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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.

Surviviorship_balloons.JPGBy Fran Zandstra

Who are cancer survivors? Survivorship means different things to different people. At MD Anderson, the term cancer survivor is inclusive and refers to anyone who has received a cancer diagnosis, from the time of diagnosis through the rest of his or her life. 

Celebrating hope and life during Survivorship Week
On Sunday, June 1, thousands of people around the world will unite to celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day. The good news is that we will have millions of survivors to celebrate. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are 13.7 million cancer survivors living in the United States today and that number is predicted to grow to 18 million by 2022.  

In commemoration of Survivorship Day, MD Anderson will celebrate survivors and their caregivers May 31-June 6. MD Anderson's Survivorship Week is a celebration of hope and life. Survivorship Week provides an opportunity for cancer survivors to connect with other survivors, celebrate milestones and learn about what's new in cancer survivorship. 

Finding health and well-being after cancer
A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that stress, diet, exercise behaviors and body weight status can influence health-related outcomes after a cancer diagnosis. Cancer survivors may find the physical, emotional and social effects of the disease to be stressful. But people who are able to use effective coping strategies, such as relaxation and stress management techniques, good nutrition and exercise have shown to have lower levels of depression, anxiety and side effects related to the cancer and cancer treatment. 

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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