Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor grateful for fertility preservation

I often joke that parenting is more difficult than cancer treatment. Some days I feel that statement holds true, but fatherhood is a challenge that I never take for granted. In November 2007, I was diagnosed with stage IV Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare and aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the time, I was 29, and my wife and I hadn’t yet started trying to conceive. Fertility preservation before non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment My diagnosis felt like we were thrown into a tornado inside of a hurricane twisting in opposite directions. So much information was coming at us so fast that it was almost too overwhelming to prioritize anything. Thankfully, fertility preservation was one of the first topics that my doctors broached with my wife and me. During my first appointment at MD Anderson, my care team mentioned the importance of preserving my fertility because the chemotherapy I needed could cause infertility. Luckily, I’d already banked my sperm at the recommendation of my initial oncologist in North Texas, where I lived at the time. I’m glad I acted quickly because my cancer was fast-spreading, and Dr. Jorge E. Romaguera urged me to begin an aggressive chemotherapy regimen immediately. My non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment Undergoing chemotherapy was one of the most difficult experiences in my life. In addition to nausea, fluid retention and horrible headaches from the spinal taps that I received as part of my treatment, I also dealt with infections, the flu and shingles across my face. I was hospitalized during much of my treatment, including on my 30th birthday. As a precaution, I completed eight rounds of chemotherapy even...

Granular cell cancer survivor: 6 tips for seeking treatment far from home

I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive granular cell cancer in May 2017. Because the disease is so unusual, I sought treatment at MD Anderson — a two-hour flight from my home in Indiana and a 15-hour drive by car. Throughout June and early July 2017, my husband and I made several trips back and forth — down to Texas for evaluation, a return home, back to Texas for surgery, home to Indiana to heal, then back again to Texas for six weeks of proton therapy. Here are six things I learned along the way: Line up your housing early: Tour apartments and other housing options while you’re in Houston for your initial evaluation. Then you’ll be ahead of the game and prepared to choose one when the time comes for treatment. MD Anderson’s Patient Travel Services team can help you secure reduced-cost housing, transportation and airfare. Your assigned MD Anderson social work counselor can also provide a list of companies that offer long-term housing in a variety of price ranges. Many of them have shuttles that will take you MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center Campus, though not usually after 6 p.m. Get a place with room for a guest: Consider leasing an apartment that has room for a guest. I did, and it not only saved on hotel bills for visitors, but allowed supportive family members to come and go throughout my treatment. Take advantage of the services offered: If you are receiving treatment at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, join one of the support groups for weekly lunch gatherings and cheerleading. And be sure to...

Losing my brother to glioblastoma inspired me to join the Boot Walk

I was 12 when my 19-year-old brother, Brandon, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer. I remember sitting in the waiting room at MD Anderson with my parents for nine hours during his first surgery, as I filed my nails down to nothing, watched the news and wondered if Brandon was really going to be OK like he said he would be. He fought his 22-month battle with pure grace, dignity and humor. I used to get upset because Brandon was such a selfless person and this was the reward he got? An incurable disease? I know he wouldn’t want us to think that way, so I try to think about the positive things he taught me instead. What I’ve learned from my brother Brandon was always protective and supportive, and he showed me unconditional love as far back as I can remember. I’m told he always loved being my big brother. He was a really good guy who was extremely funny and goofy, genuinely cared about others and had excellent taste. He appreciated people and wanted others to do the same. One time when we were walking through a parking lot, I threw my gum on the ground. Brandon asked me if I liked when I stepped in gum. I looked at him and said, “No.” He told me that if I don’t like it, other people probably don’t like it, and if I was one less human who was throwing their gum on the ground, I was helping. He taught me that I have my own path, and it might be...

Why I keep coming back to the myCancerConnection Cancer Survivorship Conference

The first time I went to the myCancerConnection Cancer Survivorship Conference after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I remember feeling out of place, like I didn't belong there. “Why do these people keep coming back?” I wondered. “What are they celebrating?” I thought it was so odd. Little did I know that 18 years later, I’d still be attending the conference. And that in between, I’d not only serve as a member of the conference’s planning and steering committees — but also as the chair of one. What I liked about the first few Cancer Survivorship Conferences In the early days, I found myself fascinated by the science offered in the general sessions. Those spurred me to start volunteering at the Cancer Survivorship Conference. Soon, I was asked to be on the planning and steering committees. That got me interested in patient advocacy. Now, I represent the patient’s perspective when considering research proposals and grant applications, both on MD Anderson committees and those of other organizations. I also mentor other patient advocates. We patient advocates play a surprisingly important role, because it’s amazing how often researchers have never met a patient before and are not aware of the challenges we face during treatment. Not all cancer hospitals are like MD Anderson, where researchers are often physicians who work with patients in clinic, too. Some researchers are just off in a lab somewhere, so they don’t think about things like long-term side effects, or how certain types of chemotherapy can affect the heart and lungs. Why the conference remains special to me My favorite part of myCancerConnection Cancer Survivorship Conference...

Testicular cancer survivor: Do your self-checks regularly

Before I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 21 last year, I only did self-checks in the shower when I remembered to. That translated to about once every two or three months. I knew that the disease usually occurred in younger men, but I also thought I’d felt a lump a few years earlier, and it turned out to be normal. The lump I found on my right testicle in February 2017 seemed pretty big to me, so it must have formed fairly quickly. I went to my local urologist to get it checked out. My doctor told me the testicle needed to be removed, whether the lump was cancerous or not. He’s a family friend and someone I trust, so I let him perform the surgery in Beaumont two days later. He referred me to MD Anderson afterwards for additional treatment. At the time, I only lived about five miles away from the Texas Medical Center. And MD Anderson is the best cancer hospital in the world, so I knew that was where I wanted to be. Why I chose to bank my sperm At MD Anderson, I met with Dr. Amishi Shah. She confirmed that the lump had been cancerous and provided an official diagnosis: I’d had a non-seminomatous germ cell tumor. Those form in the cells that produce sperm and are pretty fast-growing, so she recommended one cycle of BEP (a combination of bleomycin, etoposide and cisplatin) chemotherapy. Just one dose of that regimen can make a man infertile for up to two years, so before I started treatment, I visited a sperm bank. I’m...