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By Lindi Senez

Fighting cancer is truly a team effort. But what happens when the caregiver of the team is no longer the caregiver? What happens when your loved one passes away, and you have to find your new normal?

This is what I've struggled to figure out since my husband, Dave, died one year ago on June 30, 2014.

Saying goodbye to Dave and my role as his caregiver
For eight years, Dave fought hemangiopericytoma, a type of brain tumor, in the most relentless, selfless journey I've ever witnessed. I was his full-time caregiver while continuing to teach high school science, run our family's brain tumor foundation and care for our beautiful, blue-eyed baby boy.

After sleepless nights researching brain tumors and clinical trials that might provide relief, I began to listen when Dave said, "You'll be OK."

Still, I wasn't quite sure how I would find meaning in my life again.

Garza_Library_049.jpgBy Gillian Kruse

The room is kept cold and dim, but it's not for medicine or lab samples.

Instead, this helps maintain the archives in the Historical Resources Center of the Research Medical Library.

Rare texts share shelf space with boxes and files from our past presidents and early leaders.

"We had a man come from out of state to view one of the rare books," says Javier Garza, an archivist in the library. "We were the only library out of all the institutions he contacted that had this specific pathology book."

Most items in the archives can't be found anywhere else.

The archives tell our story and the story of the Texas Medical Center. Our own doctors and researchers wrote many of the books.

Preserving MD Anderson's history

Founded in 2000, the Historical Resources Center is a collection of books, photographs, papers and artifacts about MD Anderson and the people who helped build the cancer center we know today. The archives are available to anyone.

Items typically come to the archives when retiring doctors or researchers donate their materials, or when employees of a department or lab find hidden things when they're moving to a new space. In both instances, the library preserves the items that best illustrate our history and the evolution of cancer care.

Yoga_SmithaMallaiah_067.jpgBy Lindsey Garner

The room is quiet. Soft light streams through the shaded windows. A soothing voice breaks the silence and addresses the cancer patients and caregivers sitting on yoga mats.

"Focus on your breath. Inhale deeply and exhale," Smitha Mallaiah says. "Bring in positivity and let go of your tension."

Mallaiah, a mind-body intervention specialist at MD Anderson, leads our Yoga for Health class. This is one of several group classes offered for cancer patients and caregivers at our Integrative Medicine Center. The class teaches gentle stretching, breathing and meditation.

Our mind-body intervention specialists offer practices like yoga and meditation to complement cancer treatment and help improve quality of life for our patients and their families.

Mallaiah's goal is to help people taking her class relax and enjoy mindfulness. She says mindfulness is being in the present moment without judgment and realizing your potential for love and kindness.

Cancer affects patients in many ways, Mallaiah says. They're affected by the disease, treatments and side effects such as fatigue. And they're facing the stress of cancer and still needing to manage work and other aspects of life.

"Mind-body practices such as yoga give people the opportunity to be more accepting of their situation and face it and feel more in control," Mallaiah says. "It also provides great physical benefits."

What our mind-body intervention specialists do
Mallaiah, her mind-body intervention specialist colleagues, Rosalinda Engle and Amie Koronczok, along with Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., assistant professor in Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine, are trained in a variety of mind-body techniques. They work together to promote and model habits of health for our patients, caregivers and employees. Recently, they started a yoga class for pediatric patients in MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.

Nurse_Training_218 - cw.jpgBy Lindsay Lewis

As a nurse right out of school, Carlos Hernandez knows it can take time to master the skills needed to become a good nurse.

"New nurses come to work every day hoping to learn something new, build trust with our teams and become comfortable with our practice," says Hernandez, a clinical nurse on our stem cell transplant unit. "But what we really need is confidence -- and to know that we're making a difference for our patients."

To help build that confidence and ensure that our patients are getting the best care possible, MD Anderson has started a simulation training program. It gives new nurses role-playing situations with real patients.

