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melanoma.jpgBy Madylan Eskridge

At 10 years old, Kenady Strutz was diagnosed with melanoma, often thought of as a cancer that only affects adults. Kenady has turned her pediatric melanoma diagnosis into a platform for educating others about protecting their skin.

Laurie Strutz always had heard that the skin cancer melanoma took more than a decade to develop after a blistering sunburn. So she was shocked when her 10-year-old daughter was diagnosed with the disease.

"I didn't think it was possible for someone Kenady's age, especially since she'd never had a bad sunburn," Laurie says.

A surprising pediatric melanoma diagnosis
Kenady, now 14, remembers noticing a purplish spot on her knee when she was 9.

"I told my mom I didn't like it because kids at school stared at it," Kenady recalls.

At her 10-year checkup, Kenady and her mom pointed it out to a pediatrician, who referred them to a dermatologist.

But even then, her mom didn't think much of it.

After the pathology results confirmed it was melanoma, Kenady began her cancer journey at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

raylene818.jpgBeing diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 is unusual enough, but Raylene Hollrah was also diagnosed with an extremely rare type of lymphoma just a few years after her first cancer diagnosis and before her 40th birthday. 

Raylene, an outgoing insurance advisor who prefers to be called Ray, is only the 25th person in the U.S. -- and the 61st in the world -- to be diagnosed with breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). It's a diagnosis that has changed her life in many ways.
 
"I always say cancer is like breaking a window," she says. "You've got shattered glass everywhere; you've got to clean up the mess and try to figure out how to fix it."

A breast cancer diagnosis -- and cause for breast implants

The discovery of a lump in her breast during an annual physical in 2007 launched Ray on a roller coaster ride that has tested her strength and spirit. After a negative mammogram and ultrasound, a needle biopsy came back positive for breast cancer. 

ErikaLewisandfamilyjune.jpgBy Erika Archer Lewis

The importance of laughter grows even greater when life gets heavy, although it can be hard to see the need for it when you're right in the thick of things. Life can feel overwhelming.

I'm usually private about health matters, and tend to keep troublesome life events bottled up inside until I have them all figured out. But, in this case, I knew immediately that the situation was bigger than me. I had just found out that I carried the BRCA1 genetic mutation, putting me at greater risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I was about to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy, and I had an overwhelming urge to reach out to people in all areas of my life.

What happened when I opened up
What happened because of it was truly amazing. Almost everyone I crossed paths with for a few months had a story they wanted to share. Sometimes it was their own story, sometimes a friend's story, and some people needed to talk about the mother or grandmother they had lost to breast cancer.

Each interaction had something in common: people with huge hearts who wanted to share when they sensed my pain or struggle. People want to know and want to help. For the first time in my life, it felt incredibly right to let people help, and in turn, I could help them heal by listening.

harleysuperheros.jpgBy Harley Hudson

I decided to keep a diary of my stem cell transplant experience so it might help others in preparing for their stem cell transplants. You can read my previous entry here.

I thought you might be interested in a typical day in the life of a stem cell transplant patient on floors G17 and G18 at MD Anderson. I spent several days in the hospital following my stem cell transplant, a part of my chronic lymphocyctic leukemia (CLL) treatment. After a while, I developed a routine.

Mornings on G18
The patient day begins at 4 a.m. Yes, you read that correctly. Every morning at that horrible time, the night nurse comes in to draw several vials of blood. They do this for a very good reason. The complete blood count (CBC) numbers are a vital part of diagnosis and treatment. By drawing blood that early, our blood is first on the list for the lab to process. The results are back in time for the doctor in charge to read, analyze and make decisions when he or she visits later that morning.

The patient may then return to sleep ... until 6 a.m. At this time the nursing assistant comes in to take the morning vital signs. There were a few times I came really close to sleeping through this one.

The handoff from the night nurse to the day nurse takes place at 7 a.m. Both nurses come in to get acquainted if the day nurse is new to me. Now is the time to schedule a shower. The central venous catheter (CVC)must be covered and protected from water contamination. It is a process. I may order breakfast just before the shower.

