Becoming a mom after sarcoma treatment has been my greatest gift

When my husband and I got married in July 2014, we were looking forward to our honeymoon to celebrate the beginning of our lives together. On the trip, I started feeling pain in my right hip. By the time we returned home to Nashville, the pain was so intense that I couldn’t put weight on my right leg. My local physician diagnosed me with an aneurysmal bone cyst, a benign bone lesion that can cause pain, swelling and fractures. One month later, I had surgery to remove the cyst and surrounding bone, which was replaced with a bone graft. Although I couldn’t walk for 12 weeks, I slowly recovered and began to feel better. However, nine months after surgery, I started having pain again. Scans indicated that the bone graft had failed, so I had a total hip replacement in October 2015. Once again, I recovered well, but nine months later, I noticed a knot in the bone next to the replaced hip. I tried everything — acupuncture, cryotherapy and physical therapy — but nothing relieved the pain and diminished the knot. I had a biopsy and the results were inconclusive. My doctor referred me to MD Anderson to get some answers. My sarcoma diagnosis and treatment In September 2016, I met with Dr. Valerae O. Lewis. After evaluating my scans, she was concerned that the knot in my bone was a sarcoma that could render my leg useless. Because of the location of the tumor and the extent of my previous surgeries, Dr. Lewis recommended an external hemipelvectomy, a complex procedure that includes removing part of the patient’s...

It takes a team to get through primary peritoneal cancer

Ever since Kathy Brown was diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer in 2018, her husband Andy has been at her side. He drives her to appointments, helps with housework, cares for their 14-year-old son and helps keep Kathy’s spirits lifted. “He’s been phenomenal,” Kathy says. “You never know how strong your marriage is until one of you has cancer. He has taken on everything and has never complained.”  Kathy often refers to Andy as her cancer coach. It’s a role he’s pretty comfortable with. After all, he’s a high school girls’ soccer coach and math teacher. But Andy isn’t the only one who’s been there for Kathy. His soccer team has, too. The players wear teal hair ribbons on the soccer field to show their support for Kathy, and one player even organized a fundraiser to help the Browns pay out-of-pocket costs not covered by their health insurance. “They’ve been so helpful and so caring,” Kathy says. “They’ll text me or email me or send me a message, ‘Hey, Miss Kathy. How are you doing today? Just thinking about you.’ Little things like that that make you feel better. They just show that they care in so many different ways.” Choosing MD Anderson to take on peritoneal cancer In 2016, Kathy tripped and fell over a branch hidden under some leaves while taking photographs. The resulting pain led her to her primary care doctor, and eventually, a neurosurgeon. When months of pain management efforts didn’t work, she underwent surgery in 2017. Her back finally felt better, but she still had pain near her hip. After more scans, her doctor discovered...

Making the most of life after a total pelvic exenteration

On April 3, 2007, I had a surgical procedure at MD Anderson called a total pelvic exenteration. During the procedure, Dr. Michael Bevers removed my vagina, bladder, anus and rectum. Then, he made an artificial vagina using two of my abdominal muscles, and an artificial bladder (known as an “Indiana pouch”) out of part of my ascending colon and small intestine. He also created a stoma (or surgical opening in the abdomen) for use with a colostomy bag, which collects stool outside the body. That surgery might sound pretty radical. But when Dr. Bevers suggested it, I didn’t hesitate. Due to a recurrence of uterine fibroids, I’d already had a total hysterectomy. That’s when my surgeon discovered I also had cervical cancer. I had six rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radiation therapy to treat it. Only 13 months later, the cancer was back. I was only 42 at the time, and I wanted to give myself the best possible chance of survival. So, I decided to go for it. In retrospect, I had no idea what was in store. Even after looking into it, I didn’t really have any concept of what life would be like afterwards. And you can’t know, unless you’ve actually experienced it. But I’ve always been a positive person. So, that’s the way I’ve tried to look at this. The total pelvic exenteration was just part of my path. And I was going to make the best of it. Life after my total pelvic exenteration The first four years after my total pelvic exenteration were the hardest, because I kept getting urinary tract...

Uterine cancer survivor grateful for the right diagnosis – and treatment

Looking back, the symptoms of my uterine cancer seem a little more obvious to me now. I’d had heavy and irregular periods my whole adult life because of endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). But when the bleeding started getting worse a few years ago, I attributed it to getting older. I explained away the increased bloating and abdominal pain as menstrual cramps. But when I woke up one Saturday morning in late December 2017 with excruciating abdominal pain, I knew something more serious was going on. I went to a local emergency room, where doctors performed a CT scan. That revealed a large mass on my right ovary and about a liter of fluid in my abdominal cavity. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Second opinion at MD Anderson yields different diagnosis The ER doctors performed surgery right away to drain the fluid and remove my diseased ovary. I stayed in the hospital for a week. After I got out, I followed up with the oncologist at his office, but I felt I wasn’t getting the attention I deserved. My family urged me to get a second opinion at MD Anderson. I didn’t want to at first. I live near Dallas — about a five-hour drive from Houston — and wanted to stay closer to home. But after thinking it over and praying about it, I agreed. I called and got an appointment less than a week later with gynecologic oncologist Dr. Michaela Onstad. She conducted her own scans and tests. Then she asked a group of gynecologic oncologists at MD Anderson to review my case. After some...

Thyroid cancer survivor: Targeted therapy saved my life

I probably wouldn’t be here today if I’d accepted the standard treatment for my stage IV anaplastic thyroid cancer and stayed in San Diego for my cancer care. But I took my doctor’s advice and went to MD Anderson instead. My oncologist, Dr. Ramona Dadu, my surgeon, Dr. Mark Zafereo, and the Endocrine Center saved my life. They stepped out of the box to do something different for my thyroid cancer treatment — and it worked. I’ve been cancer-free since December 2017. My anaplastic thyroid cancer symptoms I showed no symptoms of thyroid cancer until June 2017, when I suddenly started having trouble swallowing. I went to my chiropractor, thinking I just needed an adjustment. But he felt all around my neck and told me to see a head and neck specialist. Something was growing there. The specialist performed a biopsy. It showed I had cancer, but he wasn’t sure what kind. A PET scan revealed spots of cancer throughout my neck, so it could have come from my esophagus, thyroid or salivary glands. The specialist removed more than a dozen lymph nodes from my neck on Aug. 17. They were all cancerous. But he wasn’t able to remove the largest growth because it was sitting right on top of my esophagus. He said his facility didn’t have the team for that and suggested I travel to MD Anderson. Genetic mutation leads to targeted therapy I took his advice and made an appointment at MD Anderson. After MD Anderson head and neck surgeon Dr. Randal Weber had done his own exam and reviewed all my scans and records, he...