How synovial sarcoma has helped me become a better person

As someone who’s still in the midst of his cancer journey, I can honestly tell you that having cancer isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, living life and enjoying it is not only possible; it can be better than before cancer. My cancer journey began in May 2014, when I was 26. It started with extreme pain in my right foot, which became bearable, but didn’t go away. I went to the doctor and was treated for plantar fasciitis. But as months passed, the pain worsened and eventually, my foot swelled so much that my toes no longer touched the floor. I finally got an MRI in the spring of 2015, and it revealed a 14-centimeter tumor on the bottom on my foot and through my ankle. I had synovial sarcoma, a rare type of soft-tissue sarcoma. At that time, doctors were certain about only one thing: my leg needed to be amputated below the knee. Choosing my reaction to my synovial sarcoma diagnosis After further evaluation, I found out that the cancer had spread to both of my lungs. I gave myself two options: write a bucket list and start checking things off, or live life to the fullest in spite of my disease. I chose the latter because I thought it was more honoring to God, and it could help me become a better Christian, husband, son, friend, volunteer and entrepreneur. My road to self-improvement And it has. Having cancer has taught me not to take time for granted. Spending time with my family and friends has always been my top priority, but now I really...

Male breast cancer survivor: Why I volunteer at MD Anderson

As I approach the fourth anniversary of my original male breast cancer diagnosis in March 2013, it occurs to me that the feelings which overwhelmed me at that time have not faded entirely. Instead, they serve as a constant reminder that my life has a purpose. That purpose is to share my story so that other men with breast cancer can be diagnosed while the disease is still in its earliest stages — and therefore, more treatable. That’s why I’ve committed myself to volunteering at MD Anderson and participating in several MD Anderson committees and councils that work to enrich the survivor experience. Look for opportunities to do good During my visits to MD Anderson, whether for treatment or committee meetings, I frequently observe volunteers interacting with patients and caregivers, offering support and asking how they can help. Many of these trained volunteers are survivors or caregivers themselves. It’s impossible to walk through MD Anderson and not have an opportunity to help another person. It could be in the form of a gentle word or a soft touch. And since only 17 months have passed since my second diagnosis, I may even be the one who needs it. But make no mistake: the opportunity always exists here to do good for others — you just have to be aware of your surroundings. You’re not alone Recently, I offered support to a woman whose husband has advancing Alzheimer’s. I said that I was there for her and that she was not alone. She came back rather quickly with the comment, “But I am alone.” My response, which I have uttered...

What I learned from tonsil cancer

I grew up in a medical family. My father was a doctor, and my mother was hospital dietitian. So, I’ve been familiar with medicine and medical terms virtually all my life. But like most people, I was hardly ready for a cancer diagnosis. Hearing words like oropharyngeal, metastasis, fractionated radiation and paclitaxel made it clear that would I have to learn quickly. After my 2013 diagnosis of stage IV HPV-related tonsil cancer by a Memphis doctor, I immediately rushed into research mode. I went through a frenzy of concern, fear and dread until I could approach my cancer with acceptance and rationality. I wanted to forge a sound, logical plan to move forward but, like most people, this was my first cancer diagnosis, and that proved difficult. While repressing my first instinct to obsess about whether I’d survive, I knew I wanted the best doctors in the country to manage and treat my cancer. I took the advice of several friends and doctors and quickly made an appointment at MD Anderson. I spent most of the next 12 months in Houston receiving chemotherapy and radiation, and then a radical surgery along with further chemo and radiation to treat a recurrence. Here’s what I learned during that time. Give into the experts, not the cancer After my tonsil cancer diagnosis, I tried to learn as much terminology as I could as fast as I could. But I quickly learned that, regardless of how smart and strong I thought I was, when you consult with surgeons, radiation specialists and oncologists at a world-class cancer center, you’re never the smartest person in...

Learning to smile after triple-negative breast cancer treatment

Hashmat Effendi has spent much of her life organizing teams of medical professionals from the United States to travel to various developing countries. The teams perform surgeries for children with congenital deformities and severe burns. Though she’s used to supporting others through difficult times, she never thought that she’d be the one in need. In September 2015, she set off for a medical mission trip to Pakistan, but this journey proved to be anything but ordinary. The lump that led to a breast cancer diagnosis For more than 20 years, Hashmat diligently checked her breasts for any changes. During her Pakistan trip, she did her exam in the shower. She didn’t feel anything but still had a bad feeling that something was different. She then did the exam while lying down and found a small lump. Part of her wanted to ignore it altogether. Since she has always been active, has no family history and has never taken hormones, she didn’t think it could be breast cancer. Still, Hashmat coordinated with the local host hospital and was able to get a mammogram and then a biopsy while in Pakistan. The diagnosis was stage III triple-negative breast cancer. Three weeks later, she returned to Houston, where she saw an oncologist who recommended chemotherapy. Her son encouraged her to come to MD Anderson for a second opinion. Triple-negative breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson Hashmat was impressed with the caring and supportive attitude of her MD Anderson team. “It is hard to believe everyone can be so nice,” Hashmat says. “From the surgeon to valet parking, I experienced love, peace and...

Learning to smile after triple-negative breast cancer treatment

Hashmat Effeni has spent much of her life organizing teams of medical professionals from the United States to travel to various developing countries. The teams perform surgeries for children with congenital deformities and severe burns. Though she’s used to supporting others through difficult times, she never thought that she’d be the one in need. In September 2015, she set off for a medical mission trip to Pakistan, but this journey proved to be anything but ordinary. The lump that led to a breast cancer diagnosis For more than 20 years, Hashmat diligently checked her breasts for any changes. During her Pakistan trip, she did her exam in the shower. She didn’t feel anything but still had a bad feeling that something was different. She then did the exam while lying down and found a small lump. Part of her wanted to ignore it altogether. Since she has always been active, has no family history and has never taken hormones, she didn’t think it could be breast cancer. Still, Hashmat coordinated with the local host hospital and was able to get a mammogram and then a biopsy while in Pakistan. The diagnosis was stage III triple-negative breast cancer. Three weeks later, she returned to Houston, where she saw an oncologist who recommended chemotherapy. Her son encouraged her to come to MD Anderson for a second opinion. Triple-negative breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson Hashmat was impressed with the caring and supportive attitude of her MD Anderson team. “It is hard to believe everyone can be so nice,” Hashmat says. “From the surgeon to valet parking, I experienced love, peace and...