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Parker1028.jpgWhen Charlotte Parker attended an MD Anderson fundraiser a couple years ago, she was immediately impressed by the organization's dedication to ending cancer and providing the best possible care to its patients. She had no idea that in a matter of months she would be one of these patients.

Coming to MD Anderson for AML treatment
In May 2013, Charlotte Parker began to feel fatigued. Her doctor ran some tests and found that her white blood cell count was five times higher than normal. The native Houstonian was taken straight to the intensive care unit at MD Anderson, where she received an acute myeloid leukemia (AML) diagnosis. She was hospitalized for 60 days.

laurengraham1022.jpgBy Lauren Graham

At age 20, I never imagined that I would have cancer. I was just figuring out what I wanted to do with my life: I'd decided to be a nurse.

But life handed me something completely different -- a leukemia diagnosis and a lymphoma diagnosis.  

My dual diagnosis: T-cell acute lymphoblastic lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia
I had a swollen lymph node on my neck for over a month, but I never really though anything of it. I finished off a round of antibiotics, and my doctor told me to watch it and come back if anything new presented. About two weeks later, I woke up with 11 new swollen lymph nodes. 

After a couple of biopsies, doctors diagnosed me with stage 4 T-cell acute lymphoblastic lymphoma

At the time, I mentally blocked out my lymphoma diagnosis. I didn't really believe that I had cancer because I didn't feel sick. To be honest, I felt I didn't have the time to deal with something as big as cancer and the possibility of chemotherapy. I began my treatment at MD Anderson where I found out my cancer had spread to my bone marrow. I also received a second diagnosis -- acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Harley731.jpgBy Harley Hudson

I decided to keep a diary of my stem cell transplant experience so it might help others in preparing for their stem cell transplants. You can read my previous entry here.
 
Just the words "graft-vs.-host disease" (GVHD) are enough to make stem cell transplant patients shiver. We've all heard the stories of the worst cases.

After everything I'd learned about stem cell transplants leading up to my own this past summer, I was afraid of developing GVHD even though my doctors told me the majority of patients actually don't end up developing this condition.

And then it happened. Sixty-six days after I underwent a stem cell transplant to treat my chronic lymphocyctic leukemia (CLL), a rash appeared on my legs and arms. I was pretty sure it was GVHD. This was confirmed the following morning when one of my doctors, Issa Khouri, M.D., and his team looked at my very red and splotchy legs and arms.

My GVHD treatment

Big deal, right? In truth, it wasn't. Melanie and I were prepared for this. We were pretty sure of I had GVHD even before I visited the doctor. This was simply a small speed bump on the way to full recovery.

Jameisha1017.jpgBy 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.

jacquehoward1014.jpgKidney cancer survivor Jacque Howard thought her new diet and workout regimen were paying off when she shed 25 pounds from her already slight 5'4" frame.

Unfortunately, Jacque's weight loss and diminished appetite were kidney cancer symptoms. The doctors told her the tumor was the size of a large cantaloupe.

"The thought that I had cancer never crossed my mind, not once," Jacque says.

Doctors estimated the mass had been growing for roughly four years before a physical exam in 2005 sent Jacque on the fast track to MD Anderson from her home in Oklahoma.

Coming to MD Anderson for kidney cancer treatment
Jacque's oncologist told her she needed to travel as quickly as possible to a special cancer hospital 500 miles away in Houston, where a doctor had already accepted her as a patient.

"That's the first time in my life I had even heard of MD Anderson," Jacque says. "I guess because cancer never pertained to me or my family, it just never hit who MD Anderson was."

LindaRyan121013.jpgBy Linda Ryan

When you're diagnosed with cancer, there is no right or wrong way to handle your diagnosis. Just because I acted one way doesn't mean that's the right way or the way anyone else should do it.    

Once we receive a cancer diagnosis, we all have to decide if this is something we're going to share with a lot of people. My cervical cancer battle was very public in my community. When I think back to why, I'm not sure I know. It could be that I live in a very supportive and tight-knit community, or it could be that I was very open about my cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment. It could be that my friends were the epitome of a support system. It may be a combination of all of those reasons.   

Who do you share you cancer with?
The only way I've ever known how to handle my cancer diagnosis is by being public and open. 

One woman I met after my diagnosis told me that she handled her diagnosis in the opposite way: When she was diagnosed, she didn't tell anyone. She didn't want to be a burden to anyone.  She was alone through her journey, but that was by choice. That was a foreign concept to me as the emotional support I received from others helped me through the process. But the journey is different for everyone.

Breast cancer treatment can bring physical changes that can sometimes lead to poor body image, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. But MD Anderson's Body Image Therapy Program is here to help. Earlier this week, in honor of Love Your Body Day, the Body Image Therapy Program hosted a fashion show featuring some of our cancer patients and survivors. The models wore outfits that make them feel comfortable and relax.

Below, four of the models share what they picked and why they selected these outfits. They hope their insight will help other cancer patients dealing with body changes.

Ekua Buduarthur: One-shoulder style formal dress

fashionshow.jpg

"I feel very beautiful in this formal dress made using kente cloth from Ghana combined with silk dupioni. I chose the one shoulder style to cover the radiation burns, the cavity left from the mastectomy and the excess underarm flesh from the removal of the lymph nodes."

"Originally, from Ghana, I now live in Houston. I enjoy designing clothing, jewelry, reading and writing. Breast cancer has taken my creativity to a new level of how I look at the female body when I design clothing and jewelry." 

