Recently in Cancer Patient Stories Category

gerald327.jpgLast May, doctors in Iowa City, Iowa, gave Gerald Vilmont just five months to live. He'd just received his bladder cancer diagnosis a few days before, and he and his wife, Cheryle, were crushed.

That's when Gerald's daughter and her then-fiancé went online and found MD Anderson.
Today, thanks to bladder cancer advances at MD Anderson, Gerald is cancer-free and back enjoying life in Iowa.

Coming to MD Anderson for bladder cancer treatment
The first sign that MD Anderson was the right choice for Gerald came during his first visit. The doctors and nurses gave him hope -- something he had little of at that point.

"They were very encouraging, talking like I had a chance if you stuck with them," he says. "They were positive, which is what you want."

After a series of tests, Gerald's doctors -- oncologist Jennifer Wong, M.D., and surgeon Jay Shah, M.D., -- set up his treatment plan. They'd start with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. If the chemo was successful, Gerald would have surgery to remove his bladder.

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.

BillLambert325.jpgBy Bill Lambert

After my my rectal cancer surgery, walking was a challenge. But thanks to my care team, my supportive family and friends and lots of hard work over the past year, I plan to run across the finish line at the 2015 SCOPE Run at MD Anderson on Saturday, March 28.
Well, run might be a stretch. But just the fact that I can entertain running that distance is a testament to so many factors. I now feel I've come full circle.

My rectal cancer treatment

I once read that getting a cancer diagnosis for a second time is like surviving a plane crash only to be involved later in a train wreck. That sums up how I felt. My recurrence came during my five-year annual CT scan, and I had had no reason to believe anything was wrong.  

The second diagnosis was devastating, but I began treatment: a long, complicated surgery and chemotherapy.

hurst324.jpgBy Brittany Hurst

I think most young people picture their lives as college, engagement, marriage and having a family. My husband and I were no different. We'd always wanted to have a family of our own.  But my cancer diagnosis and my ovarian cancer recurrence threw a wrench into these plans.

We were fortunate to have other options for becoming parents. We considered a few of them before deciding that adoption is the best choice for us.

Why we chose adoption

Once we found out I had ovarian cancer, we realized we needed to start planning right away if we wanted to have a family. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve and freeze some of my eggs before my ovaries were removed during my ovarian cancer treatment.

We hoped that I'd be able to carry our children once I had been in remission two years. But when the cancer returned in May 2014, my husband and I decided that may be too risky. So, we looked into surrogacy. But the cost of surrogacy was an absolute shock! 

Rita318.jpgBy Rita Avila

When I was rediagnosed with tongue cancer at age 23, I had to deal with a lot of things most people my age had never considered. But whenever people suggested that I do advance care planning and complete a living will, I almost laughed. I wasn't even old enough to rent a car.

I kept putting it off. But as the date of my tongue cancer surgery crept closer, I decided I didn't want to leave my parents with any questions. It was time to complete the advance care planning forms.

Starting the advance care planning process
I started by emailing my social work counselor at MD Anderson. She gave me some paperwork and told me I could complete them during my upcoming visit to MD Anderson.

A few days later, I told my dad I wanted to add him to my checking and savings accounts. He looked at me like I'd grown two heads. As I expected, he asked why. My response was simple: "Because if anything happens to me, I want you to be able to access my money and pay off any bills in my name," I knew he would take it the best of anyone in my family. What daddy wants to cry in front of his little girl?

A couple weeks later, my dad and I returned to MD Anderson. During the trip, our social work counselor gave my dad my blank Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney forms. These legally binding documents would state my wishes about who would make decisions for me and what types of decisions would be made if I couldn't make them myself.

Gail Morse12015.jpgBy Gail Morse

After my breast cancer treatment, I was so inspired and gun ho about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I had just lost 10 pounds and felt good.

But I didn't stick with my healthy lifestyle. Just before my six-month check-up I realized, I had gained the weight back and then some. So, what happened?

Well, life happened. I'd struggled to deal with my new normal and get back on the old saddle again, and my healthy lifestyle took a backseat. 

Finding my new normal

I know I'm not alone in this. I've heard so many cancer patients say a few months after treatment that they felt lost not knowing what to do next. And that's the issue.

During cancer  treatment, I had unintentionally created a daily routine. I knew where to go, what to do, what I would feel like. Now the ritual was broken. I had to consider a big question. What did I want to do with my life after cancer? 

EdgarGarcia36.jpg"Listen to your mother" is advice that is sometimes easier said than done. But for Edgar Garcia, following it just may have saved his life.

In the fall 2010, 23-year-old Edgar was a first-year high school teacher in Brownsville, Texas. He'd also taken on football and basketball coaching responsibilities. With such a full plate, he didn't give much thought to his mother's suggestion that he see a doctor because he looked pale.

But she didn't give up. When Edgar started noticing some fatigue, he decided to take her advice and give her peace of mind.

A surprising colon cancer diagnosis
Results from blood work revealed low iron levels, which is uncommon for people Edgar's age. His doctor referred him to a  specialist for a colonoscopy. On December 17, 2010, Edgar received the most shocking news of his life: he had colon cancer.

"I was scared," he says. "I didn't know what to expect and didn't know how to handle it."

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.

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.

ChaseJones35.jpgWhen 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.

ShaneScottCrossFit224.jpgBy Shane Scott

I have always been an athletic guy. I played football in high school and college. But after my testicular cancer treatment, I was overweight, and I wasn't leading a healthy lifestyle. I knew I needed to get stronger to prevent my cancer from coming back.

CrossFit turned out to be exactly what I needed. It helped me do a lot more than just get back in shape. It helped me find my confidence and connect with others.

Starting CrossFit after testicular cancer treatment

My testicular cancer treatment included three cycles of chemotherapy and a surgery. It was tough, but following the surgery, I was declared cancer-free.

Two years later, I learned a CrossFit gym would be opening in my hometown. I was so excited.

I missed the competitiveness and locker room feel I had known playing football in high school and college. This was going to be how I would become  healthy again. The first day I went, I knew I was hooked. My gym is like a big diverse family. We would do anything for each other, inside the gym or out.

I know that if I don't take care of my body, it will not take care of me. I have cancer scar tissue in my body, and I need to do everything in my power to strengthen it and build it up so the cancer won't come back. 


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