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There are many publications and sites that write about cancer. We want you to know we don’t produce the news items you can read in this section, they belong to the MD Anderson Cancer Center. This section only intents to inform you about what is out there.

However, we are working on the first edition of the Pink Ribbon Magazine as well as in the production of featured articles that will be published here.

 

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Becoming a mom after sarcoma treatment has been my greatest gift

When my husband and I got married in July 2014, we were looking forward to our honeymoon to celebrate the beginning of our lives together. On the trip, I started feeling pain in my right hip. By the time we returned home to Nashville, the pain was so intense that I couldn’t put weight on my right leg. My local physician diagnosed me with an aneurysmal bone cyst, a benign bone lesion that can cause pain, swelling and fractures.

One month later, I had surgery to remove the cyst and surrounding bone, which was replaced with a bone graft. Although I couldn’t walk for 12 weeks, I slowly recovered and began to feel better.

However, nine months after surgery, I started having pain again. Scans indicated that the bone graft had failed, so I had a total hip replacement in October 2015. Once again, I recovered well, but nine months later, I noticed a knot in the bone next to the replaced hip. I tried everything — acupuncture, cryotherapy and physical therapy — but nothing relieved the pain and diminished the knot. I had a biopsy and the results were inconclusive. My doctor referred me to MD Anderson to get some answers.

My sarcoma diagnosis and treatment

In September 2016, I met with Dr. Valerae O. Lewis. After evaluating my scans, she was concerned that the knot in my bone was a sarcoma that could render my leg useless. Because of the location of the tumor and the extent of my previous surgeries, Dr. Lewis recommended an external hemipelvectomy, a complex procedure that includes removing part of the patient’s pelvis and the affected leg. Surgery was required to get an accurate biopsy of the mass, which we still did not have as my previous tests were inconclusive. I decided to lean on my faith and put my trust in Dr. Lewis and plastic surgeon Dr. David Adelman.

Following surgery, I spent two weeks in the hospital to recover. During that time, I learned that examination of the tumor revealed that I had 19-centimeter high-grade bone sarcoma, which would require chemotherapy after surgery.

Because I was only 30 years old and we had not yet started our family, my husband and I met with Dr. Terri Woodard, who explained how chemotherapy could affect my fertility. She explained my options for fulfilling my dreams of having a family. My husband and I were relieved to know that we had options when it came to having children of our own.

My medical team allowed me to return to Nashville to undergo fertility treatment close to home before beginning chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Dejka Araujo. My eggs were retrieved and then fertilized, creating embryos. The process was quick. Knowing that the embryos were back home gave me something to focus on and look forward to during my cancer treatment.

When it was time to start chemotherapy in December 2016, my husband and I temporarily moved to Houston. Dr. Araujo prescribed a combination of cisplatin, doxorubicin, ifosfamide and methotrexate. I underwent 17 rounds of chemotherapy administered through an IV, which made traveling for treatment difficult. It wasn’t easy putting our lives in Nashville on hold and moving to Houston, but it was the best decision for my health and treatment plan. My husband was my best nurse, and we were so thankful to have family fly in to help us.

Becoming a mom after sarcoma treatment

After 14 months of chemotherapy, we moved back to Nashville. I now come to Houston every three months for follow-up visits.

In August 2017, I had an MRI. During it, I prayed for three things: a clear scan, that insurance would cover the cost of my prosthetic leg, and to find a person willing to be a surrogate for our child. Because of my rigorous chemotherapy regiment and surgery, my doctors advised that I should not try to become pregnant for five years.

Later that day, my husband and I found out that my scans were clear, insurance agreed to cover the cost and we received a message from my husband’s high school friend. She had three children of her own and offered to be a surrogate for our baby. All of my prayers were answered.

Our son, William, was born in January 2019 – almost one year to the day of when I completed chemotherapy Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine being here. But becoming a mom has given me a purpose and helped me not think about myself and my limitations. I fully recommend fertility treatment to anyone faced with the possibility of chemotherapy. It’s absolutely worth it.

During my February check-up, my newborn son got to meet the doctors who saved my life. My husband and I call MD Anderson the Disney World of hospitals. They think of every aspect of the patient experience and truly want to make things as smooth and seamless as possible. I could not speak more highly of it or my care team. They gave me time with my husband and the chance to become a mom to our son, and for that I am so grateful.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.

It takes a team to get through primary peritoneal cancer

Ever since Kathy Brown was diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer in 2018, her husband Andy has been at her side. He drives her to appointments, helps with housework, cares for their 14-year-old son and helps keep Kathy’s spirits lifted.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Kathy says. “You never know how strong your marriage is until one of you has cancer. He has taken on everything and has never complained.” 

