Li-Fraumeni syndrome led me to my life’s work

Genetic disorders can be really scary, but learning that I have one probably saved my life. It also led me to my current career. As a fundraiser for a children’s cancer hospital, my work supports research on Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare genetic condition that I actually have. Originally, I was planning to become a pediatric oncology nurse. But my own cancer diagnosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome took me down a different path. I dropped out of nursing school two weeks before classes began, because I’d just started treatment for breast cancer. But being in a hospital as a cancer patient ultimately showed me that nursing was not for me. I’ve still made supporting people with cancer my life’s work — just in a different way than I originally envisioned. Early detection is critical with Li-Fraumeni syndrome I discovered that I have Li-Fraumeni syndrome after my fourth cancer diagnosis —thyroid cancer— in April 2010. At the time, I was only 26. Before that, I’d also been treated for adrenal cancer, breast cancer and melanoma. The first diagnosis happened when I was just a toddler. Since then, I’ve had radiation-induced sarcoma, too. But MD Anderson has kept me cancer-free since 2015. I realize that having five different types of cancer before age 35 sounds crazy. But that’s one of the hallmarks of Li-Fraumeni. This rare genetic mutation puts people at much higher risk of developing multiple cancers over their lifetimes — and those cancers can happen at any age. That’s why finding out I had Li-Fraumeni was so important: because when you’re much more likely to develop cancer, getting regular screenings and...

Li-Fraumeni syndrome led me to my life’s work

Genetic disorders can be really scary, but learning that I have one probably saved my life. It also led me to my current career. As a fundraiser for a children’s cancer hospital, my work supports research on Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare genetic condition that I actually have. Originally, I was planning to become a pediatric oncology nurse. But my own cancer diagnosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome took me down a different path. I dropped out of nursing school two weeks before classes began, because I’d just started treatment for breast cancer. But being in a hospital as a cancer patient ultimately showed me that nursing was not for me. I’ve still made supporting people with cancer my life’s work — just in a different way than I originally envisioned. Early detection is critical with Li-Fraumeni syndrome I discovered that I have Li-Fraumeni syndrome after my fourth cancer diagnosis —thyroid cancer— in April 2010. At the time, I was only 26. Before that, I’d also been treated for adrenal cancer, breast cancer and melanoma. The first diagnosis happened when I was just a toddler. Since then, I’ve had radiation-induced sarcoma, too. But MD Anderson has kept me cancer-free since 2015. I realize that having five different types of cancer before age 35 sounds crazy. But that’s one of the hallmarks of Li-Fraumeni. This rare genetic mutation puts people at much higher risk of developing multiple cancers over their lifetimes — and those cancers can happen at any age. That’s why finding out I had Li-Fraumeni was so important: because when you’re much more likely to develop cancer, getting regular screenings and...

Best of MD Anderson 2019: Why patients came here for treatment

Cancer patients come to MD Anderson for many reasons. Some want the expertise of the nation’s top hospital for cancer care for cancer care. Many want access to our cutting-edge treatments and our clinical trials. And some seek care here after hearing from friends or relatives about the compassionate care they received. Here are 11 reasons our patients and caregivers shared with us in 2019 about why they chose MD Anderson.  Skull base tumor survivor: “They gave me hope when all seemed hopeless.” Initially, Mark Bailey chalked up the double vision he’d been experiencing to the stress of being a homicide detective. But it turned out to be caused by a skull base tumor called chordoma of the clivus. None of his local doctors knew how to treat it, so he came to MD Anderson. Thymoma survivor: “I needed a higher level of expertise.” Cynthia Sanchez had known something was wrong for years, but no one in Laredo ever connected any of the symptoms she had with the tumor growing on her thymus gland. When a routine X-ray revealed it behind her breastbone, she called MD Anderson. Breast cancer survivor: “My doctors developed a plan that fit me perfectly.” After Lisa Tecklenburg was diagnosed with breast cancer, she worried she might not compete in endurance sports ever again. But after receiving personalized treatment at MD Anderson, the triathlete finished a competition with her best time yet — and qualified for the IRONMAN world championship. Throat cancer survivor: “It was like being cared for by my own family.” News photographer Damion Smith had covered stories about MD Anderson for years,...

