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Jeff Hurdle brain stem tumor survivor

In 2010, Jeff Hurdle started experiencing headaches every few weeks. He'd never had frequent headaches before, so he ignored them. He had no idea that they were brain stem tumor symptoms and that soon he'd be undergoing brain surgery to install a shunt.

One day while competing in a 5K run, Jeff began to feel dizzy as he crossed the finish line. He knew it wasn't a post-race adrenaline rush. Something was wrong.

He scheduled a doctor's appointment, where his doctor did a CT scan of his brain. The scan showed a brain stem tumor and hydrocephalus (built up fluid).

Undergoing brain surgery to install a shunt
Jeff's doctor said he need to undergo brain surgery immediately. The surgeons would insert a silicone tube called a shunt, also called a ventricular access catheter, in his brain. Like a catheter, the shunt would drain the extra fluid in his brain.

For more than a year, Jeff was monitored without brain tumor treatment. But after a while, he began to experience problems with his vision, speech, balance, swallowing and hearing. Eventually, he couldn't even walk without falling. 

Roslin Sweat osteosarcoma survivor

By Roslin Sweat

When I was first diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in 1990, I was a 22-year-old college student. 

I woke up one morning and noticed my face was swollen on the left side. The doctor said it was allergies and gave me a prescription. Several days later, my face was still swollen, I had severe headaches, and my left eye was protruding. I saw an optometrist, who scheduled an MRI. 

That's how we figured out a tumor was causing these problems. 

My rhabdomyosarcoma diagnosis 
My doctor referred me to MD Anderson, where I was assigned to Robert Benjamin, M.D. I now call him My Dr. B. He's the best doctor this side of heaven. 

Dr. Benjamin gave me a concrete diagnosis -- ethmoid sinus rhabdomyosarcoma. Though rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common childhood sarcoma, it's rare in adults. At that point, there was no statistic for a survival rate. 

MyrnaMontes_radOnc_BellRing_004.jpgFinishing cancer treatment can be a momentous occasion -- one that calls for celebrating in ways both big and small. But there's no right way to celebrate.

We recently asked some of our bloggers how they celebrated. Below, they share what they did to ring in life after cancer treatment.

Ringing the bell
"Every week, as I was weighed before my chemo treatments, I saw the bell, which patients ring to signal the end of their treatment. As I got closer to finishing my 16 rounds of chemo, I knew I had to celebrate! And I knew I had to include the bell and my awesome support system. When the day came, about 30 people joined me to ring the bell. I showed cancer who won! It was a special moment, and I was so happy and moved to be able to share it with my loved ones. After the actual ringing, we stepped out into the lobby on the 8th floor of Mays Clinic and had a toast (with sparkling juice, of course). It's a day I will never forget."

-- Mariana Torrado, breast cancer survivor

CLL p17 Dan Rooker

By Dan Rooker

In 2007, I noticed the lymph nodes under my jaw were swollen. But it took more than two years and a routine trip to the dermatologist to get my diagnosis in March 2010: chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). I was only 49 years old.

My CLL showed a 17p abnormality. This meant the cancer would probably spread more rapidly, be more resistant to treatment and have shorter periods of remission.

Two of my colleagues at home in Raleigh, North Carolina, were leukemia patients at MD Anderson, and I listened when they suggested I go there, too. 

My CLL treatment at MD Anderson
I felt blessed that I got assigned to Michael Keating, M.D., whom I'd read about in my CLL research. Dr. Keating specializes in 17p cases. At that point, he'd been treating leukemia for nearly 40 years and had published groundbreaking research on CLL treatment. 

As expected, my disease progressed rapidly. Dr. Keating ordered a course of fludarabine- cyclophosphamide-rituximab therapy, which took place in early 2011. Unfortunately, that only partly destroyed the cancer. I rested and recovered while Dr. Keating plotted our next move.  

malignant melanoma survivor Kai Dunbar

By Kai Dunbar

Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma.

I didn't spend a lot of time in the sun before my malignant melanoma diagnosis. And I wasn't someone you'd consider at high risk for melanoma. I was only 9 years old.

I was actually born with a small penpoint-sized mole on my right cheek. Over time, it grew, and when I was 8 years old, it became raised and had irregular borders. When I told my pediatrician that it was starting to bleed and itch, he sent us to a dermatologist, who removed the mole and sent it to be biopsied. 

Three days later, the dermatologist called. She said I had pediatric melanoma and that we needed to go to MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

My parents looked devastated. I was scared and nervous. I worried about my little sister and brother. Did they understand? Were they scared, too?

Debra Ruzensky on being a dietitian and caregiver

By Debra Ruzensky

As a registered dietitian at MD Anderson, I know that nausea and other side effects of cancer and treatment make eating difficult, if not impossible. Even though our doctors, nurses and mid-level providers do a great job of educating our patients and caregivers about these possibilities, it is hard to prepare for them.

