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drew514.jpgWhen I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I immediately had a lot of questions. I needed to know what I was up against.  Personally, I wanted to know the basics: What stage was my cancer? What's the game plan? I didn't want statistics. I wanted to know what we needed to do to beat it, and I wanted to get started.

I wasn't the only one with questions. My friends and family had several as well. Below are some of the most common questions I received after my colorectal cancer diagnosis.

How did you know you had colorectal cancer?
I didn't know. I had been battling Crohn's disease for 10 years, and the symptoms of Crohn's are very similar to that of colorectal cancer. I assumed my recent increase in bowel movements and loose stools were just a Crohn's flare-up. I finally went to the emergency room after I'd started to experience pain and more blood in my stool. A colonoscopy and blood work confirmed I had cancer.

What was your colorectal cancer treatment?

My colorectal cancer treatment consisted of 28 days of chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery. The initial tumor was found in my rectum, so I had to undergo radiation before the doctors removed my large intestines.  

I had radiation every weekday morning and took oral chemo medication (Xeloda) on the same day. I took the weekends off, then returned on Mondays for the next dose.  The radiation was tough on my body. I threw up every morning, and my body ached after the seventh treatment or so. After I completed the radiation, I rested for nearly two months. After that, had surgery.  

Once they removed my colon and rectum, my care team discovered 18 separate tumors in my colon. The cancer also had spread to 22 of the 118 lymph nodes they'd removed. Because of this, they started me on a four-month chemo regiment.

Each Monday, I went to the clinic to begin the two-day treatment of two drugs, 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) and Oxaliplatin for four to six hours on Monday mornings, I had my premeds and initial dose of chemo. Once I'd completed this infusion, they connected me to a pump that dripped over 36 hours. This allowed me to stay at home for the second chemo medication. On Wednesday mornings, I returned to have the pump disconnected and my port flushed.  After 10 to 12 days off, I started another round. I did a total of eight rounds.

513kayce.jpgBy Kayce Smith

I got the call on my 25th birthday. "Kayce," my dermatologist said. "You have stage one melanoma. You need to go to MD Anderson for cancer treatment."

I never thought I'd be facing a melanoma diagnosis -- or any kind of cancer, for that matter. And I certainly didn't expect to be a young adult cancer survivor.

Most of the time when people approached me after hearing about my melanoma diagnosis, they said things like:

  • "Wow, you are so young ..."
  • "How are your parents dealing with it?"
  • "Will you have help financially? If you need extra support, please don't hesitate to call."

511Sabrina.jpgBy Sabrina Dominguez

I have a problem with the saying "Love yourself." People say it as if it could cure world hunger: "I know it's hard, sweetie, but all you have to do is love yourself." What kind of advice is that?

It's as if they're saying my medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor, is going to be magically healed through my ability to love myself. I don't think so.

But during medulloblastoma treatment, I learned something important. Loving yourself does not heal you. It does not stop your disease or make the chemo work faster.

Yet loving yourself does allow you to cherish the nurses and the techs. It allows you to appreciate your friends and family who have stuck by your side and encouraged you.

Loving yourself allows you to enjoy the rollercoaster of life you've been given.

Finding pride after my medulloblastoma diagnosis
For the first couple of months after my medulloblastoma diagnosis, I refused to listen to anybody about the necessity of loving myself. I stayed in my hospital room. I refused to leave the house. I preferred to stay within my comfort zone rather than broaden my horizons.
 
Then it hit me: Why does it matter what other people think of me? I am my own person. I make my decisions. I can sulk and cry about how life isn't fair, or I can be an inspiration to those who are newly diagnosed, to those who have a problem with themselves because of the image chemo so generously gives them.

anna jackson.jpgBy Anna Masten Jackson

My husband and I recently made the familiar journey to MD Anderson again. It was time for another check-up. Since I was diagnosed with stage four  thymoma in 2013, this has become a normal part of our life. We do labs and scans, and then prayerfully meet with doctors, hoping for good news.

These trips always remind me of the frightening reality of cancer. On days like these, I reflect on the lessons I have learned from cancer.  There have been so many. They help calm me as I face my appointments.

Lately, I've been focusing a lot on being thankful. I've come to realize that for me, it's not a feeling. It's a choice.

Finding light in the dark times
One of the biggest things I have learned is that thankfulness leads me out of the fear and darkness cancer can bring. As soon as I begin to look for the blessings around me, the darkness fades a little. When I choose to be thankful, my focus shifts and the burden gets a little lighter. I may not FEEL thankful, but when I choose to BE thankful, I find strength for the trial.

carolinebrown56.jpgBy Caroline Brown

In 2012, my husband and I moved back to Texas from New York City. We were excited to be back in our home state and ready to start a family. Breast cancer, infertility and finding a surrogate were not part of our plans.

My breast cancer diagnosis
I remember like it was yesterday. One night in the shower, I stumbled upon a lump on my left breast. I knew it was not supposed to be there.

I called the doctor the next morning. After a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy, I learned that I had stage two ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer. I was stunned. I was young -- 30 years old -- with no family history of breast cancer. I had recently had my annual exam and thought I was healthy.

Learning about infertility during cancer treatment
I already knew of MD Anderson's reputation. Since it was in my new hometown of Houston, I made an appointment there right away.

michele51.jpgBy Michele Longabough

Since my own stage four anal cancer diagnosis five years ago, I have done plenty of reading surrounding what not to say to someone with a stage four cancer diagnosis. Through these articles, I've noticed the list can be quite extensive. After all, there are so many types of cancers and personalities.

But the top comments that seem to appear over and again include, but are not limited to:

  • "You can beat this!"
  • "Everything will OK!"
  • "If you pray and believe enough, God will heal you!"
  • "_____ can cure you!"

Sometimes, the wrong words just come out
Trust me when I say this: I have heard it all. And yes, some of the things that people said to me after my anal cancer diagnosis hurt my feelings.

But after thinking about why anybody would say such things, I thought about what I would say if I were faced with a close friend's diagnosis. I knew I, too, would say the wrong things.

mikemason429.jpgIn 2004, Mike Mason was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. His doctors said he had four to six months to live. Just days away from his 60th birthday, he was devastated.

"I thought to myself, 'Happy birthday, Mike. You have cancer,'" he recalls.

Mike accepted the diagnosis, but he refused to accept his prognosis. So, Mike returned home to Coffeyville, Kansas, and contacted MD Anderson for a second opinion.

Mike's hepatocellular carcinoma treatment
"As luck would have it, I was assigned to Jean-Nicolas Vauthey, M.D., one of the best at liver resections and liver cancer," says the retired English teacher.

He started hepatocellular carcinoma treatment in in October 2004. First, he did eight rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. After that, he had surgery to remove part of his liver.

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:

DrewLong48.jpg

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 colorectal cancer yet, but he'd been experiencing some colorectal 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 colorectal 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?

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