Best of MD Anderson 2019: What drives our doctors and researchers

Ever wonder what drives our doctors and researchers to end cancer? What compels them to work in medicine or even get out of bed in the morning? Here’s what five of our doctors and researchers shared with us this past year. Jim Allison, Ph.D., immunotherapy researcher and winner of 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Jim Allison, Ph.D., won the Nobel Prize in 2018 for his groundbreaking research on how T-cells function, which led to the development of an immune checkpoint inhibitor now called ipilimumab. Today, Allison is most excited about the future of immunotherapy and how it can be used to treat more patients and more types of cancer. But he’s especially touched every time he meets a patient who has benefitted directly from his research. “It really brings home that what started off as a fundamental science project and then became these clinical trials has real-life implications,” he says. Learn more about his story here. Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director, MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center Therese Bevers, M.D., always knew she wanted to work in health care. She just never imagined she’d be in preventive cancer medicine for more than 25 years. Caring for a maternal grandmother who’d had hip surgery is what initially led Bevers to nursing school. But she quickly realized that job wasn’t for her. A savvy advisor steered her toward medical school, and that’s where Bevers found her niche. After gravitating toward the preventive side of family practice for years, it was only natural for her to accept the role of medical director at MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center in 1996....

Best of MD Anderson 2019: Cancer survivors’ and caregivers’ stories of hope

During the past year, dozens of our patients and caregivers have shared their stories with us. Some dealt with proving a terminal diagnosis wrong. Others involved struggles with a challenging treatment, or making the best of life after cancer. The one thing they all have in common is hope. Here are some of our patients’ most inspiring tales from 2019. Our wish is that they will bring you hope, too. Tongue cancer survivor: Half of my tongue is gone, but I couldn’t be happier Jeannie Hopper will always speak with a lisp and have trouble swallowing. But she’s grateful to be alive after a stage IV oral cancer diagnosis, which required the removal of four teeth, the floor of her mouth, and half of her tongue. “I will never look in the mirror and see the person I expect to,” she says. “But I’m proud I made it, elated with my life and happy to be where I am today.” Medulloblastoma survivor: How I laughed in the face of cancer Sabrina Dominguez was undergoing treatment for medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer, when a nurse advised her to “find her laugh.” She took that advice and found three ways to ease her journey with humor, including making jokes about bodily functions, commiserating with friends, and playing with a rainbow of colorful wigs. “Whenever my grandmother or mom noticed I was feeling sad, she would put on one of the sillier ones,” she says. “It never failed to make me smile.” Nasopharyngeal cancer survivor: A remarkable recovery Stewart Wright’s nasopharyngeal cancer was so advanced that he was originally told he...

Melanoma survivor: An immunotherapy clinical trial was my best option

I was diagnosed with stage IV acral lentiginous melanoma in August 2014. The year before, I had bumped my thumb against the side of a pool. When the injury didn’t heal with antibiotics, my doctor scheduled a tissue biopsy. After I found out I had melanoma, my biggest worry was what life would be like for my wife and four sons if I were not around. The thought of my wife raising our 15-year-old son and 13-year-old triplets alone worried me more than death itself. Choosing MD Anderson for melanoma treatment My friends and neighbors told me to seek treatment at MD Anderson. I knew it was the No. 1 cancer center in the nation and had leading experts in melanoma. I wanted the best chance to survive, so I traveled to Houston from St. Louis. Once I got to MD Anderson and met Patrick Hwu, M.D., in November 2014, I quickly knew I was in the right place. Dr. Hwu worked with my local doctor so I could stay close to home and my family while I began a combination immunotherapy using ipilimumab and nivolumab. If that didn’t work, Dr. Hwu would have me try a different type of immunotherapy. And if that didn’t work, I could enroll in a T-cell therapy clinical trial that he recommended. I appreciated his expertise. The path to the right melanoma treatment When the tumors continued to grow in my lungs after the initial immunotherapy, Dr. Ara Vaporciyan surgically removed them in January 2016. During the surgery, I had my T cells harvested in case I enrolled in that clinical trial. Eleven...

DCIS breast cancer survivor sees hope all around her

Before starting breast cancer treatment near her home in Dallas, Brenda Scherer decided to get a second opinion at MD Anderson. Looking back, she’s glad she did. If she’d stuck with the treatment plan her local medical team had recommended, she would have had the wrong treatment and surgery. A DCIS breast cancer diagnosis A kindergarten teacher at the time, Brenda had her annual mammogram during spring break 2017. The technician noticed something unusual immediately, but Brenda wasn’t concerned. “I have dense breasts and knew I had lumps, so I wasn’t worried,” she says. A few days later, the radiologist called and reported that he’d found a suspicious spot. Brenda then had a breast biopsy. Her medical team in Dallas diagnosed her with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, often called stage 0 breast cancer. They recommended a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. At the advice of a close friend, Brenda decided to come to MD Anderson for a second opinion. She brought her mammogram and ultrasound scans with her. New imaging changes breast cancer treatment plan At MD Anderson, breast radiologist Monica Huang, M.D., noticed additional areas of concern in Brenda’s mammogram and ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed two more masses. Deanna Lane, M.D., performed a biopsy that confirmed there was more breast cancer than originally thought. Brenda then met with breast surgical oncologist Henry Kuerer M.D., Ph.D., to discuss her surgery options. Based on the new testing done at MD Anderson, Kuerer recommended a mastectomy, rather than Brenda’s original treatment plan. She would not need radiation therapy. “If I had stayed in Dallas, I would have had...

10 things to know about chemotherapy

Starting chemotherapy for the first time? If you are new to this common cancer treatment, you're probably wondering how chemotherapy works, if you will lose your hair or even if chemotherapy hurts. We spoke with Mariela Blum-Murphy, M.D., to learn more. Here’s what she had to say. What is chemotherapy? Chemotherapy is a group of medications that can shrink or destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is used in a variety of ways. It may be given to rid the body of cancer, to shrink cancer so that surgery can be performed, or to control the disease and prolong someone’s life as long as possible. How does chemotherapy work? There are multiple types of chemotherapy, and each kind works a bit differently. In general, chemotherapy attacks rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells. Chemotherapy alters a cancer cell’s ability to grow or replicate itself. It can cause the cancer cell to die by not functioning properly or stop it from spreading by interfering with its ability to reproduce. How are chemotherapy drugs usually given? Most chemotherapy drugs are given through an IV, but some are injected into muscle, under the skin or directly into the spinal fluid. Other chemotherapy drugs can be swallowed in pill form. Chemotherapy is often given in combination with other chemotherapy drugs or with other treatments, such as targeted therapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy.    Does chemotherapy hurt? IV chemotherapy should not cause any pain while being administered. If you experience pain, contact the nurse taking care of you to check your IV line. An exception would be if there is a leak and the drug gets...