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yasupport.jpgBy Wendy Griffith, Social work counselor

Appointments. Side-effects. Medications. Side-effects from medications. More sickness. Lengthy tests. Hospitalizations. It can be a lot at any age, but for young adults (generally those ages of 18 to 39), it can be especially so at a time when it feels like life is just really getting started. How are you supposed to manage all of that, much less cope with it?  

The answer is different for every person. But if there is one thing that can help young adults cope with cancer, it's social support. In fact, that's true for cancer patients of all ages.

What is social support?
Social support essentially refers to the feeling of comfort, care and connection that you get from others. "Others" could be immediate family, extended family, close friends, acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, and yes, even strangers. These individuals might help you by providing emotional support, physical support, financial assistance, laughter, motivation, distraction or a combination of all of the above. It all depends on what you need or want, and that can completely change from day to day.

Why social support is important

No matter what your exact situation is, being sick can get lonely.  

Even patients with incredible support systems feel alone from time to time, or need a little extra boost from outside their network. We need different things, at different times, from all kinds of different people.

pathology_group_163_Edited.jpgBy Carol Bryce

It's not unusual for a patient to arrive at MD Anderson with one diagnosis and leave with a different one.

For example, when approximately 2,700 patient cases were reviewed during September 2011, 25% showed discrepancies between the original pathologists' reports and our pathologists' reports. While the changes in diagnosis were minor in 18.7%, in the other 6.2%, the diagnosis change made a major difference.

"In some of those cases, we changed the diagnosis from malignant to benign or vice versa," explains Lavinia Middleton, M.D., professor in Pathology. "That adds up to approximately 2,000 cases per year where we can say that our pathologists' reviews have impacted patients' treatment.

"Changing the diagnosis from malignant to benign is the best call to make. This makes us feel really good."

"Review of outside material is a major component of the work done by our Pathology and Hematopathology departments," adds Stanley Hamilton, M.D., division head in Pathology/Laboratory Medicine. "The correct pathologic diagnosis and stage of each tumor are key to high quality care for patients."

How we make the correct diagnosis
So why do we find things overlooked by other health care institutions?

"Our system here helps us make the right cancer diagnosis. It's based on three things: sub-specialization, volume and redundancy," Middleton explains.

Msteel.jpgBy Melanie Steel

Silver lining. I've never been a fan of that term. It reminds me of a consolation prize that no one really wants. But three years ago, I began to accept and appreciate that term in a whole new way.

In December 2011, my dad was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. The ugly disease had resurfaced in his lungs after lying dormant and undetectable since the treatment of a spot on his back in 2001. The diagnosis stopped our family in our tracks. We soon learned how deadly this disease can be and started wondering how much time we had left with my dad. At that time, I was ready to receive my consolation prize -- my silver lining.

Finding the silver lining after Dad's melanoma diagnosis
For the first time in my life, I treated time with my family as my first priority. In December 2011, we didn't know if dad would have two months or two years. We guessed closer to two months and began to spend as much time together as possible.  

17shah.jpgEach year, about 24,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with multiple myeloma, according to the American Cancer Society. Most are over age 65, but people of all ages are diagnosed with this blood cancer.

Multiple myeloma is marked by the growth of malignant plasma cells found in the bone marrow. These myeloma cells typically make a protein found in blood and urine.

Over the past decade, we've made tremendous strides in treating multiple myeloma, enabling patients to live significantly longer.  

Jatin Shah, M.D., associate professor in Lymphoma/Myeloma, recently spoke with us about how multiple myeloma is diagnosed and treated, as well as new therapies on the horizon.
Here's what he had to say.

How is multiple myeloma diagnosed?
The most common way to diagnose myeloma in its earliest stages before symptoms appear is through routine blood work. If a patient has elevated protein levels, several tests are conducted and their combined results interpreted in order to make a myeloma diagnosis.
What are common myeloma symptoms?