"It's really important that we give our new nurses a way to develop relationship-building and communication skills with patients early in their nursing careers," says Kelly LaFrentz, who manages the program.

A new approach for training nurses
The simulation program is designed to bridge the gap between what new nurses learn in school and what they experience at patients' bedsides. It gives nurses a safe environment to run through real-life scenarios and gain valuable feedback.

"You don't know what you don't know until you've been through it," says James Cavalier, Jr., who runs the simulation center. "With this type of learning, nurses are able to identify their own opportunities for improvement as well as validate what they're doing right. It quickly builds their confidence."

linda69.jpgBy Linda Ryan

It's been almost four years since my cervical cancer recurrence, but my two sons, Matthew (17) and Ethan (13), never traveled with me to MD Anderson until my check-up last month. I planned my appointment over their spring break so we could fit in a few college visits in Texas. I knew it might be emotionally difficult for them to go to MD Anderson. So, I did my best to handle the visit the same way I handled my treatment. I tried to let them see and feel my confidence.

Not only were we there for my appointment, but they joined me on the visits with all of the wonderful people I've have met in Houston through my journey. Both boys agreed that it was cool to see my home away from home.
 
How our visit affected my sons

After our visit, I gave Matthew and Ethan a few weeks to digest the emotions associated with going my oncology appointment before asking them a few questions separately about the experience. They both agreed that MD Anderson was not what they expected.

They were both surprised and saddened by how many people -- of all ages, races and genders -- were treated at MD Anderson. Matthew said being there made him sad because he knew what the families he saw were going through. 

5ways_socialwork.pngWhether you're a patient or a caregiver, cancer treatment is stressful. But our social work counselors can help.

At MD Anderson, each patient is assigned to a social work counselor. These licensed clinical social workers help patients, their family and friends cope with cancer. They also can help you deal with psychological or social concerns you face during and after treatment.

Here are a few ways our social work counselors can help.

joaquin_altenberg522.jpgBy Joaquin Altenberg

Whenever I think about my amazingly brave strong mother, I can't help but thank MD Anderson for the moments they gave us.

My mother was 24 when she was diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer. Doctors in our city gave her less than 60 days to live. Luckily, she was in the medical profession and had heard of the work being done at MD Anderson.

Enjoying more time together

I was 6 years old then. I remember she went through a challenging experimental surgery, chemotherapy and numerous other treatments.

There were many days we lay together, not knowing if it was the last moment we would be together.

My mother was the only parent my sister and I had, so we were very scared for our future if she passed away. 

Those risky procedures gave us five more years together. After the procedure, we traveled to far off places together, lived abroad for two years and experienced a fantastic life together.

6Ways.jpgFor cancer patients and caregivers, the support of friends and loved ones can make a big difference. But when you live in another city or state, this can be hard.

There are still ways you can help a cancer patient, though. We asked cancer patients, survivors and caregivers in our Facebook community to share their advice for helping loved ones with cancer from afar. Here's what they said.

  • Stay up to date on your friend or loved one's treatment. Learn as much as you can so you can  understand what he or she may be going though. If your friend is sharing updates through social media or on a website like CarePages, make sure you're following them. That way, you can respond when your friend or loved one needs it most.
  • Send a text message. Sending a short, simple message will let your friend know you care. Try to do this on days when he or she has treatments, follow-up appointments or important scans. Your message could make a big difference during a stressful time.

Traci3.JPGBy Traci Newsom, social work counselor

As a cancer patient, it often can feel like you've lost control.  You can't control your diagnosis, your test results or your cancer treatment side effects. You may even feel like you've loss control over your work, finances and the reactions you receive from loved ones.

When you feel that loss of control, it's important to focus on what you can control. Remind yourself that even when you can't control something, you have the power to decide how you will respond to the situation.

513kayce.jpgBy 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."

FB_IMG_1429206144264.jpgBy 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.

frank55.jpgBy 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.

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