By 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.
Recently in Cancer Patient Stories Category
By Brittany Hurst
As 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."
By Gail Morse
After I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I chose to keep it to myself and not tell a lot of people. This wasn't my original plan, but after sharing this news with some people that I wasn't close to, I decided this was for the best. Their comments were like condolences, as if I were dying tomorrow.
It was too much to bear at the time, and I shut down completely after that. I chose not to tell others that I had breast cancer. I even decided not to tell some family members. I didn't want to deal with the after effect. I didn't want to hear feelings from other people about my cancer. I didn't want to think that letting them know could be better for them. I was the one with cancer over here.
Learning to share my journey with others
That non-disclosure period extended into halfway through my breast cancer treatment, until I met with a counselor through MD Anderson's Body Image Therapy Program. She suggested opening up to let others' goodwill and spirit help me through the journey.
I listened, and it did help. I had to learn how to manage my inner-response to others wanting to help and allow them to do so, but I did it on my terms.
By Stephanie Madsen
My trip to MD Anderson for large cell cervical cancer treatment was so incredible that I wished I could have stayed longer.
The place is spectacular. As weird as it may sound, MD Anderson felt like an amusement park or a resort. I've been to three other places for large cell cervical cancer treatment in the last three years, and I haven't been anywhere like it.
Finding hope and life at MD Anderson
You might think of MD Anderson as a place where people are dying, but I saw it as a place where people are living. As I walked through the doors for the first time, I immediately felt ushered into the community. From the valet attendants and staff to the doctors and survivors around me, everyone was so kind. There were many times when the spirit on the campus almost brought me to tears. Yet, I never felt a sense of sadness. In the sea of wheelchairs, bald shiny heads, white coats, and the ever-present ports, I instead felt power, strength, faith and unwavering hope. We had all showed up that day. We were a team fighting the same opponent. Arm in arm, mustering up everything within us to defeat cancer. Walking through the halls, I wanted to give everyone passing by a high-five for all that they have done and all that they will continue to do.
For Phil Gonzalez, the toughest part of his head and neck cancer treatment was losing the ability to taste. After doctors found the squamous cell carcinoma in the left side of his jaw, Phil had to undergo a 10-hour surgery. MD Anderson doctors removed his tumor, along with a portion of his jaw bone, and then rebuilt it using a bone from his ankle, along with titanium plates, a 3D printer and a virtual replica created from MRI and CT images.
During his cancer treatment, Phil spent less than a month on a feeding tube, two months on an all-liquid diet and weeks in physical therapy. But to Phil this wasn't nearly as tough as not being able to taste his food, a side effect from his 6 weeks of radiation and chemotherapy -- that was the hardest for Phil. During his squamous cell carcinoma treatment, his wife brought him his favorite food, a banana split, but he couldn't taste it at all.
Eventually, Phil's sense of taste returned. He still remembers the first meal he could appreciate again: a cheeseburger from his favorite fast-food joint.
"It was the best meal I've ever had," he says.
Phil's squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis and treatment
Phil's cancer journey had begun with what he thought was a mere toothache. After several trips to the dentist and even having a tooth pulled, the pain continued. It was then that Phil's dentist knew this wasn't just a toothache.
By Marcy Kurtz
After major surgery and many rounds of chemotherapy, I finished my treatment for recurrent uterine cancer in September 2014. I'd started losing my hair in May, and was completely bald by the end of chemo.
Because I am a repeat uterine cancer warrior, I was accustomed to being bald and knew how to handle my baldness in a way that worked for me. In my yoga and CrossFit communities, I was comfortable with my head either completely uncovered or covered only by my trusted baseball cap. At all other times I wore a wig. Scarves just didn't work for me.
Then, slowly, my hair started to grow back. Currently, about 90 days out from my last round of chemo, I have very short hair. I would describe my hairstyle as the perfect military cut -- for a guy! My family and friends are kinder -- they tell me often how great I look with my short hair. I call my look the chemo-cut. I still wear my wig a lot of places, including work.
Adjusting to life with short hair
In my life before cancer, I always had long hair. In fact, when asked, I had trouble remembering when I could NOT put my hair in a ponytail.
By Melanie Steel
Silver lining. I've never been a fan of that term. It reminds me of a consolation prize that no one really wants. But three years ago, I began to accept and appreciate that term in a whole new way.
In December 2011, my dad was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. The ugly disease had resurfaced in his lungs after lying dormant and undetectable since the treatment of a spot on his back in 2001. The diagnosis stopped our family in our tracks. We soon learned how deadly this disease can be and started wondering how much time we had left with my dad. At that time, I was ready to receive my consolation prize -- my silver lining.
Finding the silver lining after Dad's melanoma diagnosis
For the first time in my life, I treated time with my family as my first priority. In December 2011, we didn't know if dad would have two months or two years. We guessed closer to two months and began to spend as much time together as possible.
