By Madylan Eskridge
Intellectual and technical challenges keep the work of a research nurse interesting. But Lisa Marsh says the journey with her patients is one of her favorite things about her job.
"The 'ah-ha' moment when the trial results are discovered is exciting," says Marsh, research nurse supervisor, Infectious Diseases. "But my role allows me to interact with patients on trials for several months, or even years, and the relationships I build with them are especially rewarding."
Following protocol on protocols during clinical trials
Every clinical trial for cancer treatment follows a detailed plan called a protocol. Managing the clinical and operational aspects of protocols is a primary responsibility for Marsh and her fellow research nurses.
Recently in Support Category
By Madylan Eskridge
By Stephanie Schmidt
I'm pretty accustomed to Transportation Security Administration agents, little clear bags with less than 3.2 oz. of fluid, pat downs, bag searches, the mad rush to place all of your items into those plastic bins before putting them through the scanner, etc., but as a caregiver, traveling with a cancer patient was completely new to me.
A million questions raced through my mind as my dad and I prepared to fly to Houston for his colon cancer treatment. Do we need a doctor's note explaining that he cannot go through typical security scanning machines? Will other people be pushy and impatient, as it takes longer for us to go through security checks? The list goes on.
After numerous trips to and from MD Anderson, I'd consider myself a seasoned pro. Here's my advice for any other caregivers preparing to travel to Houston with a loved one for cancer treatment:
Arrive earlier than you typically would.
Everything takes longer than you think it is going to, from checking in for a flight to waiting for TSA assistance for a wheelchair.
By Carla Fallick
About two years ago my dad was diagnosed with what we thought was terminal oral cancer. The day before Christmas 2011, we were told he had two months to live. My 24th birthday was exactly two months from that day.
Lucky for us not only was my dad there for my birthday two months later, he beat the odds and he was in remission about six months after that devastating prognosis. However, this Christmas we discovered my dad's cancer has returned. While some of the feelings I've experienced are all too familiar, I've decided to handle the situation differently this time.
My dad's oral cancer treatment
My dad endured several rounds of chemotherapy followed by radiation. The treatment left him unable to talk or even swallow for a long time.
Seeing the pain my dad was living in was unbearable. It's very hard to see someone who you've spent your entire life looking up to, and thinking is invincible, in such pain.
Like cancer patients, caregivers are subject to stress throughout their loved ones' cancer treatment. Taking time to participate in a stress-relieving activity may help ease anxiety, especially if you're traveling to MD Anderson from out of town or staying at the hospital for an extended time period.
We offer a variety of programs and services especially for our caregivers. Here are six things caregivers can do while at MD Anderson:
Visit the chapels: For many caregivers, helping a loved one through their cancer journey is a test of faith. The Freeman-Dunn Chapel in the Main Building, the Muslim Prayer Room in the Main Building, the Louise J. Morgan Chapel in the Lowry and Peggy Mays Clinic are open to anyone of any faith who needs time to pray or meditate.
By Emily Neumann
When my mom and dad called me downstairs to talk, I rolled my eyes. My grades hadn't been as good as they should have been my second semester of college, and I was not prepared to discuss it...again. What I didn't realize is the news that would come would shake me far worse than any plummet in my grades: My dad had cancer.
My dad's AML diagnosis and treatment
When my dad was initially diagnosed in El Paso, Texas, he was told he had chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) --which could be kept at bay for some time by using daily medications. My parents left for MD Anderson to get a second opinion, where they learned it actually was acute myeloid leukemia (AML)--and much worse than we first thought. My sister and I spent the summer at our home in El Paso while mom and dad went back and forth for treatments.
My dad's primary treatment -- a research chemotherapy that seemed to work on others -- failed on my dad. I vividly remember when my mom got the call with the brutal news. We were walking to the hospital. My mom broke down crying, my sister's shrieks echoed in the parking garage, and I was in shock.
CT scans and chemotherapy sessions don't exactly make great dates. Coping with cancer treatment can be hard on couples, as it introduces new obstacles and challenges.
We talked to some of our patients and caregivers about what helped them grow closer to their partners during treatment. Here's their advice:
Communication is key.
"Cancer causes a variety of emotions for couples. In most ways, it brings you closer together and makes your relationship stronger. In other ways, it feels like you're a million miles apart, as you are both dealing with your own set of emotions.
Communication is key. As a caregiver, you will never fully understand what it's like to be on the other side and vice versa. Always talk about your emotions and try to understand each other. Also, make time for one another as a couple. Steve and I have date nights, weekend getaways, etc. But even just quiet time at home is great, too."
--Jennifer Martin, melanoma caregiver
Andrews, better known as Kyssi, is usually late for her doctor's appointments. The 5-year-old cancer
survivor is a bit of a celebrity, and she's often stopped by other MD Anderson patients
who want to meet her or pose for a picture. Her positive perspective and unique
style have inspired thousands who face similar journeys.
