Getting to know Stephen Hahn, M.D.

In February, Stephen Hahn, M.D., was named MD Anderson’s deputy president and chief operating officer. In this role, he’s responsible for day-to-day management of the institution, ensuring excellence across all business, clinical and faculty matters. Hahn joined MD Anderson in 2015 as division head, department chair and professor of Radiation Oncology. Prior to that, he served as chair of the Radiation Oncology department the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine from 2005 to 2014. As a radiation oncologist, Hahn specializes in treating both lung cancer and sarcoma. His research focuses on the molecular causes of the tumor microenvironment, particularly the study of chemical signals that go awry (known as aberrant signal transduction pathways), and the evaluation of proton therapy as a means to improve the efficiency of radiation therapy. We recently sat down with Hahn to learn a little more about him. Here’s what he had to say. What word best describes you? Energetic. What brought you to MD Anderson? I got the opportunity to lead the Radiation Oncology division at the world’s No. 1 cancer center, where there was a great culture and environment for patient care. What made you go into oncology? I’ve always had an interest in cancer. What prepared you for your role? I served as chair for nine years at the University of Pennsylvania and was on the practice plan and finance committees. What was your first job? I served ice cream at Friendly’s (a chain of ice cream shops based in the Northeast). What do you most enjoy away from work? Working out and spending time with my wife, Lota, and my four...

After fertility struggles, breast cancer survivor becomes mom of three

Five years after they got married, high school sweethearts Aly and Josh Taylor felt ready to grow their family. Aly had read that sore breasts could be a pregnancy symptom, so she examined her own, hoping she was pregnant. During the exam, she felt a small lump. Because she was so young, she assumed it was nothing to worry about. But she got it checked out to be safe. After a biopsy in her Louisiana hometown, she was diagnosed with stage III triple-negative breast cancer. Aly was in shock. “I just couldn’t believe it was true. I was 24 years old, about to start a family and had just begun my Ph.D. program in marriage and family therapy,” Aly says. Triple-negative breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson Aly’s local doctor encouraged her to travel to MD Anderson for treatment. Aly is grateful for that recommendation. “When you’ve just received a cancer diagnosis, you are in probably one of the most vulnerable places in your life,” Aly says. “Everyone on my MD Anderson team was incredible. Each person played a vital role in my healing process.” For six months, Aly received chemotherapy. She first underwent 12 weeks of Taxol, followed by 12 weeks of Fluorouracil, Adriamycin and Cytoxan (FAC). After that, Aly underwent a bilateral mastectomy, followed by 30 radiation treatments. She then had several breast reconstruction surgeries with Mark Villa, M.D. “I underestimated the time I would spend with this doctor, as he was the one I spent the most time with through multiple surgeries, drains and tissue expansions,” Aly says. “He answered all my questions through the tears...

Two-time synovial sarcoma survivor: Why I’m the luckiest person on the planet

I would like to say I survived cancer twice by being a positive person. But that’s not entirely true. Cancer was the hardest thing in the world.  After a fun four years of running cross country and track in high school, I decided to attend a local community college in Houston while I figured out my life. I also decided to take care of the big, annoying bump growing in my elbow joint, occasionally cutting off circulation to my hand.   That’s when my life came to a screeching halt. I was 20 years old, and I was told I had synovial sarcoma in my left elbow. I had no idea what that meant or what I needed to do. All I knew was that it was cancer and I had better things to do.     Family support kept me strong My parents and five siblings also had to absorb my horrible news. I felt guilty for burdening them with my cancer and so out of control. But my parents are two of the strongest people I know. They kept their game faces on, even though we all were confused and worried. After surgery to remove my sarcoma, I went to MD Anderson, where I met the most amazing team of doctors, including my sarcoma medical oncologist, Shreyaskumar Patel, M.D. I needed radiation and chemotherapy to ensure the cancer was completely eliminated and to prevent a recurrence. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was in a fog the whole way home. But at some point, I decided to suck it up and accept my situation. I needed to be...

Q&A: Chordoma, a one in a million bone cancer

When you have a rare cancer that only affects one in a million people, it can be difficult to find the answers and information you need. That’s why we sat down with spinal neurosurgeon Laurence Rhines, M.D., and skull base neurosurgeon Shaan Raza, M.D., to discuss chordoma, a rare, malignant tumor diagnosed in about 300 people each year in the United States. What is chordoma? Chordoma is a bone cancer that belongs to the sarcoma family. About 50% of chordomas occur in the sacrum, the bone at the base of the spine that forms part of the pelvis. About 30% occur in the skull base, the area behind the eyes and nose that slopes down to form the “floor” of the skull. The rest are found along the spine. What are common chordoma symptoms? The symptoms vary, depending on the tumor’s location. The spine and skull base contain important nerves. When a tumor presses on these nerves, it can cause pain or neurological issues. For sacral chordomas, neurological symptoms frequently include bowel, bladder and sexual dysfunction. For skull base chordomas, common symptoms include double vision, headaches, neck pain and trouble swallowing. How is chordoma diagnosed? An MRI scan can help rule out other tumor types, but a tissue sample is needed for a definitive chordoma diagnosis. If your tumor is in the spine, an interventional radiologist will typically perform a CT-guided core biopsy to obtain a tissue sample. Most skull base chordomas grow in a bone called the clivus. This area is difficult to access for biopsy, so a skull base chordoma diagnosis cannot be confirmed until after your...

Brain tumor treatment reveals hidden artistic talent

My husband, Coleman Schoessow, draws vibrant, abstract, stream-of-consciousness art with ink on canvas. He discovered this hidden talent during brain tumor treatment. He began using art as a form of relaxation and meditation, but it’s become something so much more than that. Black and white: a brain tumor diagnosis On Oct. 5, 2013, Coleman and I had our own uniquely perfect wedding. We were practically giddy in love. Then, on Oct. 15, 2013, the day after we returned from our honeymoon, Coleman had a grand mal seizure. We were stunned to learn that he had a brain tumor. Everything about our new reality seemed unfair. Coleman was diagnosed with an anaplastic astrocytoma, a malignant grade III brain tumor. When the local neurosurgeon suggested waiting four months before taking action, we sought a second opinion at MD Anderson. We haven’t looked back. Shades of gray: brain tumor treatment and side effects After Coleman’s initial surgery, we temporarily moved from our home in Granbury, Texas, to Houston so that he could undergo six weeks of radiation therapy. This was an intensely stressful time. We learned that brain cancer can cause patients to doubt their own thoughts, abilities or even who they are, and treatment can exaggerate these doubts. The radiation treatments affected Coleman’s ability to think clearly. He began having trouble discerning one voice from another when multiple people were talking, which led to intense social anxiety. A year of chemotherapy (oral Temozolomide) also brought fatigue and exaggerated his headaches and anxiety. As Coleman’s wife and primary caregiver, I saw through his uncertainties and knew that the kind, witty and interesting...