10 ways to celebrate life during and after cancer treatment

Did you know that a person is considered a cancer survivor from the day they’re diagnosed throughout his or her life? Here at MD Anderson, we consider family, caregivers and friends survivors, too. That’s why we host Survivorship Week, a week of entertainment and educational activities to celebrate those who are living with, through and beyond cancer. Survivorship Week kicks off on National Cancer Survivors Day, which is Sunday, June 3, and runs through Saturday, June 9. But you don’t have to be here at MD Anderson to enjoy yourself. And you certainly shouldn’t limit your celebrations to just a week. Each day is a day to celebrate you and your resilience. We recently asked our Facebook community how they celebrate life during and after cancer treatment. Here’s what they had to say. Make every day count and appreciate the little things. Enjoy life like you never did before. Take time to engage your senses – smell the flowers, enjoy the flavors of your food if you’re able and take deep breaths. Say a daily prayer and deepen your faith. Show gratitude toward your support system. Thank everyone – your doctors, nurses, PAs and everyone else involved in your care, as well as your family and friends. An attitude of gratitude will make you feel even better. Be grateful for time with friends and family and tell them you love them. Support other cancer patients and caregivers. After all, you understand what they’re going through, so offer help, listen and encourage other cancer patients and caregivers. Become a volunteer with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one cancer support community of trained patients,...

Updated colorectal cancer screening guidelines: What to know

Today, the American Cancer Society released an update to their colorectal cancer screening guidelines. They now recommend average-risk adults begin screening for colorectal cancer at age 45 rather than age 50, as their previous guidelines stated. The lowered age for screening comes in response to scientific studies that show the rates of colorectal cancer are increasing among younger adults. We spoke with our Y. Nancy You, M.D., to learn more about the new guidelines and what they mean. How do the American Cancer Society’s new guidelines differ from current colorectal cancer screening recommendations? Why do you think they have made this change? The biggest difference with the new guidelines is that the age to start colorectal cancer screening for average-risk adults has now been lowered to 45 from 50. The guidelines also allow for a variety of screening tests, acknowledging that patient preferences and local test availability are important considerations for those being screened.  I think there are several motivations for this change. First of all, there has been strong evidence over the past few decades for an increasing colorectal cancer rates among young adults ages 18-50, especially for rectal cancers, which are more complicated to treat. There is also strong evidence these trends will continue over time. Additionally, there is a strong desire and a high level of motivation to reduce premature deaths from colorectal cancer. Almost 70% of colorectal cancers diagnosed below age 50 are already stage III or IV, meaning the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or beyond. When diagnosed at earlier stages, current treatment options are more successful. What about individuals younger than 45? What should...

Pancreatic cancer survivor: Why I participated in a clinical trial

During my 50-plus years as a nurse, I’ve witnessed some pretty amazing advances in medicine, and I’m convinced that they are due to research. That’s why I came straight to MD Anderson when I was diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer in May 2017. Over the years, I’d heard stories about advances being made there that amazed me. I also knew the doctors conducted a lot of clinical trials. And I believe in the value of research. So, when the chance arose for me to participate in a clinical trial myself, I jumped at it. I wanted to give back to society. I now believe that I’m doing as well as I am because of other patients’ participation in research. As it turned out, I ended up being the very first patient — both at MD Anderson and in the nation — to join one particular pancreatic cancer clinical trial.  At my first checkup after completing my treatments, my doctor said he couldn’t find any cancer cells. I found this amazing. My unexpected pancreatic cancer diagnosis My family has absolutely no history of cancer, so being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer was a complete surprise. I’d started feeling bloated, passing pale stools and experiencing heartburn so severe that it radiated into my shoulders. With a history of acid reflux, I immediately thought it was getting worse. I went to my local doctor in Arkansas several times to get checked out, but two CT scans and a sonogram showed nothing unusual. Then one day I had to go to the emergency room with severe lower abdominal pain. A third CT scan finally...

How I reinvented myself after an osteosarcoma diagnosis

After losing most of my right leg at age 14 in November 2010 due to osteosarcoma, it was really hard for me to give up gymnastics. It had been my whole life up until then, and I’d been good enough at it that I was on track for a college scholarship. But when the nagging knee pain I’d had for about a year turned out to be bone cancer instead of a sports injury, my parents and I came to MD Anderson. There, we met with Dr. Valerae Lewis, and started chemotherapy. However, when my tumor grew larger on chemotherapy, we made the decision to amputate my leg. Given the high odds of recurrence with limb salvage, I didn’t really feel like I had a choice. My cancer wasn’t responding to chemotherapy, and radiation wasn’t effective against osteosarcoma. I tried to go back to gymnastics after I got used to my prosthesis, but I couldn’t perform at nearly the same level, and my heart just wasn’t in it. I tried other sports, too, but nothing gave me that same drive. Then, I went on a ski trip to Utah with MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital in January 2012 and the second I strapped on a snowboard, I knew it was what I wanted to do. Now, I just think of cancer as something that happened to me once upon a time. And I keep my head up and keep moving forward. My unexpected title: Mom It took me about a year after my amputation to be in a prosthetic leg all day. I just didn’t have the same energy I’d...

What role does a pulmonologist play in cancer treatment?

You may know that a pulmonologist specializes in treating diseases like pneumonia and asthma, but these specialized doctors also play a key role in treatment for lung cancer and cancers that have spread to lungs, such as breast cancer, kidney cancer and ovarian cancer. At MD Anderson, our pulmonologists help confirm a cancer diagnosis and determine the disease’s stage as well as if it has spread — all of which are needed to determine the best treatment plan for our patients. To better understand the role that these specialists play in cancer care and what you can do to prepare for you appointment, we spoke with pulmonologist George Eapen, M.D. Here’s what he shared. How is cancer in the lungs diagnosed? Patients typically learn they may have cancer in a lung during an ER visit, or an appointment with their primary care physician for a persistent cough, shortness of breath or chest pain. The doctor will request scans, and if there’s an abnormality (sometimes called a nodule or a mass), you will see a pulmonologist for a confirmation of diagnosis through biopsy. What questions will be covered during an initial consultation with a pulmonologist? We’re looking for clues to help form a diagnosis. We want to know any details you can share about when your symptoms started and anything that makes your symptoms better or worse. Also, tell us if you’ve undergone sedation before and if you had any difficulties with that experience. We also need to know if you have a history of heart disease or if you’re on a blood thinner. These are all risk factors for...