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By Pam Schlembach, M.D.

Thanks to recent developments in the medical field, more and more people are surviving and thriving after cancer treatment. However, patients who undergo this rigorous process can experience uncomfortable side-effects years after treatment, such as lymphedema. While researchers are identifying solutions to these side-effects, patients need to know there are methods available to help them cope with lymphedema.

Lymphedema symptoms
Lymphedema occurs when the body's lymph system has been damaged or blocked.  It is typically caused by an abnormal flow of protein-rich lymphatic fluid into the arm or leg. The flow of lymphatic fluid flowing into the arm or leg should be equal to that flowing out. Lymphedema develops when the amount of lymphatic fluid entering the area is greater than what is coming out, causing blockage and swelling. It is most common in patients who are overweight, had axillary surgery and radiation, a large number of lymph nodes removed, or developed an infection after surgery.

Sleep.jpgBy Brittany Cordeiro 

Sleep is essential to life. 

But restless nights are all too common for cancer caregivers, who may be experiencing stress or caring for a loved one who is also suffering from disrupted sleep. 

"Sleep deprivation negatively affects a person's health and quality of life," says Diwakar Balachandran, M.D., MD Anderson Sleep Center medical director. It can cause moodiness, memory troubles and problems focusing. Chronic sleep loss also may lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. As a caregiver, it's important to get enough sleep so you can care for your loved ones. A healthy lifestyle and simple behavior changes can do the trick. Balachandran answered some common questions on getting a better night's rest. 

How do you know if you are getting adequate sleep?  
Studies show people live the longest if they get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. But some people may do well with less and some need more.

Ask yourself: "Do I feel rested when I awake?" And, "Do I feel alert during the day until it's time to go to bed?" If the answers to both questions are yes, you're probably getting enough sleep.

iStock_000003443440Small.jpgBy Brianna Garrison and Sarah Hines, social work counselors

"In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times."
― Robert Emmons

Gratitude is a conscious decision that allows us to gain perspective by viewing a situation through an alternate lens. Cultivating gratitude can help those affected by cancer cope.

While it can be difficult to feel grateful during cancer treatment, gratitude makes it possible to remain realistic about the negative impacts of a cancer diagnosis and still identify potential benefits or areas of personal growth.

Cancer patients, survivors and caregivers have told us they've used gratitude to find some of
the following benefits during their cancer experience:

  • Closer relationships with family members and friends
  • Reevaluation of priorities
  • Taking control of a personal health situation
  • Spiritual and personal growth
  • Setting and achieving new goals
  • Greater flexibility, patience, and resilience

iStock_000011750431Medium.jpgBy Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D.

It's that time of year ... when we resolve to lose weight, exercise more and eat more healthfully.

Changes like these can reduce our chances of developing cancer and improve our overall health and quality of life. But our experience and studies show that New Year's resolutions often fall by the wayside a few weeks into the year. We know what we need to do, and have good intentions, but most of us are not able to turn resolutions into reality.

If you're serious about making changes, consider the following tips.

tennis shoes

No matter where you are in your journey, cancer can raise more questions than answers. But by doing your research and adhering to the adage that "knowledge is power," you can make your cancer journey more manageable.

Here's some of the most helpful advice and insight shared by our doctors and other experts in 2013.

4 common myths about cancer doctors
In getting to know his patients, Nikesh Jasani, M.D., has learned that there are a lot of misperceptions about oncologists. Find out what he wishes more patients knew.

CT and MRI scans: Tips for coping with stress
Do upcoming MRI or CT scans cause you to lose sleep and interfere with your daily life? Good news: it is possible to manage this so-called scanxiety. Learn how to reign in scanxiety.

woman stretching.JPGBy Matthew T. Ballo, M.D. 

"Dr. Ballo, I want to go on your Road to Wellness Program."

I love it when I hear this from patients, but there's one problem. It's not exactly a program. It's just the starting point for helping patients get and stay healthy.

What is The Road to Wellness?

The Road to Wellness was designed to help cancer patients and survivors live a healthier lifestyle. It introduces the concept of cancer survivorship to patients receiving active cancer treatment, while promoting wellness, reducing stress and fatigue, and preparing patients for life after cancer treatment. The Road to Wellness does all of this through education aimed at exercise, nutrition, stress management and smoking cessation.

The Road to Wellness was designed to be rolled out in the Regional Care Centers in the Houston suburbs, but the strategies it uses are available to patients at our Texas Medical Center Campus as well.

woman sad.JPG

By Emily Weaver


Depression is a serious illness that can have a major impact on an individual's quality of life. In fact, 15-25% of people diagnosed with cancer also suffer from depression. This is more than double that of the general population. Studies show that mental health and social well-being can affect the success of treatment.


Distinguishing depression from normal sadness

Depression is more than just the normal feelings of sadness. Depression is a when an individual experiences at least one of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:

  • Feeling sad most of the time
  • Loss of pleasure and interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Nervousness
  • Slow physical and mental responses
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling guilt for no reason
  • Decreased concentration ability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

pregnant belly.jpg

By Mindy Loya

Terri Woodard, M.D., says her practice at MD Anderson hasn't yet produced any babies.