Kyssi was diagnosed with a Wilm's tumor May 1, 2012. After undergoing chemotherapy, she rang the bell and entered remission. But not long after that, her Wilm's Tumor returned with metastasis to her lungs. Doctors said she had a 30% chance of survival.
Armed with a contagious smile and an ever-growing Hello Kitty clothing collection, Kyssi stayed strong through her lung cancer treatments: a surgery, frequent hospitalization and after her first chemotherapy didn't shrink the cancer, another nine rounds of an intense type of chemo commonly referred to as ICE. ICE is named for the initials of the drugs used: ifosfamide, carboplatin and etoposide.
By Brittany Cordeiro
Sleep is essential to life.
But restless nights are all too common for cancer caregivers, who may be experiencing stress or caring for a loved one who is also suffering from disrupted sleep.
"Sleep deprivation negatively affects a person's health and quality of life," says Diwakar Balachandran, M.D., MD Anderson Sleep Center medical director. It can cause moodiness, memory troubles and problems focusing. Chronic sleep loss also may lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. As a caregiver, it's important to get enough sleep so you can care for your loved ones. A healthy lifestyle and simple behavior changes can do the trick. Balachandran answered some common questions on getting a better night's rest.How do you know if you are getting adequate sleep?
Ask yourself: "Do I feel rested when I awake?" And, "Do I feel alert during the day until it's time to go to bed?" If the answers to both questions are yes, you're probably getting enough sleep.
By Stephanie Schmidt
I'll never forget the phone call I received in December 2012. I rushed to my parents' house, where my mom met me outside. I asked her, "Is it cancer?" She nodded her head as I hurried into the house and climbed into bed with my dad.
Dad had lost a lot of weight and felt sick for several weeks. A CT scan showed a malignancy that caused obstruction in his colon. He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer with liver metastases.
Through tears, my parents, my brothers and I discussed that we were not going to give up, no matter what. Dad had too many things he wanted to do. He wanted to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. He wanted to meet his future grandkids. He wanted to grow old with my mom.
"We're going to war with cancer," he said.
I took on this attitude, too. My dad is my best friend. Accepting that I wouldn't have him in my life just wasn't an option for me.My dad's colon cancer treatment
By Erin Buck, Ph.D., and Irene Teo, Ph.D.
Cancer treatment and sexuality can be awkward to discuss, but opening the lines of communication can make a big difference for patients and their romantic partners.
Cancer treatment often leads to changes in appearance or bodily functioning. When these changes happen, patients may feel less positively about their bodies and their sexuality. The strain these changes put on romantic relationships and sexual health often goes unaddressed.
One way to cope with changes and strengthen your relationship as a couple is to communicate openly with one another. Here's advice for communicating about appearance or functional changes you or your partner may experience due to cancer and cancer treatment:
Start the conversation
The first step toward managing feelings about physical changes is to discuss them with one another. If there's something on your mind, it may be on your partner's mind too. In difficult times it can be comforting to share your experiences and be reassured. Remind each other that you are in this together.
By Harley Hudson
During my trips to MD Anderson for my chronic
lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) treatment, I noticed a group of people who
seldom receive accolades.
They are the volunteers in the short blue jackets who inhabit the halls and centers of the vast complex of MD Anderson.
How MD Anderson volunteers make a difference
They are the young and the not so young whose task is to make life for patients and families a little bit easier. They are the greeters at the door who make us feel welcome as we walk into the facilities. They are the people who man the Hospitality Centers and Information Centers and answer our questions.
They are the musicians who comfort our souls as they play their instruments in the entry halls and The Park on the second floor of the Main Building. They are floor host and patient advocate volunteers who come into patient rooms and offer comfort items.
They are the volunteers who push their carts through the waiting rooms offering hot coffee, hot chocolate and hot tea to patients and families.
By Lindsay Lewis
Andrea Ferguson will never forget a defining moment in her education as a chaplain.
During a visit with a patient of a different religious background than her own, Ferguson sensed she might not be the right chaplain to meet the patient's spiritual needs. As she prepared to leave, she was asked to stay -- the patient simply needed someone to be there.
"I'll always remember that moment, because it shows what being a chaplain is all about," Ferguson says. "We're here to meet our patients where they are and journey with them."
MD Anderson chaplains are graduate-educated members of our interdisciplinary care teams who provide spiritual care to patients, families and staff of all faith traditions.
"We're here to contribute to the holistic care of patients and caregivers," says Gale Kennebrew, D.Min., director of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Education. "And we respect the beliefs of all people who come into our care."
Different from most clergy
Chaplain David Stouter admits the role of a chaplain in a health care setting sometimes is misunderstood.
"We often have to explain how our job differs from other clergy, especially since many hospitals work only with volunteer ministers from the local community to serve their patient population," he says.