Cancer patients and the flu: What you should know

When it comes to contagious diseases like the flu, cancer patients are among those most vulnerable to infection. This year’s flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in more than a decade, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting “widespread” infection in 49 of the 50 United States. It’s important for cancer patients to protect themselves. So, we talked with Roy Chemaly, M.D., to find out what cancer patients should know. What should cancer patients do if they think they have the flu? What symptoms should they watch out for, and when should they see a doctor? The biggest concern is that cancer patients are at a higher risk of developing serious complications if they do get the flu. So if you have cancer and start experiencing symptoms like a fever, runny nose, sore throat or coughing — especially if you have a compromised immune system — see a doctor right away. There’s a good treatment for the flu, but it has to be administered early, within 48 to 72 hours of the onset of symptoms. If you suspect you might have the flu, you should also be checked for other viruses. Is it safe for cancer patients to take Tamiflu? Yes. Anyone who tests positive for the flu can take it. Oseltamivir (sold under the brand name Tamiflu) is a very good drug, and it should work on the flu strain that’s circulating the most this year. What should cancer patients know about the flu vaccine? It’s safe for patients diagnosed with any type of cancer to get the flu vaccine. But what we’ve...

Stage IV lung cancer survivor: Targeted therapy clinical trial is giving me another chance

Everyone is dealt a card or two in life that will pose their greatest challenges. For me, that card was being diagnosed with stage III lung cancer in September 2013. At the time, I was a healthy 42-year-old who had never so much as picked up a cigarette. Nobody in my family had ever smoked either. So, to say the diagnosis came as a shock is no understatement. Following my intuition saved my daughter’s life I found out I had cancer just after the birth of my daughter, Kate. I felt great until the day she was born, but because I was 41 when she was conceived, mine was considered a high-risk pregnancy. That meant I needed monthly ultrasounds. Things were going so well during my eighth month that my obstetrician said we could skip the last ultrasound. But something told me not to, and to this day, I am so grateful that I didn’t. Because it was during that scan that we discovered my daughter had stopped growing. She’d gone from 90% in gestational size to 10% in just three weeks. Something was very, very wrong. I was rushed to a local hospital, where tests revealed that I had HELLP syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs in less than 1% of pregnancies. It’s hard to diagnose, and can be fatal to both expectant mothers and their unborn children. The doctors also discovered that my placenta had shut down. My daughter was literally starving. I needed an emergency C-section immediately. Divine intervention — and an unexpected scan — saved my life My daughter, Kate, was born without complications...

Residency program for oncology research nurses eases transition to second career

Suzanne Phillips enjoyed 26 years working for Dow Chemical Co., much of that time as a researcher in product development. It was a thrill to see packaging that her team had developed on the shelf of her local grocery store. But a desire to directly impact people, specifically cancer patients, was calling her. That aspiration led her to nursing school and, ultimately, to her work as a research nurse resident, learning how to help patients on clinical trials in our Lymphoma and Myeloma department. Attract, develop, retain the best oncology research nurses Phillips is a participant in a new Research Nurse Residency Program – the first of its kind in the nation – launched at MD Anderson in October 2016. The program is open to new nursing graduates or nurses with less than one year of experience. They don’t need to be embarking on second careers, but the program is drawing the interest of nurses like Phillips. The goal of the program, modeled after our successful Clinical Nurse Residency Program, is to attract, develop and retain research nurses. The residency consists of a four-week orientation phase followed by a 12-month residency program within a department. It includes more than two weeks of classroom learning throughout the year. “A vital role” for patients in clinical trials Research nurses play a vital role for the 9,400 patients enrolled in MD Anderson’s more than 1,000 clinical trials. “Being a research nurse is a very hard job,’’ says Lore Lagrone, administrative director, protocol research, Lymphoma and Myeloma. “It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle. Your satisfaction comes from making all the pieces fit.” “The...

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor: A CAR-T cell clinical trial gave me my life back

Before I was on a clinical trial, I felt sorry for patients participating in them. I considered clinical trials a last-ditch effort, and felt they marked a really low point in someone’s life. So, when I was faced with the possibility of being on one myself, my reaction wasn’t at all what I expected. I felt grateful just to have another option — a really viable one that my doctors were excited about. And for the first time in a long time, I actually felt hopeful. The long road that led me to MD Anderson By the time I got to MD Anderson, I had already been through the wringer. I’d had my spleen removed, received every drug known to increase platelet counts, and spent 43 days in a local hospital before I finally received the correct diagnosis — diffuse, large B-cell lymphoma (a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) — in August 2013. My treatment in Kansas City included six courses of “R-CHOP” chemotherapy. They appeared to work at first. But seven months later, scans revealed that the cancer had either returned or never really been gone to begin with. I started preparing for an autologous stem cell transplant, in which my own cells would be used to rescue my immune system after high-dose chemotherapy. But when the high-dose chemo failed, I had to consider the next-best option: an allogenic stem cell transplant, which uses stem cells from a donor. My husband and I weren’t ready to face the additional risks and side effects that come with an allogeneic transplant, so we sought a second opinion at MD Anderson. Even...

Kidney cancer caregiver: 4 places to re-charge at MD Anderson

My dad has been a patient at MD Anderson since July 2015, receiving treatment for stage IV renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. Our family has taken turns accompaying him to many doctor appointments, scans and a few in-patient hospital stays. Along the way, we’ve discovered some special places at MD Anderson – a place to decompress, a place to be with nature, a place to socialize and even a place off the beaten path. As my dad approaches his third year of treatment, I find myself visiting these places often and even discovering new ones. Caregiving is a special gift that has to be nourished, and MD Anderson offers many wonderful places to re-charge. Below are a few that I recommend. Observation Deck Location: Main Building, Floor 24, near Elevator F Hours: Daily, 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. When Dad has scans scheduled, instead of waiting in the general waiting area, I grab a cup of coffee at one of the cafes and head over to the Observation Deck. Being a native Houstonian, I still find myself appreciating the vast expanse of Houston and the magnitude of the size of the Texas Medical Center from 24 floors in the sky. The space is generally very quiet and allows time for my brain refresh itself after the hustle and bustle of getting to and from appointments. The Learning Center Locations: Main Building, Floor 4, near Elevator A; Mays Clinic, Floor 2, near The Tree Sculpture; Jesse H. Jones Rotary House, Floor 1 My sister has two young girls. The oldest is 6 years old, and we worried...