Maria Linares: Mexican folkdance costume


mariafashionshow.jpg

"I chose a dress from one of the costumes that I wear when I perform Mexican folk dance. It is a traditional white lace dress from Veracurz, Mexico. Through all my chemo, radiation, and surgeries, my dancing is what lifted my spirit and helped me move forward. I felt and still feel beautiful when I put on my costume and dance. Dancing has lifted my self-esteem and grown my confidence in leaps and bounds."

maryginley312.jpgBy Mary Ginley

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer. My husband and I left our home in Florida and headed to MD Anderson in November 2013, and let them take over. I remember our first meeting with Reza Mehran, M.D., who would later do my surgery. I stopped being afraid that day. I knew we had made the right decision and I was in good hands.

My entire team at MD Anderson took good care of me, and I sailed through esophageal cancer treatment -- chemotherapy and proton therapy --with minimal side effects. And in April 2014, Dr. Mehran removed two-thirds of my esophagus and one-third of my stomach.

Before my esophageal cancer surgery, I was on the gurney singing an old 70s church song inside my head. My care team said I woke up seven hours later smiling and singing. They must have thought I was crazy.

Life after my esophageal cancer surgery

Recuperation from esophageal cancer surgery was hard and painful. I had tubes coming out of everywhere.

I still think it was incredible how calm and matter-of-fact my husband, Jerry, and my daughter, Erin, were. Erin took one look around my hospital room and immediately  bought poster-size photos of my parents, my brothers and sisters, my children and -- best of all -- my grandchildren. Every bit of wall space was covered with pictures of the people I love. I lay in bed just smiling at all those beautiful people who were waiting for me to get well.

My letter to cancer

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Cancer Avenger - Gail Morse wo text.jpgBy Gail Morse

Dear Cancer,

I had to celebrate my 39th birthday with you, but you will not be at my 40th birthday bash next year. I plan to celebrate life and not you.  

We have known each other for a very long time, since I was 19. I remember my mom calling me and saying you had come to visit her. Back then, I didn't know who you were,what you were capable of, or how to stop you. I thank God for giving her the strength to fight you.

I could not forgive or forget, like a thief in the night, when you stole something so dear and precious to me -- my mother. For two years, I fell into a dark abyss, consumed by grief, guilt and anger. In my warped mind, I blamed myself for her death. Thoughts swarmed in my head -- the what ifs, the I should have dones, the if I had knowns. Then you had the nerve to show up at my doorstep last year. How dare you, after all you've done.

But this time is different. I am older and wiser, and have a team to support me -- my family, friends and my personal army at MD Anderson. As the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.  

jamiandbetty1006.jpgBy Jami Mayberry

I was diagnosed with vulvar cancer in May 2013. Vulvar cancer is so rare that there is no color to represent it. You know, pink is for breast, white for lung, purple for pancreatic, etc. The closest thing is cervical, which is teal and white. So I wore and handed out teal and white bracelets to friends and family. It was as close as I could get.

Don't get me wrong: there is a bond between all cancer patients. After all, we are all in the "C" club. A club we did not ask to join and don't really want to be in.

But there is nothing like first-hand experience to relate to others who have the same type of cancer. So much of the healing and dealing with cancer process is talking to others that have walked that road.

Meeting another vulvar cancer patient

Most people don't know much about vulvar cancer, except it's a below-the-belt-female-parts cancer. When people would ask what kind I had I could see their eyes glaze over as I said vulvar. The conversation stopped there. Some blushed and laughed nervously. I would laugh, too. So I began to just say, "It's like cervical cancer."

melmann1003.jpgBy Mel Mann

In January 1995, I sauntered into a Michigan doctor's office to get the results of some tests I had taken to find the cause of my back pain. The doctor informed me that I had a terminal form of leukemia called chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). He said I had three years to live.

After my diagnosis, everything happened in slow motion. A 37-year-old major in the U.S. Army, I had a wife and a 5-year-old daughter. I immediately calculated how old my daughter would be in three years. I had just taken one of the training wheels off the little pink bike she had received as a Christmas gift, and my wife and I were gradually teaching her how to ride it.

Starting CML treatment
My doctor said a bone marrow transplant offered the only cure for CML. The best chance of finding a marrow donor is from a sibling, and I only had one sister. She was not a match, and there were no matches on the national marrow donor registry. I began taking daily injections of interferon to contain the CML.

I contacted the national marrow donor program, now known as Be the Match, and told them I wanted to hold some marrow drives. My friends from the Army held drives in places like Hawaii, Germany and even at the Pentagon.

A year after my CML diagnosis, I moved to Atlanta. My aunt coordinated a marrow drive in a nearby town. While there, I met a man who had seen a TV spot I'd done to promote the drive. He said, "These drives are OK, but you need to get to MD Anderson ASAP." He told me his inspiring story about being on the brink of death from hairy cell leukemia and how MD Anderson had given him back his life. He ended his story with, "One cancerous cell becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight and so forth." He then handed me the number for MD Anderson.

vickiepoe.jpgBy Vickie Gibson Poe

My husband and I have spent a great deal of time at MD Anderson over the past two months. We knew it, of course, by its reputation and national ranking. It's one of the best cancer hospitals in the US and even the world. And people travel to MD Anderson from all corners of the globe for cancer treatment. It is an awe-inspiring facility.

Our first impression of MD Anderson
When we first arrived at MD Anderson for my husband's prostate cancer treatment, we truly were not sure what to expect. It was intimidating. It was scary to think of my husband being so sick that we needed to be here. What would the atmosphere be like? All those desperately ill people, all those brilliant doctors, all that world class equipment -- how would we fit in?

It is true that MD Anderson is a cancer hospital and the patients there have cancer. You see signs of it everywhere you look. You see people wearing face masks because their immune systems are compromised. You see men and women pushing their spouses, parents or children around in wheelchairs. You see folks pushing their IV poles as they navigate the hallways and cafeteria lines.

But what you don't see are people who are dying of cancer. 

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