By Tolley St. Clair
One more treatment to go. ONE. MORE. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a long road since my melanoma diagnosis, to say the least. Scans, blood work and too many doctors' visits. You know the drill. To say cancer was a wake-up call is putting it mildly.
When I received my melanoma diagnosis, I was living and working in San Antonio (hundreds of miles away from my family), and dating someone. Now, a year-and-a-half later, I'm two years out of college, living with my parents (and not working) in Florida, participating in a clinical trial, and single as a bird.
I'm one treatment away from being free. Done with the clinical trial, done living at home, and hopefully closing this chapter of my life. And, while I'm looking forward to moving on, there have been some positives to my melanoma treatment.
How my life changed during melanoma treatment
I've been fortunate enough to live at home and not work during my treatment. My parents and sister have been amazingly supportive, and I will never be able to thank them enough or show them the gratitude they deserve.
Over the past year-and-a-half, I have found out who truly has my back and who loves me. Yes, it took something so drastic and big to figure that out, but I'm thankful that I've figured it out sooner rather than later.
Recently in Cancer Patient Stories Category
By Tolley St. Clair
When I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I immediately had a lot of questions. I needed to know what I was up against. Personally, I wanted to know the basics: What stage was my cancer? What's the game plan? I didn't want statistics. I wanted to know what we needed to do to beat it, and I wanted to get started.
I wasn't the only one with questions. My friends and family had several as well. Below are some of the most common questions I received after my colorectal cancer diagnosis.
How did you know you had colorectal cancer?
I didn't know. I had been battling Crohn's disease for 10 years, and the symptoms of Crohn's are very similar to that of colorectal cancer. I assumed my recent increase in bowel movements and loose stools were just a Crohn's flare-up. I finally went to the emergency room after I'd started to experience pain and more blood in my stool. A colonoscopy and blood work confirmed I had cancer.
What was your colorectal cancer treatment?
My colorectal cancer treatment consisted of 28 days of chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery. The initial tumor was found in my rectum, so I had to undergo radiation before the doctors removed my large intestines.
I had radiation every weekday morning and took oral chemo medication (Xeloda) on the same day. I took the weekends off, then returned on Mondays for the next dose. The radiation was tough on my body. I threw up every morning, and my body ached after the seventh treatment or so. After I completed the radiation, I rested for nearly two months. After that, had surgery.
Once they removed my colon and rectum, my care team discovered 18 separate tumors in my colon. The cancer also had spread to 22 of the 118 lymph nodes they'd removed. Because of this, they started me on a four-month chemo regiment.
Each Monday, I went to the clinic to begin the two-day treatment of two drugs, 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) and Oxaliplatin for four to six hours on Monday mornings, I had my premeds and initial dose of chemo. Once I'd completed this infusion, they connected me to a pump that dripped over 36 hours. This allowed me to stay at home for the second chemo medication. On Wednesday mornings, I returned to have the pump disconnected and my port flushed. After 10 to 12 days off, I started another round. I did a total of eight rounds.
By Kayce Smith
I got the call on my 25th birthday. "Kayce," my dermatologist said. "You have stage one melanoma. You need to go to MD Anderson for cancer treatment."
I never thought I'd be facing a melanoma diagnosis -- or any kind of cancer, for that matter. And I certainly didn't expect to be a young adult cancer survivor.
Most of the time when people approached me after hearing about my melanoma diagnosis, they said things like:
- "Wow, you are so young ..."
- "How are your parents dealing with it?"
- "Will you have help financially? If you need extra support, please don't hesitate to call."
By Cora Connor
On April 19, 2012, my family's life changed forever. That's when my younger brother, Herman, was diagnosed with renal medullary carcinoma, a rare kidney cancer associated with sickle cell trait.
From the moment my brother received his diagnosis, I promised I would fight for him. It's a promise I've strived to keep.
Herman's renal medullary carcinoma diagnosis
Months before his renal medullary carcinoma diagnosis, Herman started experiencing back pain. He'd been healthy his entire life and thought it may have been a pulled muscle.