After I've eaten breakfast, it is time to wait for the doctor and his entourage. This can be as few as two or as many as five or six people. The larger the number, the smaller the room feels. It does get crowded.

carolinerichards.jpgWhen 12-year-old Caroline Richards first mentioned a pain in her right arm last December, her mother, Lauren, chalked it up to a minor injury -- probably just a muscle pulled during basketball practice. But a few weeks later, Caroline woke up in the middle of the night, saying it felt like knives were stabbing her in the bone. That's when Lauren feared that it was something far worse. 


Her fear was confirmed after a whirlwind day that included appointments with their pediatrician, a pediatric orthopedic specialist, an x-ray and an MRI. The diagnosis: osteosarcoma in Caroline's humerus, near the shoulder.

A new home base for osteosarcoma treatment
While the news sent the Richards family reeling, they soon got to work finding the best place for osteosarcoma treatment. After a few phone calls, a family friend put them in touch with MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital

Two weeks later, they left their home in Austin for their first visit. They've made Houston their more-or-less permanent base ever since then.
While leaving behind family and friends was difficult, the Richards quickly found comfort and support at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

"Along with the excellent physician care that we get, the nurturing environment of the Children's Cancer Hospital really is what keeps us at MD Anderson," Lauren says. "It really is like a little pediatric oasis. There's a lot of love there. Caroline gets disappointed if her blood counts aren't high enough to go in for chemo because she loves the nurses so much."

nataliearneson812.jpgBy Natalie Arneson

I recently found out that I carry the BRCA 1 genetic mutation, and I'm not freaking out.

The mutation means that I have a crazy high chance of getting breast cancer. Like, it's practically a guarantee. And ovarian cancer is a strong possibility, too.

You can stop before you barrage me with condolences or compliments. I'll just roll my eyes. And then I'll hug you because I love you. But seriously, don't freak out. I'm not freaking out. Can we just skip freaking out and go to lunch?

Why I decided to undergo genetic testing for breast cancer and ovarian cancer
My mother, Terry Arnold, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and triple negative breast cancer at the same time almost seven years ago. Fortunately, when it comes to cancer treatment, my mom kicks butt.

taylornance.jpgBy Taylor Nance

By the fall of my freshman year, I was well on my way to navigating high school when something unexpected came up -- a stage 3 melanoma diagnosis. 

I remember it vividly. It was November 3, 2011 -- the first Friday I'd been invited to sit with the varsity dance team at the Austin High School football game. I had made a trip to the dermatologist after a spot suddenly appeared on my ear and began growing quickly. 


After the game, I discovered the news. I had melanoma. I was scared and nervous about what would come next. Everything was happening so fast, and I wasn't prepared at all.

The next two years proved to be both challenging and inspirational for me, as I fought (and won!) my battle against skin cancer.

Undergoing melanoma treatment during high school

My melanoma treatment began right away. I was quickly scheduled for three surgeries on my ear. The first surgery removed the melanoma and the surrounding tissue along with the lymph nodes that surrounded the cancer. The second two surgeries were for the reconstruction of my ear. I also had to undergo a year of interferon, a type of immunotherapy.

For the first month, I had to leave school early so that my mom could drive me to MD Anderson to receive the interferon through my PICC line (a long, slender, flexible tube that is inserted into a peripheral vein, typically in the upper arm). Going to school with my PICC line always made me nervous. I hated walking through the crowded halls, trying to shield my arm so it wouldn't get bumped, but luckily, I was usually able to dodge the backpacks.

nahas88.jpgBy Victoria Nahas

When my mom was diagnosed with appendix cancer, I was told not to let her see me in pain or cry for her. And so I followed that advice. The last thing I wanted to do was make my mom feel like she was a burden, or make her think about something that wasn't already bothering her.  I didn't want to burden her either.

But throughout her appendix cancer treatment, I learned that allowing myself to lean on her was one way I could be there for her.

