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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. 

bree226.jpgBy Bree Sandlin

In the summer of 2012, I was diagnosed with stage three triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). I was 37 years old and had 5-year-old twin boys, one with severe cerebral palsy. Having a child with special needs, my husband and I were no strangers to hospitals and doctors. Despite those experiences, nothing could have prepared us for the words "you have cancer."  

The next year of my life was one of the most difficult, and as I was soon to learn, one of the most inspiring. For my TNBC treatment, I underwent six months of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, an oophorectomy and two months of radiation therapy.  

On February 13, 2013, my husband and I heard the three most amazing letters ever recited:  
"pCR." Pathologic Complete Response. The cancer was gone, and I was officially in remission!  

We cried, hugged our oncologist, hugged our kids, and embraced each other. We decided at that moment that this was a day worth remembering. The end of my TNBC would mark my cancerversary date. Our own personal pre-Valentine's Day celebration of love and joy.

Celebrating my first TNBC cancerversary by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
When TNBC cancerversary number one arrived in 2014, we decided to go big. My husband and I joined a team of 16 cancer survivors and like-minded cancer-haters to climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro. Kili reaches 19,341 feet and rises high above the surrounding plains of Tanzania, Africa. The experience was life-changing.  

jaymee225.jpgBy Jaymee Fiskum

I wasn't the only one diagnosed with anaplastic large T cell lymphoma small cell variant (ALCL) in May 2013. My entire family took on my cancer journey as if it was their own.

Because of them, I consider myself lucky -- as weird as it may sound. I have so much support in my life. It motivated me to fight harder. I couldn't let myself down, but I couldn't let all of them down either.

How my family helped me cope with ALCL
Each one of my family members played a huge part in my cancer journey.

After my doctor told me I had ALCL. In September 2013, I began six cycles of chemotherapy, followed by a stem cell transplant. I was very fortunate enough to have my sister as my donor. Who would've thought letting her borrow my clothes all those years would pay off?

LindaRyansons223.jpgBy Linda Ryan

As cervical cancer survivor, I have spent considerable time and energy trying to protect my children from cancer. I didn't want them to feel the emotional effects of my own cancer journey, and I certainly don't want them to go what I went through.    

When it comes to cancer prevention, there is something I can do now to reduce their chances of being diagnosed with certain cancers in the future: Vaccinate against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause several types of cancer. That includes cervical cancer, as well as head and neck cancers, anal cancer, vulvar cancer and rare genital cancers.

What the HPV vaccine prevents
I know the phrase "HPV vaccine" can conjure up negative connotations, but the words "cancer" and "chemotherapy" are much worse in my book.

Most people don't consider chemo easy or fun. For me, the side effects were painful. When I was undergoing cervical cancer treatment, I didn't have a port, so I received my chemotherapy through an IV. My infusions were close to nine hours long. Some of the medicines and hydration irritated my veins and caused pain that needed to be managed with heat, cold, and eventually, medicine. The pain often brought me to tears.  

Had I been given the chance to be vaccinated 30 years ago vs. having a hysterectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy and live with the worry that I may not see my children grow up, I know what I would have chosen. And, it's what I chose for my two sons.

Kate Boone218.jpgBy Kate Boone

My name is Kate, and I have stage four melanoma. I received my initial diagnosis three years ago. I went to a surgeon, they got clean lines and I followed up with my dermatologist. So whew, crisis averted.

My melanoma recurrence
In June 2014, I first noticed a lump under my left arm. I had just completed a 30-day yoga challenge, so I figured all the sweating had led to a blocked lymph node. My husband, the worrier, insisted I see a doctor.

I didn't even have a primary care doctor at the time, so scheduling an appointment was a challenge. I heard a lot of "We're not taking any new patients," or "Give it a few weeks."

My husband wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. So, my sister, a nursing student at the time, got me into the school clinic for an ultrasound and eventually a biopsy. The results came back positive for melanoma. 

bentz217.jpgBy Lindsay Lewis and Mindy Loya

Five years ago, Gary Bentz was completing the last of his 34 radiation treatments and his third round of chemotherapy to destroy a tumor at the base of his tongue -- along with the cancer cells that spread to nearby lymph nodes. His cancer was stage 4.

Today, Bentz -- who's cancer-free -- is back at MD Anderson, but for a much different reason. He's one of 28 patient advisors who are volunteering their time to help us shape policies and programs to improve the patient experience.

Why we need patient feedback and involvement
Bentz and the other members of our Patient and Family Advisory Council come to MD Anderson at least once a month to share stories and provide feedback on issues impacting our patients.

And, many of them now serve on committees that previously only included our employees.

"Having a patient at the table with us is very powerful," says John Bingham, vice president for Performance Improvement. His Patient Safety Committee was one of the first to request patient involvement. "It'll accelerate our efforts to keep our patients safer."

kielaszek.jpgBy Barbara Kielaszek

My cancer story began over 40 years ago when my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, my grandmother waited too long to see a doctor. Even though she had a double mastectomy and showed her courageous spirit during her cancer journey, the cancer had spread and my grandmother died within a few years. 

