After my Lynch Syndrome diagnosis, I’m grateful to be a previvor

When I was 6 years old, my mother died from cancer. She was only 35, and at the time, her death came as a shock to everyone in our family. About 24 years later, my maternal aunt was diagnosed with serous uterine cancer. Her oncologist noticed a pattern of cancer in our family. Genetic testing confirmed his suspicion: my aunt had Lynch Syndrome, a genetic mutation that increases a person’s for colorectal and uterine cancers. Her daughter had it, too. My sister and I started receiving calls, desperately urging us to get tested.  My Lynch Syndrome diagnosis My sister and I both saw a genetic counselor, and considering how Lynch Syndrome can be passed on to your children roughly 50%of the time, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when she tested negative and I positive for the mutation. I listened as the genetic counselor told me that my likelihood of cancer would be extremely high if I didn’t stay vigilant. She said that I would need to have my ovaries and my uterus removed, and worst of all, that my 3-year-old son could have Lynch Syndrome as well. I felt as though the air had been taken from my lungs.  The genetic counselor referred me to MD Anderson. On Aug. 23, 2016, I walked through the halls of MD Anderson for the first time since my mother’s death. I remembered visiting her there when I was a little girl. I was incredibly depressed and anxious, especially because according to the Lynch Syndrome standards, I should’ve begun my screenings 10 years earlier, when I was in my early 20s. Focusing...

POEMS syndrome survivor: It’s OK to ask for help

I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre disease in 2012 and chronic inflammatory demyelating polyneuropathy (CIDP) in 2013. But I learned that I actually had “POEMS” syndrome — a rare blood disorder related to multiple myeloma — at MD Anderson in January 2014. After a year and a half of being misdiagnosed by other doctors, finding out that I had a blood-based cancer brought me a strange kind of relief. By that point, my peripheral nerves were so badly damaged I could barely stand. I’d lost most of the use of my hands, too, so I was willing to try just about anything. Thankfully, I finally found the help I needed at MD Anderson. How I learned I had POEMS syndrome One symptom of POEMS syndrome (which stands for “polyneuropathy, organomegaly, endocrinopathy, monoclonal protein, skin changes”) is leg weakness. I began experiencing that in the fall of 2012, when I started having trouble walking around. Occasionally, I felt a stabbing pain in my left hip. But I didn’t go to the doctor until I could only walk my dog a few blocks one day. I was first diagnosed with Guillain-Barre disease, then later it was changed to CIDP. Despite receiving  intravenous immunoglobulin infusions from donors, I continued to get weaker. Eventually, I had to use a wheelchair, and my weight dropped from 210 to 135 pounds in just a year. Finally, my wife took me to see a different neurologist. He ordered a PET scan, which revealed a small tumor in my left hip. That’s when I came to MD Anderson. POEMS syndrome specialist gave me hope — and saved my life...

POEMS syndrome survivor: It’s OK to ask for help

I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre disease in 2012 and chronic inflammatory demyelating polyneuropathy (CIDP) in 2013. But I learned that I actually had “POEMS” syndrome — a rare blood disorder related to multiple myeloma — at MD Anderson in January 2014. After a year and a half of being misdiagnosed by other doctors, finding out that I had a blood-based cancer brought me a strange kind of relief. By that point, my peripheral nerves were so badly damaged I could barely stand. I’d lost most of the use of my hands, too, so I was willing to try just about anything. Thankfully, I finally found the help I needed at MD Anderson. How I learned I had POEMS syndrome One symptom of POEMS syndrome (which stands for “polyneuropathy, organomegaly, endocrinopathy, monoclonal protein, skin changes”) is leg weakness. I began experiencing that in the fall of 2012, when I started having trouble walking around. Occasionally, I felt a stabbing pain in my left hip. But I didn’t go to the doctor until I could only walk my dog a few blocks one day. I was first diagnosed with Guillain-Barre disease, then later it was changed to CIDP. Despite receiving  intravenous immunoglobulin infusions from donors, I continued to get weaker. Eventually, I had to use a wheelchair, and my weight dropped from 210 to 135 pounds in just a year. Finally, my wife took me to see a different neurologist. He ordered a PET scan, which revealed a small tumor in my left hip. That’s when I came to MD Anderson. POEMS syndrome specialist gave me hope — and saved my life...

How we protect breast cancer patients’ hearts during radiation therapy

Many breast cancer patients undergo radiation therapy as part of their treatment. While radiation therapy often comes with side effects, such as skin irritation and fatigue, patients with left-sided breast cancer have an added concern: potential for heart disease. Years ago, researchers discovered that many patients who underwent radiation therapy to the left breast later developed heart conditions, including pericardial disease, conduction abnormalities, coronary artery disease, congestive heart disease, heart valve disease and even sudden cardiac death. Scientists linked these problems to the heart’s exposure to radiation during treatment. That’s why MD Anderson now takes extra precautions to protect patients’ hearts during radiation therapy. Our goal is to offer state-of-the-art radiation therapy for breast cancer without increasing the risk of long-term heart issues. How we protect the heart during radiation therapy Here are four methods that we use at MD Anderson to reduce the risk of radiation-induced heart disease. Multi-leaf collimation: Our linear accelerator machines are equipped with a special shield to protect the heart from radiation exposure. This shield has multiple leafs that can move independently in and out of the path of the radiation beam to allow the radiation to target cancer cells while protecting nearby healthy tissue. Prone technique: We sometimes use this method for large-chested patients who are able to lay face-down and suspend their breast away from the chest. This allows us to radiate the tumor and protect the chest wall simultaneously. Respiratory-gating: Also known as deep inspiration breath-hold (DIBH) technique, respiratory-gating requires patients to hold their breath while radiation therapy is delivered. Doing so allows the heart to temporarily move closer to the...

How we protect breast cancer patients’ hearts during radiation therapy

Many breast cancer patients undergo radiation therapy as part of their treatment. While radiation therapy often comes with side effects, such as skin irritation and fatigue, patients with left-sided breast cancer have an added concern: potential for heart disease. Years ago, researchers discovered that many patients who underwent radiation therapy to the left breast later developed heart conditions, including pericardial disease, conduction abnormalities, coronary artery disease, congestive heart disease, heart valve disease and even sudden cardiac death. Scientists linked these problems to the heart’s exposure to radiation during treatment. That’s why MD Anderson now takes extra precautions to protect patients’ hearts during radiation therapy. Our goal is to offer state-of-the-art radiation therapy for breast cancer without increasing the risk of long-term heart issues. How we protect the heart during radiation therapy Here are four methods that we use at MD Anderson to reduce the risk of radiation-induced heart disease. Multi-leaf collimation: Our linear accelerator machines are equipped with a special shield to protect the heart from radiation exposure. This shield has multiple leafs that can move independently in and out of the path of the radiation beam to allow the radiation to target cancer cells while protecting nearby healthy tissue. Prone technique: We sometimes use this method for large-chested patients who are able to lay face-down and suspend their breast away from the chest. This allows us to radiate the tumor and protect the chest wall simultaneously. Respiratory-gating: Also known as deep inspiration breath-hold (DIBH) technique, respiratory-gating requires patients to hold their breath while radiation therapy is delivered. Doing so allows the heart to temporarily move closer to the...