But when he saw traces of blood in his urine, he knew something was wrong. He drove to the emergency room and got an X-ray. It showed a mass inside his kidney. The doctor said it looked like cancer, but he'd have to follow up with a urologist to confirm. After several weeks of testing, the biopsy came back positive for renal medullary carcinoma.
By Sabrina Dominguez
I have a problem with the saying "Love yourself." People say it as if it could cure world hunger: "I know it's hard, sweetie, but all you have to do is love yourself." What kind of advice is that?
It's as if they're saying my medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor, is going to be magically healed through my ability to love myself. I don't think so.
But during medulloblastoma treatment, I learned something important. Loving yourself does not heal you. It does not stop your disease or make the chemo work faster.
Yet loving yourself does allow you to cherish the nurses and the techs. It allows you to appreciate your friends and family who have stuck by your side and encouraged you.
Loving yourself allows you to enjoy the rollercoaster of life you've been given.
Finding pride after my medulloblastoma diagnosis
For the first couple of months after my medulloblastoma diagnosis, I refused to listen to anybody about the necessity of loving myself. I stayed in my hospital room. I refused to leave the house. I preferred to stay within my comfort zone rather than broaden my horizons.
Then it hit me: Why does it matter what other people think of me? I am my own person. I make my decisions. I can sulk and cry about how life isn't fair, or I can be an inspiration to those who are newly diagnosed, to those who have a problem with themselves because of the image chemo so generously gives them.
By Anna Masten Jackson
My husband and I recently made the familiar journey to MD Anderson again. It was time for another check-up. Since I was diagnosed with stage four thymoma in 2013, this has become a normal part of our life. We do labs and scans, and then prayerfully meet with doctors, hoping for good news.
These trips always remind me of the frightening reality of cancer. On days like these, I reflect on the lessons I have learned from cancer. There have been so many. They help calm me as I face my appointments.
Lately, I've been focusing a lot on being thankful. I've come to realize that for me, it's not a feeling. It's a choice.
Finding light in the dark times
One of the biggest things I have learned is that thankfulness leads me out of the fear and darkness cancer can bring. As soon as I begin to look for the blessings around me, the darkness fades a little. When I choose to be thankful, my focus shifts and the burden gets a little lighter. I may not FEEL thankful, but when I choose to BE thankful, I find strength for the trial.
By Caroline Brown
In 2012, my husband and I moved back to Texas from New York City. We were excited to be back in our home state and ready to start a family. Breast cancer, infertility and finding a surrogate were not part of our plans.
My breast cancer diagnosis
I remember like it was yesterday. One night in the shower, I stumbled upon a lump on my left breast. I knew it was not supposed to be there.
I called the doctor the next morning. After a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy, I learned that I had stage two ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer. I was stunned. I was young -- 30 years old -- with no family history of breast cancer. I had recently had my annual exam and thought I was healthy.
Learning about infertility during cancer treatment
I already knew of MD Anderson's reputation. Since it was in my new hometown of Houston, I made an appointment there right away.
By Dawn Dorsey
Frank Bauer wasn't looking to be a trailblazer when he made an appointment at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center nine years ago. He just wanted the best prostate cancer treatment.
Little did he know, he'd become our first patient treated with proton therapy.
Finding the best prostate cancer treatment
Frank, an attorney who lives near Sulphur Springs, Texas, was researching prostate cancer treatments options online when he found proton therapy. Proton therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses external beam radiation made of protons instead of photons (e.g., X-rays to treat tumors).
"A couple of my friends had gone to California for treatment, but I didn't want to leave Texas if I didn't have to," Frank says. MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center was being built at the time and just beginning to consult with prospective patients.
Being a nurse is much more than just a job. At MD Anderson, our nurses provide care and compassion for our patients throughout their cancer treatment. Every nurse here plays a crucial part in our mission to end cancer.
Each year, we honor our nurses' caring hearts and commitment to our patients during Nurses' Week. In celebration, we asked a few patients and survivors how our nurses helped them during cancer treatment.
