How my late husband’s positive attitude continues to inspire me

My late husband and I had only known each other for a couple of months when he was diagnosed with stage IV synovial sarcoma — a rare type of soft tissue cancer — in November 2014. I’d just helped a close friend with a breast cancer diagnosis, so I knew what a battle with cancer looked like and what it would take to get through it. My heart was broken. But I also knew that Josh and I shared something very special — and I wasn’t about to let cancer get in our way. One of the first things Josh said to me after being diagnosed was that if I decided I didn’t want to see him anymore, he would understand, and that he wouldn’t think any less of me. I told him he wasn’t getting rid of me that easily. I knew that if anyone could love him through this, it was me. A synovial sarcoma diagnosis Josh first noticed pain in his lower abdomen in 2013, right after graduating from West Point. But he didn’t want to get kicked out of his U.S. Army Ranger regiment, so he waited until he earned his tab to see a doctor. He’d had a sports-related hernia repaired in that same area a few years earlier, so he associated the pain with that surgery. Josh first saw a physician here in Nashville in October 2014. That doctor was pretty certain that Josh had a tumor, and that it was malignant. A needle biopsy proved inconclusive, though, so Josh had an open biopsy done at a local hospital. About a month later, we learned he had...

6 ways caregivers can improve their health at MD Anderson

As a cancer caregiver, you’ve probably been told it’s important to take care of your own physical and mental health, too. But sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re here at MD Anderson focusing on your loved one. That’s why we’ve made a list of ways that you can look after your own health while you’re here at MD Anderson, whether you’re waiting on appointments or visiting a loved one. Walk the sky bridge It can be hard to find time to exercise when you’re caring for others. But exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and lowering your cancer risk. In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week to lower your cancer risk. Fortunately, you can get plenty of exercise by walking outside MD Anderson, weather permitting, or across our nearly quarter-mile-long skybridge. Walking can also improve your mental outlook, help alleviate depression and improve your self-esteem. Relax in our gardens Interacting with nature can help raise people’s spirits and put them at ease.  That’s why MD Anderson has six different parks, gardens or green spaces that are specially designed to promote healing. Try taking time to admire the beauty of the Tom Jean Moore Rose Garden or listen to the peaceful sounds of the Dorothy Hudson Garden and LeRoy Melcher Jr. Memorial Fountain. Outside of Mays Clinic, you can also walk through The Prairie and see grasses native to Texas or stop to smell the herbs growing in our Healthy Living Garden. Take a class We know...

4 tips for managing cancer treatment

Nothing could have shocked me more than being diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in July 2016. The year I turned 54, I thought my biggest challenge would be seeing my only daughter off to her first semester of college. Now that I’ve had time to reflect, here are four things I’ve learned as I made my way through doctors’ appointments, scans and treatments. Bring someone with you At the time I was diagnosed, the only pancreatic cancer symptoms I had were two little bumps on my left clavicle. I thought they were swollen lymph nodes due to a bad sinus infection, so I went to my local doctor by myself. In retrospect, I should’ve had someone meet me at his office for the biopsy results. When you get a diagnosis like that, you need support. After that, I made sure to have at least two friends or family members with me at all times — whether I was seeking medical care here at home in Alabama or at MD Anderson in Texas. Take care of your body I already followed a mostly vegetarian diet before my pancreatic cancer diagnosis. But I ate massive amounts of healthy food during chemotherapy, because I knew it was important to keep my weight up during treatment. I kind of considered that my job, along with getting enough rest and exercising thoughtfully. One thing that really helped me out was meeting the kitchen supervisor at The Rotary House. He would check in with me every day to see how I was feeling, and then either make me a green smoothie or some other...

Breast cancer survivor, volunteer: How I support other patients

During one of breast cancer survivor Margaret Looper’s early visits to MD Anderson some 15 years ago, a volunteer who escorted her to her appointments left a remarkable impression. “She was just so cheerful. She was young, she had her volunteer jacket on and she had this long bouncing hair. I thought to myself, ‘How could this person be cheerful? Well, she’s never had cancer. That’s why she could be so cheerful,’” Margaret recalls. “Then she said something about her cancer, and I said, ‘Wait, you had cancer!?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, I’m a survivor.” And I thought, wow! And she got well!” After that interaction, Margaret told her daughter, “When I get over this cancer, I’m going to try doing that.” Shifting from breast cancer survivor to volunteer Two years later, when Margaret was cancer-free, her daughter came across a newspaper article announcing the opening of MD Anderson in The Woodlands. Margaret, who lives in Montgomery County, thought it was the perfect volunteer opportunity. She contacted MD Anderson, and in the fall of 2004, she became the first volunteer to serve at The Woodlands location. “I was the only volunteer for many years, and I was constantly changing what I did because we started off very small,” she says. “Whatever they asked me to do, I would do. I also just sort of looked for things to do.” Like all MD Anderson volunteers, Margaret was trained on how to help patients who appear lost, cold, lonely or upset. And because of her experience as a patient, she makes a point of mentioning that she’s a survivor to patients...

How we’re facing familial adenomatous polyposis

When my father-in-law was in his 30s, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer as a result of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a genetic condition that stimulates the production of polyps and increases a person’s cancer risk. My husband, Jesse, learned that he too had familial adenomatous polyposis when he was 15 years old. By the time I met Jesse in college, he’d already had a colectomy, a procedure that removed his colon. So after we got married, we had a lot of conversations about whether we should have children and risk passing this condition onto them. Jesse and I decided to put our faith in God and not let a genetic condition get in the way of our life. Talking to our children about familial adenomatous polyposis Now, we’re proud parents of an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, and we talk openly with them about familial adenomatous polyposis. Starting at about age 3, we showed them anatomy books and explained that their daddy doesn’t have a colon. Slowly and through regular conversation, we explained the potential impact that familial adenomatous polyposis may have on their bodies, too. We relied on reading materials to help us create talking points and answer questions properly. These conversations also helped us prepare our children for Jesse’s Whipple procedure, which he underwent last November after doctors discovered high-grade dysplasia in his duodenum. The Whipple procedure removed Jesse’s duodenum, gall bladder as well as a part of his stomach and pancreas. Coping with fears of passing on familial adenomatous polyposis Yes, my children sometimes get scared about the possibility of having familial adenomatous polyposis,...