Osteosarcoma survivor: MD Anderson has helped shape my future

In 2016, osteosarcoma was the last thing on my mind. I was a typical and active high-school junior playing sports and hanging out with my friends. On a trip in December, I decided to try snowboarding for the first time, but it was harder than it looked and I kept falling. I had some pain in my leg and took over-the-counter pain relievers, assuming it was just a bruise from the falls. In January, after playing in a flag football game, I began experiencing swelling in my leg again. Walking became uncomfortable. My parents took me to a local orthopedic doctor near our home in The Woodlands. I got an X-ray and an MRI. They showed I had a fracture in my leg, but the doctors also saw a spot that looked like it could be a tumor. My family and I were shocked, but we made an appointment at MD Anderson as quickly as we could. My osteosarcoma treatment Within a week, I had my first appointment at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital with Dr. Valerae O. Lewis, chair of Orthopaedic Oncology. After further testing, the biopsy results confirmed that I had osteosarcoma in my left distal femur. My parents and I again met with Dr. Lewis and we began to discuss a plan of action for treatment. My pediatric oncology team, led by Dr. Najat Daw, prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy. I received the first round in February 2017. In May 2017, Dr. Lewis performed a limb-salvage surgery that included a full knee and partial distal femur replacement. I received another twelve rounds of chemotherapy following surgery....

Citizen scientists help advance cancer research in the community

A researcher designs new materials that could help prevent cancer in underserved communities, so why aren’t the materials being used? A new clinical trial opens for African-American males, but why is no one enrolling? With the help of MD Anderson’s Citizen Scientist Program, which was created by the Center for Community-Engaged Translational Research, many researchers are receiving immediate input on how to best reach their target audiences to make an impact on cancer health disparities. As part of the program, 16 citizen scientists – community members without scientific backgrounds – have dedicated their time to helping our researchers achieve their goals. They come from all walks of life and represent a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities in Houston. Many are cancer survivors or caregivers as well, so they’re familiar with what a cancer patient deals with during diagnosis and treatment. Rose Childress’ husband was treated here 20 years ago, and she now serves as one of our citizen scientists. “I like getting to see a different side of MD Anderson and cancer treatment,” she says. “I learn something new every time we meet, and it’s great to be able to affect how MD Anderson works within my community.” Reaching out for cancer researchers  The Community-Engaged Translational Research team implemented the citizen scientist program last year thanks in large part to its long-time ties to churches, community centers and more within many of the area’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. “Community engagement is part of what we do,” says Crystal Roberson, program manager, Health Disparities Research. Citizen scientists work with MD Anderson researchers to help improve their study design, outreach...

Getting to know Carin Hagberg, M.D.

The career of Carin Hagberg, M.D., has come full circle. She began her career at MD Anderson as a research assistant in the clinical immunology laboratory of Evan Hersch, M.D., and under the supervision of James Reuben, Ph.D., before receiving her medical degree from McGovern Medical School. In 2016, she returned to MD Anderson as division head of Anesthesiology, Critical Care and Pain Medicine. And in August 2018, the nationally and internationally respected researcher assumed her newest role as chief academic officer. In this role, Hagberg is advancing our clinical research efforts to support MD Anderson in maintaining its top-tier research status by supporting clinical research and scholarship; developing and promoting education; and providing excellence in academics throughout MD Anderson through leadership, best practices and innovation. We recently spoke with Hagberg to learn more about her. Here’s what she had to say. What word best describes you? Determined. My husband would say unstoppable. Did you always want to be a doctor? No. As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian.  When I was 16, my mother suffered a devastating stroke, and I decided I wanted to care for people. At the time, I thought I would pursue pediatric nursing. During my sophomore year in college, a conversation with my brother changed the course of my life. He helped me realize I didn’t have to choose a traditional female career if I didn’t want to, and it was then I decided to become a doctor. What brought you to Houston? I was on my own to pay for medical school after earning my undergraduate degree from the University of...

5 things I learned after my double mastectomy

As a former nurse in MD Anderson’s Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), I felt pretty familiar with breast cancer surgery. So, I thought I knew what to expect when I scheduled my own mastectomy last August. But, as it turns out, going through the process as a patient myself held some surprises. Here are five things I didn’t anticipate and how I handled them. 1. Embrace your range of motion exercises When I was a PACU nurse, I mostly cared for patients who were just waking up from breast surgery, so they weren’t as active as they would be later on. That’s why I don’t think I fully understood the limited range of motion that comes with having both breasts removed. The first time I tried to lift my arms after my surgery, the discomfort in my muscles stopped me cold. I’d been given stretching exercises to slowly work my way back to full range of motion. But until I got there, I needed help to take a shower, because I couldn’t reach around to wash my back. That was a very humbling experience. I’d given many baths as a bedside nurse, but until then, I’d never been on the other side of the sponge. And though I have a much better range of motion today, there’s lingering tightness in the muscles under my arms. So, I still do my stretching exercises daily. It really helps. 2. Ask caregivers to go slowly when stripping drains I’ve taken care of many patients with drains, where I had to “strip” — or empty— their drains. I didn’t realize that patients could actually...

Nurses on the front lines of immunotherapy

A patient writes, “The Astros will win the World Series next year,” in bold print as Jaquelin Velasquez watches. The clinical nurse in Lymphoma and Myeloma isn’t interested in the accuracy of this prediction. She’s looking for signs of a serious side effect of immunotherapy. “If a patient’s handwriting deteriorates, it’s a red flag that they’re developing neurotoxicity,” Velasquez says. She explains that the handwriting test is part of a neurological assessment developed at MD Anderson for patients receiving CAR T-cell therapy. “Neurotoxicity can be fatal if we don’t intervene early and reverse the effects,” she says.  Velasquez has cared for immunotherapy patients since the first CAR T-cell therapy clinical trial here in 2015. The therapy involves the removal of a patient’s own T cells, which are then reengineered to find and destroy cancer proteins or targets. Next the cells are infused back into the patient’s body, where they attack the cancer cells. While there’s been great success with this type of treatment, it comes with a unique profile of toxicities that can be life-threatening. Making immunotherapy a safer treatment option Velasquez is one of many clinical, advanced practice and research nurses throughout MD Anderson who collaborate across the institution and the nation to identify and manage toxicity in patients treated with immunotherapy and thus bring a higher level of safety to this innovative treatment option. “On the front line of patient care, our nurses have been instrumental in helping us deliver immunotherapies in a safe fashion,” says Partow Kebriaei, M.D., a professor of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy. “Since the beginning, they’ve really led the charge in...