How pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma brought us together

My stepson Roberto Saenz was heading to junior prom in 2009 when his brain tumor symptoms began. As he rode in the limo, he started to have a severe headache and began vomiting. His mother, Debbie, took him to the children’s hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, where doctors diagnosed him with a severe sinus infection. Growing up, Roberto had had a history of frequent headaches, but they were becoming more painful and medication wasn’t helping. Finally, an MRI revealed a mass at the back of his brain. In June 2009, Roberto had brain surgery in Corpus Christi and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He recovered well and was voted prom king his senior year. A brain tumor recurrence The next fall, another MRI revealed a small “spot” near the resection site, where his tumor had been removed. Unable to determine if it was scar tissue or tumor, Roberto’s doctors continued to monitor him closely. His headaches began again, and when the MRI showed progression, Roberto had his second brain surgery in May 2011. This time, the pathology confirmed a devastating diagnosis: grade III pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma (PXA) with anaplastic features, an extremely rare brain cancer. Roberto’s doctor and our family decided to seek consultation from MD Anderson. I can still hear our hero, Roberto, saying, “Let’s do this.” As a family, we were heartbroken and very emotional, but our warrior was ready to fight. United as one team On June 2, 2011, we began a journey together. I’m married to Roberto’s father. With Roberto’s mother, Debbie, her husband, and all of Roberto’s siblings and stepsiblings, our separate families united as...

Rectal cancer survivor: Immunotherapy saved my life

Some days, I look back at my rectal cancer treatment, and I honestly can’t believe how far I’ve come. The fact that I’m not only alive but stable is remarkable. My nightmare with rectal cancer began in November 2016, when I was 54. I started to feel discomfort just days before my first colonoscopy. My doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with my colon, but because my pain was intensifying, he sent me to a colorectal surgeon. A biopsy confirmed I had adenocarcinoma in my rectum. I’d worked as a nurse in Houston for 32 years, and even though I really liked my colorectal surgeon, I knew I’d be crazy if I didn’t come to the world’s top cancer hospital for treatment. So, I scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, which is just minutes from my home. My rectal cancer treatment From the start, surgical oncologist Dr. Craig Messick told me that even though my cancer hadn’t spread, adenocarcinoma like mine tends to be more aggressive when it starts in the rectum, compared to the colon. Still, I wasn’t prepared for what was to come. I finished 28 days of simultaneous radiation therapy and oral chemo and prepared for an abdominoperineal resection, a surgery to remove my rectum and distal colon. But during my pre-op preparation, new scans showed the cancer had spread to my liver. My surgery was canceled, and I quickly met with surgical oncologist Dr. Yun Shin Chun. Within days, my care team had developed a new plan: two months of chemotherapy, followed by a liver resection and two more months of chemo. After...

Nurse’s compassion eases pancreatic cancer patient’s fears

It’s been more than a year since Jacquiela Dorsey, a stage IV pancreatic cancer patient, met Lady June Bolhorst, a clinical nurse who goes by L.J., but she knows she’ll never forget her. The kindness L.J. showed when Jaquelia was nervous about receiving a biopsy left an impression. Here’s their story. Coming to MD Anderson for a biopsy Jacquiela: I was nervous about coming to MD Anderson. I had already had a Whipple procedure, a long and complicated surgery, at a hospital in New Orleans, about four hours from where I live in Monroe, Louisiana. Then, my doctor recommended that I do my chemotherapy at MD Anderson – another big hospital in a big city. Before I started chemo, I had to have a biopsy. I was so nervous about that biopsy. I was worried that the local anesthetic would wear off and I would be able to feel that pain. I was nervous my blood pressure would spike and we’d have to reschedule. But then the nurse – L.J. – came in. She didn’t leave my side the whole time. She was just really caring and comforting. She distracted me while the biopsy was performed. We talked about what it was like growing up with unusual names. We laughed and said we wondered what our mothers were thinking. When they said the biopsy was over, I said I was still waiting for it to start! I felt like I was just having tea with an old friend. Jacquiela Dorsey L.J.: When I came in, I could tell Jacquiela was nervous. But I just did what I always do....

5 things I learned from facing B-cell lymphoma while pregnant

When I was diagnosed with my primary mediastinal large b-cell lymphoma diagnosis in November 2017, I was in the second trimester of my pregnancy. I couldn’t find a lot of advice for pregnant cancer patients, so now I’m doing my part to help others going through a similar experience. Here are five lessons I learned while undergoing cancer treatment during my pregnancy. Accept all of the help you are offered People will probably offer to bring you a meal, babysit, clean your house, mow your lawn, accompany you to the hospital, buy you something. Accept their offers. Don’t have pride and think you can do it all, because you can’t. Don’t think you’re inconveniencing people, because you aren’t. People want to help you. It takes a village to beat cancer! You don’t have to do it alone. The gym I taught fitness classes at and my employer set up meal trains for us. My husband and I received probably over 30 meals in the span of four months. I never had to worry about cooking, and that greatly helped. Count your good days and write off the bad days Every day that you are not nauseous, fatigued, or sick is a good day. If you have a bad day, that’s OK. Chances are you’ll survive the bad day. I got neutropenia just two weeks before I was planning to deliver my son, Joel. I was in the hospital for seven days, away from my family and too weak to work. I had to remind myself that I have had so many good days before, that a week is just...

A Ewing’s sarcoma recurrence won’t stop me from living

I recently completed radiation therapy, but I’m still waiting to find out if it was successful in destroying a tumor that spread to my lung nearly five years after my initial Ewing’s sarcoma treatment. As I wait for my follow-up appointment in August, I’m trying to ignore the what-ifs. I’m 37 years old and a mother of five. That alone helps keep me distracted. But I’m also approaching this summer with a plan. My first Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis First, let me back up to my initial diagnosis in July 2011. After months of living with pain in my left leg, I went to my doctor’s office begging for an answer. Eventually, an MRI showed a type of cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma in my fibula, or calf bone. At the time, my youngest child was just learning how to walk and my oldest was only 11. I was willing to do anything to get through it. When I asked my local oncologist in Amarillo, Texas what he recommended, he told me that if I were his loved one, he’d send me to MD Anderson for a second opinion. So I left my kids with their father (my husband at the time) and came to Houston. Leaving my family was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but I knew that it would give me the best chance for survival. Under Dr. Robert Benjamin’s care, I started a high-dose chemotherapy and remained on it for five months. Then, in January 2012, Dr. Valerae Lewis performed a radical resection, where she removed the top third of my left fibula during a six-hour surgery....