No shoulder, no problem: Liposarcoma survivor adjusts to life after amputation

Liposcarcoma survivor Tom Gattle has never let his amputated shoulder stop him from doing the things he loves. He goes fly fishing with a special rod. He enjoys bike rides with his friends using an recumbent bicycle. He hunts with a lightweight rifle. And he rides a horse with slightly less than perfect balance, he says. These adjustments haven’t always been easy, but for Tom, they’ve made it easier to give up his arm for life without liposarcoma, a type of soft tissue sarcoma.  “I had made up my mind that I was going to fight cancer at every turn,” he says. “It wasn’t ever a question for me.” But even with his determined attitude, his cancer treatment and recovery weren’t easy. Recognizing liposarcoma symptoms Tom wasn’t sure what was causing the numbness in his left hand around 2008. He visited a series of doctors near his Louisiana hometown, Lake Providence. Eventually, doctors found a mass wrapped around the brachial plexus in his left shoulder that resulted in numbness and the loss of use of his left hand. For years, Tom’s care team monitored the mass. But when it began to grow in 2017, he traveled across the country to see a specialist, who diagnosed him with liposarcoma. He underwent a round of chemotherapy, but after a month, the tumor wasn’t responding. At that point, Tom wanted to receive treatment closer to home, so he came to MD Anderson based on his doctor’s recommendation.  Coming to MD Anderson for liposarcoma treatment At MD Anderson, Tom saw sarcoma specialist Robert Benjamin, M.D., who re-examined him. Benjamin confirmed Tom’s diagnosis, but...

Olfactory neuroblastoma survivor finds hope at MD Anderson

Robby Witt knows about hope. In the last six years, he has gone through more highs and lows than most people experience in a lifetime. The 38-year-old former high school quarterback has faced olfactory neuroblastoma three times. This extremely rare cancer occurs on the roof of the nasal cavity and sometimes the cribriform plate, a bone between the eyes located deep in the skull that separates the nasal passage from the brain. It’s a type of skull base tumor. Robby’s cancer is so rare that his ear, nose and throat doctor in San Diego immediately referred him to MD Anderson, where his physician advised him he would receive care by specialists who see more of these rare skull base tumors. Over the last decade, MD Anderson has treated almost 150 patients with olfactory neuroblastoma. That’s a significant number given that only 1,000 cases have been diagnosed since 1924, when it was first identified. For Robby, who had only recently married and received his Doctorate of Pharmacy, the diagnosis came as a shock. “I had never heard of MD Anderson, but we were in Houston within days,” says Robby. “I like to meet things head on, so I read as much as I could about this cancer. I knew that getting to a cancer center where they were more familiar with olfactory neuroblastoma was my best choice.” A clear path for olfactory neuroblastoma treatment Olfactory neuroblastoma and other rare cancers can often baffle physicians not familiar with them and lead patients through a journey that may include years of referrals, treatment and follow-up care. That hasn’t been the case for...

Why I chose faith over fear after a late Ewing’s sarcoma recurrence

As a nurse practitioner at MD Anderson, I’d heard of case studies where Ewing’s sarcoma survivors had seen their cancer return, even way past the 10-year mark. I never thought it would happen to me. But in January 2019, after 13 years of being cancer-free, I suffered a relapse. At first, I found the news pretty demoralizing. I’d just given birth to my third child, and I worried about how I’d manage my treatment, while still being a mother to my three girls. Now that I’ve started chemotherapy again, I’ve had time to reflect on the many blessings in my life. And that has allowed me to choose faith over fear as I walk down this road again. My Ewing’s sarcoma relapse I might not have even discovered the relapse if it hadn’t been for my third daughter. I’d started experiencing severe back pain a few weeks before her due date. I attributed it to “back labor,” a very common phenomenon in late pregnancy. When the pain didn’t resolve within five days of giving birth, I went to a local emergency room. The attending physician there didn’t even do a scan, because he said I had “textbook” pyelonephritis, a type of kidney inflammation due to a bacterial infection. He prescribed antibiotics and sent me home. I finished the antibiotics a few weeks later, but the pain didn’t let up. My obstetrician ordered an ultrasound of my pelvis and kidneys. That revealed a blood clot in my inferior vena cava, which earned me a trip straight back to the emergency room. The doctor there ordered a CT scan, and that’s...

3 things to know about MD Anderson Cancer Network®

At MD Anderson, we believe that everyone deserves the best possible cancer care. But we know that an extended stay in Houston isn’t a viable option for everyone, and we want to meet people where they are. Our mission dictates that we’ll help people who have cancer regardless of their location, and our MD Anderson Cancer Network® allows us to do just that. At its core, Cancer Network builds relationships with other hospitals and health systems across Texas, the nation and the globe to share our proven standards of care and the knowledge of our world-renowned oncology experts. This collaboration can take different forms, from complete adoption of our methods and operations to advising on quality best practices to advancing the oncology field through clinical trials and academic exchanges. Here's what we want patients and caregivers to know about the Cancer Network. 1.  We have a rigorous process for selecting organizations with which to collaborate. “Each level of participation has specific requirements and assessments,” says Michael Brown, president and chief executive officer of MD Anderson Physicians Network. “We have far more interest from organizations that want to collaborate with us than those we actually bring into the Cancer Network.” Most don’t even make it to our due diligence process because they didn’t meet our pre-qualifications requirements, which typically include cancer care capabilities, provider engagement and national certifications. Partner members are required to integrate their clinical operations with MD Anderson and mirror how we deliver cancer care. There’s even a formal reporting relationship with medical directors at partner sites. For certified member hospitals, we assess and offer tailored recommendations for...

Breast cancer survivor: I’m thankful I came to MD Anderson first

Some people go to MD Anderson after they’ve exhausted all other local cancer treatment options. But for me, the thought of going anywhere else made no sense. I’m not going to say that cancer didn’t scare me. Because by the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 53, cancer had already killed my toddler daughter, my father, my brother-in-law and my mother-in-law. And it continues to leave marks on my husband’s face, with each additional Mohs surgery he endures to keep skin cancer at bay. But after working at MD Anderson for almost 30 years, I knew that it was the only place to go for cancer treatment. My breast cancer diagnosis I learned I might have breast cancer while I was on vacation in November 2014. I’d just retired from MD Anderson and was still recovering from surgery to remove my uterus and a benign, 11-pound fibroid tumor. My husband and I were about to become empty-nesters, too: our youngest daughter had just gotten engaged. Then I got a call from my gynecologist’s office about a suspicious mammogram. The nurse tried to keep her voice calm while telling me about it, but I could tell the news wasn’t good. She just didn’t want to say so over the phone. I scheduled a fine needle biopsy with that doctor for the day I returned to Houston. Then, I continued my vacation, because I didn’t think a single week was going to make any difference. It’s not that I was in denial; I just wanted to be in control. I was also determined that my family wouldn’t have to...