Where you go first for triple-negative breast cancer treatment matters

I’d hoped that being a non-smoker who breastfed four children and never used hormone replacement therapy might protect me from developing breast cancer. But that disease runs in my family, so I can’t say I was entirely surprised when I received my own diagnosis at age 65. Because both my mother and her mother had had breast cancer, I’d been vigilant about getting regular mammograms. It was after one of those screenings in late November 2016 that I learned I had stage IIA triple-negative breast cancer. This aggressive cancer lacks the three receptors often used to target cancer, which can make it harder to treat. Unfortunately, I also received conflicting information from my local doctors in Austin about which treatment I needed first: surgery or chemotherapy. That made me very uneasy, especially when I learned that the process of reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy could take months. I had a lot of unanswered questions. And as a nurse practitioner, I also knew that every decision I made would impact future options for treatment. That’s why I’m glad I went to MD Anderson first. Expertise and efficiency at MD Anderson in Katy It was apparent right from the start that effective and timely communication is a priority at MD Anderson. I called for an appointment on a Thursday and was scheduled to see three physicians at the closest location to my home, MD Anderson in Katy, the very next day. When I got to MD Anderson that Friday, my appointments were seamless, and the doctors and staff gave me as much time as I needed to ask questions. I met...

Half of my tongue is gone, but I couldn’t be happier

I’ve had four of my back teeth removed, the floor of my mouth rebuilt and more than half of my tongue replaced with an arm muscle. But other than a slight lisp and some scars on my neck and forearm, there are no obvious signs that I once had stage IV squamous cell carcinoma, a type of oral cancer. Recovery from my oral cancer treatment was not fun. It was hard and scary and painful. But it was also worth it. That’s why I want to share my story both here and through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one cancer support community. I want other people facing a similar diagnosis — particularly young mothers — to see that there’s a bright and happy light at the end of that long, dark, uncomfortable tunnel. My oral cancer symptoms My first symptom of oral cancer was a small, white patch on the underside of my tongue. It randomly appeared in 2011, and was very sensitive and painful. Since I was only about six weeks away from delivering my second child, I assumed it was one of the million weird things that can go on in your body during pregnancy.  When it didn’t go away in a week or two, I mentioned it to my OB-GYN. She said it wasn’t pregnancy-related and sent me to a dentist, who said it wasn’t a normal mouth sore and sent me to an oral surgeon. The oral surgeon did a biopsy, which came back negative. He said it was a callus and would resolve on its own. I delivered my daughter a few weeks later and lived...

4 things I love about MD Anderson

One of the first things I did when I moved to Houston in late 2016 was contact MD Anderson. I’ve been in remission from colorectal cancer since 2015, but I wanted to go to the best in the business for my follow-ups. And MD Anderson is considered the nation’s premiere cancer center. Here are my four favorite things about it. 1.       MyChart accessibility I handled a lot of my business over the phone while I was still in treatment for colorectal cancer. But now that I’m done with it, I want to be able to access the things I need electronically. MyChart, MD Anderson’s secure patient portal, allows me to do that. MyChart is an amazing tool, because I don’t have to guess at what’s going on. I can see my upcoming appointments at a glance, send a note to my care team or even request a prescription refill. And other types of information — such as test results or billing summaries — are all right there at my fingertips. So, I can still feel connected without actually having to be on MD Anderson’s campus. 2.       Warm and efficient people running the Colorectal Center I’ve had six follow-up appointments with Dr. Bryan Kee at MD Anderson since moving to Houston. They’ve all gone smoothly. The Colorectal Center runs like a well-oiled machine, and yet it doesn’t seem cold. Everyone is really good at what they do, so they’re very efficient, but still warm and personable. I’ve never once felt like a number instead of a person. Dr. Kee’s nurse, Ralph Alcid, has also been extremely responsive. Clinical staff have...