How Enhanced Recovery Program is changing cancer patients’ surgery recovery

Since becoming a doctor, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that the more we can lower patients’ anxiety levels, the better off they are. Educating patients about what to expect improves both how they do during cancer treatment and how they feel about it. It’s like giving people a passport to their own healing. That’s why I’m so pleased to be involved in MD Anderson initiatives that ensure our patients receive the best possible care. My role lets me keep enjoying the remarkable relationships I’ve developed by treating individuals, while also putting entire systems in place that help all of our patients. Enhanced Recovery Program gets cancer patients feeling better faster As a physician, my goal is to do the right thing for the right patient at the right time, every time. And every other doctor at MD Anderson shares this goal. It starts with putting extremely talented people together with really good safety and quality practices. Many of these practices are included in our Enhanced Recovery Program (ERP), a set of 21 guidelines initially used before, during and after surgical procedures. Now these same practices have crossed over to medicine and are being used to aid in the recovery of non-surgical patients, as well. But Enhanced Recovery is more of a philosophy of care than a narrow program. It includes strategies such as minimizing the use of narcotics, aggressive physical therapy, and allowing patients to drink clear fluids up to two hours before a procedure. The idea is to get people feeling better faster, so they can get back to their lives that much sooner....

How I dealt with permanent hair loss and other side effects

When I first lost my hair due to breast cancer treatment, I often heard people say, “Don’t worry. It’s only hair.” The implication was that it would grow back — eventually. But after a while, I began to notice that it was always the people with a full head of hair who said it. And I am one of the very small percentage of women whose hair didn’t grow back after chemotherapy. So, I am still bald to this day. It doesn’t feel like “just hair” when you’re the only one who doesn’t have any — especially when you’re a woman, and you realize that yours is probably never going to grow back. But I’m OK with being bald now, three years after my breast cancer diagnosis. Because I am cancer-free, too, and that matters far more to me than having hair. Most unexpected treatment side effect: permanent hair loss At first, I couldn’t believe I had to give up both my right breast and my hair to be free of cancer. Because here I was, thinking at least I was going to get my hair back, and it turns out the regrowth I’d experienced after treatment was only due to the steroids I’d been taking. It was totally temporary. I sat in my dermatologist’s office and cried when she told me. It turns out I’d developed alopecia areata, a condition that makes hair fall out in patches. It can be caused by chemotherapy, but it’s usually reversible. I’ve tried a few things since then to get my hair to grow back, but nothing’s really worked. So, I’ve accepted...

How I found beauty during breast cancer treatment

My doctor didn’t notice anything unusual during my well-woman exam in February 2018. When I felt a lump in my breast two months later, I wasn’t overly concerned. I was only 38 years old. My husband said I should get checked again, but I didn’t think it would turn out to be breast cancer. When I went to see my gynecologist a couple months later, my husband insisted that she re-examine me. My doctor ordered an ultrasound, a biopsy and a mammogram. They showed I had breast cancer. The weeks after my diagnosis were a blur of appointments and tests. The worst part was the uncertainty. I felt weak and completely vulnerable. My breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson League City I've lived in Houston for 15 years. Even before coming to MD Anderson, I knew about its reputation as the best cancer hospital in the U.S. So, there was no question about where I’d go for breast cancer treatment. I met with Dr. Richard Ehlers at MD Anderson League City a few days after receiving my breast cancer diagnosis. From the beginning, Dr. Ehlers was encouraging and positive. He always took the time to fully explain the pros and cons of my options. He also listened to my concerns. I liked that I didn't have to deal with Houston traffic when I drove to MD Anderson League City. It was also easier to navigate and less crowded, and there’s free parking. In July 2018, I started chemotherapy. Because the breast cancer was hormone receptor-positive, I had 12 weekly rounds of Taxol and four rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan....

Li-Fraumeni syndrome led me to my life’s work

Genetic disorders can be really scary, but learning that I have one probably saved my life. It also led me to my current career. As a fundraiser for a children’s cancer hospital, my work supports research on Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare genetic condition that I actually have. Originally, I was planning to become a pediatric oncology nurse. But my own cancer diagnosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome took me down a different path. I dropped out of nursing school two weeks before classes began, because I’d just started treatment for breast cancer. But being in a hospital as a cancer patient ultimately showed me that nursing was not for me. I’ve still made supporting people with cancer my life’s work — just in a different way than I originally envisioned. Early detection is critical with Li-Fraumeni syndrome I discovered that I have Li-Fraumeni syndrome after my fourth cancer diagnosis —thyroid cancer— in April 2010. At the time, I was only 26. Before that, I’d also been treated for adrenal cancer, breast cancer and melanoma. The first diagnosis happened when I was just a toddler. Since then, I’ve had radiation-induced sarcoma, too. But MD Anderson has kept me cancer-free since 2015. I realize that having five different types of cancer before age 35 sounds crazy. But that’s one of the hallmarks of Li-Fraumeni. This rare genetic mutation puts people at much higher risk of developing multiple cancers over their lifetimes — and those cancers can happen at any age. That’s why finding out I had Li-Fraumeni was so important: because when you’re much more likely to develop cancer, getting regular screenings and...

Li-Fraumeni syndrome led me to my life’s work

Genetic disorders can be really scary, but learning that I have one probably saved my life. It also led me to my current career. As a fundraiser for a children’s cancer hospital, my work supports research on Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare genetic condition that I actually have. Originally, I was planning to become a pediatric oncology nurse. But my own cancer diagnosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome took me down a different path. I dropped out of nursing school two weeks before classes began, because I’d just started treatment for breast cancer. But being in a hospital as a cancer patient ultimately showed me that nursing was not for me. I’ve still made supporting people with cancer my life’s work — just in a different way than I originally envisioned. Early detection is critical with Li-Fraumeni syndrome I discovered that I have Li-Fraumeni syndrome after my fourth cancer diagnosis —thyroid cancer— in April 2010. At the time, I was only 26. Before that, I’d also been treated for adrenal cancer, breast cancer and melanoma. The first diagnosis happened when I was just a toddler. Since then, I’ve had radiation-induced sarcoma, too. But MD Anderson has kept me cancer-free since 2015. I realize that having five different types of cancer before age 35 sounds crazy. But that’s one of the hallmarks of Li-Fraumeni. This rare genetic mutation puts people at much higher risk of developing multiple cancers over their lifetimes — and those cancers can happen at any age. That’s why finding out I had Li-Fraumeni was so important: because when you’re much more likely to develop cancer, getting regular screenings and...