Cancer caregiver: Why COVID-19 social distancing matters

My husband, John, and I had only been married 45 days when he was diagnosed with glioblastoma on Sept. 1, 2017. Hurricane Harvey loomed over the Houston area as John was admitted to MD Anderson and underwent a gross total resection to fully remove his brain tumor. As a result of the tumor's severe pressure on his optic nerve, John lost his eyesight but completed radiation therapy at the end of 2017 and chemotherapy the following fall. John was in a monitoring phase until last November. That’s when we learned the tumor had come back. John had a second craniotomy in December 2019 and began a clinical trial in January. He is responding well.   Then news began to spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Social distancing can help prevent spread of COVID-19 Like many of our friends and family, we have been trying to quell anxieties stemming from the mass amounts of information out there about COVID-19. We had seen the graph that's been circulating online, illustrating the importance of staying home to avoid spreading the coronavirus. However, the importance of social distancing really hit home for John and me when we went out to dinner last week. There was an hour-long wait, with lots of people standing around. John and I looked at each other and thought, “Should we really be here? Is this the right choice? Is our health at risk?” Preventing COVID-19 spread is personal Social distancing is a practice aimed at preventing sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people. The goal is to reduce opportunities for COVID-19 to spread...

3 things I’ve learned from my wife’s brain cancer relapse

Prior to my wife’s glioblastoma diagnosis in 2013, I traveled a lot for my job, both inside and outside the U.S. That arrangement worked out pretty well, even after Susie’s first brain cancer diagnosis in 1999, because she had surgery and joined a clinical trial at MD Anderson that left her cancer-free for 14 years. But I think we underestimated how difficult things were going to be the second time around. We just assumed that because she’d done so well the first time, we might have a similar experience. Unfortunately, Susie had different and more severe side effects from treatment. Her body just wasn’t as strong as it had been when she was 34. It took us by surprise. Here are three things I’ve learned from that experience. Be specific when asking for help The most debilitating side effect Susie experienced was a pontine (brain stem) stroke in 2015. It was likely caused by a weakening of blood vessels from two full rounds of radiation therapy. After that, I could no longer travel for my job. Susie needed more dedicated care. The stroke left her unable to work or perform many basic functions. She had to relearn how to walk, bathe and feed herself, among other things. In hindsight, balancing Susie’s care with my job and two teenagers was pretty overwhelming. I probably should’ve asked for help. It took our youngest asking for help on Facebook for me to realize how eager friends and family were to jump in, and that I really needed the help. I just had to ask and be specific about what and where. Today,...

Glioblastoma caregiver: MD Anderson has helped my wife survive brain cancer twice

It’s unlikely you’re ever going to meet anyone quite like my wife. For one thing, Susie is a two-time brain cancer survivor. That alone makes her amazing. But she’s also still alive — more than 20 years after her initial diagnosis. That makes her unique. We were so worried when Susie’s tumor was first discovered. Our kids were both really little back then: just 3 years and 2 months old. Susie feared, if she died, they wouldn’t know or remember her. Now, our youngest is 21 and studying biochemistry in college. Our eldest recently earned a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and is working in a neuroscience lab in Boston. Susie and I have traveled around the world and back. It’s all been possible because of the folks at MD Anderson. A brain cancer diagnosis Susie was pregnant with our second child when she started having problems with memory, word association, poor appetite and headaches. Doctors attributed those symptoms to a challenging pregnancy. But the symptoms got even worse after she gave birth. When the headaches became unmanageable, I took Susie to a local emergency room in Austin. The doctor there thought she had a bad sinus infection. I knew her symptoms were something more serious, so I pushed for a CT scan. Finally, the doctor agreed. The scan showed a tumor the size of an orange in the left temporal lobe of Susie’s brain. After having an MRI, Susie met with the hospital’s neurosurgeon. He told us Susie’s brain tumor was the largest he had ever seen, and he was amazed she was still able to walk and...

Best of MD Anderson 2019: Top cancer insights from our experts

Whether you’re facing a cancer diagnosis, want to better understand your risk or celebrating life after cancer, you likely have questions about your health. Sometimes, turning to the internet can lead to bad information or confusion. To help you find accurate answers to your questions, we spoke with our experts on many topics this past year. They shared insights on trending topics in cancer, the latest in cancer treatment and how we’re making advances through our Moon Shots Program. Here are some of our experts’ most helpful insights from 2019. 3 nutrients cancer survivors should know Nutrients help cancer survivors stay healthy and reduce their risk of the long-term side effects of cancer and its treatment. Our clinical dietitian Haley Gale shares advice on how to easily incorporate omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed and iron into your diet. Treating cancer with targeted therapy All cancers are caused by a mutation, which is a genetic change in the DNA of a cell. Targeted therapy works by focusing on the specific mutation of a cancer cell to stop or slow its growth. Vivek Subbiah, M.D., explains how we’re able to personalize cancer treatment to some patients’ specific tumors and how Phase I clinical trials are helping us discover more of these new therapies. Debunking glioblastoma myths Although many cancers spread to the brain, few actually start there. Glioblastoma is the most comment primary brain tumor in adults – and the most aggressive. But with only 12,000 new diagnoses each year, it’s still considered rare and there’s a lot of mystery surrounding it. Here, Shiao-Pei Weathers, M.D., clears up common misconceptions about glioblastoma....

Best of MD Anderson 2019: Top cancer insights from our experts

Whether you’re facing a cancer diagnosis, want to better understand your risk or celebrating life after cancer, you likely have questions about your health. Sometimes, turning to the internet can lead to bad information or confusion. To help you find accurate answers to your questions, we spoke with our experts on many topics this past year. They shared insights on trending topics in cancer, the latest in cancer treatment and how we’re making advances through our Moon Shots Program. Here are some of our experts’ most helpful insights from 2019. 3 nutrients cancer survivors should know Nutrients help cancer survivors stay healthy and reduce their risk of the long-term side effects of cancer and its treatment. Our clinical dietitian Haley Gale shares advice on how to easily incorporate omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed and iron into your diet. Treating cancer with targeted therapy All cancers are caused by a mutation, which is a genetic change in the DNA of a cell. Targeted therapy works by focusing on the specific mutation of a cancer cell to stop or slow its growth. Vivek Subbiah, M.D., explains how we’re able to personalize cancer treatment to some patients’ specific tumors and how Phase I clinical trials are helping us discover more of these new therapies. Debunking glioblastoma myths Although many cancers spread to the brain, few actually start there. Glioblastoma is the most comment primary brain tumor in adults – and the most aggressive. But with only 12,000 new diagnoses each year, it’s still considered rare and there’s a lot of mystery surrounding it. Here, Shiao-Pei Weathers, M.D., clears up common misconceptions about glioblastoma....

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...