My mom's appendix cancer treatment

After my mom was diagnosed with appendix cancer in 2009, she was given 12-18 months to live. I was devastated. Cancer was something that happened to other people. Not my mom.  She is my best friend. I still need her here. 

My sarcoma journey

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cara84jpg.jpgBy Cara Sorrell

My first appointment at MD Anderson was on my 21st birthday. Happy birthday to me, right? 


After being diagnosed with biphasic synovial sarcoma just weeks earlier, I didn't have much time, nor did I feel much like celebrating.

When I first walked in, I found the big hospital building intimidating. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to start sarcoma treatment. I didn't want to be a cancer patient. I was in denial. 

Then I remembered the words of a friend and fellow MD Anderson patient: "Don't let the size of the place intimidate you," he'd said.

As I thought about his words, I began to see MD Anderson's size not as intimidating, but as encouraging. The hospital is so big because they are putting up a big fight against cancer. It's a place of hope.

My sarcoma diagnosis
My sarcoma journey began long before my first appointment at MD Anderson. I had started feeling pain in my hip and the surrounding area in January 2011. But the X-rays didn't show anything out of the ordinary, so I figured I had just hurt myself lifting something heavy. I went through physical therapy, and had been very active, but I found myself getting really tired, sometimes throwing up, and overall, not feeling too well.

I kept running and stayed active, but the pain didn't go away. One morning, I felt the pain in my right hip when I woke up. I looked down and saw a big lump sticking out. It was then that I knew something was really wrong.

cindymcconkey135.jpgBy Cindy McConkey Cox

Home really is where the heart is, and my heart is here in Knoxville, with my sweet hubby and all of my family and friends.

Still, as I prepared to celebrate the end of my proton therapy treatment for bile duct cancer, I was thankful for my time in Houston. For the hope of healing and health that that proton therapy has given me, and for the professional care provided by the MD Anderson staff since my bile duct cancer diagnosis. And I do mean care -- these people truly do care. From Rose and Adele, who worked my insurance appeals, to Deborah at the front desk and the radiation technicians Lainey, Jay, Huma and Kristen.

My proton therapy graduation
I think they were just as excited for my "graduation" as I was. At MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center, it is a tradition to ring the gong after your final treatment as a symbol of the restoration of balance, harmony and life energy.

Harley731.jpgBy Harley Hudson

I decided to keep a diary of my stem cell transplant experience so it might help others in preparing for their stem cell transplants. Here are the first two entries.

Day 0, 5:16 a.m.: The day of my stem cell transplant
That's right. Day 0. The day my family and I have been anticipating for over 465 days, since last March. And, oh what a day it is: my rebirthday, the day of my stem cell transplant, perhaps the most important part of my chronic lymphocyctic leukemia (CLL) treatment.

Somewhere in the U.S., a young man is in a collection center donating his O+ stem cells, which will be airlifted to MD Anderson and infused into my O- system.

His stem cells will engraft in my bone marrow and begin to produce stem cells that will become white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. His white cells will destroy what remains of my own white cells, healthy and unhealthy alike, and will become my cells. I will be reborn, given a new opportunity at life.

jaxondavis.jpgBy Lenzie Davis

After being diagnosed with brain cancer, our son, Jaxon, spent his 4th birthday at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.  

Our world had changed just a few months earlier when Jaxon began having seizures. When doctors found a cancerous tumor, we researched treatment options and discovered proton therapy would be the best for Jaxon.

Jaxon's cancer journey
Jaxon spent his time at the Proton Therapy Center wearing a smile, riding a tricycle around the waiting room, or making wishes in the fountain. After Jaxon hit the gong to mark his last day of proton therapy treatment, we surprised him with a tricycle identical to the one he'd spent countless hours on in the waiting room.  

Jaxon had always had a heart of gold, even before his brain tumor diagnosis. When he was 2 years old, he received a toy he already had. He chose to keep the old toy for himself and give the nicer, new one to another kid.

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