By Vickie Gibson Poe
Most people would agree that having cancer is a bad thing. No question about it. You don't want anyone you love, including yourself, to get cancer.
And yet, I firmly believe that there is some good in every situation. My husband's prostate cancer is no exception to this rule.
My husband's prostate cancer diagnosis
When my husband's metastasized prostate cancer was diagnosed last summer, I felt as though the sunlight had been sucked from our world. Pain seemed to surround us. He was in pain physically, and I was helpless to relieve it. I was in pain emotionally and was unable to relax or find peace.
The time that lapsed between his prostate cancer diagnosis and the beginning of his prostate cancer treatment seemed like a time of endless torment. When I look back on those few weeks now, the only color I can see in my mind's eye is gray. We were victims of a dark disease, living in a fog of agony and indecision and sadness.
But during the past six months, the light has come back into our world. Little by little, the gray mists have cleared, and welcome bursts of vibrant color have broken through to illuminate our many blessings.
Walking into the unknown is scary, especially when the unknown is cancer treatment. Fortunately, many of our brave and inspiring cancer survivors are willing to share what they've learned from chemotherapy, hair loss, a diagnosis and many other experiences.
Here's some of the best advice we received in 2014:
Kyssi Andrews' three lesson on coping with hair loss
After her Wilm's tumor returned, 6-year-old Khyrstin (Kyssi) Andrews wasn't excited about losing her hair again. So, her mother Marla helped by making it fun and reminding her that she's beautiful no matter what.
Read how Marla helped Kyssi cope with saying goodbye to her hair.
5 ways to make cancer treatment more fun
After Marshall Lauen was diagnosed with stage 2B Hodgkin's lymphoma, he and his wife Ashley became determined to make his lymphoma treatment as fun as possible. "After all, we're fighting for his life, not just a clean PET scan," Ashley says.
Find out how Ashley and Marshall bring fun to MD Anderson.
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:
Throughout the past year, our cancer patients have shared stories of their challenges and trials while revealing their determination, spirit and strength. These stories give us all what we could always use a little bit more of: hope.
Here are some of our most inspiring stories of hope from 2014.
Infant leukemia survivor reflects on the hospital that raised me
A few months after 9-month-old Ivana Camarillo was diagnosed with infant leukemia, she received a cord blood transplant. Now, at age 15, she's helping other kids with cancer.
"Most people wonder why I do this and why I haven't just left cancer in my past," she says. "My answer is simple: I believe you should never forget where you came from." Read her story.
How a CML clinical trial and Gleevec saved my life
Mel Mann was a 37-year-old major in the U.S. Army when he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. But he found hope in a phase I clinical trial for ST1571, now known as Gleevec. Sixteen years later, Mel is MD Anderson's longest living Gleevec patient. Read his story.
By Gillian Kruse
My acute myeloid leukemia (AML) diagnosis came completely out of the blue for me. During the Thanksgiving holiday in 2010, I got my first annual physical in a few years simply because I'd recently started my first full-time job with benefits after graduating from college. In less than two weeks, what started as some slightly concerning bloodwork results turned into "You have an appointment at MD Anderson tomorrow morning."
Much of the afternoon and evening after I received my AML diagnosis was a blur for me, but I distinctly remember sitting on the floor in my living room and staring at the Christmas tree. We'd just put it up a few days earlier, and I wondered if that was the last time I'd get to do so.
My first days at MD Anderson for AML treatment
MD Anderson was all decked out for the holidays when I arrived for my first appointment -- trees in the waiting rooms, wreaths along the skybridge, paper snowflakes in the pharmacy. I still felt fine, though somewhat overwhelmed to be here amongst so many people who looked so sick when I didn't feel any different than I had a week earlier. I also was a little overwhelmed to be here -- of all places -- during the holidays.
My doctors were all reassuring, kind and thorough. They helped me understand AML, and the whole team made sure my family and I understood my treatment plan. I enrolled in a clinical trial for my first round of chemotherapy, and then spent five days as an inpatient wondering how the treatments would affect me. My hair didn't fall out overnight, and I didn't have nausea, so I was hopeful that this cancer thing would be just a small hiccup and I'd be back at work in January.
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- How nurses helped me through my ovarian cancer recurrence
- Looking back on a life-changing year
- Opening up about my breast cancer journey
- A large cell cervical cancer patient's first visit to MD Anderson
- After squamous cell carcinoma, appreciating the little things
- Wearing my chemo-cut as a badge of honor
- Putting family first after my dad's melanoma recurrence
- How prostate cancer brought my husband and I closer together
- Best of Cancerwise 2014: Advice from our cancer patients
- 5 of our most-watched videos from 2014
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