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meditation_2.jpgAt MD Anderson, we consider our cancer caregivers to be cancer survivors, too. After all, our caregivers walk every step of the way with our patients.

We asked the cancer patients, survivors and, of course, caregivers in our Facebook community to share their advice for cancer caregivers. Here's what they said.

Conquest Garden photos (1).JPGFrom the gardens to the skybridge to our leading doctors and kind volunteers, there are many things that set MD Anderson apart and help our patients feel at home. 

Whether it's your first appointment or you've become an old pro, you're likely to appreciate these 17 unique features.

1. Our 69 aquariums. The 66 freshwater and three saltwater live coral reef aquariums in our clinics are home to 3,000 fish -- mostly cichlids, angelfish and rainbow fish. The largest freshwater aquarium, by the Pharmacy in the Main Building, holds 850 gallons.

2. The Observation Deck.
Located on the 24th Floor of the Main Building, the Observation Deck offers peace and quiet, as well as a scenic view of Houston. You're also welcome to play the piano up there.

3. Our volunteers. MD Anderson is fortunate to have more than 1,200 volunteers who contributed  193,921 hours of service last year. Stop by our Hospitality Centers for a cup of coffee and to visit with these caring individuals, many of whom are survivors or caregivers themselves.

4. Our pianos. Twenty-five of our volunteers play the piano in The Park and the Mays Clinic between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. They also play at the Rotary House each day. If you're lucky, you may hear our harpist or one of our two flautists as well.

5. Room service. Inpatients -- as well as their families, caregivers and friends -- can order whatever they want from room service each day from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Our classically trained senior executive chef comes up with the menu of fresh, cooked-to-order meals.  

Steve_Swisher1020.jpgBy Jacqueline Mason

History buff is just one way to describe Stephen Swisher, M.D. He's also a husband and father of two, head of our Surgery division, an honored professor in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, and co-leader of MD Anderson's Lung Cancer Moon Shot -- our own history-making endeavor in the world of medicine.

How do you view your current role here?
I see myself as a surgeon but also as a division leader and an advocate for surgeons. I try to help communicate other surgeons' points-of-view at MD Anderson.

What influenced you to become a cardiothoracic surgeon?
No one in my family had a career in medicine. I became interested in medicine after I took a course in biology. The anatomy of the chest is particularly interesting and exciting to me. During my general surgery residency at the University of California at Los Angeles, a cardiothoracic surgeon and researcher I worked with influenced my decision to complete my fellowship in surgical oncology. Also, the chief of surgical oncology at that time, demonstrated to me the process of taking research findings and using them to improve surgery for cancer patients. That's something I've come to especially appreciate in my co-leadership of the Lung Cancer Moon Shot.

hiddenhistory.JPGBy David Raffetto

Thousands of people enter our Main Building every day -- some through the front door, some through a skybridge, some through a tunnel.

What many don't realize is that the Main Building isn't just one building. Currently, we're working on the 21st addition to the building, which has been around for nearly 70 years.

As you travel through the building, you probably pass from new to old to even older without noticing. But if you know where to look, MD Anderson's history still is visible. You just have to do some crouching and craning.

A long look back
Our initial location on Holcombe Boulevard opened in 1954 after MD Anderson operated in temporary quarters near downtown Houston for 10 years.

The original Main Building was actually three interconnected buildings: Anderson Central, Anderson East and Anderson West. Each stood six stories.

Suitcase.jpgWhat do you pack when you head to MD Anderson for cancer treatment? If it's your first trip, you might be a little overwhelmed.

So we asked the experts --the patients, caregivers and survivors that make up MD Anderson's Facebook community. Here's what they recommend packing for a trip to MD Anderson:

Something to keep you busy while you're here. Whether it's your laptop or tablet, a book, games or letters of encouragement, it can be helpful to have something to pass the time and keep your mind occupied while you wait.

A notebook and pen or a digital voice recorder. Your first visit can be overwhelming, and it may be difficult to take in all the information you receive. Not only is it a good idea to bring a list of questions for your doctor, but many of our patients also find it helpful to take notes or record their appointments so they can remember the information later.

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."


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