Recently in Survivorship Category

amandawhite417.jpgBy Amanda White

For the past ten years, I've been working as a photographer specializing in weddings, senior portraits, family portraits, editorial and commercial photography. I've also been battling thyroid cancer for the past five years.

I was -- and still am -- passionate about bringing important, yet often overlooked, subjects to light, all while dealing with my own story. That's what's led me to my latest photography project focusing on moms with cancer.

Facing thyroid cancer as a mom
I received my thyroid cancer diagnosis two months after the birth of my first son, Jack. I had to undergo two massive rounds of radioactive iodine. Each time I was isolated from my husband and young son for two weeks. I missed his first Easter and was forced to stop breastfeeding much sooner than I had intended.

constance414.jpgBy Ryan Stephens

As if the cancer journey isn't tough enough, imagine being a single parent to a 15-year-old daughter.

That was the case for Constance Charles when her doctor confirmed the cluster of lumps she'd felt around her right breast was breast cancer - stage 2 noninvasive intraductal carcinoma. She had no history of cancer in her family, so the diagnosis was a complete surprise.

Constance was afraid to tell her daughter, Briahna, because she didn't want to think about her having to face the world alone. It had always just the two of them together in Texas. Their closest family members lived in Kansas.

When she finally worked up the courage and broke the news, Briahna asked, "Are you going to die, Mom?"

More than 12 years later, Constance is proud to call herself a cancer survivor and an MD Anderson employee. Constance always tells single parents - or anyone facing cancer - that faith, family and friends are what helped her and Briahna get to this point.

Advice for single parents facing cancer

Here's Constance's advice for single parents facing cancer:


Drew Long was surprised when he met his surgeon, Craig Messick, M.D. He hadn't expected his doctor to be younger than him.

Drew, a father of three girls under 6 years old, hadn't been diagnosed with rectal cancer yet, but he'd been experiencing some rectal cancer symptoms and was seeking a second opinion before undergoing surgery. Messick quickly stopped any fears or reservations Drew had. He turned to him and said, "I'm going to treat you like you're my brother."

It's a moment Drew will never forget.

"I have two older brothers and an older sister. From the moment he said that, I knew that I wasn't just a patient to him," he says. "I totally trust him starting with everything he said after that and still do to this day." 

Recognizing rectal cancer symptoms

Since his senior year of college, Drew had struggled with Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. A former college athlete and the coach of the Air Force Academy men's basketball team, Drew had always managed the disease through diet and exercise. But in September 2013, he started experiencing stomach pain and digestion issues that wouldn't go away. He underwent a series of tests, but each one came back negative. His doctor sent him to the emergency room.

stacy47.jpgStacy Sugg had just taken some time away from her job as a teacher to spend more time with her children and her husband. But just a few months later -- on her 16th wedding anniversary -- she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"It was not exactly the gift I was expecting," Stacy says.

To calm her fears, Stacy scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson in the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center's Multi Team Clinic in Houston, not far from her Conroe home.

Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment and a mastectomy

During her first appointment, Stacy and her husband met with all her doctors, including her surgeon, her oncologist and her radiation oncologist. They made a plan for her breast cancer treatment.

"As someone who's just been diagnosed with cancer, all you want is to know what you need to do next," she says. "We left with smiles on our faces. We had a plan, and we knew that our doctors were all on the same page. It was a very comforting feeling."

Kate Boone412.jpgBy Kate Boone

When I was younger, calling in "sick" was typically code for "sleepy," "found something better to do" or "didn't really feel like it."  

But when I was diagnosed with stage four melanoma in June 2014, I knew I'd have to take a lot of sick days because I was actually sick or trying to prevent feeling even worse. Thankfully, I've gotten by with help from my coworkers.

Coping with chemo side effects
My melanoma treatment called for oral chemotherapy. I'd take five pills a day  for three months. I thought it'd be like taking aspirin with few side effects, and I would just be rid of my cancer. Easy, right?

madsen41.jpgBy Matt Madsen

Ever since my wife's large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer diagnosis, I have felt less known as "Matt" and more known as "Stephanie's husband." I never felt that I had a story to tell. After all, what could I possibly have to say when I wasn't the one fighting cancer?

Coping with my wife's diagnosis

Being the spouse of someone with cancer is hard. As a husband, all I want to do is fix the problem. However, cancer is a problem I can't fix. I can support Stephanie in the best ways I know how. I can be there for her, encourage her and just hang out with her. 

But none of those things make the disease leave her body. Since I couldn't do anything to make the cancer go away, I found myself feeling helpless and worthless. And it showed. It showed in my career, and it showed in my relationships with others.

BillLambert325.jpgBy Bill Lambert

After my my rectal cancer surgery, walking was a challenge. But thanks to my care team, my supportive family and friends and lots of hard work over the past year, I plan to run across the finish line at the 2015 SCOPE Run at MD Anderson on Saturday, March 28.
Well, run might be a stretch. But just the fact that I can entertain running that distance is a testament to so many factors. I now feel I've come full circle.