Before they receive a definitive diagnosis, myeloma patients often have problems with anemia, high calcium or renal failure. Or, they may have broken bones or lytic lesions, where sections of bone are basically destroyed.

vickiepoe.jpgBy Vickie Gibson Poe

Most people would agree that having cancer is a bad thing. No question about it. You don't want anyone you love, including yourself, to get cancer.

And yet, I firmly believe that there is some good in every situation. My husband's prostate cancer is no exception to this rule.

My husband's prostate cancer diagnosis
When my husband's metastasized prostate cancer was diagnosed last summer, I felt as though the sunlight had been sucked from our world. Pain seemed to surround us. He was in pain physically, and I was helpless to relieve it. I was in pain emotionally and was unable to relax or find peace.  

The time that lapsed between his prostate cancer diagnosis and the beginning of his prostate cancer treatment seemed like a time of endless torment. When I look back on those few weeks now, the only color I can see in my mind's eye is gray. We were victims of a dark disease, living in a fog of agony and indecision and sadness.

But during the past six months, the light has come back into our world. Little by little, the gray mists have cleared, and welcome bursts of vibrant color have broken through to illuminate our many blessings. 

Peterson_Trackers_140.jpgBy Carol Bryce

Imagine if you could monitor your health between clinic visits and quickly share the details with your care team.

That's the premise of research that's being conducted here.

"We're looking at new ways of data collection that are grounded in real-world challenges," explains Susan Peterson, Ph.D., in Behavioral Science.

This may help address health issues and behaviors that change when you you're not at the hospital or your doctor's office. For example, patients with head and neck cancer usually don't develop swallowing difficulties while they're at their doctors' offices. And former smokers may not struggle with relapse while they're sitting in clinic waiting rooms.

So our researchers are looking at ways to use modern technology to monitor patients' vital signs, side effects, symptoms and treatment adherence between medical appointments.

Research that's based in reality
In their first study, the researchers tested the use of mobile sensors like fitness trackers and other portable devices that enable patients to monitor their health at home. The study was conducted by researchers from MD Anderson, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers created a system that used mobile applications to gather daily data from patients and send the information to their health care teams. The system, called CYCORE (CYberinfrastructure for COmparative effectiveness REsearch), enables patients to directly enter their personal health information into various devices.

"Using CYCORE, we've been able to gather behavioral, environmental and psychological data that's typically not collected in research trials," Peterson says.

dec30.jpgCaring for your loved one during cancer treatment can be a full-time job, but it's important to take care of yourself, too. To lend our caregivers a helping hand, we've compiled some of our favorite posts from the past year about caring for cancer patients.

Here are 2014's most helpful and inspiring posts for cancer caregivers.

11 tips for cancer caregivers from our Facebook community
No one knows the challenges that caregivers face better than other caregivers, so we asked our Facebook community to share their advice. Read their 11 tips for cancer caregivers.

My husband's courageous hemangiopericytoma journey
Lindi Senez's husband, Dave, lost his cancer battle in June. "But with all the bravery and love that he showed each step of the way, to me, in way, he won," Lindi says. Read their inspiring story.

6 things cancer caregivers can do at MD Anderson
At MD Anderson, cancer caregivers are survivors, too. That's why we offer many services and amenities to help caregivers. Learn about six things caregivers can do at MD Anderson.

How my daughter's childhood cancer diagnosis changed our lives
When her 4-year-old daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Gaylene Meeson's life changed forever. Yet, the Meesons are determined not to let cancer control their lives. "We appreciate everything, we focus on what matters, and we don't take anything for granted."  Read the Meesons' story.

advice.jpgWalking into the unknown is scary, especially when the unknown is cancer treatment. Fortunately, many of our brave and inspiring cancer survivors are willing to share what they've learned from chemotherapy, hair loss, a diagnosis and many other experiences.

Here's some of the best advice we received in 2014:

Kyssi Andrews' three lesson on coping with hair loss  
After her Wilm's tumor returned, 6-year-old Khyrstin (Kyssi) Andrews wasn't excited about losing her hair again. So, her mother Marla helped by making it fun and reminding her that she's beautiful no matter what.
Read how Marla helped Kyssi cope with saying goodbye to her hair.

