Stem cell transplant survivor: Happy 6th birthday to me!

What an exciting year this has been! On April 17, 2017, I celebrated my 62nd birthday. About a month later, I celebrated my 6th. Confused? I’ll explain. This year’s anniversary of the day I actually came into the world began with my phone ringing at 6 a.m. Early calls usually don’t bode well, so I just assumed it was an emergency. Instead, it was my son, Hayes, singing me happy birthday. That call started my morning off in the best possible way, and I continued to receive birthday greetings from friends and other family members throughout the day. As I did, it got me thinking. I thought about how I no longer “think” like a sick person. I thought about how I have my mojo back. I thought about how incredibly blessed I am to have my health, my family and my awesome husband, Wade. And I thought about how everything I went through to get here was totally worth it. My stem cell transplant: another chance at life after myelodysplastic syndrome Six years ago, I was a very sick woman. I had myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and was receiving treatment at MD Anderson. Chemotherapy drugs had done their job and destroyed my bone marrow, and now I was waiting for a stem cell transplant. My generous donor’s stem cells were on their way, and I would be receiving them the next day via transfusion. Only a fellow transplant survivor can understand that feeling: to be so sick, yet so hopeful. It is truly indescribable. At that time, the thought of being 10 or even five years down the road...

Mother’s cancer, clinical trial enable daughter to address BRCA1 mutation

When April Schweigert’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and then two years later ovarian cancer, her doctors suspected that this was not a coincidence. “That’s when all the red flags started flying. I remember being in the hospital room and her surgeons were immediately saying, ‘You and your daughter need to be tested for BRCA mutation,’” she says. April and her mother both tested positive for mutations in BRCA1, which significantly increases a person’s risk for breast and ovarian cancers. When she received her results, April absorbed all the information she could on BRCA-positive cancers and devised a strategy on how to proceed. “I’m a researcher and a planner, and fortunately because of my mom, I had the ability to take preventive action,” April notes. Making a plan at MD Anderson to address a BRCA1 mutation Through her planning, one thing became clear: April was not ready to undergo surgical menopause, which involves removal of both ovaries. Uncomfortable with the answers she was getting from doctors in her area, she felt compelled to seek help elsewhere. That’s when she found MD Anderson’s Gynecologic Oncology Center, which offered a unique clinical trial opportunity. The Women Choosing Surgical Prevention (WISP) study, led by Karen Lu, M.D., seeks to understand the impact of delayed ovary removal on quality-of-life and sexual function. This trial was a major factor in April’s decision to come to MD Anderson. “I have a daughter and two sons and if I can give back by helping with this research, maybe there will be better answers for my children and others,” she says. April made the trek from...

How a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis changed my career path

I’ve known my whole life that I wanted to be a doctor, just like my father. So when I got into medical school, I was thrilled to start down my chosen career path. Early on, I dreamt of having a small town family practice. I wanted to know everyone and take care of them as the town doctor. But a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis changed those plans. A Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis I found out I had cancer just three months into medical school. At the time, we were studying the lymphatic system of the chest. As do many medical students, I examined myself to see what healthy lymph nodes felt like. When I found one that seemed to be swollen, I panicked a little, then tried to dismiss it. I was a bit of a hypochondriac after studying diseases. I lived with my swollen lymph node for another month. Then I went home to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, for the weekend. My dad insisted on taking me to a local hospital for a chest X-ray and some bloodwork. That’s when a doctor discovered the mass in the middle of my chest. A biopsy revealed it was Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment begins for ‘the cancer kid’ To say I was stunned is an understatement. Fortunately, I was able to start treatment immediately. I went through chemotherapy and radiation during my first year of medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. My family, professors and classmates were incredibly helpful and understanding. That was good, because I experienced many of the same side effects that other cancer patients do — including...

Cervical cancer survivor: How a trachelectomy saved my unborn child

My son Gavin recently turned 13. My husband and I call him our miracle baby, but I don’t think he fully understands why. When he was little, we just told him I was sick while I was pregnant with him. The truth is a bit more complicated. I was diagnosed with stage IB1 cervical cancer at age 32, after a routine Pap test. At the time, I was nine weeks pregnant. But thanks to MD Anderson, my son is alive and well — and so am I. A cervical cancer diagnosis during pregnancy I’d always been faithful about getting my regular Pap tests. But when I conceived in the fall of 2003, my new obstetrician insisted I get another one, since he hadn’t seen me before. To everyone’s surprise, the results were abnormal. The obstetrician referred me to MD Anderson, where Michael Bevers, M.D., performed a biopsy. It showed I had adenocarcinoma — a type of cervical cancer — so we scheduled a more comprehensive test called a cone biopsy to determine whether it was aggressive or slow-growing. I awoke from the anesthesia to another shock. Dr. Bevers hasn’t performed the second biopsy. He said the cancer had grown so much since the first one that it was now visible to naked eye. I had the aggressive kind of cancer. The standard treatment at that time was a hysterectomy. New cervical cancer treatment: a risk worth taking To say I was devastated is an understatement. I’d had no symptoms of cervical cancer. My husband started researching alternatives the minute we got home. He learned about a surgical procedure called...