Here's what they had to say.
"The nurse that helped me and was the most memorable administered my chemo and checked on me during the process. She had a shaved head. Very striking and pretty. I asked her if she was going through chemo too, and she said, 'No, I do this in honor of my patients, to make them feel more comfortable, and because I just like it this short!' It was nice to see her show her support that way with the patients she cared for.
The nurses in the gynecologic radiation area in Mays Clinic are some of the nicest, most patient nurses I have ever met. They were always answering my questions and helping me understand things. Especially Dr. Patricia Eifel's nurses. They made me smile during a very difficult time with radiation, and I will always appreciate them all!"
"Nurses are the right hand AND the left hand of many doctors. They are the person in between the doctor and the patient. At MD Anderson, the nurses are devoted, caring, sensitive, concerned, firm and loyal to their patients. That's why I call them angels.
I'd like to thank Golie at the Lymphoma and Myeloma Center, Laura in the Stem Cell Transplant Center and all the wonderful nurses on my floor after my stem cell transplant. There are too many of them to mention."
By Michele Longabough
Since my own stage four anal cancer diagnosis five years ago, I have done plenty of reading surrounding what not to say to someone with a stage four cancer diagnosis. Through these articles, I've noticed the list can be quite extensive. After all, there are so many types of cancers and personalities.
But the top comments that seem to appear over and again include, but are not limited to:
- "You can beat this!"
- "Everything will OK!"
- "If you pray and believe enough, God will heal you!"
- "_____ can cure you!"
Sometimes, the wrong words just come out
Trust me when I say this: I have heard it all. And yes, some of the things that people said to me after my anal cancer diagnosis hurt my feelings.
But after thinking about why anybody would say such things, I thought about what I would say if I were faced with a close friend's diagnosis. I knew I, too, would say the wrong things.
In 2004, Mike Mason was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. His doctors said he had four to six months to live. Just days away from his 60th birthday, he was devastated.
"I thought to myself, 'Happy birthday, Mike. You have cancer,'" he recalls.
Mike accepted the diagnosis, but he refused to accept his prognosis. So, Mike returned home to Coffeyville, Kansas, and contacted MD Anderson for a second opinion.
Mike's hepatocellular carcinoma treatment
"As luck would have it, I was assigned to Jean-Nicolas Vauthey, M.D., one of the best at liver resections and liver cancer," says the retired English teacher.
He started hepatocellular carcinoma treatment in in October 2004. First, he did eight rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. After that, he had surgery to remove part of his liver.
By Bobby Fariza
During my 38-year career, I had many opportunities to move my family to other parts of the country, but I always decided to stay in Houston. I became grateful for that decision in spring 2010, when I was diagnosed with diffuse large b-cell lymphoma.
Going to MD Anderson for diffuse large b-cell lymphoma treatment
Shortly after my diffuse large b-cell lymphoma diagnosis, my wife suggested we go to MD Anderson.
"It's right in our backyard," she said.
My three daughters, all in their 20s, agreed. I scheduled the appointment right away.
I was scared of the unknown when I came to MD Anderson for my first appointment. But I had worked in hospital labs for 38 years. It helped to think of my treatment as just another study.
My cancer was aggressive. So, after five rounds of chemotherapy, my doctor, Jorge Romaguera, M.D., recommended that I undergo a stem cell transplant.
The transplant took place in September. I was able to use my own stem cells, which had been harvested earlier.
5 things that helped me through my stem cell transplant
Recovering from the stem cell transplant was not easy, but several things helped me cope. Here are some of the biggest ones.
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- What I'll miss after melanoma treatment
- What people ask me about colorectal cancer
- Life as a young adult cancer survivor: An awkward age
- Fighting renal medullary carcinoma with my brother
- Learning to love myself during medulloblastoma treatment
- Choosing to be thankful during thymoma treatment
- Coping with infertility during breast cancer treatment
- Meet MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center's first patient
- How our nurses help our patients
- Why I don't feel offended when people say the wrong things about my cancer diagnosis
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