to work with amazing fellow educators, pediatric cancer patients and their families.
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- Learning to love myself during medulloblastoma treatment
- Motivating awareness after a germinoma diagnosis
- Pediatric follicular thyroid cancer survivor celebrates opportunity to give back
- 5 of our most-watched videos from 2014
- From pediatric Burkitt's lymphoma patient to cancer researcher
- How my daughter's childhood cancer diagnosis changed our lives
- How a dragon sculpture fueled hope and community for our patients
- Kyssi Andrews' three lessons on coping with hair loss
- The silver lining in a pediatric osteosarcoma diagnosis
- Surviving melanoma during high school
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