Breast cancer patient finds hope in father’s cancer journey

Nearly a decade ago, Maria Newhouse’s father was told that his colorectal cancer had metastasized to his liver and lungs and that he had no more than six months to live. Despite the odds, her dad, who was in his early 80s, had part of his colon removed and prayed for a miracle. “Sure enough, six months later his oncologist told us, ‘I wish I could tell all my patients this, but there’s not a trace of cancer left in him. I have no idea how to explain any of this,’” Maria recalls. Maria’s breast cancer diagnosis Although Maria’s father died of heart failure several years later, his cancer journey gave her comfort when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2016. “I wasn’t going to give up. If there’s any chance, I’m going to take it,” she recalls telling herself. Days earlier, Maria’s family doctor had discovered a lump on her left breast during a routine exam. She underwent a biopsy through MD Anderson Cancer Center Breast Care with Memorial Hermann, a collaboration that allows patients to receive breast imaging and diagnostic services from MD Anderson breast radiologists at certain Memorial Hermann locations around the Houston area. The results showed stage I HER2-positive breast cancer. After meeting with other physicians, Maria sought a second opinion from Makesha Miggins, M.D., and Victor Hassid, M.D., at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, which is only a few miles away from her Missouri City home. “I fell in love with them because I felt they were a team,” she says. “I was so impressed by them that I decided to make...

Non-small cell lung cancer survivor: Cancer taught me compassion

The idea of chemotherapy terrified Pushpa Damle. She was scared of the side effects. She was scared of feeling weak. She was scared she couldn’t do it. Pushpa had already undergone a successful lung cancer surgery, but doctors at MD Anderson in Sugar Land told her that chemotherapy could ensure that her non-small cell lung cancer didn’t return. “I asked myself, ‘Do you want to give life a shot?’” she says. In the end, her desire to live a long life outweighed her fears. Pushpa agreed to receive chemotherapy. An unexpected non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis As a business owner, Pupsha had just begun to think about retirement before her non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis in November 2011, and she loved spending time with her grandchildren. Aside from cancer, she was healthy. She never suspected that the lingering cough she’d developed just before Thanksgiving would lead to a lung cancer diagnosis. “Cancer was the last thing anyone – including me – would have expected,” Pushpa says. “I had everything to live for.” Chemotherapy for lung cancer treatment Once she agreed to the treatment plan, Pushpa underwent 12 weeks of chemotherapy. Once a week she was administered chemotherapy at MD Anderson in Sugar Land from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. She experienced few side effects during that time, aside from fatigue. “I consider myself lucky to have tolerated it so well,” she says. While she knows that everyone’s chemotherapy experience is different, she was glad to learn that the treatment had improved over the years and wasn’t as bad as she’d expected. Finding hope through myCancerConnection But Pushpa still struggled...

For melanoma survivor’s son, MD Anderson-Topgolf corporate alliance is personal

MD Anderson has been a part of Len Turpin’s family for generations. In the 1960s, his paternal great-grandmother was successfully treated here for ovarian cancer, and in the early 1980s, his father was successfully treated here for melanoma. “MD Anderson is an amazing institution,” says Len, who was just 11 when his father was diagnosed. “It really makes a difference in people’s lives.” A melanoma diagnosis Len’s father, Kenneth Turpin, came to MD Anderson in Sept. 1981, after discovering a swollen lymph node under his right arm. He was diagnosed with stage III melanoma by the late Charles M. McBride, M.D. Its source was a birthmark on Kenneth’s right upper arm. Ironically, the mole had been examined regularly and deemed non-cancerous for years. “He’d had that mole all his life and it never gave him any trouble,” Len says. “But right before Dad was diagnosed, it suddenly ‘bleached out.’ Then he found the swollen lymph node, which turned out to be a tumor the size of a large lemon.” An early immunotherapy clinical trial Len’s father had the tumor removed at a hospital near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He came to MD Anderson for additional treatment, and had surgery here to remove another 16 lymph nodes on the right side of his body. He also participated in an immunotherapy clinical trial for something called “MER therapy” (or methanol extraction residue of bacillus Calmette-Guerin). Patients are still being treated with a related drug today. “It was a pretty rough experience,” Len adds. “And there was a point when we didn’t know if Dad was going to make it....

Glioblastoma survivor keeps running

When Suzanne Stone completed her first half-marathon in February, the achievement was extra sweet: she’d managed to finish the long-distance race two years after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Suzanne had been on her usual morning run the week before Thanksgiving 2014 when she started to notice the symptoms: “I felt really, really funny and my words were all garbled,” Suzanne says. A colleague drove her to the ER, where an MRI revealed a brain tumor. “I worried about whether the tumor would be malignant or not,” Suzanne says. “But I was mostly concerned about Thanksgiving dinner because I was having 50 people over.” She hosted a full house for Thanksgiving before going in for surgery at a local hospital on Dec. 2, 2014. After the tumor was removed, Suzanne learned it was glioblastoma, an aggressive, malignant grade IV brain tumor. She began radiation therapy and chemotherapy, near her home in Fort Worth, Texas. Brain tumor treatment at MD Anderson In March 2015, Suzanne talked to her oncologist about a referral to MD Anderson. “We knew MD Anderson had a very good reputation for dealing with glioblastoma, and we wanted all the help we could get,” Suzanne says. Her doctor referred her to neuro-oncologist Marta Penas-Prado, M.D., at MD Anderson’s Brain and Spine Center. Soon, Suzanne started experiencing weakness on the right side of her body, and a scan confirmed the tumor had progressed. Because it was located near the speech areas of her brain, neurosurgeon Jeffrey Weinberg, M.D., recommended an awake craniotomy. In this type of brain surgery, the patient is woken up during the operation to...

After a breast cancer diagnosis, twins become genetic testing advocates

Twin sisters Ana and Roxana Lopez were only 17 when their mother died of breast cancer. Over the next eight years, several of their aunts and female cousins would also be diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. But it wasn’t until Roxana received her own breast cancer diagnosis in August 2015 that the common thread became clear. “At age 25, breast cancer was just not something I thought would happen to me,” Roxana says. “But shortly after I was diagnosed with stage II invasive ductal carcinoma in my left breast, I underwent genetic counseling. And I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation.” An obligation to share test results As an aspiring nurse and an MD Anderson employee at the time, Roxana knew how significant that test result was. “It not only explained why I got cancer at such a young age, but also my family history,” she says. “I felt obligated to share my results so that other family members could be tested, too, and consider taking preventive measures.” It turns out that all three of Roxana’s siblings — including her two older brothers — also have the BRCA1 mutation. For Roxana and her twin sister, that meant choosing to have double mastectomies. “I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy to reduce my future breast cancer risk, which is significantly higher due to the BRCA1 mutation,” Roxana says. “Considering my family history, I regret not learning about it sooner. I wonder now if my cancer could have been prevented.” “There’s a chance that I might never develop breast cancer, even without surgery,” Ana adds. “So I could’ve opted for...