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maisalem44.jpgWhen Mai Salem looks in the mirror, she sees a survivor.  After all, she's beaten pancreatic cancer twice. Her journey has changed the way she faces each day.

"Now I focus on the good and positive things," Mai says. "I don't think about anything but living."

A second pancreatic cancer treatment journey
Mai received her first pancreatic cancer diagnosis seven years ago. After three rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, Mai was cancer-free. But five years later, her pancreatic cancer returned.

Initially, Mai was devastated, but with the help of her family, friends and medical team, she found the strength to go through pancreatic cancer treatment for a second time. She underwent four rounds of chemotherapy before her doctors told her they didn't think her body could handle any more. She would have to return to her home in Virginia and wait to see if it had worked.

amanda42.jpgBy Amanda Woodward

High strung, intense, a little worried. These are all words that have been used to describe me most of my life. But it was never a big deal. These tendencies never prevented me from enjoying life. But this, like many other things, changed after my melanoma diagnosis.

Coping with anxiety during my melanoma treatment

A prevalent side effect of Interferon, the drug I took as a part of my melanoma treatment, is depression. So, during my melanoma treatment I began speaking with a counselor and was prescribed an antidepressant for the first time.

When my melanoma treatment was over, I weaned off the antidepressant. The feelings of anxiety and depression came back.

I was overcome with worry. Paralyzed, even. Long after the melanoma treatment side effects subsided, I could not shake the random, unspecified worry, that constant feeling of nervousness.

I couldn't sleep because I couldn't quiet my mind. I didn't want to go out because sitting in the car was too much stillness, and stillness meant I had the opportunity to think, which would inevitably lead to tears.

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By Linda Ryan

My most recent goal was to watch a marathon. Yes, watch. 

I know that watching the race will motivate me to run another one. In 2011, I completed my first marathon.  Four weeks later I found an enlarged lymph node that indicated my cervical cancer was back.  

It's been almost two years since I finished the eight rounds of chemotherapy that it took to rid my body of the disease. Now, need to prove to myself that I'm just as strong as I was before cancer.   

Finding motivation during my cervical cancer treatment
Spectating has always motivated me to participate in athletic activities.  I think it's normal for people feel that way. For example, when I watch Olympic ice skating, I want to go to an ice rink. In my mind I look graceful and beautiful as I skate across the ice, but in reality my posture is poor and my movements are mechanical. 

During my cervical cancer treatment, I purposely participated in events that I wouldn't necessarily have before, such as skydiving. There was no guarantee I would live to put those items on a list to do when I was feeling better.  

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By Brandie Sellers 

All cancer sucks. However, I must admit (not-so-secretly) that I envy people who complete cancer treatment. In my case, breast cancer treatment has been constant since my diagnosis and recurrence in 2011. I often return to MD Anderson for CT scans, bone scans, chest ultrasounds and other tests that come along with having a later stage breast cancer diagnosis. The scans are never completely clear, and there's always something to watch. Living without absolutes really messes with my head.  

Living from cancer treatment follow-up exam to follow-up exam 

I'm always hesitant to make plans for more than six months ahead of time. That's how often I have my follow-up scans. With so much uncertainty, it's easy for me to get into the pattern of living my life in short bursts. I wonder, "Why plan something for next year?  What if I'm in cancer treatment again?"

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Alma Faz's goal has always been to run. After losing her leg during simultaneous bone cancer and ovarian cancer treatments, Alma tried participating in other sports while wearing prosthesis: cardio kickboxing, skiing, weightlifting, spinning and cycling. But through it all, she wanted to return to running. It was one of the things she missed most.

On Jan. 19, more than 15 years after her amputation, Alma not only reached her goal, but surpassed it as she crossed the finish line of the Chevron Houston Marathon.

"It was the culmination of more than three years of training, with many trials and tribulations along the way," Alma says. "It's the realization of a dream that I sometimes felt, in my early running efforts, would never become a reality."

Finding a career through cancer treatment 
Alma was a college freshman when she received her cancer diagnosis. She survived both cancers, but her right leg had to be amputated mid-calf. 

iStock_000011750431Medium.jpgBy Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D.

It's that time of year ... when we resolve to lose weight, exercise more and eat more healthfully.

Changes like these can reduce our chances of developing cancer and improve our overall health and quality of life. But our experience and studies show that New Year's resolutions often fall by the wayside a few weeks into the year. We know what we need to do, and have good intentions, but most of us are not able to turn resolutions into reality.

If you're serious about making changes, consider the following tips.

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The holidays can be difficult when you or a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment. But while your usual traditions may be interrupted, the holiday spirit can still be found.

