Recently in Cancer Patient Stories Category

iStock_000011745159XLarge.jpgWant to help a friend or loved one dealing with cancer? It can be hard to know exactly what you can or should do.
That's why we asked the cancer patients, survivors and caregivers in our Facebook community to tell us the most helpful thing you can do for a friend or loved one dealing with cancer. Here's their advice.

1. Visit. Cancer patients and caregivers are still people, and they want to see you, talk to you and laugh with you.

2. Listen. Ask questions to show you care, but let your friend or loved one lead the conversation.

3. Pray.

4. Find a way to help and just do it. Don't ask if there's anything you can do. Chances are your friend will just say thank you and won't ask you to help. Many of our Facebook fans suggested just doing something for friends with cancer instead of asking what they need.

Harley731.jpgBy Harley Hudson

One day at a time
It's not easy to ask
One day at a time
It's quite a task

I want to run ahead
To know what lies
Just around the corner
A week, a month, a year from now
Is what I want to know

One day at a time
It's all I need to know
One day at a time
I'll take it real slow

Early in my chronic lymphocyctic leukemia (CLL) journey, my wife Melanie and I had learned to take things one day at a time. It has not been an easy lesson, and I'm not sure I have mastered it yet. But I'm working on it.

This lesson has been especially important following my stem cell transplant. If I had expected to feel normal after a week or two, I would have been sorely disappointed.

Recovery is a slow process. Some 55 days after I underwent my stem cell transplant, I am still far from feeling like myself.  I have friends who tell me it can take a year or more to regain strength and stamina. Of course, I also have a friend who is running marathons. Recovery is as personal as a fingerprint.

Here are a few things that have helped me recover following my stem cell transplant:

Take life one day at a time. Enjoy the victories each day brings. Look for them. They will start out small and may be hard to see if we expect too much.

amanda915.jpgBy Amanda Woodward

When I was undergoing melanoma treatment, I encountered a lot of people who struggled to find the right words to say to me.

I get it: it's awkward. But the things you say can have a big impact on cancer patients. Some things may do more harm than good. This includes things like "My cousin's friend's nephew's aunt had that same kind of cancer. She died." Ditto for "Have your tried eating kale? I heard that gets rid of cancer."

To help make the world a kinder place for cancer patients, I got together with some friends and made a list of what to say to someone with cancer.

Here's our list:  

"This really sucks!"
Preach! Cancer sucks. Chemo sucks. Radiation sucks. Surgery sucks. Being bald sucks. Chances are acknowledging this will get you a smirk from most cancer patients. Sometimes just showing a little empathy can be is a huge motivator.

"How can I help?"
But you can't stop there. Most cancer patients will tell you everything's fine, even though they could really use your help with something small. So just help. Try something. Show up at 9 to drive us to our 10 a.m. appointment. Have we mentioned that we don't feel like cooking? Pop over around dinner time with some grub! Even if your idea is a total fail, try. We love and recognize the supportive gestures.

Brittanyhurst912.jpgBy Brittany Hurst

After my ovarian cancer diagnosis, I knew some type of chemotherapy would probably be involved. But losing my hair didn't cross my mind until after I received a handout about chemo at my first doctor's appointment.
Hair loss was listed as a side effect of chemo. That's when it started to sink in. This was happening. I was going to lose my hair.

I won't lie. Losing your hair sucks. But after a couple weeks, I realized that my hair was going to grow back, and I had more important things to worry about. I was fighting for my life.

The reality of hair loss during ovarian cancer treatment
I hate to say this, but my hair was my "thing." I had been blonde my whole life and had been growing my hair out forever. I loved fixing it every day. (Well, almost every day.)  Losing my pretty, long blonde hair made me sad.

BethWilliams911.jpgHoustonian Beth Williams didn't come to MD Anderson when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her mid-30s. But when she received a colon cancer diagnosis nearly 20 years later, she couldn't imagine going anywhere else. "I felt like if I was going to survive, I needed to be at MD Anderson," Beth says.

The 76-year-old CEO of an international language and logistics company now jokingly calls herself an MD Anderson "frequent flier." In the past two decades, she's been treated here for four different types of cancer. That includes colon cancer, breast cancer and -- just this past year -- kidney cancer and skin cancer. Her multiple cancer diagnoses don't appear to be based on genetics, just luck.

Still, Beth doesn't consider herself unlucky, and she doesn't let cancer run her life. Below, she shares her advice for thriving in the face of cancer.

Don't wait to go to MD Anderson.
Beth encourages newly diagnosed cancer patients to go straight to MD Anderson. "The care you get is amazing," she says. "I had so much confidence in everybody at MD Anderson, and no one ever has let me down or disappointed me."

anna jackson 2.5.14.jpgBy Anna Masten Jackson

Finding out you have cancer brings so many questions to mind. Finding out you have a very rare cancer, like thymoma, brings even more -- and often those questions have no answers.

Just as a cancer patient has many questions, so do those who care about us. Since my thymoma diagnosis, I've learned that some questions are easy to answer, while others cause you to face possibilities that perhaps hadn't even crossed your mind.

