B-cell lymphoma diagnosis gives survivor new perspective

Aaron Allcorn thought a persistent head cold was causing his stuffy nose and snoring. But after what was supposed to be routine nasal surgery, he learned his doctor had removed a large gray mass from his nasal passages. Three weeks later, he got the biopsy results: his “head cold” was actually diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. “When the doctor told me I had lymphoma, I really didn’t know what that meant until he said he had already made an appointment for me to see a physician at MD Anderson in the Bay Area who had experience treating this type of cancer,” Aaron says. Finding hope in MD Anderson Shock turned to fear as the weight of those words began to settle in. Aaron’s father had died of cancer at age 57, and Aaron had always considered his dad too young. Aaron was 46. “I was too young to have cancer, but after I began treatment I realized I wasn’t the only one that was too young,” Aaron says. Aaron’s mind raced with thoughts of his three kids and his wife, as he remembered losing his own father. “But when I heard those words ‘MD Anderson,’ I truly felt some measure of comfort,” Aaron says. “I knew MD Anderson was just the best place in the world to be.” To Aaron, MD Anderson meant more than cancer treatment. The name stood for cutting-edge research, and with that came unparalleled knowledge and resources his late father didn’t have. He and his wife adopted famed NASA flight director Gene Kranz’s motto “failure is not an option” and resolved to fight for his life....

7 things sarcoma patients should know about allografts

For Ewing’s sarcoma and other types of sarcomas, treatment can sometimes include surgery to remove a tumor. That can also mean removing part — or even all — of the bone it’s attached to. Options for replacing a lost bone include metal implants called endo-prostheses, autografts (bones that come from the patients themselves) and allografts (bones from donors). Here, Justin Bird, M.D., shares seven things he wants you to know about allografts. Where does MD Anderson get the donor bones for its allografts? There are a few companies that source specimens, prepare them for use, and make them available to doctors and hospitals. Do the bones come from people who have donated their bodies to science? No. They come from organ donors. Tissue banks are able to use many different types of donated organs, including bones, for transplants. Does a patient’s blood type have to match the donor’s in order to receive an allograft? No. All living cells are removed from the bones before they’re used, so the patient’s body just treats them as a structure to grow on. That said, we do try to choose allografts that best match the patient’s height, size, gender and build. Why would a patient elect to get an allograft rather than, say, an endo-prosthesis? There are a number of reasons, including the location of the affected bone in the body and the involvement of soft tissue. In the early days of endo-prosthetics, there was nothing to help a bone hold onto a metal surface when you used an implant to repair a bone defect. Now, we have metal surface options with porous...

Volunteering taught me how to care for patients during cancer treatment

When my parents were undergoing cancer treatment in the 1980s and early 2000s, I didn’t know how to help them cope with their diagnoses. I was so overwhelmed with the medical aspects of their treatment that it never occurred to me that I should be also focusing on the little things that could make life easier for them. So six years ago, I decided to volunteer as a tribute to them. I applied to volunteer at MD Anderson because I knew they treated cancer. I had no idea that I was going to become part of such an extensive support system for patients and caregivers. Joining MD Anderson as a volunteer During orientation, I learned all the different ways MD Anderson can help patients beyond treatment: the educational pamphlets in waiting areas and The Learning Center, the Integrative Medicine Center, the social work counselors and the support groups, to name a few. And then of course there’s us, the volunteers. Before I donned my blue jacket, I thought volunteers only fielded phone calls and sat behind welcome desks. I didn’t realize that at MD Anderson, they also visit patients in the hospital, serve beverages and snacks, offer complimentary scarves to patients and much more. When I volunteered at the Endoscopy Center in MD Anderson’s Main Building, I helped prepare exam rooms and provided support to staff as needed. Even though I didn’t work directly with patients, my responsibilities allowed nurses to spend more time with them. Now I volunteer twice a week at MD Anderson in Bay Area. The move not only shortened my commute to just 10 minutes,...

Identical twin’s tissue donation gives rare sarcoma survivor a second chance

When Marian Fields first felt a lump in her back in 2012, she asked her twin sister Mary Jane to look at it. Her twin said it looked just like a cyst she’d had removed by a dermatologist 10 years earlier, and suggested Marian do the same. So, Marian did. Three different times. And when the cyst grew back, she had it removed three more times by two additional doctors. The lump kept returning. The reason: that “cyst” was actually plexiform fibrohistiocytic sarcoma, an aggressive skin cancer so rare that only about 150 cases have been confirmed in the United States since 1980, according to Keila Torres, M.D., Ph.D. It usually strikes young people between the ages of 2 and 22. Marian was 61 the first time she noticed it. “Given the rarity of this cancer, I consider it an orphan disease,” Marian says. “I was surprised that anyone would agree to treat it. But MD Anderson deals with the unusual. That’s why we came here.” Identical twin proves the ideal tissue donor By the time Marian saw Jesse Selber, M.D., and Torres here in March 2017, her back was a mess. There were several open wounds near her backbone, and removing the tumor would require a tissue graft larger than Marian’s petite frame could provide. “We didn’t realize how extensive or how deep it was,” Marian said. “It was more invasive than we’d anticipated.” That’s when her twin sister stepped in — and offered herself as a tissue donor. “Marian and I are perfectly identical,” Mary Jane notes. “It’s just not immediately obvious, because I had a rare...

During kidney cancer treatment, yoga instructor finds her Zen

Over the last 11 years, Katy Tucker has endured a nephrectomy, Gamma Knife® radiosurgery and six chemotherapy drugs. And though the 71-year-old’s kidney cancer treatment continues, she remains as upbeat as ever. “I’m blessed. I know I’m blessed,” she says. A stage IV kidney cancer diagnosis Katy was getting ready to run a half-marathon at age 60 when she woke up one morning in January 2006 with a sharp pain on her left side. “I called my doctor and he said, ‘Go to the ER because it sounds like kidney stones,’” she recalls. But a CT scan revealed a tumor larger than an orange on her left kidney. She had stage IV renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer. “We were shocked. It was the furthest thing from my mind,” says the yoga and swim instructor who’d always kept up with her physicals and screenings.  “We came home and my dear husband went to the computer and printed everything about renal cell carcinoma. It wasn’t more than three minutes before he says, ‘I’m taking this away. We’re not going to read it,’” she says. “I put more weight on the positives and my husband does, too.” Stage IV kidney cancer treatment The following week, Katy and her husband met with Surena Matin, M.D., who determined her tumor was too big for laparoscopic surgery; so a few weeks later, on February 15, 2006, Louis Pisters, M.D., surgically removed Katy’s left kidney. She showed no evidence of disease for nine months, until a CT scan showed that the cancer had returned to the site of her surgery and...