Lessons from a childhood cancer patient’s father

Just over three years ago, my son, Damon, now 12, was getting a hug from his mom when she noticed a lump on his left arm. She took him straight to an urgent care center. After an X-ray, they were sent to an emergency room. That’s where they got the diagnosis: bone cancer. Damon was immediately transferred to a pediatric hospital, where we got a clear picture of what we were up against: osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive a cancer that typically appears in children and adolescents. The time since then has been a whirlwind. After treatments, doctors have twice declared there was no evidence of disease in Damon’s body. But both times the cancer returned a few months later. We’ve dealt with chemotherapy, limb-salvage surgery and later an amputation of his arm. We’re now waiting for a clinical trial to treat metastases to his lungs. Obviously, our whole family has been through a lot during the past few years. Though it’s been tough, there are few things we’ve learned about fighting cancer along the way. Be willing to include your child Every child is different, but for Damon, not knowing what was happening was worse than knowing. When we first started our cancer journey, Damon’s mom and I were having hushed discussions and private meetings with his doctors. This scared him quite a bit. When we offered him the chance to be part of these conversations, he took it. Having Damon involved in all the meetings and decisions hasn’t always been easy, but it has been better than the fear of the unknown. It’s also helped Damon mature...

6 side effects of radiation therapy to the pelvis in women

Radiation therapy to the pelvis is commonly used to treat women with lower gastrointestinal tract cancers, as well as gynecologic cancers, such as cervical cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. Because the radiation therapy is administered to the pelvis, though, there are certain side effects that are common among these patients. Here are six effects to watch for if you’re receiving radiation to the pelvis. Keep in mind that the specific side effects that you experience will depend on whether you receive chemotherapy, the location and dosage of the radiation, and the number of treatments. 1. Diarrhea Many patients develop diarrhea during radiation therapy. To manage diarrhea, we recommend a low-fiber diet. If you’re an MD Anderson patient, ask your care team for a referral to one of our dietitians. He or she will give you specific guidelines to follow during treatment. We may also recommend medications such as Imodium and or Lomotil, but always check with your doctor before taking any medications. If you develop pain in the anal region, we recommend sitz baths. You can also try using very gentle baby wipes rather than toilet paper after a bowel movement. 2. Bladder and vaginal irritation The inside lining of the bladder sometimes becomes irritated during radiation. Let your doctor know if you develop bladder symptoms. That way, he or she can prescribe additional tests and/or medication as needed. Your vagina and/or external genital area may become irritated during treatment. Sitz baths can provide relief. Your doctor can also prescribe certain moisturizers, ointments and lotions that you can apply to your skin after treatment and before you go to bed. Just...

The art of survivorship: A breast cancer survivor’s perspective

People think I’ve gone mad when I tell them that having stage I invasive ductal carcinoma — a type of breast cancer — was really a blessing in disguise. Either that or the chemobrain has completely taken over. But it was through my breast cancer diagnosis in March 2009 that I found my life’s purpose. As a registered nurse, I’ve made a career out of helping people. I’ve been working beside my physician husband, Abdul, for more than 24 years. But my passion is giving back to others through my volunteer work. Today, I am eight years into my breast cancer survivorship, and I consider it an art. I walked that difficult journey with faith, dignity and pride — and I never gave up hope. Ever since, I’ve wanted to encourage other cancer patients to do the same. A desire to give back after breast cancer treatment I knew early on in my cancer journey that I wanted to give back. So, as soon as I finished chemotherapy in July 2010, I started volunteering at MD Anderson in the myCancerConnection Hospitality Center. Every Tuesday morning, I’ve been at the Mays Clinic supporting patients and caregivers by sharing comfort, hope and resources to make their battle a little easier. Over the past seven years, I’ve logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours. I also share hope with patients through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one program for patients and caregivers. Sometimes, I even share my own story to emphasize how important preventive care is and what a huge difference early detection can make. Staying upbeat during breast cancer treatment Breast cancer also gave...

BRCA1-positive mom chooses mastectomy, breast reconstruction

Linda Phetphongsy is still trying to adjust to life with breast implants, though she welcomes the peace of mind they bring her. “I feel great, and I don’t have to worry as much about getting breast cancer,” she says. The 32-year-old mother of two underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction last year after learning that she has a BRCA1 gene mutation, which puts her at increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Linda inherited the BRCA1 gene mutation from her mother, who had cancer three times — breast cancer in 2003, ovarian cancer in 2013, followed by an ovarian cancer recurrence in 2014. Her mom died of ovarian cancer in May 2016. “We lost my mom to cancer when she was in her late 50s, and I don’t want that to happen to my kids,” she says. Taking control of a BRCA1 mutation When Linda’s mom died, she’d already begun talking with Nicole Fleming, M.D., her mother’s doctor at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, about what she could do to reduce her own chances of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Fleming recommended a double mastectomy and eventually a hysterectomy. Linda quickly scheduled up an appointment with breast surgeon Makesha Miggins, M.D., to learn more about her options. “I decided to go ahead and do a mastectomy first after speaking with Dr. Miggins,” she says. “My mother had just passed, so at the time, it felt right. I wanted to do everything I can do to avoid getting cancer.” Linda’s mastectomy In August 2016, Linda underwent a double mastectomy. During the six-hour surgery, Miggins removed nearly all of...

Thyroid cancer survivor finds ways to cope during radioiodine therapy quarantine

Veronika Fitzgerald is still amazed by the events that led up to her papillary thyroid cancer diagnosis. In the fall of 2015, she began experiencing complications from a 2006 gastric band surgery. When she went to her surgeon to discuss her options, he performed a routine physical exam and noticed her thyroid felt a little swollen. “He said, ‘It’s not a big deal; a lot of women have it. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I would go and have it checked,’” she recalls. An ultrasound ordered by her family doctor led to a biopsy, and the results caught both of them by surprise. “My doctor took me in the room, put his hand on my knee and said, ‘It doesn’t look good. You have cancer,’” she says. “I started crying. I was just devastated.” But after both her mother and wife broke down in tears that day, she never cried about her diagnosis again. “I felt that I really had to be strong and handle it because they were so sad,” she says. Thyroid cancer treatment at MD Anderson Veronika called to schedule an appointment at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, which was close to her southwest Houston home. There, she met Steven Weitzman, M.D., and surgeon Mark Zafereo, M.D., for the first time. “Dr. Weitzman and Dr. Zafereo were so comforting,” she says. “They made me feel like everything was going to be OK.” Veronika had her surgery on Jan. 28, 2016. The initial plan was to remove only half of her thyroid, but during the procedure, Dr. Zafereo noticed that the cancer had spread to some nearby...