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Amy Rankin, neurocytoma survivor

By Amy Rankin

Hi, my name is Amy Rankin. I am a coffee-loving, music-making, photo-taking identical twin. I also am a neurocytoma survivor.

In 2008, after weeks of headaches and dizzy spells that left me sitting on the floor of my office break room, I was diagnosed with a grade II neurocytoma, a type of brain tumor. Mine was the size of a walnut. 

Facing neurocytoma at the age of 26, all I could do was focus on the positives, which were:

  1. It's operable.
  2. It's benign.
Choosing happiness in the face of my neurocytoma diagnosis
From the moment I stepped foot into MD Anderson, I felt at ease. When I met Sujit Prabhu, M.D., and my nurses, Betsy Hossan and Lori Tolentino, I knew I had the perfect team to help me get back to doing what I loved: singing. My twin sister April and I had just started a country band, and no brain tumor was going to stop me. 

Eric Kleiman liver cancer survivor

By Eric Kleiman

"Cancer? What do you mean I have cancer? I feel fine." 

This is what I said to myself when I woke up the first couple of mornings after I was diagnosed with liver cancer

However, I quickly decided that I was going to get through this by controlling the only thing I could control -- my attitude. I couldn't control the blood tests, doctor appointments, the scans, the blood tests, the surgery, the blood tests, the exams and did I mention the blood tests?

So, I decided that I was NOT sick. I just had cancer. Yes, it was liver cancer. Yes, it was caught early during a routine scan after a bout of kidney stones, and yes, I was better off than some and worse off than others. But I would get through this, and I would do it with the help of my MD Anderson family.

Finding family through liver cancer treatment
As I've learned, the thing that means the most when going through cancer is family. For me, that meant not just my wife, kids, siblings and parents, but also my MD Anderson family.

My wife and I came to MD Anderson for a second opinion just about 12 months ago. I remember the first time we stepped in the doors at MD Anderson. Oh my, so many people with those little white wristbands you get every time you come in for any type of appointment. It was unnerving, yet calming. My first impression when I saw all of the patients was that I was not alone. To me, that little wristband was a badge of honor.

Mason Macri rhabdomyosarcoma survivor

A little boy with a rare cancer like rhabdomyosarcoma is still a little boy. And like many 3-year-old boys, Mason Macri is fascinated with superheroes. 

That's why his parents tell him that each chemotherapy and proton therapy treatment recharges his superpowers. It works much the same as the spoonful of sugar about which Mary Poppins sings.

"We knew he would have questions about what was happening, and we wanted to say something positive but not lie," says his father Iain Macri. "It's really helped a lot."

Trip to ER reveals rhabdomyosarcoma
Mason, the 1,000th pediatric patient treated at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, has rhabdomyosarcoma of the bladder, a rare soft tissue solid tumor. They are found most often in children and teens and make up about 3 percent of childhood cancers. Some 350 cases of rhabdomyosarcoma are diagnosed each year in the United States.

Mariana Torrado on BRCA genetic counseling and testing

By Mariana Torrado

Genetic testing came up during my first visit to MD Anderson. Why? Because I was only 30 when I received my breast cancer diagnosis, and several of my cousins were diagnosed with cancer in their 30s. In fact, my oncologist, Vicente Valero, M.D., also is my cousin's doctor. He recognized that breast cancer runs in our family.

Looking back, I'm thankful Dr. Valero suggested I see a genetic counselor and get genetic testing. But at the time, I didn't even know what a genetic counselor was.

I had so many questions: What is a BRCA mutation? Did this cause my cancer? Would I pass it along to my children? Would a BRCA mutation make me more likely to develop other cancers?

My first meeting with the genetic counselor
The first meeting with my genetic counselor was overwhelming. She asked about my ancestry, personal medical history and all of my family's cancer history, starting from my grandparents all the way down to my cousins. 

Loretta Preston quit smoking

By Loretta Preston

I started smoking when I was 13 or 14 years old, and after 40 years I never thought I would be someone who quit. Even after the first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I still didn't stop smoking. I was overwhelmed and felt my life was coming to an end. I couldn't deal with that and trying to quit.

When I was later diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I realized I had to make a change. I wanted to be the one in control of the rest of my life, not cancer. I knew cancer could be the beginning of a new life for me. I also knew I had to quit smoking to really start living. I knew that I would never be able to heal as well if I didn't clean out my body and get rid of the cigarettes. However, I also knew that I needed help.

Success in MD Anderson's Tobacco Treatment Program
When I told my doctor about my decision, she referred me to MD Anderson's Tobacco Treatment Program, which provides tobacco cessation counseling and support to patients and employees.

If I had not gone into the program, I would still be smoking today. I'd previously tried to quit four or five times on my own with the gum and the patches, but nothing helped. When I tried the program for the first time, I quit smoking.

