Recently in Survivorship Category

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

pam.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.

mindfulness.jpgBy Eric Tidline, social work counselor

Coping with cancer isn't easy. So, how do you build the mental strength to cope with everything you're facing? Mindfulness is one thing that may help.

How mindfulness helps

Mindfulness allows us to step outside of our own minds and observe how we think about things. Over time, those who practice mindfulness learn to become less attached to their own thoughts, perceptions and beliefs. People begin to take actions based on the true nature of people and events, rather than how they wish or hope them to be.

By focusing on the details of our experiences, we are better able to understand what is happening in each moment. This new understanding will allow you to spot and avoid negative reactions. Mindfulness also better enables us to see the many ways we can positively respond to our situations. This helps us achieve inner peace and balance.

Studies show that patients who practice mindfulness begin to feel better despite their medical problems. Physical symptoms don't necessarily go away, but that's not the aim of mindfulness. Rather, the goal is to help you find a different perspective and a new way of coping with your illness.

What is mindfulness? And how do I do it?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on your thoughts, emotions and feelings in the present moment with acceptance and without judgement.

It is one simple coping technique that's been found to reduce stress, boost energy and improve well-being.

While it may sound complicated, mindfulness practices are simple. One easy way to stay mindful is to focus on your breath.

MelMann310.jpgBy Mel Mann

In December 1997, Interferon -- the only available treatment to hold back my terminal chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)  -- was failing me. After nearly three years on the drug, that had been expected.

Sitting in my doctor's office at MD Anderson, 40 pounds lighter than my normal weight, my doctor offered a sliver of hope. He said, "We have a month-long clinical trial of a CML drug called PegIntron.  

I knew there were no guarantees that it would work. But I immediately said, "I'll go for it!" Time was running out for me, and I desperately needed a Hail Mary drug to survive CML.

Jumping from clinical trial to clinical trial isn't easy. But with no other options left, I had to have faith and keep trying.

Starting the PegIntron clinical trial to treat my CML
I started the PEG Intron trial in January 1998. Since it was the middle of the school year, I reluctantly left my wife and young daughter 800 miles behind. A lifelong distance runner, I remember looking out the hotel window at the Rotary House International at MD Anderson, thinking about going for a jog, but realizing that I couldn't jog even one city block.

ChaseJones35.jpgWhen Chase Jones was an 18-year-old baseball player at The University of North Carolina, he was diagnosed with germinoma,a type of brain tumor. The rest of his team shaved their heads in support.

Their gesture had a huge impact on Chase and led him to start the Vs. Cancer Foundation. The organization empowers sports teams, from little league to the pros, to raise awareness and money in hopes of ending childhood cancer.

Since it started in 2013, Vs. Cancer has raised more than $1.5 million for children's hospitals and cancer research. They've worked with The University of North Carolina, Duke University, Texas A&M University and the Seattle Mariners, among others.

"Every age, every sport, every form -- college, high school, youth -- we've given them the platform to make a difference," Chase says. "As a cancer survivor, I couldn't be more excited about that."

Finding hope during pineal region germinoma treatment

One day after baseball practice, Chase walked off the field with a sharp headache. It was unlike any pain he'd known before. He never thought it was a brain tumor symptom

Chase was diagnosed with stage four pineal region germinoma. This type of tumor starts in the center of the brain and had metastasized to his spine.

There were few treatment options for him close to home. So, after a series of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation at a North Carolina hospital, Chase came to the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.

ShaneScottCrossFit224.jpgBy Shane Scott

I have always been an athletic guy. I played football in high school and college. But after my testicular cancer treatment, I was overweight, and I wasn't leading a healthy lifestyle. I knew I needed to get stronger to prevent my cancer from coming back.

CrossFit turned out to be exactly what I needed. It helped me do a lot more than just get back in shape. It helped me find my confidence and connect with others.

Starting CrossFit after testicular cancer treatment

My testicular cancer treatment included three cycles of chemotherapy and a surgery. It was tough, but following the surgery, I was declared cancer-free.

Two years later, I learned a CrossFit gym would be opening in my hometown. I was so excited.

I missed the competitiveness and locker room feel I had known playing football in high school and college. This was going to be how I would become  healthy again. The first day I went, I knew I was hooked. My gym is like a big diverse family. We would do anything for each other, inside the gym or out.

I know that if I don't take care of my body, it will not take care of me. I have cancer scar tissue in my body, and I need to do everything in my power to strengthen it and build it up so the cancer won't come back. 

Conquest.JPGWhether you have an upcoming CT scan or are expecting news from your doctor, waiting can cause anxiety, worry and stress. You might have trouble sleeping or feel impatient with your loved ones. All of this is completely normal. Here at MD Anderson, we call that scanxiety.

The good news is there are many ways to deal with scanxiety. To help make the waiting game a little easier, we asked our Facebook community how they cope with the stress or anxiety before an important scan or appointment. Here's what they had to say:

  • Pray. Many of our patients and caregivers said they found comfort in prayer. Because they feel a loss of control, praying allows them do what they can and then let go of those anxious feelings.
  • Have faith and confidence in your care team. Know that our doctors and the rest of your care team will take care of everything. That's their job.
  • Listen to your favorite music. Whether you're in the waiting room, in your car or at home or work, music can help you escape from the realities of cancer, or find the strength and determination to face them head-on.
  • Find humor. Nothing eases tension like laughter.

bree226.jpgBy Bree Sandlin

In the summer of 2012, I was diagnosed with stage three triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). I was 37 years old and had 5-year-old twin boys, one with severe cerebral palsy. Having a child with special needs, my husband and I were no strangers to hospitals and doctors. Despite those experiences, nothing could have prepared us for the words "you have cancer."  

The next year of my life was one of the most difficult, and as I was soon to learn, one of the most inspiring. For my TNBC treatment, I underwent six months of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, an oophorectomy and two months of radiation therapy.  

On February 13, 2013, my husband and I heard the three most amazing letters ever recited:  
"pCR." Pathologic Complete Response. The cancer was gone, and I was officially in remission!  

We cried, hugged our oncologist, hugged our kids, and embraced each other. We decided at that moment that this was a day worth remembering. The end of my TNBC would mark my cancerversary date. Our own personal pre-Valentine's Day celebration of love and joy.

Celebrating my first TNBC cancerversary by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
When TNBC cancerversary number one arrived in 2014, we decided to go big. My husband and I joined a team of 16 cancer survivors and like-minded cancer-haters to climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro. Kili reaches 19,341 feet and rises high above the surrounding plains of Tanzania, Africa. The experience was life-changing.  


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