But that isn't her only measure of success. It's been less than nine months since Woodard started offering consultations to patients who seek guidance on fertility testing and treatment options for fertility preservation through the Oncofertility Consult Service housed within Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.

Along with Andrea Bradford, Ph.D., she's offering patients comprehensive resources for sexual health and reproductive function. Both services lead with conversations.

"Just having a conversation during an initial consultation doesn't commit anyone to fertility treatments or counseling sessions," Woodard says. "But it means a patient can make an informed choice about whether to seek further services, and it means a lot to patients to know they have options where their fertility and intimate relationships are concerned."

Starting the conversation about cancer and reproductive health
Thanks to advances in cancer treatments, patients are living longer. But those same lifesaving cancer treatments can take a heavy toll.

"We recognize that people don't just go back to being 'normal,' says Bradford, who points to the long-term impacts that chemotherapy, radiation, major abdominal and pelvic surgeries, and hormone therapies can have on patients' sexual function, body image and fertility.

But sexual and reproductive health aren't always high on a patient's list of questions for his or her oncologist. 

By Dave Balachandran, M.D.


Sleep is fundamental to life. From the smallest single cell organisms to living, breathing human beings, every creature on earth gets rest or sleeps. For humans, sleep is vital to our existence. The quality of our sleep can determine whether we live vibrant, healthy lives or are inundated with illness.   

For cancer patients in particular, sleep quality may influence treatment outcomes. Poor quality sleep can influence the patient's prognosis and influence how well the body tolerates cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

Studies show that almost 80% of cancer patients will complain about disturbed sleep during their cancer journeys. Cancer and cancer therapies have side effects that impair good quality sleep, leading to insomnia, daytime sleepiness and fatigue. Sleep affects immune function, and a lack of sleep may put patients undergoing cancer therapy at greater risk of infections.

Sleep help for MD Anderson patients
To help our cancer patients who struggle with sleep, MD Anderson established a Sleep Center in 2006. So far, we have seen more than 3,000 patients with a variety of sleep disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, excess daytime sleepiness and fatigue, restless leg syndrome and other complex sleep disorders. 

fatigue and cancer

By Pamela Schlembach, M.D.

If you ask a patient who has just completed cancer treatment how he or she is feeling, very often the answer you'll get is, "Great!" Most patients are relieved to be through with their treatment and are ready to get on with their lives.

Dig a little deeper, though, and patients usually will confess that they're feeling a little tired.

Unfortunately, fatigue is a common side effect of both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Most patients will be tired at some point in their treatment and often for a few months after they're finished.

However, there are some things you can do to help minimize the effects of fatigue and give you more energy so you can get back to feeling like your old self as soon as possible. Here are some tips to help get your energy back.

Sonia Byrd

By Sonia Byrd

One year ago, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I had a double mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery two months later. My breast cancer diagnosis was a big shock, but once I got over that, I was ready to go on the offensive.

I realized that while I couldn't control having cancer, I could certainly control my journey. I decided I was going to be positive, and I truly believe that mindset played a significant role in my recovery.

For a lot of women diagnosed with breast cancer -- whether they get reconstruction or not -- their womanhood is challenged, and they wonder if they'll ever be able to get back to their former selves. I admit that I asked that of myself, and a year later, I can say with conviction: "Life does not end with a cancer diagnosis." 

The experience that cemented this mantra for me is one I'll never forget.

How preparing for a bodybuilding contest gave me support and confidence
A co-worker had recently participated in a bodybuilding fitness contest and, on several occasions in early 2013, encouraged me to compete as well. I politely declined.

During follow-up visits with my physicians, though, they routinely mentioned how well I looked. In response, I joked that I had been urged to enter this competition. I was pretty shocked when they said, "You should totally do it." Hearing that planted a seed, and I actually started to consider it. I spoke to my family and friends, who also encouraged me to enter, and I ultimately decided to go for it.

I admit that I originally thought of the competition as little more than a bikini contest, but once I started training, I realized it is much more than that. 

sunscreen.jpgFor many of us, summertime means time outdoors by the pool or at the beach. But while you probably already know to use sunscreen to help protect your family from skin cancer, including melanoma, it turns out that many of us aren't using sunscreen correctly.

That's the word from Dennis Hughes, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics. Below, he shares nine things about sunscreen and skin cancer that may surprise you.

1. Your family probably isn't using enough sunscreen.
The biggest trouble people get into with sunscreen is not using enough and missing spots. You should be covering every part of your body exposed to the sun with sunscreen, including your ears, back of your neck and toes.

The average adult should use one ounce of sunscreen per application. That means the bottle should be gone within a few applications.

A family of four should use one bottle of sunscreen on vacation in two days. But most only use 1.5 bottles of sunscreen per year. 


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