5 ways to make cancer treatment more fun
After Marshall Lauen was diagnosed with stage 2B Hodgkin's lymphoma, he and his wife Ashley became determined to make his lymphoma treatment as fun as possible. "After all, we're fighting for his life, not just a clean PET scan," Ashley says.
Find out how Ashley and Marshall bring fun to MD Anderson.

A monstrous art project. A groundbreaking lung cancer screening trial. Inspiring stories from our patients and caregivers. Our mission to end cancer. These are just a few of the topics that been popular on MD Anderson's YouTube channel in 2014.

To find out what you missed -- or rediscover some favorites -- check out our top five videos from 2014.

What drives MD Anderson to end cancer

What if we could end cancer? This is the bold idea that guides everything we do here at MD Anderson. Watch our patients, survivors, volunteers and employees describe the hope they feel here and share why they believe MD Anderson is the best place to treat and ultimately end cancer:

experts.jpgNo matter where you are in your cancer journey, you're likely curious about cancer prevention and treatment. Or, maybe you're trying to figure out how to manage an unexpected side effect or whether or not you can exercise during cancer treatment.

Whatever the case, you're sure to find wisdom, guidance and hope in the insight of our doctors and other experts, many of whom shared their expertise here on Cancerwise and in our Cancer Newsline podcast series in 2014.

Below, we've pulled together some of the most helpful insight and advice our doctors and other experts shared this past year. We hope you find something here that helps or inspires you in your cancer journey.

Immunotherapy: Unleashing the immune system to attack cancer
We're making great strides in immunotherapy, a new way of treating cancer that targets the immune system rather than the tumor itself. And, this innovative approach, developed by Jim Allison, Ph.D., professor in Immunology, will open doors for treating all types of cancer. Learn more in this podcast with Allison and Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology.

Understanding the new HPV vaccine
Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new vaccine targeting nine types of HPV, including five that haven't been covered by other vaccines. And, for those who get the vaccine, that means even better protection against cervical cancer, oral cancers and other cancers linked to HPV, says Lois Ramondetta, M.D., in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. Find out what you should know about the new HPV vaccine.

Want to make life a little easier for someone facing a cancer diagnosis? Or, just not sure what to say or how to make them smile? According to our patients, survivors and caregivers, it's not as hard as you might think.

This past year, our bloggers and members of our Facebook community shared plenty of great suggestions on what to say and how to help cancer patients and caregivers. Here's some of the best advice they shared in 2014.

19 ways to help someone with cancer
Most cancer patients are used to people saying, "Let me know if I can help." But if you really want to help someone dealing with cancer, you may have to take matters into your own helping hands. And, that doesn't always require much time or money. We recently asked the cancer survivors, patients and caregivers in our Facebook community to share the most helpful thing you can do for a friend or loved one dealing with cancer. Read their advice.

19 ways.jpg

By Lindsey Garner

No matter how you like to get your heart rate up and work up a sweat, exercising for at least 30 minutes every day can help lower your chances for many common cancers. If you're looking for ways to get your 1/2 hour in, check out how some of our busy employees stay active.

Triathlon training
"I like to exercise with a triathlon coach to prepare for my long distance races. It helped me prepare to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles for IRONMAN Texas 70.3 and IRONMAN Florida 70.3. Now I'm training for my second IRONMAN Texas 140.6, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike course and a 26.2-mile run. Having a coach helps provide me with the discipline I need to improve my swimming, cycling and running. I get better results and my workouts are challenging." -- Corinna Perez, fitness center liaison

Moderate cardio and fitness classes
"I recently had a baby, so I've been focused on moderate cardiovascular exercise, like working out on an elliptical machine, walking, moderate jogging and core strengthening exercises. I also enjoy exercise classes that are fun and upbeat, like Zumba, night club cardio and step aerobics."-- Kimberly Tripp, director, Acute Care Services Administration



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