Kathy often refers to Andy as her cancer coach. It’s a role he’s pretty comfortable with. After all, he’s a high school girls’ soccer coach and math teacher. But Andy isn’t the only one who’s been there for Kathy. His soccer team has, too.

The players wear teal hair ribbons on the soccer field to show their support for Kathy, and one player even organized a fundraiser to help the Browns pay out-of-pocket costs not covered by their health insurance.

“They’ve been so helpful and so caring,” Kathy says. “They’ll text me or email me or send me a message, ‘Hey, Miss Kathy. How are you doing today? Just thinking about you.’ Little things like that that make you feel better. They just show that they care in so many different ways.”

Choosing MD Anderson to take on peritoneal cancer

In 2016, Kathy tripped and fell over a branch hidden under some leaves while taking photographs. The resulting pain led her to her primary care doctor, and eventually, a neurosurgeon. When months of pain management efforts didn’t work, she underwent surgery in 2017.

Her back finally felt better, but she still had pain near her hip. After more scans, her doctor discovered a mass near her hip. He referred her to an orthopaedic oncologist at MD Anderson, who conducted an MRI, X-rays, CT scan and biopsy, and then referred Kathy to MD Anderson gynecologic oncologist Michaela Onstad, M.D. After a percutaneous CT-guided biopsy, Onstad and her team determined that Kathy had primary peritoneal cancer, a rare cancer of the tissue inside the abdomen.

Kathy’s primary peritoneal cancer treatment

Primary peritoneal cancer is treated similarly to ovarian cancer because the cells of both types of cancer are similar in structure. In Kathy’s case, that meant starting with six rounds of intravenous chemotherapy using a combination of paclitaxel, carboplatin, bevacizumab and pegfilgrastim.

The side effects — hair loss, nausea and fatigue — came on suddenly. But Kathy learned to cope, coming to her appointments with snacks to keep the nausea away, a book to keep her busy and her favorite pillow for comfort.

When the chemotherapy failed to shrink the tumor, her care team, including Onstad and radiation oncologist Lilie Lin, M.D., recommended a clinical trial. As a part of the clinical trial, a type of radiation therapy called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy is used to shrink the cancer in combination with immunotherapy drugs durvalumab and tremelimumab. Now Kathy comes for monthly immunotherapy infusions. She opted to have a port surgically implanted to make these infusions more efficient and less painful.

Gratitude for compassionate care at MD Anderson

Kathy’s journey has been difficult, but she appreciates the compassion from Onstad and her team.

“She’s so caring, and she wants everybody to get better,” Kathy says of Onstad. “She’s working hard for that end, and you can tell she just cares about every one of her patients.”

That goes for the nurses and other employees she’s interacted with at MD Anderson. “The level of care is so much higher at MD Anderson,” Kathy says. “You feel it when you talk to a doctor. You feel it when you talk to a nurse or a PA. You feel that they want you to get better. It’s just not lip service.”

Soccer team keeps her spirits lifted

While Kathy’s MD Anderson care team has helped her get the best possible treatment, it’s the girls’ soccer team that’s helped take her mind — and Andy’s — off cancer. The girls’ games give them something to look forward to. Kathy can’t attend them as much as she’d like to anymore, but when Andy comes home from the games, she still wants to know how the game was, who did what and who won.

And the players think of her often. “Just being stuck at home all the time and you get a text from one of these students — it just lifts your spirits so much,” she says. “I can’t tell you how nice it is when one of them does that because it just makes you feel so much better. It tells you somebody is out there thinking of you and they care about you.”

It’s those little things, she says, that make all the difference.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.

Making the most of life after a total pelvic exenteration

On April 3, 2007, I had a surgical procedure at MD Anderson called a total pelvic exenteration. During the procedure, Dr. Michael Bevers removed my vagina, bladder, anus and rectum. Then, he made an artificial vagina using two of my abdominal muscles, and an artificial bladder (known as an “Indiana pouch”) out of part of my ascending colon and small intestine. He also created a stoma (or surgical opening in the abdomen) for use with a colostomy bag, which collects stool outside the body.

That surgery might sound pretty radical. But when Dr. Bevers suggested it, I didn’t hesitate. Due to a recurrence of uterine fibroids, I’d already had a total hysterectomy. That’s when my surgeon discovered I also had cervical cancer. I had six rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radiation therapy to treat it. Only 13 months later, the cancer was back. I was only 42 at the time, and I wanted to give myself the best possible chance of survival. So, I decided to go for it.

In retrospect, I had no idea what was in store. Even after looking into it, I didn’t really have any concept of what life would be like afterwards. And you can’t know, unless you’ve actually experienced it. But I’ve always been a positive person. So, that’s the way I’ve tried to look at this. The total pelvic exenteration was just part of my path. And I was going to make the best of it.

