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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.

Dollarphotoclub_60743674.jpgBy Eric Tidline, Social Work Counselor

Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common issues patients face. Even among patients who have completed cancer treatment, fatigue is one of their foremost concerns.

Fatigue describes a physical and/or mental state of being tired and weak. Physical fatigue and mental fatigue are different, but they often exist together, which can make the experience even more frustrating.

However, it is often possible to curb cancer-related fatigue. Although it may sound counterintuitive, moderated exercise is the number one treatment for cancer-related fatigue.

For some, walking, weight lifting and cycling are great ways to exercise. But if you aren't ready or aren't able to participate in such activities, you might find progressive relaxation exercises helpful. Progressive relaxation is one type of exercise that is often gentle enough to meet most people's needs.

What is progressive muscle relaxation?
Progressive muscle relaxation is based on the idea that the body responds to anxious thoughts by tensing muscles, and the tense muscles add to the anxiety, creating a cycle of stress.

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.  

rachel-cruz-82.jpgBy Rachel Cruz

Even though I'm a melanoma survivor, I rarely associated cancer with life until recently. Mortality statistics are abundant and easy to research, and we all know too many people who have succumbed to the disease. Those are the statistics and experiences that tend to come to mind when you hear the word "cancer." 

But when I attended the Anderson Network Cancer Survivorship Conference last year, I realized that there is life after cancer. And not just life, but positive, healthful living.
 
Three years ago I was diagnosed with melanoma 16 weeks into my first pregnancy.

Fortunately, my melanoma was removed 19 days after it was diagnosed, and I delivered a healthy baby right on schedule.

What I gained from the Anderson Network Cancer Survivorship Conference

With my melanoma treatment behind me, I began volunteering at MD Anderson. A few of the other volunteers invited me to attend the Cancer Survivorship Conference. 


I was intrigued by the wonderful set of breakout sessions that were on the agenda, and also by the Saturday morning medical panel, which featured MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., as well as my own wonderful doctor, Jeffrey Gershenwald, M.D., professor of Surgical Oncology.  I really liked the idea of attending a conference where I could learn not just about melanoma, but also about medical and psychosocial issues that other cancer survivors often face.

I gained so much more from the experience, though.

caroline78.jpg

By Jacqueline Hensler

Caroline Deetjen was 37 years old and in peak physical condition when she felt the painful lump in her left breast. For years, she had been running marathons and, after four months of training, she had just completed her first century bicycle ride -- a 100-mile endurance feat. She was young and healthy, so she figured it was nothing. She waited five months before seeing her doctor. 

"I thought it was nothing," she says. Cancer doesn't run in my family so I thought it might go away." 

A mammogram and subsequent biopsy confirmed that Caroline had stage IIA breast cancer.  

Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment
Making the decision to come to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment was easy. Caroline's doctor referred her here for breast cancer surgery, and a friend had raved about her experience at MD Anderson. 

victorhassid.jpgBy Victor Hassid, M.D.


Breast reconstruction and symmetry procedures following mastectomy are very personal decisions that breast cancer patients need to carefully consider.

Fortunately, patients have choices when it comes to breast reconstruction. There is no cookie-cutter approach, and patients need to discuss their options in depth with their physician.

Here are five of the most common breast reconstruction myths I hear.

Myth: Breast reconstruction must take place immediately after a mastectomy.
Some women aren't certain they want breast reconstruction and wait months or even years before having surgery. Patients still undergoing breast cancer treatment may want to wait until after they have completed radiation, as radiation can limit your options for reconstruction and affect the final result. However, other women want to have breast reconstruction when they have their mastectomy.

There is no right time to undergo breast reconstruction. The timing of your reconstruction should be up to you and your physician.

Neuropathy.jpgFor many of our patients, peripheral neuropathy is among the unexpected side effects of cancer treatment.

It's caused by damage to your peripheral nerves -- that is, the nerves that are farther away from your brain and spinal cord. Certain complications of cancer or cancer treatments can cause or worsen neuropathy. So can some health conditions, such as diabetes, alcoholism, AIDS, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis and carpel tunnel syndrome.

We recently spoke with Julie Walker, advanced practice nurse in Neuro-Oncology, about peripheral neuropathy. Here's what she had to say.

What causes peripheral neuropathy in cancer patients?

