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mehran417.jpgBy Madylan Eskridge

When Reza Mehran, M.D., isn't in the operating room, he's flying a twin engine plane or helicopter. When he's not taking to the skies, he may be scuba diving or hunting for dinosaur fossils.

His colleagues liken him to a Renaissance man, but he humbly attributes his extraordinary resume to his affinity for new things and new places.

For example, Mehran studied what appeared to be a tumor on the left scapula of a gorgosaurus dinosaur in Houston's Museum of Natural History. Turns out, the growth was a callus, which implied this dinosaur had suffered a bone-breaking injury. Mehran's discovery gave scientists a unique perspective on this creature's ability to heal and survive. He'll continue pursuing paleontology this summer when he participates in a fossil dig in South Dakota.

"I'm an old-fashioned adventurer," Mehran says. "If I had lived in the 16th century, I probably would've sailed the world searching for unexplored lands."

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By Pam Schlembach, M.D.

Thanks to recent developments in the medical field, more and more people are surviving and thriving after cancer treatment. However, patients who undergo this rigorous process can experience uncomfortable side-effects years after treatment, such as lymphedema. While researchers are identifying solutions to these side-effects, patients need to know there are methods available to help them cope with lymphedema.

Lymphedema symptoms
Lymphedema occurs when the body's lymph system has been damaged or blocked.  It is typically caused by an abnormal flow of protein-rich lymphatic fluid into the arm or leg. The flow of lymphatic fluid flowing into the arm or leg should be equal to that flowing out. Lymphedema develops when the amount of lymphatic fluid entering the area is greater than what is coming out, causing blockage and swelling. It is most common in patients who are overweight, had axillary surgery and radiation, a large number of lymph nodes removed, or developed an infection after surgery.

celebrating_caregiver_5_tips_to_help_manage_the_caregiving_role.JPGBy Sarah Hines, Social Work Counselor

"Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past, what to enjoy in the present, and what to plan for in the future." - Arnold H. Glascow

It's normal for patients and loved ones to get caught up in "planning mode" during cancer treatment. However, it is important not to  forget the joy of living.

Planning for the Future
Here are some tasks you might consider as you plan for your or your loved one's future:

•Medical Decision-Making: Do you have a clear understanding of your diagnosis, treatment plan, current medications and prognosis? Keep a running list of questions for your multi-disciplinary team. Visit the Learning Center for up-to-date educational materials from reputable resources.

Have you had a discussion with your loved ones about your end-of-life decisions? Complete Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will documents. Social Work can assist with these documents.

By Ashley Smith

There are few positive words associated with cancer. It's hard, it's hectic, it's nerve wracking, and it consumes your life. As a caregiver, I found myself at a loss for how I was supposed to approach cancer after my then-fiancé, Austin, received his testicular cancer diagnosis. (Don't worry, we didn't break up. In fact, we got married.) 

Twenty-four hours after Austin checked in to MD Anderson, I came up with a hashtag that I could use to share our experiences with our family and friends on social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Using the hashtag would allow our friends to see all of our posts about Austin's cancer journey in one place. As an almost-tech-savvy 24-year-old, I was looking for a way to document Austin's testicular cancer treatment without being depressing. I began taking sometimes goofy, sometimes serious, but always informative pictures.

Here are some of the photos we shared with the world on our journey, our own little hash tag to share our #MDAadventures:

messenger_468_EditKM_4x6.jpgBy 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.

bobschmidt.jpgBy 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.

carlafallick22514.jpgBy 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.

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Like cancer patients, caregivers are subject to stress throughout their loved ones' cancer treatments. 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.

EmilyNeumann21714.jpgBy 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.

hand holding heart shaped rock Cancerwise.JPGCT 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

kyssi1.30.jpgKhyrstin 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's Wilm's Tumor and lung cancer journey
Kyssi was diagnosed with a Wilm's tumor May 1, 2012. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, 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.

Sleep.jpgBy 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?  
Studies show people live the longest if they get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. But some people may do well with less and some need more.

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.

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