Best of MD Anderson 2019: Words of wisdom from our cancer survivors

Cancer patients find hope in different ways. Some do it by reminding themselves that nothing lasts forever, and that this, too, shall pass. Others seek solace in faith, supportive relationships or celebrating small victories. In many cases, the insights they’ve gained from their experiences can help others facing cancer. Here are some words of wisdom our patients have shared with us over the past year that helped them stay upbeat as they navigated cancer treatment and recovery. We hope at least some of them will resonate with you and help you through cancer. “My life is different now, but it’s still good.” — Max Nickless, anaplastic thyroid cancer survivor “Don’t give up. This is only temporary.” — Ilyasha Hosea, breast cancer survivor “Some of life’s sourest lemons make the best lemonade.” — Ciara Toth, acute lymphoblastic leukemia survivor “Each of us has greater strength because of the other.” — Ben Sanders, melanoma and prostate cancer survivor “Life can still be beautiful after cancer.” — Alexa Jett, papillary thyroid cancer survivor “I still have some dark days. But now, I also have hope and optimism.” — Elpida Argenziano, breast cancer survivor “Side effects are a small price to pay for my life.” — Peggy Port, ovarian cancer survivor “All I want to do is live well and love deeply.” — Nicole Body, sarcoma survivor “I choose to get busy living.” — Constance Blanchard, glioblastoma survivor “Every single bad day is better than no day at all.” — Deanna Wehrung, cervical cancer survivor “I have a lot to be happy about, just because I’m a survivor.” — Vanessa Sanders, breast cancer...

Best of MD Anderson 2019: What drives our doctors and researchers

Ever wonder what drives our doctors and researchers to end cancer? What compels them to work in medicine or even get out of bed in the morning? Here’s what five of our doctors and researchers shared with us this past year. Jim Allison, Ph.D., immunotherapy researcher and winner of 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Jim Allison, Ph.D., won the Nobel Prize in 2018 for his groundbreaking research on how T-cells function, which led to the development of an immune checkpoint inhibitor now called ipilimumab. Today, Allison is most excited about the future of immunotherapy and how it can be used to treat more patients and more types of cancer. But he’s especially touched every time he meets a patient who has benefitted directly from his research. “It really brings home that what started off as a fundamental science project and then became these clinical trials has real-life implications,” he says. Learn more about his story here. Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director, MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center Therese Bevers, M.D., always knew she wanted to work in health care. She just never imagined she’d be in preventive cancer medicine for more than 25 years. Caring for a maternal grandmother who’d had hip surgery is what initially led Bevers to nursing school. But she quickly realized that job wasn’t for her. A savvy advisor steered her toward medical school, and that’s where Bevers found her niche. After gravitating toward the preventive side of family practice for years, it was only natural for her to accept the role of medical director at MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center in 1996....

DCIS breast cancer survivor sees hope all around her

Before starting breast cancer treatment near her home in Dallas, Brenda Scherer decided to get a second opinion at MD Anderson. Looking back, she’s glad she did. If she’d stuck with the treatment plan her local medical team had recommended, she would have had the wrong treatment and surgery. A DCIS breast cancer diagnosis A kindergarten teacher at the time, Brenda had her annual mammogram during spring break 2017. The technician noticed something unusual immediately, but Brenda wasn’t concerned. “I have dense breasts and knew I had lumps, so I wasn’t worried,” she says. A few days later, the radiologist called and reported that he’d found a suspicious spot. Brenda then had a breast biopsy. Her medical team in Dallas diagnosed her with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, often called stage 0 breast cancer. They recommended a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. At the advice of a close friend, Brenda decided to come to MD Anderson for a second opinion. She brought her mammogram and ultrasound scans with her. New imaging changes breast cancer treatment plan At MD Anderson, breast radiologist Monica Huang, M.D., noticed additional areas of concern in Brenda’s mammogram and ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed two more masses. Deanna Lane, M.D., performed a biopsy that confirmed there was more breast cancer than originally thought. Brenda then met with breast surgical oncologist Henry Kuerer M.D., Ph.D., to discuss her surgery options. Based on the new testing done at MD Anderson, Kuerer recommended a mastectomy, rather than Brenda’s original treatment plan. She would not need radiation therapy. “If I had stayed in Dallas, I would have had...