Anal cancer survivor: Why I keep returning to MD Anderson

When I heard that Farrah Fawcett had died of anal cancer in June 2009, I remember saying out loud to myself, “Anal cancer? There is such a thing?” Less than three weeks later, I was diagnosed with the exact same type of cancer. I’d had just one symptom — a bit of blood on my toilet tissue — so I was in total shock. Having lived in Houston for 20-plus years before moving to Colorado, I knew I was going to MD Anderson. And I have no regrets. My only anal cancer symptom When I first saw the blood on my toilet paper, I thought I was getting hemorrhoids. I was approaching 50 at the time, so it didn’t seem that unusual. But when it happened again a week later, and then a week after that, and a week after that, I started getting nervous. The spot was probably no bigger than a quarter, but I knew something was wrong. I made an appointment with my local doctor. My physician thought it was probably hemorrhoids, too. He sent me to a specialist for a colonoscopy just to be sure. That’s how I learned there was mass about an inch long right inside my anal canal. My doctors in Denver couldn’t decide if it was anal or rectal cancer, so I came to MD Anderson, where I met with Dr. Cathy Eng. She gave me a definitive diagnosis: squamous cell anal carcinoma, a type of anal cancer. It had already spread to some nearby lymph nodes, which made it stage III. My anal cancer treatment Dr. Eng recommended six weeks...

For follicular lymphoma survivor, clinical trial and laughter are the best medicines

When it comes to facing cancer, follicular lymphoma survivor Michael Baker says laughter is the best medicine. Well, actually lenalidomide. And also rituximab. But laughter is right up there, too.   It worked for him and it’s the first thing he tells current patients when they ask for advice through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one cancer support community for patients, caregivers and survivors. “Look at this disease right between the eyes and laugh at it,” Michael says. “Tell it, ‘Scary as you are, I’m stronger.’” A B-cell lymphoma diagnosis Michael was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma, in 2009. He’s has been cancer-free for more than seven years. He first noticed a lump on his neck in the spring of 2009, but he ignored it for several months. When it began hurting while he was exercising that fall, he decided to see a doctor. He had the lump biopsied and was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma. Michael’s aunt told him he needed to go to MD Anderson, but it was almost a non-starter. “I live in DFW (Dallas-Forth Worth). If I have to drive to Houston once a week for chemo, I’m not doing it,” Michael recalls saying. But his aunt convinced him to make the trip, telling him about MD Anderson’s cutting-edge clinical trial offerings. Michael had initial lab work done at his first appointment and met with Nathan Fowler, M.D., who told him he was eligible for a clinical trial. The clinical trial tested the efficacy of lenalidomide in the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lenalidomide is already the first-line treatment for multiple myeloma, and has...

Pancreatic cancer surgeon: Individualized treatment makes the difference

At MD Anderson, we don’t just practice medicine by the textbook — we are the ones writing those textbooks. That’s why it’s so important for people with pancreatic cancer to come to a place like MD Anderson for treatment. Because the best chance someone has to beat cancer is their first chance. And MD Anderson doctors are doing really incredible things. Earlier pancreatic cancer diagnosis makes a difference Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose early. Symptoms include jaundice, weight loss, fatigue, and abdominal pain. But all of those can be signs of other diseases, too. The good news is that we have better imaging techniques now than we used to. And we are actively developing blood tests so we can detect pancreatic cancer earlier. That can lead to more successful treatment, because the sooner we catch cancer, the greater the number of options we have to treat it — and the better the chance we have to cure it. Advances in pancreatic cancer treatment Pancreatic cancer has historically been resistant to standard treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But we have stronger therapies today than we did in the past, and we have a better understanding of when these treatments should be used to their greatest effect. On their own, these therapies can prolong patients’ lives and improve their quality of life. But when combined with surgery, these treatments may even result in a cure. Surgery is often considered difficult or even impossible with pancreatic cancer, because that organ is surrounded by so many important blood vessels. MD Anderson surgeons routinely remove and reroute critical blood vessels to...

Breast cancer survivor: Why I support clinical trials

As an 18-year cancer survivor who has been on three clinical trials, I am a big proponent of them – especially at MD Anderson. I joined the first one in March 2010 to see if a drug normally used to treat high cholesterol could also prevent a breast cancer recurrence. I joined the second one in September 2010 to see if an IUD could prevent a precancerous condition from developing into uterine cancer. And I joined a third just a few months ago to see if controlling my blood sugar levels might help prevent a breast cancer recurrence. Are clinical trials going to work for everyone who participates in them? No. But I think there’s a misconception out there that joining one somehow makes you a guinea pig. And that’s not the case. By the time a new medicine or protocol is tried on humans, it’s been vetted by many doctors and scientists. And a lot of the cancer drugs and treatments we have today, such as immunotherapy, started out as a good idea explored through clinical trials. How cancer research saved both my breasts I benefitted very early on from MD Anderson’s research. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2000, I’d just relocated to Houston, and my first oncologist recommended a double mastectomy. But there was nothing wrong with my right breast, and I was only in my early 40s at the time. My employer encouraged me to seek a second opinion. At MD Anderson, I met with surgical oncologist Dr. Henry Kuerer. He said, “Well, a double mastectomy is one protocol to treat breast...

Kindness made the difference during my leukemia and kidney cancer treatment

I don’t get sick very often. And no one in my family has ever had cancer, so when I was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2012, I didn’t even really know what it was. But I believe we go through certain things so we can be there for other people. That’s why I’m sharing my story here now. Because I went through some pretty dark times during my leukemia treatment, and I wasn’t always sure I was going to make it. But with the help of my doctors at MD Anderson, I did — and you can, too. Why I chose MD Anderson It was around Christmas in 2011 that I started feeling really bad. I thought I was getting the flu, so I picked up some over-the-counter medicines and treated myself at home. When I still didn’t feel any better after a couple of weeks, I went to see my general practitioner. She did some blood tests and discovered I had leukemia. Once I understood what that was, I knew I wanted to go to MD Anderson. It had a track record I respected, and its doctors care for people from around the world — from the simple man to the CEO. My leukemia treatment The first time I met Dr. William Wierda, I knew I’d come to the right place. He sounded and acted so confident. His confidence proved well-founded, too, because here I am six years later, cancer-free. To treat my leukemia, Dr. Wierda recommended eight initial rounds of chemotherapy, which I received through an IV over 8 months. I also took chemotherapy in pill form...