My rectal cancer treatment

I once read that getting a cancer diagnosis for a second time is like surviving a plane crash only to be involved later in a train wreck. That sums up how I felt. My recurrence came during my five-year annual CT scan, and I had had no reason to believe anything was wrong.  

The second diagnosis was devastating, but I began treatment: a long, complicated surgery and chemotherapy.

hurst324.jpgBy Brittany Hurst

I think most young people picture their lives as college, engagement, marriage and having a family. My husband and I were no different. We'd always wanted to have a family of our own.  But my cancer diagnosis and my ovarian cancer recurrence threw a wrench into these plans.

We were fortunate to have other options for becoming parents. We considered a few of them before deciding that adoption is the best choice for us.

Why we chose adoption

Once we found out I had ovarian cancer, we realized we needed to start planning right away if we wanted to have a family. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve and freeze some of my eggs before my ovaries were removed during my ovarian cancer treatment.

We hoped that I'd be able to carry our children once I had been in remission two years. But when the cancer returned in May 2014, my husband and I decided that may be too risky. So, we looked into surrogacy. But the cost of surrogacy was an absolute shock! 

By Amanda Swennes
MCC facebook.jpg
Our program that connects cancer patients, caregivers and survivors through one-on-one support has a new name. But the mission and motto remain the same: "Sometimes the best help comes from someone who's been there."

Formerly known as Anderson Network, a program of volunteer services, myCancerConnection pairs cancer patients, survivors and caregivers with trained volunteers who've had the same or similar diagnosis, treatment or experience. This one-on-one support program gives cancer patients someone to talk to throughout their cancer journey. 

We recently asked a few myCancerConnection volunteers why our one-on-one program is important to them. Here's what they said.

myCancerConnection brings cancer patients hope and understanding.
"I signed up to volunteer because I was so grateful for the individuals that spoke to me upon my diagnosis. It was so comforting to talk with someone who had been through it. It helped dissipate the fear. I love that someone can call myCancerConnection and get matched by diagnosis. I never know exactly what someone wants to hear or where they are with what they are going through. But I always find it's hope and understanding that become the common ground." -- Lou Russell, colon cancer survivor

Talking to others gave me strength and hope.
"Just knowing there was someone to talk to that knew exactly what I was going through gave me that extra strength and hope I needed to get through the rough times. I will always be thankful for MD Anderson's staff and that one volunteer who took the time to reach out to me." -- Stacie Strebeck, breast cancer survivor

136355_Schlembach_P.JPGBy Pamela J. Schlembach, M.D.

"I just want a good night's sleep, doctor." This is something I hear very frequently from my cancer patients on our weekly visits.

Insomnia is common in cancer patients as well as the general population. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to a host of medical problems, including chronic fatigue, depression, obesity, diabetes and heart  disease.

Insomnia can be caused by a number of medical conditions, medications, stress, lifestyle and diet. Before assuming all sleep issues are due to medical conditions alone, I frequently run through the following healthy sleep hygiene list with my patients. Many make some of these adjustments, and their sleeping problems vanish.

Gail Morse12015.jpgBy Gail Morse

After my breast cancer treatment, I was so inspired and gun ho about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I had just lost 10 pounds and felt good.

But I didn't stick with my healthy lifestyle. Just before my six-month check-up I realized, I had gained the weight back and then some. So, what happened?

Well, life happened. I'd struggled to deal with my new normal and get back on the old saddle again, and my healthy lifestyle took a backseat. 

Finding my new normal

I know I'm not alone in this. I've heard so many cancer patients say a few months after treatment that they felt lost not knowing what to do next. And that's the issue.

During cancer  treatment, I had unintentionally created a daily routine. I knew where to go, what to do, what I would feel like. Now the ritual was broken. I had to consider a big question. What did I want to do with my life after cancer? 

amanda42.jpgBy Amanda Woodward

As a melanoma survivor, I know how important it is to find the right dermatologist. After all, I've spent my fair share of time doing just that. My husband is in the Army, and we move often. Each time, I have to find a new dermatologist. It is one of the most stressful parts of moving around for me. It takes a while to build mutual trust.

But I've been fortunate to find some really great dermatologists who listen to my concerns and whom I trust to find any abnormal moles that could lead to skin cancer recurrence.

Here's what I look for in dermatologists:

Are they listening to me?
Like really listening. I spotted the abnormal mole that led to my original melanoma diagnosis. It was just a gut feeling. No, I'm not a doctor, but I do know my body and expect my dermatologist to at least listen and acknowledge my questions and concerns. In the same breath, however, I need my dermatologist to hear me when I say I'm anxious. I would have them remove all of my skin if that were a possibility! So, I also need my dermatologist to reign me in and help me determine what really needs to be examined or removed.


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