Leukemia treatment teaches survivor how to live in the moment

Dana MacFarlane is still in awe of her sudden onset of acute myeloid leukemia in July 2017. “I take blood tests on a routine basis because I get hormone therapy, and the week before I got diagnosed, my white blood cell count was normal,” she says. “My white blood cells started spewing out the week I got sick. It happened just like that.” In fact, Dana had spent the past summer eating clean foods and exercising vigorously. At 48, she was the fittest she’d ever been. Then in late July, she developed a fever and started experiencing abnormal chest pains. At first, she attributed the symptoms to a colonoscopy and endoscopy she’d just undergone. But eventually, her chest pain became too intense to ignore. Coming to MD Anderson for acute myeloid leukemia treatment Dana went to the emergency room, where the doctors first did an EKG to make sure it wasn’t her heart. Afterwards, they did a blood test, which immediately showed her white cells were out of control. “The doctors immediately called MD Anderson before I even knew what was going on and said we have a situation that’s beyond our control, and MD Anderson said get her down here by ambulance tonight,” Dana recalls. Dana was transported from the hospital in Nederland, Texas, to the MD Anderson Emergency Center, where a care team was waiting for her. She started chemotherapy right away, and Courtney DiNardo, M.D., prepared her for what was to come. “Dr. DiNardo told me I would lose my hair and discussed the side effects I needed to look for,” Dana recalls. “She said it’s...

Radiation therapy advice from survivors who’ve been there

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer or have completed one treatment and are preparing yourself for the next, the thought of radiation therapy may be scary or overwhelming. Although each patient’s experience is unique, it can be comforting to get advice from others who’ve already been through radiation therapy. We asked our Facebook community to share their best advice for coping with radiation therapy and its side effects. Here’s what they had to say. Ask questions: Educate yourself about what to expect beforehand by asking your care team as many questions as you can before you start radiation therapy. Be sure to ask about long-term side effects and lifestyle adjustments. Listen to your care team: Bring a notepad and write down your care team’s instructions. Heed their advice. If you’re experiencing adverse side effects or have other issues, don’t be afraid to speak up because they may have other solutions. Add some fun to your radiation therapy sessions: Befriend the staff or other patients in the waiting area so you have something to look forward to before each treatment. Ask your radiation techs to play your favorite music to get you through the session. Listen to your body: Don’t overexert yourself. Take it easy, and if you’re tired, take naps.  Address skin irritation: Some patients experience skin irritation as a result of radiation therapy. Luckily, there are things you can use to soothe your skin, from aloe vera, emu oil to healing lotions and even wound dressing pads. Ask your doctor or nurse what they recommend for you. Wear comfortable clothing: Loose, comfortable clothing can also help with...

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...