The program's counselors were even there for me a few years later when I stumbled and started smoking again. I went right back into the program and was able to quit a second time.

Paula Johnson - acoustic neuroma survivor

By Paula Johnson

At age 64, one would expect to have some hearing loss, but mine seemed to be failing faster than most.

A year earlier, I had obtained my third-degree black belt and World Overall Supreme Grand Champion title in taekwondo, a sport I began participating in during my 50s. As my hearing worsened, I noticed I was having problems with spinning jump kicks, something I could easily do just a year earlier. 

I sought help from my ENT, who diagnosed me with an acoustic neuroma, a benign skull base tumor that grows on the nerves associated with balance.  

Although this was usually a slow-growing tumor, after few months I realized I was losing my hearing faster than expected, and the dizziness was affecting my everyday life. I have always strived to be the best of the best, so I decided to seek help from a place I had trusted with my non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment several years earlier: MD Anderson.

Balancing the options
When I met with Franco DeMonte, M.D., a brain surgeon with MD Anderson's Skull Base Tumor Program, I wanted to be sure that he realized I was not some ordinary "older person" who was content spending the remaining years of her life sitting calmly watching TV.

After additional testing, Dr. DeMonte shared the results. As we went over the findings together, I asked him my list of many questions. Not once did he tire of them, even though I asked some of them two or three times in different ways, hoping for a different response.  

Caleb Sanchez - acute lymphoblastic leukemia survivor

By Ryan Stephens


When Elizabeth Sanchez decided to move back to Houston from California in November 2014, she couldn't quite explain what was drawing her back.


"I felt like there was a purpose for my kids and I in Houston," Elizabeth says. "I was anxious. I knew that we belonged in Houston, and I wasn't quite sure why."


Her decision turned out to be an unforeseen blessing for her family. Just a few months later, Elizabeth's son, Caleb, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.


Caleb's acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis
Not long after the family's move, Caleb developed a fever that would not go away. He had night sweats and no appetite.

Thinking he had a virus, Elizabeth took Caleb to the emergency room. Within an hour, he was surrounded by doctors and nurses.

"At that point it seemed like a bigger deal than a virus," Elizabeth says. 

Vince Leseney.jpg

By Lany Kimmons

In the summer of 2012, doctors removed a mole from Vince Leseney's shoulder. After a biopsy, the musical theater voice instructor and actor was diagnosed with stage IIIB melanoma.

Vince was devastated when his doctors in Oklahoma said there wasn't much that they could do to treat melanoma. But when one of Vince's former students heard about his diagnosis, she introduced him to her father, Jagan Sastry, M.D., a professor in Immunology at MD Anderson. Sastry insisted that he travel to Houston and meet Patrick Hwu, M.D., head of MD Anderson's Melanoma department.

First impressions of MD Anderson
Upon arriving at MD Anderson, Vince was in awe of the sheer size of the facility and the kindness of the people. "Every person I interacted with was so helpful and friendly," he says.

The same was true for Dr. Hwu, who immediately gave Vince confidence that his cancer could be treated. Vince knew that Dr. Hwu - now head of MD Anderson's largest academic division, Cancer Medicine -- was extremely busy, but he's never missed an appointment. "I think there might be two of him," Vince jokes.

Prom for teens with cancer

By Anton Blender

With most kids back at school, one summer memory likely stands out for some of our teen cancer patients and their siblings: the prom at Camp A.O.K., a week-long overnight camp held each August in Magnolia, Texas. 

"I've missed many homecomings and many formals at my school being in the hospital and taking treatments," says 16-year-old Rumer Austin, who drives seven hours from Oklahoma to attend Camp A.O.K. every summer. "It's really fun just getting to interact with everyone and look nice for a night."

Making up for lost time
Diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma at age 11, Rumer has undergone several surgeries and treatments.

"I've definitely had my lows," Rumer says. "You've got to just live with it and make the best of things, so that's what I try to do. And that's what this camp does, it really brings the positive side to the disease and the surgeries."

squamous cell carcinoma survivor Emily Thomas

By Emily Tickle Thomas

I was hoping I had put cancer behind me. I knew I would always have to watch for any signs of recurrence, travel to Houston regularly for checkups and even have a biopsy if anything suspicious popped up.

But in April 2015, I was back at square one. I'd noticed a suspicious looking, cyst-like spot on the left side of my tongue a few weeks earlier, so during my checkup at MD Anderson, I discussed it with my doctor, Eduardo Diaz, Jr., M.D.

The biopsy showed that my tongue cancer -- specifically, squamous cell carcinoma of the left lateral tongue -- had returned.

With this second diagnosis came a flood of questions - some of which I've been hearing since my first tongue cancer diagnosis in 2007. Here are my answers to some of the questions people ask.

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. 


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