Throat cancer survivor: Caring made the difference at MD Anderson

When I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the vocal cords — a type of throat cancer — in the summer of 2016, there was no question about where I would go for treatment. I’m originally from Waco, but I’d been living in Houston for about 10 years by then. And as a part of my job as a local news photographer, I’d covered dozens of stories at or about MD Anderson. So, I already knew it had the best Head and Neck Center in the country. I wasn’t surprised by the high quality of care I received there. What I didn’t expect was the level of caring I’d get along with it. Supported in every way during my throat cancer treatment I’ve heard that your ability to recover from something hard or painful is only as good as your support system. I think that’s true. The care I received at MD Anderson is proof. Over the course of three months, I had seven rounds of chemotherapy and 35 radiation therapy treatments there. And I’ve been cancer-free since December 2016. But my throat cancer treatment went far beyond the medical aspect. Looking back now, I’d say about 70% of it was purely psychological. And my care team spent a lot of time and energy making sure I felt supported in that way. Team embodies caring attitude On my very first day at MD Anderson, I met with three different doctors and a dentist. That was … intense. But every single one of them made sure I felt comfortable and understood my diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Other members of...

Employee, ovarian cancer survivor: Why I chose MD Anderson

MD Anderson isn’t consistently ranked the top cancer hospital in the country because of luck. It’s because it has the best physicians, researchers, nurses, staff and volunteers anywhere. As an MD Anderson employee myself, I’ve witnessed the care and expertise of our doctors and staff firsthand. So, when I was diagnosed with a stage III germ cell tumor — a rare type of ovarian cancer — in August 2018, deciding where to go for my treatment really was a no-brainer. Germ cell tumors account for only about 5% of ovarian cancer diagnoses annually. But at MD Anderson, there are physicians who specialize in my exact type of cancer, so it’s not rare to them. I wanted to go someplace I knew I’d have the best chance of a positive outcome. That’s why I chose MD Anderson. My sole ovarian cancer symptom The only ovarian cancer symptom I had was some bloating. I attributed it to a strong course of antibiotics I’d just finished. My gynecologist thought the same thing. Then, she discovered a hard spot when she pressed down on my belly during a well-woman exam. An ultrasound and an MRI showed a seven-inch mass on my left ovary. That was a surprise. Even so, I wasn’t really worried. I was only 32 at the time and otherwise healthy. My doctor was fairly confident it was just a large fibroid or an ovarian cyst. But regardless of what it turned out to be, the tumor needed to be removed. Since I’d never had surgery before, I was much more concerned about having that procedure done than I was about...

Uterine cancer caregiver: ‘We should’ve come to MD Anderson first’

I am a very skeptical person, so when I hear things described as “the best,” I don’t really believe it. But MD Anderson has been called the best cancer hospital in the world for years. And now, I know it’s true. My wife, Tralisa, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in late 2017, at a hospital near our home in Dallas. We came to MD Anderson for a second opinion. It was there that we learned she’d been misdiagnosed. My wife actually had uterine cancer, and if she’d gone much longer without the correct diagnosis, she probably wouldn’t be here today. My wife’s initial misdiagnosis We found out something serious was wrong in early December. While I was taking our son to diving lessons, Tralisa called and said she had a pain in her chest. I thought it was just something she ate or maybe a little gas. But she was hurting pretty bad, so her mother took her to the emergency room. A little later, I got another call. Tralisa needed me at the hospital. When I got there, the doctors said my wife had a huge mass in her chest and abdomen. They didn’t know what it was, but it had to be removed. We agreed to the surgery. The surgeons took out the mass and one of her ovaries. Tralisa was still recovering in the hospital when the pathology report came back. The oncologist told us that Tralisa had ovarian cancer. And while the diseased ovary had been removed, he wasn’t sure if the cancer had spread to any nearby lymph nodes. He recommended chemotherapy and a...

CAR T-cell therapy side effects in lymphoma patients

When chemotherapy and radiation fail, some adult patients with B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia have a new treatment option called CAR T-cell therapy. Yescarta is the CAR T-cell therapy that’s FDA-approved to treat patients with B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; it shrinks the tumors in 70-80% of patients. But with this new therapy come side effects that are different from those of other cancer treatments. To better understand these side effects in adult lymphoma patients, we talked with Felipe Samaniego, M.D. How does CAR T-cell therapy work? Like other types of immunotherapy, CAR T-cell therapy uses the patient’s own immune system to treat cancer. T cells – one type of the immune system’s fighter cells – are extracted from the patient, modified in a lab and then transfused back into the patient. During the next four weeks, the modified CAR T cells rapidly multiply in the body, building a robust army that finds and attacks the cancer cells. For about 30 days, patients are also at risk for side effects, some of which can be life-threatening. What are the side effects of CAR T-cell therapy in lymphoma patients? To prepare the body for CAR T-cell therapy, patients receive a small dose of chemotherapy, which may cause other side effects, such as fatigue and low blood count. As the CAR T cells work to fight cancer, they cause the release of large amounts of other T cells into the blood, along with cytokines, which are proteins released by cells that communicate to other cells that there’s a job to be done. This effect triggers the production of even more...

3 ways MD Anderson nurses make our patients feel safe and cared for

I knew that I wanted to be a nurse pretty early on. My grandmother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer when I was in the eighth grade, and I watched as her nurses went about their duties. I thought they had a great job, and I wanted that for myself one day. I fulfilled the first part of my dream by earning a nursing degree from The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. I fulfilled the second part when I joined MD Anderson in 2017. Now, I work with patients in the post-anesthesia care unit at MD Anderson West Houston. My job is to make sure they’re stable after surgery or diagnostic procedures so they can go home. I really enjoy it. Nurses are a special breed, in that we feel driven to take care of people. But there’s more to nursing than just that aspect of it. Nurses have a lot of qualities other than compassion that make our patients feel safe and cared for. Here are three that I’ve noticed in my colleagues at MD Anderson. 1. We keep our word Some of my patients don’t have anyone who can stay with them while they’re receiving cancer treatment. And when you’re alone in that hospital room and all you have is the nurse to provide you with both care and information, you want someone who’s responsive and does what they say they’re going to do. So if I tell someone I’ll come back in an hour, then I come back in an hour. And sometimes, after completing my rounds, I’ll take off my gloves and just hold...