We asked several survivors how they coped with cancer during the holidays and what advice they had for patients undergoing treatment during the holidays.

Here's what they had to say.

 Focus on what makes you happiest about the holidays
"Life has changed, and every holiday provides me with a deeper appreciation for being given another year. Cancer hasn't changed the way I celebrate holidays, but it makes being around family and friends much more special.


Find what makes you the happiest about the holidays and nourish it, feed it, water it. And then watch it grow, empower and inspire." 
--
Justin Ozuna, chronic myeloid leukemia survivor

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No matter where you are in your journey, cancer can raise more questions than answers. But by doing your research and adhering to the adage that "knowledge is power," you can make your cancer journey more manageable.

Here's some of the most helpful advice and insight shared by our doctors and other experts in 2013.

4 common myths about cancer doctors
In getting to know his patients, Nikesh Jasani, M.D., has learned that there are a lot of misperceptions about oncologists. Find out what he wishes more patients knew.

CT and MRI scans: Tips for coping with stress
Do upcoming MRI or CT scans cause you to lose sleep and interfere with your daily life? Good news: it is possible to manage this so-called scanxiety. Learn how to reign in scanxiety.

LindaRyan121013.jpgBy Linda Ryan

During my recurrent cervical cancer treatment, I knew that mental strength was as important as my physical strength. But it was something I had to work on each day, especially on days when I felt weak. 

After lying in bed for several days after my chemotherapy, I forced myself to get up and walk around the block. I rarely wanted to walk, but I knew if I got up and got moving outside in the fresh air, I would feel stronger. Those were days when it took considerable mental strength to power through and regain my physical strength. 

Through my experience, I've learned that there are several things that can help cancer patients stay mentally and physically strong.

1.    Don't feel sorry for yourself.
As a cancer patient, it is natural to want to feel sorry for yourself. What good does that do? 

When I first received my cervical cancer diagnosis, a friend noticed I didn't sound down or upset. I told her that feeling sorry for myself would let cancer win. As I've learned from reading blog posts by other cancer survivors, many people are grateful for their cancer or that goodness came out of it. I agree. The people I have met and the friendships that have been strengthened are the top my list of good things that have resulted from my cancer. 

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Eight years after undergoing treatment for a Hodgkin disease recurrence, Kenneth Woo was just about to graduate from his oncologist's care at MD Anderson.
 

Then, the unthinkable happened: he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) after suffering from fatigue and dizziness that he'd thought was anemia.

"I'll never forget the sad look on my doctor's face when he told me I probably had leukemia," Kenneth says. "At that point, going from Hodgkin disease to leukemia felt like getting a death sentence."

Doctors told Kenneth that AML was a common side effect of the type of radiation and chemotherapy he'd received as part of his Hodgkin disease treatment. "Because two of my chromosomes were mutated from previous cancer treatments, it didn't look promising," Kenneth recalls.

At that point, Kenneth and his wife Clara -- who were raising two young daughters -- agreed to ensure neither faced this AML diagnosis alone. They agreed to tell each other exactly what they were feeling, even on their worst days.

AML treatment: A clinical trial and chemotherapy
For his AML treatment, Kenneth immediately began chemotherapy and enrolled in a clinical trial that kept him in isolation for weeks. He couldn't see his daughters at all. And, when his blood cell count dropped to zero, Kenneth could only see Clara through a glass window.

hank.jpgBy Hank Lech

 

Recently, I was reflecting on everything that had come up since my chordoma diagnosis and surgery.

 

In the process, I recalled the F I made on my very first exam in seminary. That F turned out to be something to be thankful for. It motivated me. I ended up doing well in the class and in my other classes.

 

Could I be thankful for my cancer diagnosis, surgery and recovery, just as I had been thankful for the F?

woman stretching.JPGBy Matthew T. Ballo, M.D. 

"Dr. Ballo, I want to go on your Road to Wellness Program."

I love it when I hear this from patients, but there's one problem. It's not exactly a program. It's just the starting point for helping patients get and stay healthy.

What is The Road to Wellness?

The Road to Wellness was designed to help cancer patients and survivors live a healthier lifestyle. It introduces the concept of cancer survivorship to patients receiving active cancer treatment, while promoting wellness, reducing stress and fatigue, and preparing patients for life after cancer treatment. The Road to Wellness does all of this through education aimed at exercise, nutrition, stress management and smoking cessation.

The Road to Wellness was designed to be rolled out in the Regional Care Centers in the Houston suburbs, but the strategies it uses are available to patients at our Texas Medical Center Campus as well.

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