About the same time my grandmother received her breast cancer diagnosis, my mom found a lump that turned out to be breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy of her left breast. Ten years later, Mom found a lump in her right breast followed by another mastectomy. It's been 30 years since Mom's second mastectomy -- and she's been cancer-free ever since then.
 
When I received my own breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 55 I had two examples of tremendous heart, spirit and courage to follow. For me, that made all the difference.

My breast cancer diagnosis
I started getting annual mammograms after my mom received her second diagnosis. Each year, I almost expected to hear the words, "You have cancer."

That phone call finally came in June 2013. I had infiltrating ductal carcinoma. 

smbefore.jpgBy Stephanie Madsen

As I completed my last round of chemotherapy a few weeks ago, I thought back to the woman I was before cancer. Looking back at how much life has changed -- and how much I've changed -- I decided to write a letter to myself just before I was diagnosed with large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer.

Dear Stephanie of January 2012,

On January 25, 2012, you will be diagnosed with cancer. And three years later -- almost to the day -- you will finish chemo treatment and be on a new journey. Be encouraged. Those three years will be some of the hardest years of your life, but they'll shape you in ways no other experience could. Be grateful.

You are both stronger and weaker than you could ever imagine. Life is about to show you that.
Here's what I want you to know about yourself now -- before cancer -- and what's to come.

Stay ready. You are young, healthy, vibrant, and full of energy and dreams. You are working hard and enjoy your job. You have married the love of your life and are thrilled to come home to him every day. This truly feels like the beginning of an incredible journey, and you and your husband feel ready to conquer anything. Ready for whatever the future has in store for you. You think that means a white picket fence and two children. You feel ready for a reason, but it's not the reason you think. Stay ready.

AmandaWoodward26.jpgBy Amanda Woodward

Pregnancy can do some crazy things to your, well ... everything! In my case, with both my first and now second pregnancies, my skin has broken out like I'm a teenager! But as a melanoma survivor, I know I need to pay extra attention to my skin when I'm pregnant -- and not just to the breakouts. 

Over the years, I've come to learn a thing or two about protecting yourself, and I think it is my duty as a survivor to spread a tiny bit of awareness. Here's what I've learned about caring for your skin when you're a pregnant cancer survivor: 

Communicate with your oncologist.

Prior to trying to conceive, my husband, Kyle, and I sat down with my oncologist and did a little family planning. (Romantic, right?) I completed melanoma treatment five years ago, but still attend follow-up appointments, and, of course, skin checks. We told my oncologist that we were thinking of starting a family and wanted to know what that would mean for my cancer care. He told us that as far as my cancer was concerned, there was no reason I couldn't or shouldn't become pregnant.

Mayberry25.jpgBy Jami Mayberry

Wouldn't it be great if there were a cure for cancer? I am praying for that to happen in our lifetimes.

The only thing better than a cure for cancer would be to never get it. A vaccine would do just that. And fortunately, one already exists for cervical cancer and other types of cancer related to the human papillomavirus (HPV).

By getting your kids vaccinated against HPV, you can protect them from several strands of HPV that are known to cause cancer in both women and men.

With the HPV vaccine, I could've avoided cancer

Oh, how I wish they would have had the HPV vaccine when I was young. I would have gotten it, and it might have saved me from so much suffering.

You see, in May 2013, I was diagnosed with vulvar cancer, which may have been caused by HPV. The vaccine may have been able to prevent it. I have spent many hours thinking of how wonderful it would have been to have the vaccine as a child. While many people think of the HPV vaccine preventing cervical cancer, it also can prevent anal cancer, penile cancer, vulvar cancer, oral cancer, and head and neck cancers

krista12615.jpgIn the summer of 2005, after her pediatrician noticed a lump on her neck, Krista and her parents went to see an endocrinologist near their hometown of Chicago. That's when they learned she'd need surgery to remove an egg-sized tumor in her neck.

Krista, who was just 11 years old at the time, barely understood the diagnosis. But she knew it was serious. "I went onto my dad's lap and cried because I was scared," she recalls.
A couple days after the surgery, doctors confirmed the diagnosis: follicular thyroid cancer.

Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for only about 10% of thyroid cancers, and most cases occur in adults, not children like Krista. In fact, according to Krista's doctor, Steven Waguespack, M.D., only about seven cases of follicular thyroid cancer are diagnosed in children ages 10-14 each year.

Krista wondered why this happened to her. "I felt normal and healthy," she says.

The diagnosis was a complete surprise for her parents, too. "We didn't know anything about follicular thyroid cancer when we got the phone call," says Krista's father, Jim. "I was devastated, but I could not let Krista see how scared I was."

Making the decision to come to MD Anderson

Ten days after Krista's first surgery and confirmed follicular thyroid cancer diagnosis, she had a second surgery to remove her left thyroid lobe.

Shortly afterwards, Krista's family learned that the second surgery had been an incomplete thyroidectomy and that she'd need another delicate surgery.

That's when the family started looking for hospitals with experience treating follicular thyroid cancer in children. The family researched and saw countless doctors and wrote many letters before deciding to make the 900-mile trip to MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

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