What I wish I’d done differently during my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment

When I learned that I had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in June 2011, an acquaintance said that he knew people who’d received treatment for that disease and still carried on their day-to-day lives without any problems. That made me feel like I couldn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through — which was sometimes really hard! Instead, I put on my best brave face. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, especially my family. Today, I am cancer-free, and I have been since 2013. But it’s only in looking back today that I can admit how hard it was. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I wish I’d handled it differently. My non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis I began experiencing severe stomach pains not long after I turned 30. Eventually, they got so bad that my husband took me to the emergency room. A CT scan showed I had acute appendicitis. I needed surgery immediately. But that wasn’t the only bad news: the ER doctors also said I had enlarged lymph nodes in my abdomen, which can be a sign of lymphoma. They thought that I probably had cancer. My first reaction was shock and disbelief. I was a healthy mom with two very young children. And I had no other symptoms of lymphoma. But as it turned out, the doctors’ suspicions were right. Six weeks after my emergency appendectomy, I had a biopsy. And the results showed I had non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma. Why I’m glad I had appendicitis I’m actually kind of grateful for the appendicitis today, because if it hadn’t been for that trip...

Thyroid cancer survivor: MD Anderson took me from hospice to hope

In January 2017, I was diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer. The disease was so advanced that I was given only a few weeks to live. So, when I first started my battle against cancer, I was just hoping to gain a bit more time. I never dreamed I’d still be here today. Yet here I am, almost two years later. I am completely cancer-free — and I have MD Anderson to thank for it. I knew very little about thyroid cancer or its treatment before I was diagnosed. Even now, most of the medical stuff is over my head. But one thing I do understand is hope. And I found a lot of that at MD Anderson. My anaplastic thyroid cancer symptoms I had a lot of swelling in my neck for several weeks before my diagnosis. I was also unusually tired and irritable. I thought it was just weight gain at first, so I didn’t go to the doctor. But when I started having trouble breathing and swallowing, I went to a local emergency room, near my home in Indiana. The doctors there performed a CT scan, which showed a large mass in my neck, as well as several cancerous lymph nodes. The tumor was so big that it had completely surrounded one of my carotid arteries and almost flattened my windpipe. That made breathing difficult and swallowing even harder. Why I came to MD Anderson The size and location of the tumor made surgery impossible. My local hospital is great and its doctors are talented, but their experience with my type of cancer was extremely limited. They...

How a childhood brain tumor ignited a passion for nursing and breast cancer patient education

Abbey Kaler’s earliest memories of MD Anderson aren’t exactly fond ones. It’s the place she returned to dozens of times for follow-up care after being diagnosed with a childhood brain tumor. “No matter how long it’d been since my last appointment, I was scared out of my mind because I was going from normal-kid life back to sick-kid life for 48 hours,” Abbey says. But there was a bright spot during the visits: “The nurses were always so nice and warm. They helped put me as much at ease as was possible during such a scary time.” It was Abbey’s experience with the nurses at MD Anderson’s Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Center that led her to a career in nursing, and back to MD Anderson, where she now works as a nurse practitioner and patient navigator in the Advanced Breast Cancer Clinic. Early brain tumor symptoms Abbey’s brain tumor symptoms began when she was nine. At first, her parents thought the headaches, vomiting and exhaustion were due to playing too hard outdoors in the Texas heat. Fortunately, she happened to be scheduled for a routine pediatrician appointment on the day her symptoms escalated. “I fainted, and when I came to, I had tunnel vision,” Abbey says. Her mom took her to the doctor, who recommended consulting a neurologist, but the first available appointment was weeks away. Sensing that her daughter’s condition was urgent, Abbey’s mother took her to the emergency room. There, a CT scan revealed a brain tumor in Abbey’s cerebellum, the lower, rear portion of the brain. Juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma: a rare brain tumor After two...

The importance of observing milestones

One year, cancer-free. It was hard to believe it, even as I typed those words on Dec. 13, 2018. I never knew I could feel so overjoyed to be rid of something I never thought I’d have in the first place. But one year ago on that day, after finishing treatment for sarcoma, I was declared cancer-free by my doctors at MD Anderson. And every day since then has brought a little more healing, both physically and emotionally. At the same time, my heartstrings are continually being pulled, because now, I’m the one on the sidelines, encouraging and praying for those facing the same battle I once did. Shifting my perspective after a sarcoma diagnosis I think celebrating milestones is important when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. It was hard for me to do at first, because I found myself looking back and noticing how different things are today from the future I’d previously envisioned. I had to grieve the loss of that dream. But once I took a step back and changed my perspective, I could see how far I’d come and appreciate my life in a new way, as well as the many blessings that came with it. Suddenly, I felt triumphant and victorious. And that realization gave me more motivation than ever to celebrate. Adopting an attitude of gratitude To commemorate my one-year anniversary of being cancer-free, my husband took me to my favorite place on Earth: Walt Disney World. Even though I’m 29, being able to laugh and play like a kid again was magical beyond words. In a way, I do feel like a...

4 scientists explain what attracted them to cancer drug development

"From the bench to the bedside" is a phrase often used to describe the drug discovery journey from the lab to the clinic. MD Anderson's Therapeutics Discovery division, however, takes a different approach, by beginning with the bench at the bedside. This cancer drug discovery engine conducts research that is influenced by patients from the very start. "We are completely driven by the unmet treatment needs we see in patients who come to MD Anderson for help," says Phil Jones, Ph.D., vice president of Therapeutics Discovery. "Guided by the expertise of our world-class clinicians, our efforts begin with the patient and their cancer." The benefits of an in-house cancer drug discovery model Composed of three Moon Shots Program™ platforms and the Neurodegeneration Consortium, Therapeutics Discovery is working hard to bring life-saving medicines to patients quickly, safely and effectively. These medicines range from new chemical compounds to antibodies and cell-based therapies. Unlike typical pharmaceutical companies, Therapeutics Discovery was built here at MD Anderson, reducing the time it takes for a new drug to start benefitting our cancer patients. It's a recipe for success that is already yielding promising treatment results. And at the heart of it all are more than 100 scientists, driven by a passion to see their work one day save a patient's life. Inventing new ways to treat cancer and help patients The Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS) is devoted to inventing new small-molecule drugs, or chemical compounds, that target specific vulnerabilities in cancer cells. Mick Soth, Ph.D., is a lead chemist for one of IACS’ drug discovery projects. He’s responsible for designing the safest and...