Camp allows pediatric patients to be kids

Pediatric cancer patients may never get a chance to go to traditional summer camps. That’s why former childhood cancer survivor and former camper Oguna Taylor has volunteered with our children’s Camps Program for the last 16 years. The Camps Program provides opportunities for our pediatric patients to get away from the hospital and enjoy time in the outdoors with other young people. It includes two week-long, sleep-away camps: Camp Star Trails for ages 6-12 and Camp A.O.K. for ages 13-18. The camps are offered at no cost to MD Anderson pediatric patients and their siblings.  “I want to find a way to help these kids feel safe and normal again,” Taylor says. “At camp, they’re going through a common battle to live another day and see the future.” “It made me who I am today” Spending time with the children gives Taylor a chance to reconnect with our mission and her roots in pediatric nursing. A clinical information specialist on our OneConnect team, she started her career at MD Anderson as a nurse, and in 2001 she began volunteering at Camp A.O.K. as a camp nurse. In 2004, she transferred to a counselor position. “I’ve been to camp as a patient going through chemo, and I refused to take off my wig. I was closed off to socializing with the other kids. But being part of an experience like this changed me. It brought me out of my shell and made me who I am today,” Taylor explains. Where it’s good to feel normal and OK to be emotional “I made lifelong friends going to camp and being with...

Meet Elizabeth Mittendorf, a leader in immunology and breast cancer vaccines

Elizabeth Mittendorf’s first year in medical school didn’t bode well for a career as a doctor. During one of her early encounters with a patient, she fainted. And it wasn’t due to blood or gore. It was the pain of a patient with a broken wrist. “My face hit the counter, and I became the patient,’’ says Mittendorf, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in Breast Surgical Oncology. At the time, Mittendorf had been questioning her career choice. But that experience, ironically, convinced her to continue pursuing medicine. “Surprisingly, my reaction to suffering revealed my compassion for patients. The human side of that struck me,’’ she says. A light bulb moment Still, Mittendorf had a hard time seeing patients in pain. The first day of her surgery rotation, she worried she’d be proven a fraud. But the operating room’s sterile, clinical environment calmed her nerves. The unconscious patient, draped in blue, needed to be healed. “Something clicked in me, that what we were doing was going to help this person,’’ she says. “This isn’t something everybody can do, but I can. It was like a light bulb moment, and I decided to become a surgeon.’’ A few years later, the bulb flickered again while she was an attending surgeon staffing the breast clinic at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. There she met a patient whose breast cancer had returned 15 years after being treated. “That got me thinking something had gone wrong. Her immune system apparently hadn’t done its job.’’ Mittendorf had to explore why. A focus on immunology With a fresh passion for research, she began...

Facing DIPG at MD Anderson as a nurse and parent

Rodney Quindoy had only been working at MD Anderson for about five months when our mission to end cancer became personal. On New Year’s Eve 2014, his six-year-old daughter, Mikayla, was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare and aggressive type of brain tumor that primarily affects children. “We knew something was off when she began losing her balance and struggling to tie her shoes,” he says. “She’d been doing great in school, but by the end of October or November, her penmanship was slipping, and her right eye started tearing up, too.” Rodney and his wife took their daughter to a pediatric ophthalmologist, who sent Mikayla for an MRI and a spinal tap at a nearby hospital. At first, doctors there thought she might have meningitis, but the MRI clearly showed a tumor in the brain stem, which controls basic functions like breathing and heart rate. The tumor was considered inoperable, and there is no cure for DIPG. “We were devastated,” Rodney says. “It was like someone had taken a shovel to our heads. We couldn’t eat or drink for three days. Our world turned upside down.” Mikayla begins DIPG clinical trial at MD Anderson After recovering from their initial shock, Rodney and his wife considered their options. The doctors encouraged them to consider a DIPG clinical trial at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. Rodney and his wife agreed, and their daughter began receiving radiation treatments here for six weeks, through a special arrangement with Texas Children’s Hospital. Slowly, Mikayla began to recover. Scans showed the DIPG tumor was shrinking, and her symptoms began to abate....

Staying positive during my squamous cell carcinoma journey

During one of my early visits to MD Anderson, I noticed a sign that read, "You became a survivor the day you were diagnosed." That message is how I’ve approached my squamous cell carcinoma treatments here. Everyone says it’s important to have a positive mindset during treatment, and this message was just so positive that it inspired me to channel that outlook. After weeks of suffering from hoarseness, I was diagnosed in late July with stage II primary squamous cell carcinoma of the glottis, a form of throat cancer. I opted for radiation and chemo over a surgery that could have left me permanently hoarse. My experience with chemo and radiation So far, I’ve had six rounds of chemotherapy and 29 radiation treatments. I go to radiation five days a week and receive the chemo drug Cisplatin through an IV once a week. My overall experience has been far better than I could’ve expected. My amazing radiation therapists, Terrance Thomas, Rasheda Forte and Carlos Fernandez, have all made treatment really comfortable for me. My radiation therapy goes by quickly — 20 minutes at most — and I haven’t experienced any discomfort from it. The chemo infusions take about two hours. Side effects from my squamous cell carcinoma treatment Adam Garden, M.D., and George Blumenschein, M.D., as well as their staff, had prepared me for some of the side effects commonly experienced during treatment — things like nausea, weight loss, mouth sores and fatigue. So far, I’ve only experienced, some skin irritation, light nausea and a little weight loss. I wanted to keep things as normal as possible, and thankfully, I’ve been able to do...

What I’ve gone through: Why I support the HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine prevents several cancers, and it could have prevented mine. When I speak out in support of the HPV vaccine as a recurrent cervical cancer survivor, I find myself saying, “So others don’t have to go through what I am.” But when I heard someone else say this, I realized others should know exactly what we‘ve gone through – or are going through – so parents understand why it’s so important to vaccinate their children. When it comes to making the case for vaccinating our children to keep them from getting cancer, the outside world needs to see cancer’s ugly side.  Here’s what I’ve been through. Chemo: Nausea, fatigue, constipation and other side effects When people think of chemotherapy, they may think of the nausea, fatigue and hair loss. But let me tell you, it’s much worse than that. I took fistfuls of prescription drugs to counteract the side effects. That meant I had to deal with side effects from those drugs – the steroids that prevent nausea also prevent much-needed sleep. The anti-nausea medicine kept my vomiting at bay, but I was constantly dizzy and nauseous for months. Often, I was in bed for days without eating. I crawled to the bathroom because it was the only strength I had. After a recent round of chemo, I got so dizzy that I passed out on the floor of a convenience store. I vaguely remember feeling the grit of dirt on the ground, but I was so sick that the dirt didn’t bother me. Chemo also made so sick that I missed most of my sons’ sporting events and...