The nerve damage that causes peripheral neuropathy may be the result of many different factors, including some chemotherapy drugs using vinca alkaloids, platinum compounds, taxanes and thalidomide.

ErikaLewisandfamilyjune.jpgBy Erika Archer Lewis

Nine weeks after undergoing a prophylactic double mastectomy, I met with a physical therapist at my doctor's suggestion. I'd had pain in my arms and had not been able to fully extend them since the surgery. I was excited about this meeting. I knew it would be yet another tool to help me manage my new body.

After a lengthy conversation with the physical therapist and lots of questions, a few physical motion tests, then some poking, prodding and painful extensions, some measurements, and assessments, I was diagnosed with lymphedema.

At the time, I had no idea what lymphedema was. But since my diagnosis I've learned a lot about this cancer treatment side effect. Here are some of the questions I get asked most frequently about lymphedema.

What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a collection of protein-rich lymphatic fluid. The protein acts as a magnet for more swelling and feeds infections. It's typically caused by an interruption to lymphatic flow, like surgery, radiation, infection or trauma.

iStock_000019589751Small.jpgBy Brittany Cordeiro

The summer sun is shining. But as you head outdoors to enjoy it, be mindful. More than two million Americans will be diagnosed this year with a cancer that is almost totally preventable -- skin cancer. The primary cause of skin cancer is too much sun exposure.

"If you're a cancer survivor, you should take extra precaution," says Jeffrey E. Gershenwald, M.D., professor in Surgical Oncology and co-leader of our Melanoma Moon Shot. While the same sun safety tips apply to those with or without a history of cancer, survivors of skin cancer, including the most aggressive type -- melanoma --, are at increased risk of developing a second skin cancer or melanoma.
 
We asked Gershenwald what you need to know about sun exposure and sun protection if you're a cancer survivor. Here's what he had to say.

How common is melanoma as a secondary cancer?
The median age of diagnosis of melanoma is about 50. Of those individuals diagnosed, melanoma may or may not have been the primary cancer. Really, everyone is at risk for skin cancer.

Linda Ryan and her sons65.jpgBy Linda Ryan

When I talk with others who have received a cancer diagnosis, they often want to know my secret: What did I do to survive cervical cancer and thyroid cancer? They are looking for a glimmer of hope. 

Give your body what it needs
People don't ask me what I specifically did to beat cancer. Rather, they ask about the chemotherapy drugs that were given to me -- Cisplatin and Alimta.

I often share that I was in the best shape of my life when I received my second cervical cancer diagnosis, as I had just run a marathon. I also tell them that I continued to exercise during my cervical cancer treatment. It was important to me to keep moving and let cancer know what I thought.   

healthy_living_garden_028_master.JPGBy David Renninger

Between the towering buildings and bustling intersections of MD Anderson's sprawling urban campus lies a hidden world of verdant foliage, flowers, fountains and even a vegetable garden. 


But these gardens aren't just for decoration. Our Healthy Living Garden, located outside the Mays Clinic, provides patients, caregivers and employees with a key to cancer prevention, nutrition and improved health and wellness.

Here are some ways the Healthy Living Garden can help boost your health.

Increase your nutritional knowledge  
"One way to reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases is to eat a plant-based diet rich in vegetables and fruits," says Clare McKindley, a dietitian in Clinical Nutrition and Healthy Living Garden visionary.

In the garden, you can learn about nutritional best practices and improve your understanding of healthy eating. The signage includes specific health benefits from different color families of vegetables. For example, yellow/orange-colored veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins contain antioxidants, like vitamin C and carotenoids. They also contain fiber, which helps fight certain cancers and supports heart, vision and immune function.  

William B  Baun.jpgBy Bill Baun

Joy is the inner smile that has the power to open hearts, remove fear and instill hope. It connects us to all we are -- our passions, purposes and our spirits. 

Practicing joy every day stimulates the immune system, increases our energy and keeps us centered and grounded in the midst of life's challenges. Joy is not an invented feeling; rather it's being open to the joy that surrounds us. 

As a stage 4 prostate cancer survivor, I've been inspired by Martha Beck's Joy Diet, which is 10 daily practices that can enhance every day's journey. I use my daily joy practices to keep me mindful of the gift of today and be aware of the joy that surrounds me.

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