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iStock_000011745159XLarge.jpgWant to help a friend or loved one dealing with cancer? It can be hard to know exactly what you can or should do.
That's why we asked the cancer patients, survivors and caregivers in our Facebook community to tell us the most helpful thing you can do for a friend or loved one dealing with cancer. Here's their advice.

1. Visit. Cancer patients and caregivers are still people, and they want to see you, talk to you and laugh with you.

2. Listen. Ask questions to show you care, but let your friend or loved one lead the conversation.

3. Pray.

4. Find a way to help and just do it. Don't ask if there's anything you can do. Chances are your friend will just say thank you and won't ask you to help. Many of our Facebook fans suggested just doing something for friends with cancer instead of asking what they need.

PA.jpgBy Mary Brolley

They've been called essential, a driving force and, in a nod to their adaptability, "the stem cells of MD Anderson."

They're physician assistants (PAs), and few institutions employ more of them than MD Anderson.

PAs are medical professionals who can conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel patients on preventive care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions. Supervised by physicians, they're sometimes called mid-level providers -- a category that also includes nurse practitioners and certified nurse anesthetists.

Of our 245 PAs, nearly half work in Surgery and Anesthesia. The others are divided among Cancer Medicine, Internal Medicine, Radiation Oncology and Pediatrics.

Our PAs also counsel patients, obtain informed consents and perform numerous medical procedures. In partnership with doctors, often they lead the evaluation and management of treatment for patients in special clinics.

Freeing up physicians
PAs are crucial to the operation of MD Anderson's 11 survivorship clinics, according to Todd Pickard, program director and mid-level provider in Medical Affairs. Transitioning cancer survivors to the care of PAs and internists frees our doctors to take care of newer and more complex cases.

hannahgaylene.jpgBy Gaylene Meeson

In July 2012, my husband and I heard the words "your daughter has a brain tumor," and our lives changed forever. You hear about adults being diagnosed all the time, but we didn't even know that children could have cancer.

At the time, Hannah was only 4 years old and getting ready to start school in the Cayman Islands, where we live. But when the doctors said she had anaplastic medulloblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor, we found ourselves embarking on our epic battle to help her stay alive.

Our childhood cancer journey: Starting medulloblastoma treatment

After a surgery in Miami, we moved from the Cayman Islands to Houston so that Hannah could undergo proton therapy at MD Anderson, followed by six months of chemotherapy. Our family was split up, and the treatment was brutal. Hannah was wasting away before our eyes, and we could do nothing but pump more drugs into her to try and stop the cancer.

We kept focused on the end date of May 2013, when we thought we could finally go home and life would return to normal. But in April 2013, we received further devastating news: the cancer had progressed.

pediatricArt_Dragon_0004.jpgBy Ian Cion

For the past five months, I've been working with more than 1,300 patients, family members, and staff at MD Anderson to create a monumental scale river dragon sculpture entitled Okoa the Wave Rider. The sculpture, a project made possible by the Arts in Medicine Program, was built entirely on site in the Main Building. You may have seen it on display, or maybe even contributed to it, in The Park.

The name, "Okoa," was selected through a vote by the patients and families who helped create the dragon. It's a Swahili word that means "rescue, save, redeem or deliver."

It's a fitting name, as Okoa was built to demonstrate the effectiveness of community art in bringing joy and relief into the cancer center.  

The sculpture and the art table where patients, families and staff joined together to make it were actually both works of art. What make the dragon so beautiful are the sculpture and the time shared in its creation, the simple fact that these thousands of people were excited to contribute, to take time out of their day, to stop and laugh and draw or paint, to share their stories with each other around the table.

How we made the dragon

Since its inception in 2010, the Arts in Medicine Program has focused on large-scale, long-term creative collaborations with patients and families undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital. But this project was the first to bring together patients, families and staff from the entire hospital.

By Lindsey Garner

caregivers2.jpgWhen our patients undergo treatment, the focus is on them and their needs. But cancer often affects the entire family, especially caregivers. To help, we have employees and programs that provide support to those who care for cancer patients.

"I've made a special effort in my role to acknowledge caregivers and how tough it can be to take care of somebody you love," Traci Newsom says.

A social work counselor at MD Anderson in the Bay Area, Newsom serves as an outlet for caregivers to share their feelings and the challenges they face.

Caregivers often neglect their own needs when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Because MD Anderson values family-centered care, we have employees like Newsom who are devoted to supporting our patients' supporters -- ensuring they never feel alone or lost.

Helping caregivers find balance
Caregivers experience an interesting combination of facing challenging duties and savoring precious moments with their loved ones.

By Laura Harvey

Everyone loves a parade. And there's something special about the processions of patients that occur on Floor 18 (G18) in the Main Building four times a year -- at Easter, Independence Day, Halloween and Christmas.

"The tradition started here long before I did," says Katherine Beetle, clinical nurse on G18, where most of the patients have had stem cell transplants. "They're immunosuppressed and sometimes very sick, and that can be isolating. The parades offer a chance for them and their families to be creative making and decorating their IV poles. Hopefully it takes their minds off being here."

Reminding patients that they're not alone

Staff from the floor participates in preparations and also during the events. You might see doctors, physical therapists and even staff, patients and caregivers from other floors getting involved with crafts and marching in the parades around the G18 hallway.

