A brain tumor didn’t end my dreams

My first thought after being diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 26 was fear. Would I die? Would the things I worked for no longer be possible? How was I going to handle brain tumor surgery and cancer treatment when I can’t even handle flu shots? Even what I was going to look like with no hair scared me. I was diagnosed with adult medulloblastoma one month before my graduation from law school. Medulloblastoma is a type of brain tumor that’s common in children, but rare in adults. I wasn’t used to not knowing what was going to happen next. My life had always been a steady progression: college, then law school – and it was supposed to continue to landing my first job and starting a family. I was grieving for a life I felt I was losing. Many of us who have been diagnosed with cancer understand that it feels like losing a loved one. You go through the five stages of grief. I had to let myself grieve and let others support me in my anger and sadness. That’s the only way to get through it. Support during brain cancer treatment After surgery to remove the brain tumor, I went through radiation and chemotherapy. Treatment was rough. It made me very sick and nauseous. As independent as I claim to be, I had to lean on my family and friends. Their love and support were the only things that got me into the car and to the hospital or radiation center when staying home seemed preferable. Only with their encouragement was I able to finish...

Autologous stem cell transplant survivor finds hope after third lymphoma diagnosis

In the summer of 2013, Debbie Felix-Dejean was facing her third round of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and she was not optimistic. The Caribbean expatriate had received her first Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis in 2004, while living in South Africa. Her second diagnosis came in 2010, while Debbie was living in Florida. Three years later, she found a lump in her left armpit. “Usually, Hodgkin’s lymphoma is considered the best type of cancer to have because it’s easy to treat and has a fantastic cure rate,” Debbie says. “But I had already been through this two times before, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is it.’” Clinical trial offers new chemotherapy combination Fearing a grim prognosis, Debbie waited a few months before seeking treatment. But at a friend’s insistence, she finally made an appointment at MD Anderson. Here, Debbie saw Jason Westin, M.D. He confirmed her self-diagnosis, but he also gave her hope. Debbie learned that she was eligible for a Phase II clinical trial under Yago Nieto, M.D., Ph.D. The clinical trial involved a new combination of high-dose chemotherapy drugs (gemcitabine, busulfan and melphalan), in preparation for an autologous stem cell transplant. “The drugs were not new, but the combination was,” she says. “So when I was given the option for a clinical trial, I took it.” Debbie began the clinical trial in Sept. 2013. Her autologous stem cell transplant took place in Dec. 2013. “Christmas Day was the last day of my infusion,” she says. “It was the best gift ever.” Extraordinary complication delays stem cell transplant recovery Debbie initially did so well after the stem cell transplant that she...

Clinical trials: 5 things you should know

Clinical trials are at the core of MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer. They’re how we discover new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Through volunteer patient participants, we can find new drugs and treatment procedures that may benefit current and future patients. They give patients access to cutting-edge treatments that are sometimes offered at discount through a sponsor. To better understand clinical trials and to dispel some misconceptions, we spoke with Patrick Hwu, M.D., division head of Cancer Medicine. Here are five things he wants you to know about clinical trials. Clinical trials occur in phases There are four phases of clinical trials, and each has its own goal. Phase I clinical trials are the first time a new drug is tested in human beings. We’re trying to find the safest dosage and also which cancer types respond. Phase II clinical trials focus on a specific cancer type and examine how it responds to the experimental drug or procedure. Phase III clinical trials test whether a new treatment is better than the standard care. At this point, the drug or procedure goes to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval, but the trial isn’t done. A fourth phase (Phase IV trials) reviews the new treatment’s long-term benefits and side effects. Although a treatment moves through the phases, a patient does not. Clinical trials don’t just examine new drugs Although many clinical trials study new medicines, some study new ways to dispense treatment, explore a new dosage or test a drug’s success in treating different cancer types. Clinical trials don’t limit your access to other care If...

Tongue cancer survivor uses voice to support cancer research

When Cora “Corky” Hilliard was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer of the tongue for the second time in June 2012, she got to MD Anderson as quickly as she could. She’d had her first tongue cancer occurrence treated near her home in Austin nearly three years earlier. At the time, she’d been told that the disease would never return to its original location. At MD Anderson, our integrated approach to cancer treatment won her admiration immediately. “In 2009, I had to go out and find my own radiation oncologist, and I couldn’t get any direction from the doctors about who was driving the bus,” Corky says. “Then I came to MD Anderson and met with Dr. Michael Kupferman and his team, and I realized that I actually had a team. It included an oncologist, a radiologist, a surgeon, a speech therapist, a nutritionist and more, all working together. That gave me immense confidence.” Tongue cancer treatment at MD Anderson saves speech Corky’s confidence proved well-founded. During an Aug. 2012 robot-assisted surgery, Kupferman was able to completely remove the golf ball-sized tumor near the base of Corky’s tongue without compromising her ability to speak — a critical concern since she makes her living as a public speaker. “I’d been told by a different doctor that if I had the surgery, only my close friends and family might eventually be able to understand me,” Corky says. “So I was facing not only the loss of my ability to communicate verbally, but also the loss of my career. MD Anderson literally gave me my voice back.” Previous radiation exposure requires ongoing vigilance...

Teen papillary thyroid cancer survivor: ‘There is no good type of cancer’

Bethany Fischer was nearing the end of the eighth grade when she developed a thumb-sized bruise in the hollow of her neck that wouldn’t go away. She also began having trouble swallowing. “It felt like I had a frog in my throat, or maybe a sock,” says the now 16-year-old sophomore. Bethany told her mother what was going on right away. “My heart just kind of stopped,” says her mother, Elizabeth Fischer. “My sister used those exact same words to describe how it felt when she had thyroid cancer, but I never shared that with Bethany.” Elizabeth’s brother also died of a throat tumor (rhabdomyosarcoma) when he was five. Elizabeth took Bethany to see her pediatrician immediately. The League City doctor ordered an ultrasound, a test using contrast dye, and finally, a fine-needle biopsy. Then she sent Bethany to a pediatric endocrinologist, who diagnosed the teen with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and gave her an oral supplement. The endocrinologist also referred Bethany to MD Anderson for a second opinion. A papillary thyroid cancer diagnosis Bethany and her mother came to MD Anderson in early May 2015. Here, they met with endocrinologist Steven Waguespack, M.D., who discovered that Bethany actually had stage I papillary thyroid cancer. The tumor in her neck was almost two centimeters (or about an inch) long, and the cancer had spread into four out of five nearby lymph nodes. “I was kind of shocked,” Bethany says. “That’s not a normal thing you hear when you’re 14. Most kids are worried about school and stuff, but I was wondering how it was going to affect my life. That’s the...