Employees’ own cancer treatment shapes how they give back

You see them walking the skybridge: some people wearing patient identification wristbands, some people wearing employee badges. But there are many of us who wear both. Employees who are patients have experienced MD Anderson’s cancer care first-hand. And many are using the lessons they learned during and after their treatment to give hope, advice and support to other patients and survivors. A new perspective on support Jamie Bernard, a recruiter in Human Resources, was 32 years old when she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2015. After her mastectomy and chemotherapy, a colleague encouraged her to put her story to work for others. She joined the Patient and Family Advisor Program to help improve the care and services MD Anderson provides. She gained a new perspective after hearing stories from other patients and caregivers. “I think caregivers sometimes have it worse than patients,” she says. “It’s important to make sure they have time to process everything, too. Cancer can impact them just as much as it does patients.” Bernard also chairs the Cancer in the Workplace Employee Network (CWEN), where employees who also are patients or caregivers can get support and resources. Bernard’s colleagues gave her endless support, as did friends, who accompanied her to appointments. “Having a support team is crucial,” Bernard says. “My friends took notes during appointments and asked questions I forgot about,” she says. Giving hope to patients Former Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse Janelle Kister knows about giving support. A year after her treatment for ovarian cancer ended, she joined MD Anderson’s one-on-one support network for patients and caregivers, myCancerConnection, to help...

Preserving a child’s fertility during cancer treatment

When our daughter, Aaliyah, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma at age 9 in November 2016, my husband and I were singularly focused on her survival. But as her treatment plan unfolded, we soon realized we needed to address another issue that never would have otherwise been on our radar: her fertility. Our daughter’s Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis After the initial biopsy of the mass in Aaliyah’s abdomen and pelvis, her oncologist, Doug Harrison, M.D., explained that it might take a while to get an accurate diagnosis. She could have a type of soft tissue sarcoma called desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT), but Aaliyah’s diagnosis was most likely Ewing’s sarcoma. Since the protocol for both cancers was the same, we began treatment right away: 14 weeks of in-patient chemotherapy. My husband and I knew the chemotherapy might damage Aaliyah’s eggs, but that was a risk we had to take. Harvesting eggs costs both time and money — and while we could have found a way to make the finances work, we could not afford to wait. Fertility interventions would require us to postpone Aaliyah’s treatment, allowing her tumor to grow and spread rapidly. To give our daughter the best chance of survival, we needed to begin chemotherapy immediately. Exploring our daughter’s fertility preservation options Aaliyah’s surgeon, Andrea Hayes-Jordan, M.D., told us that our daughter’s ovaries would have to be surgically removed if any tumors were attached to them. There was also a slight risk that she would need to have her uterus removed. Our daughter’s radiation oncologist, Mary Frances McAleer, M.D., said that the radiation therapy Aaliyah needed on her...

How my twin’s Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis changed me

Cancer is a really big deal, but I never thought about it like that because no one in my family had ever had it before. Then my twin sister, Aaliyah, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in November 2016. We were only 9 at the time. I was pretty scared. I didn’t talk to my mom or dad about it very much, because I didn’t want to put more stress on them. They had a lot going on, and it felt like talking about how scared I was would just make things worse. But I learned that it’s OK to cry, to ask questions, and to talk to your parents about how you feel. Talking about it is more helpful than crying alone, and it makes you feel better in the end. What scared me the most about my twin’s Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis My sister and I are identical twins, so at first, I was worried that I might have cancer, too. My sister’s tumor was in her stomach area, and I started feeling all these sharp pains in mine. I knew I wasn’t hungry, because I was scared and didn’t have any appetite. But the pain made me feel kind of woozy and dizzy, and it was hard for me to concentrate on my schoolwork. My parents asked Aaliyah’s doctors about it, and they said that it was really rare for both twins to get the same cancer. But they did a test on Aaliyah to see if the cancer was genetic. The test showed it wasn’t, so that made me feel better. The hardest part of my sister’s...

Employees’ own cancer treatment shapes how they give back

You see them walking the skybridge: some people wearing patient identification wristbands, some people wearing employee badges. But there are many of us who wear both. Employees who are patients have experienced MD Anderson’s cancer care first-hand. And many are using the lessons they learned during and after their treatment to give hope, advice and support to other patients and survivors. A new perspective on support Jamie Bernard, a recruiter in Human Resources, was 32 years old when she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2015. After her mastectomy and chemotherapy, a colleague encouraged her to put her story to work for others. She joined the Patient and Family Advisor Program to help improve the care and services MD Anderson provides. She gained a new perspective after hearing stories from other patients and caregivers. “I think caregivers sometimes have it worse than patients,” she says. “It’s important to make sure they have time to process everything, too. Cancer can impact them just as much as it does patients.” Bernard also chairs the Cancer in the Workplace Employee Network (CWEN), where employees who also are patients or caregivers can get support and resources. Bernard’s colleagues gave her endless support, as did friends, who accompanied her to appointments. “Having a support team is crucial,” Bernard says. “My friends took notes during appointments and asked questions I forgot about,” she says. Giving hope to patients Former Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse Janelle Kister knows about giving support. A year after her treatment for ovarian cancer ended, she joined MD Anderson’s one-on-one support network for patients and caregivers, myCancerConnection, to help...