Here are some of the questions I'm often asked:

susanwoods98.jpgBy Susan Dixon Woods

In June 2009, I noticed a tinge of blood in my urine, but I quickly dismissed it because I had bigger fish to fry at the time. My husband's business had suffered financial losses, and we had just sent our daughter to a long-term treatment program across the country. I never thought it could be a bladder cancer symptom.

In August, I finally made an appointment with a local urologist, thinking I had a mild urinary tract infection (UTI). I went alone with the intentions of returning to work after the appointment. The urine specimen they collected showed traces of blood, but no bacteria.

A cystoscopy was performed and revealed a tumor at the dome of the bladder. I calmly asked, "Could it be cancer?" The doctor responded, "It likely is."

My bladder cancer diagnosis and treatment
A few weeks later, I underwent a transurethral resection (TUR), a surgery in which the tumor is scraped from the bladder, then a partial cystectomy. Both confirmed that I had urachal adenocarcinoma, a rare type of bladder cancer. It represents less than 0.5 to 2% of all bladder cancers, and research showed survival at less than a year.

All I could think about was that I could not die because my family needed me. Yes, you could say I was a control freak and thought the world would not go on without me.

rachel-cruz-82.jpgBy Rachel Cruz

Even though I'm a melanoma survivor, I rarely associated cancer with life until recently. Mortality statistics are abundant and easy to research, and we all know too many people who have succumbed to the disease. Those are the statistics and experiences that tend to come to mind when you hear the word "cancer." 

But when I attended the Anderson Network Cancer Survivorship Conference last year, I realized that there is life after cancer. And not just life, but positive, healthful living.
Three years ago I was diagnosed with melanoma 16 weeks into my first pregnancy.

Fortunately, my melanoma was removed 19 days after it was diagnosed, and I delivered a healthy baby right on schedule.

What I gained from the Anderson Network Cancer Survivorship Conference

With my melanoma treatment behind me, I began volunteering at MD Anderson. A few of the other volunteers invited me to attend the Cancer Survivorship Conference. 

I was intrigued by the wonderful set of breakout sessions that were on the agenda, and also by the Saturday morning medical panel, which featured MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., as well as my own wonderful doctor, Jeffrey Gershenwald, M.D., professor of Surgical Oncology.  I really liked the idea of attending a conference where I could learn not just about melanoma, but also about medical and psychosocial issues that other cancer survivors often face.

I gained so much more from the experience, though.

Alex Magdaleno828.jpgBy Alex Magdaleno

When I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in December 2008, I thought my life as I knew it was over. I thought it was not only a death sentence, but I also feared my love for exercise would cease.

I had always been active. I lifted weights and played football. But when I received my CLL diagnosis at age 25, I decided to take up marathon running to prove to myself that I could do it in spite of my cancer. Although it's been a challenge, I believe marathon running has helped keep me alive.

Marathon training during CLL treatment
Since my CLL diagnosis, I've undergone various treatments, ranging from radiation to a chemotherapy regimen called R-CHOP (cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone). Now I'm taking an oral drug, Zydelig and rituxan. Through it all, running has allowed me to put my energy into something that gives me life. I completed my first marathon in May 2009, less than a year after my diagnosis. Since then, I've completed 12 more marathons. I try to run 50 to 60 miles a week, working around my dosages and doctors appointments.

Many days, what should be a simple 10-mile run involves a handful bouts of vomiting induced nausea, but there is no greater feeling than the satisfaction I get when I finish a run. I envision my disease as an actual person. With every run or marathon I complete, it's me telling HIM that I'm winning!

Kyssi827.jpgFor 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: 

melanoma.jpgBy Madylan Eskridge

At 10 years old, Kenady Strutz was diagnosed with melanoma, often thought of as a cancer that only affects adults. Kenady has turned her pediatric melanoma diagnosis into a platform for educating others about protecting their skin.

Laurie Strutz always had heard that the skin cancer melanoma took more than a decade to develop after a blistering sunburn. So she was shocked when her 10-year-old daughter was diagnosed with the disease.

"I didn't think it was possible for someone Kenady's age, especially since she'd never had a bad sunburn," Laurie says.

A surprising pediatric melanoma diagnosis
Kenady, now 14, remembers noticing a purplish spot on her knee when she was 9.

"I told my mom I didn't like it because kids at school stared at it," Kenady recalls.

At her 10-year checkup, Kenady and her mom pointed it out to a pediatrician, who referred them to a dermatologist.

But even then, her mom didn't think much of it.

After the pathology results confirmed it was melanoma, Kenady began her cancer journey at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

raylene818.jpgBeing diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 is unusual enough, but Raylene Hollrah was also diagnosed with an extremely rare type of lymphoma just a few years after her first cancer diagnosis and before her 40th birthday. 

Raylene, an outgoing insurance advisor who prefers to be called Ray, is only the 25th person in the U.S. -- and the 61st in the world -- to be diagnosed with breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). It's a diagnosis that has changed her life in many ways.
"I always say cancer is like breaking a window," she says. "You've got shattered glass everywhere; you've got to clean up the mess and try to figure out how to fix it."

A breast cancer diagnosis -- and cause for breast implants

The discovery of a lump in her breast during an annual physical in 2007 launched Ray on a roller coaster ride that has tested her strength and spirit. After a negative mammogram and ultrasound, a needle biopsy came back positive for breast cancer. 


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