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...

5 things newly diagnosed breast cancer patients should know

If you’ve just received a breast cancer diagnosis, you probably have a lot of questions: What type of breast cancer do I have? How advanced is it? Do I qualify for any clinical trials? Can my doctor provide the treatment I need? Before you start making treatment plans and scheduling appointments, here are five things to know. Get an accurate diagnosis before starting treatment Not all breast cancers are the same, so it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis right from the start. This is particularly true if you have a rare or very aggressive form of the disease, such as inflammatory or triple-negative breast cancer. That’s because the type of breast cancer, as well as its stage and location, can determine the types of treatment you’ll be offered, as well as those you’re not eligible for. “We offer precise treatments based on precise diagnoses,” says Lavinia Middleton, M.D. “That’s why I believe everyone should get a second opinion. A second opinion can be a game-changer. About 25% of our patients will see a change in their diagnosis.” Where you go first for breast cancer treatment matters All patients who come to MD Anderson will have their diagnoses confirmed by our doctors. This ensures that your cancer is both correctly identified and accurately staged — two crucial steps in determining which treatment plans you’ll be offered. “Your first shot is your best shot at beating cancer,” says Makesha Miggins, M.D. “So, when patients come to us after they’ve already been elsewhere, their cancer treatment is often more challenging. That’s why I tell people to come to MD Anderson first.”...

How running has helped me through two ocular melanoma diagnoses

When I began running at age 17, I ran about three times a week because it made me feel good and helped me maintain a healthy weight. It soon became a routine and a healthy hobby that helped me manage stress and anxiety and, best of all, socialize with other runners. After I’d been running for about a year, I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma, a very rare eye cancer. The cancer, thankfully, was only in my optic nerve and hadn’t spread, so I had radioactive plaque surgery to treat the tumor. At age 22, I was declared cancer-free. Running helped me cope with stress of my cancer diagnosis At that point, running became even more important. It helped me deal with the stress of a cancer diagnosis at such a young age. When I was 25, I ran my first marathon – something on my surviving cancer bucket list. I didn't run very fast, but I was so proud of myself. I continued to run on and off throughout my 20s and 30s. As I got older, I got married, started my career as a speech pathologist and had two kids. After the second one, I had trouble losing the baby weight, so I kicked my running up a notch. Soon, I realized I could be pretty fast. I started training for another marathon, this time with the goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I competed in every race I could – from a 5K to an ultra-marathon (50K). Running defined me, right along with being a wife and mother. An unexpected ocular melanoma recurrence I qualified...

Why I chose MD Anderson for my uterine cancer treatment

I found out I had cancer by chance. I’d had menstrual issues since my first period, and my cycle was never normal. When I was 14, a doctor told me it was because my fallopian tubes were upside down. I’ve since learned that that’s not a real thing, but I was never in any pain, so I just learned to deal with it. Three years ago, my cycles became even more irregular, with bleeding in between my periods. I attributed it to early menopause, which runs in my family. But I put off going to the doctor because I didn’t have insurance. When I started a new job last summer, I decided to get everything checked out. After hearing my history, the gynecologist ordered an ultrasound. The scan showed multiple uterine fibroids. We scheduled surgery to remove them. But when she took the largest one off my endometrium, she found cancer cells growing underneath it — stage I uterine cancer. Why I chose MD Anderson Before moving to Texarkana, I’d lived in Houston for more than 15 years. So, I knew that MD Anderson was the best place to go for cancer treatment. I thought, “If I’m gonna do this, let’s do it right,” and called for an appointment. At MD Anderson, I met with Dr. Pamela Soliman. The professionalism of her team immediately gave me confidence. These folks were clearly the experts in uterine cancer treatment and knew exactly what they were doing. I also appreciated the fact that Dr. Soliman didn't sugarcoat or minimize anything; she just stuck to the facts. My uterine cancer treatment Because we’d...