I didn't realize just how hard it can be, though, until I became my husband's caregiver during his B-cell lymphoma treatment, which included chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

Diet challenges after chemo
My husband Bob is a fighter and a very compliant patient. But the chemo leading up to his stem cell transplant caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and mouth and throat sores. Together, they made it almost impossible for him to eat and drink enough for over a month. He lost about 25 pounds -- mostly muscle. 

working and parenting through chemo

Rashe Bowie hadn't been working at her current company very long when she and her colleagues played Two Truths and a Lie during an offsite meeting. When it was her turn, she shared her son's name, that she'd been in pageants growing up and that she was undergoing chemotherapy.

The lie, they guessed, was the chemo part. But the lie was her son's name.

"I'm undergoing chemo for breast cancer, and this is a wig I'm wearing," she revealed.

"They were in total disbelief," recalls Rashe, who was 37 years old at the time of her diagnosis.

The company's CEO told Rashe to take time off if she needed to.

But she has yet to accept that offer. A single mom to a high school senior, Rashe never missed a day of work while undergoing 12 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation.

What I pack for chemo

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StephanieMadsen.jpg

By Stephanie Madsen

When I was diagnosed with large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer nearly four years ago, I felt utterly lost.

And I felt overwhelmed when my doctor said I needed chemotherapy. I didn't know what to expect or what to pack. So I decided to bring everything.

Since then, I've had nearly 55 chemo treatments using several chemo drugs, 28 radiation sessions and four major surgeries (not including port placement). In the process, I've become an expert on what to bring to chemo and what to leave at home.

Here's what I recommend packing to make chemo more comfortable. I've included a couple of items that won't fit in a bag but are definite musts.

1. Comfortable clothes: Chemo can last anywhere from one to eight hours and may involve overnight hospital stays. So, it helps to wear comfortable clothes. You'll want to keep your port accessible, so consider wearing a V-neck shirt.

2. Socks and/or close-toed shoes: The hospital or clinic will be chilly. Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes and or slippers with a hard sole. If you insist on open-toed shoes, bring socks just in case. The softer and fuzzier, the better. 

RonniePace_malebreastcancerBy Ronnie Pace

There are approximately 2,200 men in the United States who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and I am one of them.

Until my diagnosis, I did not know men were susceptible to breast cancer. Because the number of women with breast cancer is far higher than the number of men, there is little mention of male breast cancer in the media.

My male breast cancer diagnosis

My tumor was discovered by accident. I got a CT scan for a cough, but the CT scan indicated a tumor located in my right breast.

With a 99% probability that the tumor was benign, I did not see cause for alarm. In fact, I did not tell my wife for several weeks because I didn't want to cause her unnecessary worry. It was not until I was scheduled for a core biopsy that I told her. In retrospect, I made a bad choice.

The biopsy results were conclusive: I had a small, malignant tumor in my right breast. 

Jennifer Davis on CamelbackBy Jennifer Davis

If my doctors at MD Anderson had told me that I would be standing on top of Camelback Mountain in Arizona just 10 months after my stem cell transplant, I would have called them crazy.

But on March 29, 2015, exactly 321 days after my transplant, I did exactly that, reaching the summit of Camelback with my husband and a childhood friend.

The full meaning of this didn't hit me until I saw the tears in my husband's eyes. During my multiple myeloma journey, I couldn't have even imagined something of this magnitude.

My multiple myeloma diagnosis
My battle with multiple myeloma began before I even realized it.

My back started to hurt in March 2013, but I didn't know why. I saw several doctors, each of whom prescribed muscle relaxers and painkillers.

girl-with-questions.jpgThe minutes, days and weeks after you're diagnosed with cancer can be overwhelming, scary and lonely.

But, as cancer patients and survivors recently shared in our Facebook community, you can get through this time.

Here's their advice for newly diagnosed cancer patients.

  • Don't dwell on statistics. This is your experience, and no two people, cancer diagnoses or experiences are exactly alike.
  • Knowledge is power. Research your disease and treatment options. Ask questions. Take notes when you meet with your doctor. This will help you feel more at peace with your decisions.
  • Be your own advocate. You know your body and your wishes for treatment better than anyone else, so speak up if something doesn't seem right.
  • Don't rush into treatment. Where you go first for treatment matters. The decisions you make now can affect your treatment options and prognosis down the road. So, take time to choose a cancer center, and evaluate your treatment options. Get a second opinion if you're not happy with the options you're given.

KarenFore - multiple myeloma.jpgBy Karen Fore

As a volunteer with CanCare and myCancerConnection, MD Anderson's one-on-one program that connects cancer patients and caregivers with others who have been there, I talk to a lot of other multiple myeloma patients. Most ask about the stem cell transplant process and my experience.

Here's what I tell them.

What to know about autologous stem cell transplants
A transplant infuses health cells -- also known as stem cells -- into a cancer patient's body to replace damaged cells.

Stem cells for transplants can come from three sources. I had an autologous stem cell transplant, which means cells from my own bone marrow were used. Some people undergo an allogeneic transplant, which means they receive stem cells from a donor. Some patients receive umbilical cord blood instead. Not all patients are eligible for a stem cell transplant.

To help kill some of the cancerous cells and get the body ready to accept the new stem cells, most patients need very strong chemotherapy. For me, this was the strongest chemo I had, and the idea was daunting.  

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