Astrocytoma survivor: Why I chose MD Anderson for treatment

I believe everything happens for a reason. So, when I was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma — an aggressive type of brain cancer — in February 2017, I figured maybe it was so I could help someone else get through that same thing later on. That’s just the way I look at life. Whatever I can do to help people, I want to do it. That’s why I’m sharing my story. Because I went from having multiple seizures a day to having virtually no symptoms at all. My cancer has not shown any sign of growth since May 2017. And it’s all due to the treatment I received at MD Anderson. My brain cancer diagnosis I started having fainting spells around 1996, when I was in my mid-20s. My doctor thought they were heart-related, so he sent me to a cardiologist. I was diagnosed with syncope, or a temporary loss of consciousness caused by an irregular heartbeat. The cardiologist prescribed a heart medication. That solved the problem for almost 20 years. Then, about three years ago, I started having trouble with fainting spells again. I never got a headache or anything, but sometimes I’d perceive a certain smell or feel a strange sensation on my skin, like cold cream was being poured over me. My cardiologist sent me to another specialist for some additional testing. That doctor recommended a pacemaker. I had one installed, but that still didn’t solve the problem. I continued to have fainting episodes, and it took me almost five minutes to recover from each one. I saw a neurologist, who determined that these were actually seizures....

MD Anderson helped me achieve my family dream after non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment

In 2016, my husband and I were trying to expand our family. A swollen lymph node almost derailed our plans entirely. I’d felt the lump in my neck by chance one day, when I rubbed my hand along the underside of my jaw. I thought it was an abscess caused by a failed root canal. It turned out to be advance stage high grade B cell lymphoma, a subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Though grateful not to be pregnant at the time, I was still devastated by the thought of not being able to have more children. I knew certain cancer treatments could leave me infertile, and my husband and I had always planned to have three kids. We were hoping to give our two little boys a sister. Fortunately, I went to MD Anderson for my non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment. My doctors there not only gave us hope that we could still have more children — they also gave us options to maximize our chances. Exploring fertility-preserving options before non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment I was already 35 at the time of my non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, so I wasn’t sure how much my age would affect my fertility. Cancer patients are usually advised to wait at least two years after completing chemotherapy before trying to conceive. That timeline would put me just shy of my 38th birthday. I wasn’t interested in freezing my eggs, but wanted to explore my options. So my oncologist, Dr. Hun Ju Lee, referred me to reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Terri Woodard to discuss my fertility preservation options. Ultimately, my husband and I decided on one of the least-invasive:...

10 things to know about COVID-19 testing

Testing for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is increasing in many communities. But who actually needs coronavirus testing, and what types of tests are most accurate? What does the COVID-19 nasal swab test involve? And what does it mean if your test results come back negative? We spoke with Micah Bhatti, M.D., to learn more. How does COVID-19 nasal swab testing work? The person conducting the test will insert a long stick with a very soft brush on the end — kind of like a pipe cleaner — up your nose and twirl it around for a few seconds. The soft bristles will collect a sample of secretions there for analysis. The swab has to go pretty far back, because cells and fluids must be collected from along the entire passageway that connects the base of the nose to the back of the throat to get a really good specimen. The body is not used to having an object in that area, though, so it creates a lot of very odd sensations. For one thing, it activates the lachrymal reflex, which means it’ll bring tears to your eyes if it’s done correctly. Since the swab will also touch the back of the throat, it may also trigger a gag reflex. Are there any other types of COVID-19 tests available? Yes, tests can be performed on other specimen types that are less invasive, such as a throat swab. But they are less sensitive than the COVID-19 nasal swab test. Saliva is another specimen type that is being explored, but the jury is still out on that one. The preliminary data look...

4 tips to get moving if you are stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic

Karen Basen-Engquist. Ph.D., has managed to stay physically active during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. According to a recent study,  she may be in the minority — and she understands why. In the unpublished study posted on Cambridge Open Exchange, researchers found that people who got the recommended amount of physical activity before the pandemic exercised about 32% less once the pandemic – and stay-at-home orders – took hold. People who were not getting the recommended amount of exercise before the coronavirus pandemic stayed at about the same level of activity. “I’m not surprised by these study results,” says Basen-Engquist, director of MD Anderson’s Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship. “I think that when people are in stressful situations and there are barriers to healthy choices, healthy habits take a backseat.” Exercise may not feel like a priority right now, but it is important to stay active. Exercise relieves stress, helps reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and boosts your immune system. It can also lower your risk for cancer and other diseases. And for cancer survivors, regular exercise can reduce fatigue and improve outcomes. If you are struggling to stay active during the coronavirus pandemic, try this advice from Basen-Engquist. Find tools that can help you stay active during the COVID-19 pandemic You don’t need special equipment, access to a gym or a lot of space to get your heart rate up, build strength and improve your mobility. “Videos and apps can provide you with structured routines that are easy to follow,” says Basen-Engquist. Workouts that include body weight exercises like pushups and sit-ups...

For follicular lymphoma survivor, time is on her side

When Maribeth Holzer asked her family doctor about a curious lump in her right armpit, she never suspected it was follicular lymphoma.  Her doctor said was probably an ingrown hair caused by shaving, or perhaps a blocked pore due to antiperspirant use. But when a purple, dime-sized spot suddenly appeared on Maribeth’s face, she decided to visit a dermatologist. “I felt fine,” she says, “but thought I should have that strange splotch checked out. As long as I was there, I’d ask about the armpit lump, too.” It’s a good thing she did. A biopsy revealed Maribeth had follicular lymphoma, a type of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma that starts in the body’s immune system. Follicular lymphoma symptoms may include a lump in the armpit, neck or groin, caused by cancerous immune cells that build up in lymph nodes and cause swelling. The disease can also produce a skin rash that appears as one or more scaly red or purple patches. “Those were my only telltale signs,” Maribeth says. “Other than that, I didn’t even know anything was wrong.” The dermatologist in Maribeth’s small Louisiana town suggested she seek cancer treatment in nearby Shreveport or at MD Anderson in Houston. “Right away, I knew I wanted to go to MD Anderson,” Maribeth recalls, “but just to be sure, I asked him where he would go. He said ‘Definitely, MD Anderson.’” Days later, Maribeth and her husband made the five-and-a-half hour drive to Houston. A stage IV follicular lymphoma diagnosis At MD Anderson, lymphoma specialist Hun Lee, M.D., ordered three days of testing to confirm Maribeth’s diagnosis and see how far the cancer...