Anal cancer survivor gets glimpse of life as a witness

Recently, I had an experience I feel compelled to share. First, so that my soul will settle about it. And second, so that I can show the people in my life for the past seven years that I understand a bit better what supporting me on my anal cancer journey has been like. I have been helping out a friend of mine. He was diagnosed with cancer last year and was going through treatment, unbeknownst to me and to most of those around him. Then the symptoms came back and he sought my counsel, as one who had fought the good fight. My friend was in need of advice and some support. I readily agreed to attend doctor appointments with him and help him navigate the labyrinth of cancer care. The first meetings were pretty straightforward. Biopsies and tests had already been performed and it was indisputable: the cancer was back. The doctor outlined an aggressive cancer treatment plan — and told us it needed to start quickly. When he left to go check on how soon it could begin, my friend leaned back in his chair and took a shaky breath. Then he covered his face with his hands, his shoulders shaking as he cried. I hugged him and offered reassurance. Things would work out. We would figure it all out together. Cancer treatment as a witness Fast forward three weeks and two rounds of cancer treatment, which were laced with brutal side effects. Again, I took notes during an examination. The news was not what we had hoped. The cancer was advancing. My friend was exhausted, dehydrated...

Doctor gives colorectal cancer survivor strength for treatment

Even though Robin Odle knew she needed a colonoscopy when she turned 50, she put it off. “I’d been traumatized by a prior GI test, so I didn’t do it out of fear, and I was extremely apprehensive about the prep,” she says. Ten years later – on March 28, 2016 – Robin started experiencing intermittent cramping and bleeding. A gastroenterologist in Memphis, Tennessee performed a colonoscopy and found a polyp too large to remove. The biopsy didn’t show cancer, but the doctor said they still needed to remove that polyp. “The gastroenterologist referred me to a surgeon who said he’d take out a great portion of the colon, that it was a ‘major, major surgery,’ and I could die,” she says. “I left angry and upset.” Search for advanced surgical techniques leads to MD Anderson Robin began searching online for doctors who could perform a less invasive procedure. She came across MD Anderson’s Gottumukkala Raju, M.D., and was impressed by his expertise with endoscopic mucosal resections, a delicate technique that removed complex polyps with an endoscope. She called MD Anderson and set up an appointment. “During my initial visit with Dr. Raju, I told him that if he couldn’t do the endoscopic mucosal resection, then I wouldn’t go forward with treatment, that I would accept death,” she says. On Oct. 20, Dr. Raju performed a second colonoscopy and immediately diagnosed Robin with colorectal cancer. Her only treatment option was a partial colectomy, the surgical removal of part of her colon. “I was so certain that I couldn’t have a major surgery because it was going to debilitate me,...

Ovarian cancer survivor: Why I travel for a clinical trial

Ovarian cancer symptoms can be rather vague – bloating, a feeling of fullness and/or constipation. But Diane Sarver didn’t have any of these. “I had a little fluid in the left side of my neck that a physical therapist noticed. She suggested I have it checked out,” she recalls. Diane, who works in a hospital in Oregon, had a biopsy that led to a stage IV ovarian cancer diagnosis in January 2010. “Nobody thought it could be that, especially with the appearance of the fluid only and the absence of pelvic symptoms,” she says. “I have no history of cancer on either side of my family, and I was perfectly healthy.” A round of chemotherapy put Diane into remission. But two and a half years later, she had her first ovarian cancer recurrence. When she had two more recurrences within two and a half years, Diane decided to investigate other options. Traveling for ovarian cancer treatment A friend of Diane’s knew a researcher at MD Anderson, so she made a phone call and found out there were clinical trials for which she may be a good candidate. “I had heard many MD Anderson success stories, so even though it’s not close to me, I decided to pursue it,” Diane says. “It takes quite a bit of travel time to get to Houston from Oregon, but when you have the opportunity to potentially be on a life-saving clinical trial, the travel becomes manageable and part of a welcome routine.” Choosing a clinical trial At MD Anderson, Diane joined a Phase IB trial that’s part of our Ovarian Cancer Moon Shot™....

Cancer treatment side effect: Malnutrition

Getting enough calories and protein helps patients stay strong and fight cancer as well as other infections. But studies show that up to 85% of cancer patients suffer from malnutrition at some point during their cancer treatment. This common cancer treatment side effect occurs when the body doesn’t get or can’t absorb the nutrients it needs. And it’s more common in patients with pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and upper gastrointestinal tract cancer. Malnutrition can be hard to treat, so it’s important to catch it early. The good news is that there are things cancer patients can do to address malnutrition during treatment. We talked with Randi Nicholson, a clinical dietitian at MD Anderson, about what patients should know about malnutrition. Here’s what she had to say. Why do some cancer patients suffer from weight loss or malnutrition? In most cases, weight loss and malnutrition result from appetite loss, which is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Your doctor or dietitian may refer to this as anorexia. Even though it’s not how most people typically think of anorexia, the term simply refers to a loss of appetite. Cancer patients may experience a loss of appetite for any number of reasons. Cancer and cancer treatment can affect how food tastes and smells, so that can impact a person’s desire to eat. Some patients may also suffer from nausea. In some cases, the cancer itself may make it painful for patients to eat or swallow food. Other patients may be able to eat, but their cancer may prevent them from properly digesting their food or absorbing the nutrients. What malnutrition symptoms...

Through bladder cancer treatment, a daughter stands with her dad

When Maja Latham’s father was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder cancer, she got aggressive, too. As the “researcher” in her immediate family, Maja had never even heard of bladder cancer until her then 59-year-old father, Andre Stenzel, was diagnosed in 2013. It was only after hours of reading and exploring websites that she learned how many people are impacted by the disease. According to the National Cancer Institute, almost 77,000 patients in the United States were diagnosed with bladder cancer last year. That’s almost 5% of all new cancer cases in the nation.  “I was just blown away by how many people are affected by bladder cancer and how complicated it is,” Maja says.  “It’s often known as an older person’s disease but it’s up to the younger generation – the daughters, sons and grandchildren of patients – to speak up about it and raise awareness.” Choosing MD Anderson for bladder cancer treatment As she researched bladder cancer, treatment options and physicians, it became clear to Maja and her brother that their father needed to get to MD Anderson for a second opinion and expert care. Andre was cared for by a multidisciplinary team in the Genitourinary Center including surgeon Ashish Kamat, M.D., and medical oncologist Arlene Siefker-Radtke, M.D. For Maja and her family, they were the ideal fit to care for their beloved father, a mechanical engineer with a passion for knowledge, fishing and spending time with his grandchildren.   “I just stepped in, as an advocate for both my father and mother, who were pretty overwhelmed,” says the former CPA turned entrepreneur. “Because we are such...