Mucosal melanoma survivor: After trying immunotherapy, I found success with my Plan B

When I was diagnosed with stage IV mucosal melanoma of the nasal cavity in October 2017, I got to MD Anderson as quickly as I could. My cancer was advanced and very rare, with mucosal melanoma making up only about 1% of all melanoma diagnoses a year. And I wanted to be treated at a place where they’d seen a lot of cases like mine before. At MD Anderson, I met with medical oncologist Dr. Hussein Tawbi, radiation oncologist Dr. B. Ashleigh Guadagnolo, and head and neck surgeon and skull base specialist Dr. Shirley Su. I was excited when they recommended immunotherapy. I thought it would give me the best results. Unfortunately, I developed side effects to immunotherapy pretty early on, so I had to stop taking it. But my doctors came up with an alternate treatment plan, and I’ve been cancer-free since March 2019. So even though immunotherapy didn’t work for me, MD Anderson did. My mucosal melanoma symptoms and diagnosis The only mucosal melanoma symptoms I had were a watery left eye and some nasal congestion. I thought they were from a sinus infection, so I went to a local ear, nose and throat doctor. He found a large growth on the left side of my sinuses and referred me to a head and neck surgeon. A few days later, I had a biopsy, which showed the growth was cancer. An MRI and a PET scan revealed the tumor was about the size of a golf ball and located behind my left eye. It was already invading the surrounding tissues, including my left tear duct. That made...

10-year survivor: My triple-negative breast cancer care led me to work at MD Anderson

I wasn’t working at MD Anderson yet when I learned that I had triple-negative breast cancer in July 2009. But after hearing about two family members’ positive experiences there and then becoming a patient myself, I really, really wanted to. The thing that drew me in most was MD Anderson’s Core Values: Caring, Integrity and Discovery. I saw them listed everywhere at MD Anderson, particularly in the elevators. They explained the importance of treating everyone with courtesy, kindness and respect. And that’s exactly what I got as a patient in MD Anderson’s Nellie B. Connally Breast Center. Why I came to MD Anderson It quickly became clear to me what sets MD Anderson apart. The first oncologist I’d seen had really scared me. She told me that if my cancer was at stage I or II, it was treatable; if it was at stage III, it might be treatable; and if it was already at stage IV, the best she could do was “keep me comfortable.” But I didn’t want to be kept comfortable. And I wasn’t going to just sit back and wait to die. Based on what I knew about MD Anderson from my family, that was, without a doubt, where I would go. My life depended on it. My cousin referred me to her radiation oncologist, Dr. Gregory Chronowski. He works at MD Anderson West Houston, which was at a different location at the time. I called for an appointment, and a last-minute cancellation allowed me to see him the very next day. He did such a thorough exam that I felt totally confident in my...

10-year survivor: My triple-negative breast cancer care led me to work at MD Anderson

I wasn’t working at MD Anderson yet when I learned that I had triple-negative breast cancer in July 2009. But after hearing about two family members’ positive experiences there and then becoming a patient myself, I really, really wanted to. The thing that drew me in most was MD Anderson’s Core Values: Caring, Integrity and Discovery. I saw them listed everywhere at MD Anderson, particularly in the elevators. They explained the importance of treating everyone with courtesy, kindness and respect. And that’s exactly what I got as a patient in MD Anderson’s Nellie B. Connally Breast Center. Why I came to MD Anderson It quickly became clear to me what sets MD Anderson apart. The first oncologist I’d seen had really scared me. She told me that if my cancer was at stage I or II, it was treatable; if it was at stage III, it might be treatable; and if it was already at stage IV, the best she could do was “keep me comfortable.” But I didn’t want to be kept comfortable. And I wasn’t going to just sit back and wait to die. Based on what I knew about MD Anderson from my family, that was, without a doubt, where I would go. My life depended on it. My cousin referred me to her radiation oncologist, Dr. Gregory Chronowski. He works at MD Anderson West Houston, which was at a different location at the time. I called for an appointment, and a last-minute cancellation allowed me to see him the very next day. He did such a thorough exam that I felt totally confident in my...

How to talk to your kids about cancer

Cancer can be scary, so some parents may avoid sharing their diagnosis with their kids to protect them. But research shows higher anxiety levels in children who aren’t informed of a parent’s condition.  Although talking about cancer can be hard, there are ways to ease the process. We spoke to Shelby Becka, a social work counselor at MD Anderson The Woodlands, for advice on telling your kids about your cancer diagnosis and treatment. Share your diagnosis before starting cancer treatment No matter their age, it’s never easy to tell your kids you have cancer. Becka suggests setting aside time with your immediate family and telling everyone together in your home or another private, comfortable space. Ideally, you should do this before you start treatment. “It’s hard to keep cancer a secret,” Becka says. “Your kids probably already know something’s wrong, so it’s best that they hear it from you.” Talk about how your treatment will affect their routine In the early days after your diagnosis, things may be more unsettled. So, it’s important to stick to a routine and let your kids know how your treatment will affect them. “Help them feel secure by telling them who’s going to pick them up from school or cooking dinner that night,” Becka says. Use the right language When talking with your kids, Becka recommends using the word “cancer,” so your kids don’t confuse your diagnosis with an illness that they could potentially catch, like the flu or a cold. You should also tell them what cancer is and where it is in your body. “For younger kids, you can say, ‘I have...