Facing a cervical cancer diagnosis during pregnancy

“We were totally blown away,” Misty Wiggs says of finding out she was pregnant with her third child in April 2015. For 12 years, Misty and her husband had thought that they couldn’t conceive any children. They’d adopted their first daughter in 2007. Six years later, Misty unexpectedly became pregnant with their second child. Still, it surprised the couple when another pregnancy test came back positive nearly two years later. An overjoyed Misty set up an appointment with a new OB/GYN, who decided to perform a routine Pap test since it’d been two and half years since her last. When her Pap test results were abnormal, Misty wasn’t alarmed. “My sister has had abnormal cells before and it was nothing, and I’d never had an abnormal test before that,” she says. Misty’s doctor performed a colposcopy to get a closer look at the cells on her cervix. The results also came back abnormal. Her doctor immediately referred her to Nicole Fleming, M.D., at MD Anderson in Sugar Land. “They got me in within two days,” says Misty, who was 10 weeks pregnant at the time. “Dr. Fleming was just very comforting. We just had a really good rapport from the first time we met.” A cervical cancer diagnosis during pregnancy Fleming repeated Misty’s colposcopy. When the results came back abnormal yet again, she scheduled a cone biopsy, which showed signs of cancer.  So, Fleming performed another procedure called a cold knife conization. Misty’s biopsies revealed that she had stage IA1 mixed squamous and adenocarcinoma of the cervix, a type of cervical cancer. It was caused by the human papillomavirus...

Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor adjusts to life after cancer

After a cancer diagnosis, many patients wait anxiously to hear the words “no evidence of disease.” But as Kimberly Hill has learned, the start of this new chapter – life after cancer – is where the real journey begins. Kimberly, now 47, thought the hardest part of her lymphocyte predominate Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis was behind her when she learned she showed no evidence of disease in May 2015. “I think I had unrealistic expectations that this journey was over,” says Kimberly of learning she had no evidence of disease. Although she’s cancer-free, she still struggles daily with side effects of her treatment — neuropathy, weight gain, chemobrain, pain and the fear of recurrence. Moving forward despite cancer pain The Knoxville, Tennessee, resident copes with these changes in the best way she knows how, which is to continue moving forward despite the pain. “I can’t take pain medication because I have an active lifestyle,” says Kimberly. “Pain medications slow me down and add to the mental fogginess that I’m already dealing with.” She traded her stilettos for Converse because of pain and inflammation that won’t go away. Walking across campus at the University of Tennessee where she works and keeping up with her busy 9-year-old daughter require a lot of time on her feet. Coping with chemobrain The toughest adjustment has been managing memory problems. Kimberly admits she didn’t think chemobrain was real – until she experienced symptoms like leaving her keys in the door, not turning off the stove and even forgetting to pick up her daughter from school. Her inability to recall information has made completing her Ph.D. and...

Prostate cancer, leukemia won’t stop this marathoner

Hardly anything can get in the way of John Kosmatka’s passion for running. Even after he underwent prostate cancer surgery in March 2015, the avid runner competed in the Boston Marathon one month later.  “My doctor said, ‘Why’d you run Boston? I told you not to,’ and I said, ‘It’s what a runner does when he’s that dedicated to his sport,’” John recalls. Until last year, John participated in four marathons and at least 15 half-marathons each year. Then he noticed a sudden change. Just a few weeks after beating his personal record in a 20K Independence Day race, John couldn’t run more than 2 miles. “I’m very lucky I’ve been a runner,” he says. “If I’d been a couch potato, I’d be sitting there thinking, well, I think I feel bad because of old age, not knowing that I had leukemia.” Seeking second opinions for acute myeloid leukemia John, then age 67, had actually become suspicious about his health after blood work taken during an annual physical revealed his abnormally low white blood cell count. A hematologist repeated the blood test twice and ordered a bone marrow biopsy when he got the same results. In October 2016, John found out he had acute myeloid leukemia. “The doctor didn’t even tell me to come in. He said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but I’ll admit: we can’t handle this diagnosis. I suggest you go to a place that specializes in your disease,’” John recalls. So the Valparaiso, Indiana, resident drove 40 miles east to a Chicago hospital and started chemotherapy. But during his second round of treatment, John...

3 myths about oncology nurses

In 1998, I became a labor and delivery nurse and loved it. I loved seeing the joy on new parents’ faces and holding the newborns. But after one of my colleagues left labor and delivery to work at MD Anderson, I decided to follow her lead. Though I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy working with cancer patients as much as I enjoyed working with new parents and babies, I soon took a job at MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center Campus. Well, 18 years and two cross-country moves later, I am still an oncology nurse – now at MD Anderson in The Woodlands – and I can’t imagine working in any other field. Yet I still hear many of the same myths and misconceptions about oncology nurses that I had back before I came to MD Anderson. Here are a few of them. Myth: Your oncology nurse won’t be able to answer your questions. Truth: We get calls from patients who believe their doctor is the only person who can answer their questions. But we oncology nurses actually have specialty training in cancer diagnosis, treatment, triage, side effect and symptom management. We focus on building trusting relationships with our patients and their families, and can answer many of your questions quickly so you don’t have to schedule an appointment or wait for a call back from your doctor. Your nurse is a valuable resource who can provide reassurance and act as a lifeline to your doctor between clinic visits. Myth: Oncology nursing is depressing. Truth: Actually, oncology nursing is inspiring. My cancer patients are some of the most motivated people I’ve...

HER-2+ breast cancer survivor: Why I chose MD Anderson

Growing up in Texas, living in Houston and having several family members who’d battled cancer, I was very aware of MD Anderson and its reputation. So when I found out I had breast cancer in 2013, I was relieved to learn it could be treated near my home, at MD Anderson in The Woodlands. As people often do with big events, I can still remember the details vividly. It was around midnight, and my husband and kids were asleep. I’d just finished cleaning the kitchen, and the last thing on my to-do list was a monthly breast exam. Once the water was running in the shower, my hand immediately went to a spot on my left breast. It felt like a frozen pea. Something in me knew what it was, though I hoped I was wrong. I sat in my towel on the side of the bathtub for a long time, looking up things on my phone. It was hard to get any sleep. The next day, I saw my gynecologist, and the whirlwind began. A breast cancer diagnosis When my doctor confirmed my suspicions, I was heartbroken: I had breast cancer — stage IIA invasive ductal carcinoma. I thought about my two young children and how I’d watched my own mother die of lung cancer at age 52. I envisioned the same thing happening to them. I wept for what their lives would be like with a sick mom — or even with no mom at all. After those first couple of days, though, I resolved to fight and win. A cancer diagnosis did not have to be...