Inflammatory breast cancer survivor finds hope in clinical trial

I’m the kind of person who follows my gut. So, when I looked up my symptoms online and thought I had inflammatory breast cancer, I kept pushing to get tested, even when my doctor told me no. When I went to get fitted for bras in 2016, the woman who measured me pointed out that my left breast was “huge” compared to my right one. I figured everyone has a little asymmetry and brushed off her comment. Several weeks later, I got an infection after my cat scratched my chest. My doctors diagnosed me with cat scratch fever, but it didn’t get better with antibiotics. My left breast was still swollen with lots of pain for weeks. I did my own research, and the symptoms pointed me to inflammatory breast cancer. I told my doctor in my hometown of Columbus, Nebraska. He suggested I try a different antibiotic for 90 days. My gut told me that wasn’t right, and I pushed for a biopsy. Three days later, my doctor confirmed that I had inflammatory breast cancer. My inflammatory breast cancer recurrence I had chemotherapy followed by a simple right breast mastectomy at my local hospital. I had no evidence of disease but still needed chest wall radiation after surgery. In August 2018, PET and CT scans revealed a recurrence. My daughter was pregnant and due that December. She asked my doctor if I would live to see my granddaughter. He said that my cancer was stage IV and that I didn’t have much time. I decided then to get a second opinion. Going to MD Anderson eased my anxiety I...

Sharing hope is the most important part of my job as a nurse navigator

When most people hear the word “cancer,” they usually react with fear or distress. That’s why I’m so glad to work as a nurse navigator at MD Anderson League City: because I get to empower patients with knowledge to hopefully reduce those feelings. My job is to be the first point of contact between MD Anderson and patients who’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer. That can be a very scary time. So, I do my best to put people at ease — both by meeting them wherever they are emotionally and by giving them solid, accurate information to use. That way, they can make the best possible decisions about treatment with their families and care teams. Planning ahead for consultations My job requires me to be a good investigator. That means finding out patients’ hopes and expectations, and identifying any financial or family issues that might hinder their treatment. Many times, I’m able to connect people with local resources before they even get here, which can make their first visits much less stressful. I also obtain patients’ medical history and review it with them, so I can get a sense of where they are before that first visit. I educate them about their diagnosis, too, so they have a better idea of what to expect once they arrive. My goal is to coordinate as much as I can in advance, so that both patients and their care teams feel fully prepared for those initial consultations. Top-notch treatment, closer to home The thing I like best about MD Anderson is that nurses actually have a seat at the table...

Cardiothoracic surgeon: Compassion is MD Anderson’s secret ingredient

The way I practice medicine is heavily influenced by the fact that I’m a mother. Many of the same qualities that are useful in parenting my four children — such as flexibility and perseverance — also come in handy while treating my patients. But of all the traits that serve me well in both areas, compassion is probably the most important. Compassion is MD Anderson’s secret ingredient. It’s not just our expertise, but the way we interact with our patients and their families. Obviously, our goal is to leave people cancer-free. But we treat people the way we would want to be treated. And that makes all the difference. The MD Anderson difference Working at the No. 1 cancer hospital in the world is amazing. You can see that compassion and feel it in action the minute you walk through MD Anderson’s doors. There’s just something special about a place that’s focused exclusively on curing cancer. Here, our patients have some of the world’s most talented doctors treating them — people who genuinely care about them and their families. And these doctors aren’t simply compassionate. They’re also specialists in treating their patients’ specific type of cancer. That means patients get the right diagnosis, so that they get the right treatment for that cancer from the very beginning. And that’s important, because getting the wrong treatment can delay proper care, or even prevent them from receiving the right treatment further down the line. Through clinical trials, our patients also have access to therapies that are not otherwise available. Patient care at MD Anderson: a team effort I divide my time...

3 things I’ve learned from my wife’s brain cancer relapse

Prior to my wife’s glioblastoma diagnosis in 2013, I traveled a lot for my job, both inside and outside the U.S. That arrangement worked out pretty well, even after Susie’s first brain cancer diagnosis in 1999, because she had surgery and joined a clinical trial at MD Anderson that left her cancer-free for 14 years. But I think we underestimated how difficult things were going to be the second time around. We just assumed that because she’d done so well the first time, we might have a similar experience. Unfortunately, Susie had different and more severe side effects from treatment. Her body just wasn’t as strong as it had been when she was 34. It took us by surprise. Here are three things I’ve learned from that experience. Be specific when asking for help The most debilitating side effect Susie experienced was a pontine (brain stem) stroke in 2015. It was likely caused by a weakening of blood vessels from two full rounds of radiation therapy. After that, I could no longer travel for my job. Susie needed more dedicated care. The stroke left her unable to work or perform many basic functions. She had to relearn how to walk, bathe and feed herself, among other things. In hindsight, balancing Susie’s care with my job and two teenagers was pretty overwhelming. I probably should’ve asked for help. It took our youngest asking for help on Facebook for me to realize how eager friends and family were to jump in, and that I really needed the help. I just had to ask and be specific about what and where. Today,...

Pancreatic cancer survivor: 3 myths about MD Anderson

I live in Dallas, but when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June 2017, I chose to come to MD Anderson for my treatment. My husband Jim and I knew it was doing groundbreaking research and offering clinical trials in all areas, and we wanted to be at the very best place with the most options. We also wanted a firm diagnosis. My physician strongly suspected I had pancreatic cancer, but only because she’d done bloodwork during my annual checkup — and it showed a few of my numbers were off-the-charts haywire. She ordered a CT scan and saw a mass near my pancreas. But I had zero symptoms, so we didn’t know for certain that it was pancreatic cancer until I came to MD Anderson. Once I started treatment there, I was surprised by some of the misconceptions I heard from friends, often repeatedly. So, here are three myths that I’d like to dispel about cancer treatment, based on my experience at MD Anderson. Myth 1: You have to navigate cancer on your own. A lot of patients have this idea that once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you have to do your own research to understand your disease and get the best care. But that’s simply not true. At MD Anderson, there are so many resources available to you. And I don’t just mean from the internet. I mean from patient volunteers willing to share their stories and doctors who are extremely open to communication. All you have to do is ask. MD Anderson even has support teams to help people who are from out of...