PACU_nurses_018.jpgBy Carol Bryce

When Annamma Thomas began working here in 1981 as a nurse in the ICU, her  colleagues soon dubbed her "Little Anna" to distinguish her from the other two "Annas" who worked on the same floor. Today she's affectionately called "Anna T." by her co-workers in our Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).

Whatever you call Thomas, you only have to spend a few moments with her to be inspired by her enthusiasm. She's been here for 33 years, and this 4-foot-11-inch dynamo loves her job.

"People say to me, 'How do you keep smiling all the time?' Thomas says. "I tell them, 'I'm smiling because I'm helping someone, and when you're helping someone, you smile.' "

Thomas' co-worker, Clinical Nurse Joyace Ussin, confirms Thomas' positive attitude.

"Anna's always happy, laughing and keeping everyone focused on our most important task: taking excellent care of our patients," Ussin says.

A model for other nurses

Thomas' real passion is sharing her knowledge with her co-workers. She's mentored more than 40 nurses in the 14 years she's worked in the PACU, Ussin reports.

When it comes to teaching others, Thomas' philosophy is simple.

"I share what I know. But I don't criticize anyone," she says. "I do lots of mentoring because I feel like I can teach nurses simple things, like how to make sure patients are comfortable."

Mail_Houston_057.jpgBy Lindsey Garner

Did you know that MD Anderson has its own post office? Located in the Main Building, the post office serves patients, visitors and employees. It's also where patient and Main Building employee mail is delivered and sorted by a team of three mail clerks.

From letters to parcels and interoffice to international mail, MD Anderson has 24 employees working behind the scenes to ensure that more than 268,000 pieces of mail each month are transported and received. Most of our mail clerks and transportation representatives had long careers in the mail industry prior to coming here, either with the U.S. Postal Service or in mailrooms at other organizations.

How our mail gets sorted
By 7:30 a.m., Mondays through Fridays, large bins of mail are picked up from the post office and brought to the mailroom at an MD Anderson facility offsite from our main hospital campus.

A team of eight mail clerks sorts the mail  into bins for each building.

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. 

CCH_School_0287_master.jpgBy Bonnie Butler

Teaching in MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital school has helped me fall deeper in love with the art of education. I owe this to each child and family with whom I have had the pleasure of working. After all, they have truly inspired me and showed me what it means to be passionate about education, what it means to teach and to be taught. 

Teaching pediatric cancer patients is my dream job
If someone had told me a year ago that I would have this job, I would have said they were lying. For me, teaching children at a hospital was always a dream, I knew that working with children facing an aggressive disease who still desired to learn new things would be especially rewarding. But I had convinced myself that it always would be. 

I used to be a public school elementary educator.  But after the birth of our second child in 2013, my husband and I decided that I would stay home with our children. So, with a leap of faith, I resigned from the school district that I had been so committed to for the past six years.

Not long after that -- truly out of nowhere -- I learned MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital was hiring a pediatric school English as a Second Language coordinator. I thought, "There's absolutely no way that I'll get this job, but I'll go ahead and apply." 

In my eyes, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and here I am today, blessed beyond measure to work with amazing fellow educators, pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Traci721.jpgBy Traci Newsom, Social Work Counselor

A cancer diagnosis affects people differently. However, every cancer patient has one thing in common: At some point during their journey, they undoubtedly experience stress. As a social work counselor here at MD Anderson, it's part of my job to help alleviate some of that stress. I do this by enabling patients to better focus on themselves and their actual care.

What our social workers do
People expect to see medical providers at their appointments. But they often forget to ask about or are not aware of the additional support available to them. This support may include counseling services for patients and family members, providing resources specifically designed for children dealing with a parent's cancer diagnosis through the KIWI program (Children's Lives Include Moments of Bravery), or advanced care planning such as assistance completing a Medical Power of Attorney or Living Will. Social Work services are available to patients receiving care at the Main Campus in the Medical Center as well as our other locations in Katy, Memorial City, Bay Area, The Woodlands and Sugar Land.

As a social worker, I can enter the picture at any point in a patient's cancer journey depending upon their needs and concerns. However, I often begin working with patients when they receive a cancer diagnosis. At that point, most are feeling particularly overwhelmed and confused.

By Mary Brolley

While the world's largest medical center and the city that surrounds it sleep, our specialized Nocturnal Program team is hard at work.

The Nocturnal Program team tends to medical oncology patients, those just out of surgery or in the ICU, pediatric patients, and those admitted from our Emergency Center.

"Just because the day shift has gone home, it doesn't mean the patient won't spike a fever or have some other issue," says Angela Cone, program manager for the Nocturnal Program.
"Our team takes care of any issues patients have during our watch," she says.

Members of our Nocturnal Program team are specially trained to anticipate the needs of patients at night.

The team also includes a group of moonlighting physicians who cover even more hours, providing 24-hour care on weekends and holidays as well as overnight. Most are advanced practice nurses and physician assistants. All are credentialed and have privileges at MD Anderson. They are residents, fellows, and physicians on staff here and at other hospitals.

Improving care for cancer patients
Before the Nocturnal Program's launch in 2011, Hematology/Oncology fellows had been responsible for the care of our inpatients at night. As MD Anderson grew and the number of inpatient beds increased, the need to add to the after-hours team arose.


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