Plastic surgeon: Why I wouldn’t work anyplace but MD Anderson

Working with breast cancer patients can be a challenge. Because while some are coming to us for the very first time for their treatment, others have already received treatment — including one or more surgeries — elsewhere. That means they may already be dealing with pain, scarring or other side effects, all of which we need to take into account before deciding on a plan of action. That’s why, at MD Anderson, we tailor our treatment to the needs of every patient — because each one’s situation is unique. My strategy for communicating with patients The key to working with patients effectively is not to overwhelm them. It’s important to discuss both their expectations and our expectations early on, so we can meet as many of those as we can. Ideally, this will happen through multiple conversations over time. Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming — both for our patients and their families — and it’s hard to take in everything all at once. Having multiple conversations about care, treatment and recovery is also important because when you’re a cancer patient at MD Anderson, you aren’t just meeting with one doctor to discuss your disease or treatment plans. You’re meeting with a surgical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a plastic surgeon and many other specialists who will play key roles in your treatment and recovery. And as healing evolves, so must our plans. Innovation is the key to plastic surgery, and we have so many different tools we can use now that were not available 10 or even five years ago. Today, for instance, advanced microsurgical techniques enable us...

Liposarcoma survivor: Cancer won’t stop me from achieving my goals

Before my liposarcoma diagnosis in November 2017, I was spending a lot of time at the gym. My focus was on improving my physical strength and overall well-being. But I was also sharing my workouts and recipes on social media, in hopes of inspiring others. I started noticing that my right thigh looked bigger around September of last year. With all the strength training and conditioning I’d been doing, I just assumed the bulge was a muscle. And since it wasn’t causing me any pain or discomfort, I didn’t worry about it. But after I filmed a workout video and posted it on social media, I received several messages from concerned viewers about it. It was particularly noticeable after I was stepping out of the shower one day, so I knew I needed to get it checked out. I got an MRI at the hospital where I work as a nurse. I was on the treadmill when my doctor called me with the results. She said she thought I had a soft tissue cancer called liposarcoma. From that moment on, my life changed. My soft tissue sarcoma treatment I cried and barely ate for days after my cancer diagnosis. I was only 42, and all I could think about was my two sons. I knew I needed to fight for them. I also wanted to go to the best place possible. So, I called MD Anderson. I got an appointment with Dr. Maria Zarzour. She recommended six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of radiation therapy. I knew even before I met her that I wanted to be...

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor confronts cancer with faith, attitude

Most people don’t look back on their cancer experience with fondness. But Jacqueline Wallace is not most people. The 60-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee, is a wife, mother and registered nurse. She’s also a survivor of stage IV diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I actually enjoyed my time at MD Anderson,” Jacqueline says. “I loved it.” Facing lymphoma with joy During her treatment at MD Anderson, Jacqueline treated her trips to Houston as getaways — bringing enough luggage to make her husband look like a bellhop at a ritzy hotel when he unloaded the car.  “I can’t control that I have cancer, but I can control my attitude, my disposition and my outlook,” Jacqueline says. That meant making MD Anderson a home away from home. The first thing she did upon arrival was accessorize her hospital room from floor to ceiling: with a red carpet, red pillows and a red throw. Jacqueline also ignored the diet most nutritionists recommend for cancer patients, instead opting for prime rib and as much dessert as she wanted. “If this was my lot, then I was going to enjoy it and make it a positive experience,” Jacqueline says. A B-cell lymphoma diagnosis Jacqueline was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma in 2015, after noticing a lump in her groin the day before Thanksgiving. She requested an appointment at MD Anderson while she waited for the results of some diagnostic tests. “I’d already decided if it was lymphoma, I wanted to go to MD Anderson, because that’s the premiere place to go for this type of cancer,” Jacqueline says. Treatment for B-cell lymphoma...

Anal cancer survivor: Why I keep returning to MD Anderson

When I heard that Farrah Fawcett had died of anal cancer in June 2009, I remember saying out loud to myself, “Anal cancer? There is such a thing?” Less than three weeks later, I was diagnosed with the exact same type of cancer. I’d had just one symptom — a bit of blood on my toilet tissue — so I was in total shock. Having lived in Houston for 20-plus years before moving to Colorado, I knew I was going to MD Anderson. And I have no regrets. My only anal cancer symptom When I first saw the blood on my toilet paper, I thought I was getting hemorrhoids. I was approaching 50 at the time, so it didn’t seem that unusual. But when it happened again a week later, and then a week after that, and a week after that, I started getting nervous. The spot was probably no bigger than a quarter, but I knew something was wrong. I made an appointment with my local doctor. My physician thought it was probably hemorrhoids, too. He sent me to a specialist for a colonoscopy just to be sure. That’s how I learned there was mass about an inch long right inside my anal canal. My doctors in Denver couldn’t decide if it was anal or rectal cancer, so I came to MD Anderson, where I met with Dr. Cathy Eng. She gave me a definitive diagnosis: squamous cell anal carcinoma, a type of anal cancer. It had already spread to some nearby lymph nodes, which made it stage III. My anal cancer treatment Dr. Eng recommended six weeks...

For follicular lymphoma survivor, clinical trial and laughter are the best medicines

When it comes to facing cancer, follicular lymphoma survivor Michael Baker says laughter is the best medicine. Well, actually lenalidomide. And also rituximab. But laughter is right up there, too.   It worked for him and it’s the first thing he tells current patients when they ask for advice through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one cancer support community for patients, caregivers and survivors. “Look at this disease right between the eyes and laugh at it,” Michael says. “Tell it, ‘Scary as you are, I’m stronger.’” A B-cell lymphoma diagnosis Michael was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma, in 2009. He’s has been cancer-free for more than seven years. He first noticed a lump on his neck in the spring of 2009, but he ignored it for several months. When it began hurting while he was exercising that fall, he decided to see a doctor. He had the lump biopsied and was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma. Michael’s aunt told him he needed to go to MD Anderson, but it was almost a non-starter. “I live in DFW (Dallas-Forth Worth). If I have to drive to Houston once a week for chemo, I’m not doing it,” Michael recalls saying. But his aunt convinced him to make the trip, telling him about MD Anderson’s cutting-edge clinical trial offerings. Michael had initial lab work done at his first appointment and met with Nathan Fowler, M.D., who told him he was eligible for a clinical trial. The clinical trial tested the efficacy of lenalidomide in the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lenalidomide is already the first-line treatment for multiple myeloma, and has...