My advice to other patients: Focus on today

I am a strong, athletic, never-been-sick type of person. I am also very career-driven. So when I was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue, a type of oral cancer, in 2016, I thought it’d be no problem. I’d undergo treatment and keep working while I was doing it. Boy, was I wrong. That might be true for some people, but it sure wasn’t for me. I was hospitalized for a week after my very first chemotherapy treatment. I had to be flown back to Houston from Mississippi so my care team could see me personally. I was dehydrated and a total mess. At one point, I had a complete meltdown, and one of the nurses had to sedate me to keep me from yelling. (So embarrassing!) But then, she called in an MD Anderson social work counselor, Djuana Fomby, who helped me put it all in perspective. The day I met with Fomby changed my entire outlook. My biggest challenge: relinquishing control I was really mad when I was admitted to the hospital. I thought I’d failed because I wasn’t strong enough. I’d heard all these stories about people who were still working while on chemotherapy and felt totally fine. That was not my experience. I could barely move and was really weak. I also had to get a PEG tube inserted much sooner than I expected to, because the chemotherapy was attacking the tumor in my mouth, which was affecting the way my tongue and throat functioned. Suddenly, I couldn’t swallow anything, so eating and drinking were not possible. That felt like another way...

Pregnant brain tumor patient finds answers, comfort at MD Anderson

Kylie Temple knew from a young age that she loved kids. As a NICU nurse in Mississippi, Kylie spends her days around infants, and in 2015, her first son, Riley, was born. “My husband and I knew we wanted him to have a sibling,” Kylie says. Unfortunately, she experienced back-to-back miscarriages, which she learned were caused by a rare blood-clotting disorder. When Kylie became pregnant again in 2018, she was prescribed blood thinners to protect the pregnancy, and was determined to carry her second son, Reid, to term. But a brain tumor diagnosis nearly derailed her plans. Scared, but determined after brain tumor diagnosis At 18 weeks pregnant, midway through her second trimester, Kylie woke up in the hospital, where her family told her she’d had multiple seizures the night before. “Thankfully, I don’t remember anything from that night,” Kylie says. In the ER, scans revealed Kylie had a brain tumor. The local hospital quickly transferred her to a nearby medical center, where doctors gave her steroids to control the seizures and referred her case to the tumor board. When their recommendation came back, Kylie knew she had to get a second opinion. “They didn’t want to do anything until after I delivered,” Kylie says. “I knew the tumor caused the seizures, which were not good for me or Reid. I was scared to death, but I was determined to fight and live to see my boys grow up.” Why Kylie chose MD Anderson for brain tumor surgery Kylie called MD Anderson and was scheduled to see neurosurgeon Sherise Ferguson, M.D., in the Brain and Spine Center within a...

5 things I learned from my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment

In late 2014, I was diagnosed with peripheral T-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the time, I had no idea what that would entail or how it would affect my life. Here are five things I learned after going through treatment. 1. Surrender to the healing process. Once you’ve accepted your diagnosis and decided where you want to be treated, it’s important to have faith in your care team. Ask questions whenever you need to, of course, but trust their expertise. This way, you can focus on the process of healing. To get where I am today, I had to go through two stem cell transplants, a clinical trial, and even a brief, medically induced coma. I also had to try several different drugs in preparation for my second stem cell transplant under Dr. Amin Alousi, before finding a targeted therapy drug called alemtuzumab that worked. But I’m glad we persisted, because after a few rounds of it, I was able to have my allogeneic stem cell transplant on July 12, 2017. And, so far, I remain cancer-free. 2. Stay positive. At some point in your cancer treatment, it might feel like you’re going through hell. And, in many ways, you are! But in order to stay upbeat from one day to the next, it’s crucial to believe you can beat this and come out on the other side of it. Cancer treatment can be grueling, but I always had the attitude that MD Anderson was going to get me through it. Today, I’m still dealing with some side effects of my treatment, like nausea and fatigue....

5 lessons I learned during tonsil cancer treatment

MD Anderson is a very humbling place. When I was there for my tonsil cancer treatments in late 2016 and early 2017, I’d always see someone who was worse off than I was. That gave me a better perspective on my own situation. But surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy still took their toll, and some days felt harder than others. Here are five things I learned from that experience. 1. Keep a “bucket list” of places to eat. When eating hurts and nothing tastes good, it’s hard to stay motivated to feed yourself. So I lost a lot of weight during treatment, despite drinking countless meal-replacement shakes. One reason was because swallowing after a tonsillectomy is pretty painful. And eating only got more challenging after I started chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The first couple of weeks weren’t so bad. I noticed a slight metallic taste to my food, but I could still eat a steak and enjoy it. Just a few days later, though, I had a hard time eating a single chicken wing, and soon I was struggling to consume even 1,000 calories a day. I worked around that by thinking about all the places I wanted to go once I could eat and taste normally again. It actually helped my appetite a little bit, because all of those things still sounded really good; I just couldn’t enjoy them right away. But it made me hungrier and gave me something to look forward to. I’m still working my way through that list. 2. Be patient with yourself. I’d been warned that the side effects of radiation therapy (such...

Why I chose MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment

When I was diagnosed with stage IB invasive ductal carcinoma — a type of breast cancer — in at age 36, my husband and I were clueless as to what to do. Should I stay in my small hometown to receive treatment or go somewhere else? What would be the best decision for me — and us — to keep me around for the people I love? I have a fantastic doctor here in southern Alabama, but he didn’t have much experience with breast cancer, so he encouraged me to seek treatment elsewhere. I’m glad I followed his advice. After doing some internet research and talking it over, we knew that MD Anderson was our first choice. But we worried that being 10+ hours away from home might present more challenges than the breast cancer treatment itself. A text from an old high school classmate is what finally swayed us. She connected me with her best friend, Dr. Makesha Miggins, who’s a breast surgeon at MD Anderson. It turns out that we both came from the same small town, and our mothers once taught school together. Dr. Miggins told me that cancer was MD Anderson’s specialty, and I would receive the best care in the world if I went there. Before long, she’d convinced me that MD Anderson was my place, too — and that going there was the right choice for me. My breast cancer treatment I had my first appointments there with Dr. Anthony Lucci, Dr. Abenaa Brewster and Dr. Michael Stauder on July 10, 2018. And by the end of our first meeting, I was over...