Life after my total pelvic exenteration

The first four years after my total pelvic exenteration were the hardest, because I kept getting urinary tract infections and “pouch” stones (like kidney stones, only in the artificial bladder). Since that part of my anatomy wasn’t normal anymore, neither were my symptoms. Instead of feeling a burning sensation or seeing blood when I urinated, I’d just wake up one morning with really bad nausea, a high fever or excruciating flank pain. I must have made more than 20 visits to the ER during that time, including one to have my gall bladder removed.

Fortunately, everything’s functioning the way it’s supposed to now, and I haven’t stayed overnight at a hospital in two years for anything cancer-related. I’ve also shown no evidence of disease since the surgery. Generally, the five-year mark is considered a big deal when it comes to survival rates after cancer diagnoses, so celebrating my 12-year anniversary of being cancer-free is pretty amazing.

Why I volunteer with myCancerConnection

Life after a total pelvic exenteration is not easy. Even holding yourself upright is harder, because you lose a lot of core strength from having so much tissue removed. And everything in your abdominal cavity and pelvis has been manipulated, so sitting on a hard surface isn’t very comfortable. (One thing you don’t realize until later is how much cushion the anus and rectum give your bottom.)

I try to help as many other people who’ve had a total pelvic exenteration as I can, whether it’s through various  support groups or myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one cancer support community.

For most ladies, I think the biggest challenge is body image. I’ve been on a cruise since my total pelvic exenteration, but some women never even go swimming, because they’re so self-conscious about showing a bag or a scar. But I encourage women not to let cancer limit their lives. Life is not over just because we’ve had this procedure. And it’s not always going to be perfect. But it’s up to us to make the best of it.

Making the most of my time

I’ve tried to make the most of my time. Working full-time was not something I could really do right after the surgery, so I went back to school part-time and have almost finished a degree in fine arts. I also pushed myself to travel, served as an ostomy support group leader and have even volunteered as a park ranger in Yellowstone for the past five summers.

It’s still challenging to walk and stand for long periods, and hiking takes me a lot longer than the average person. Sometimes I have to stay in bed all day afterward just to recover.

But it’s amazing to think about what anatomy is and how it can be manipulated to work with what we have now versus what we’re born with. My total pelvic exenteration forced me to be creative and think outside the box in some areas. But I have no regrets. I try to make the most of what I’ve been given and not dwell on what I haven’t. Because every single bad day is better than no day at all.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.

Uterine cancer survivor grateful for the right diagnosis – and treatment

Looking back, the symptoms of my uterine cancer seem a little more obvious to me now. I’d had heavy and irregular periods my whole adult life because of endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). But when the bleeding started getting worse a few years ago, I attributed it to getting older. I explained away the increased bloating and abdominal pain as menstrual cramps.

But when I woke up one Saturday morning in late December 2017 with excruciating abdominal pain, I knew something more serious was going on. I went to a local emergency room, where doctors performed a CT scan. That revealed a large mass on my right ovary and about a liter of fluid in my abdominal cavity. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Second opinion at MD Anderson yields different diagnosis

The ER doctors performed surgery right away to drain the fluid and remove my diseased ovary. I stayed in the hospital for a week. After I got out, I followed up with the oncologist at his office, but I felt I wasn’t getting the attention I deserved.

My family urged me to get a second opinion at MD Anderson. I didn’t want to at first. I live near Dallas — about a five-hour drive from Houston — and wanted to stay closer to home. But after thinking it over and praying about it, I agreed.

I called and got an appointment less than a week later with gynecologic oncologist Dr. Michaela Onstad. She conducted her own scans and tests. Then she asked a group of gynecologic oncologists at MD Anderson to review my case. After some discussion, they came to a consensus and changed my diagnosis to stage III uterine cancer.

My uterine cancer treatment

Dr. Onstad recommended we treat the uterine cancer with a total hysterectomy, followed by a combination of radiation therapy and two different chemotherapy regimens.

I felt an instant connection with Dr. Onstad, so I was very comfortable with her advice. She took the time to get to know me and my family, so I knew I was at the right place with the right doctor.

MD Anderson is my ‘happy place’

Dr. Onstad performed my radical hysterectomy on Feb. 6, 2018. I took a few weeks to recover, then had six weeks of radiation along with a chemotherapy drug called cisplatin. After completing those treatments, I took two other chemotherapy drugs called paclitaxel and carboplatin. I finished that combination in July. I’ve been cancer-free since November 2018.

I will forever be grateful to MD Anderson, Dr. Onstad and my radiation oncologist, Dr. Patricia Eifel. Dr. Onstad saved my life. If it hadn’t been for her, I would’ve been treated for the wrong type of cancer.

In retrospect, I wish I’d paid more attention to my body and complained more. You can’t assume everything’s OK just because it’s explainable. Go with your gut. Follow your instincts. And find a doctor that makes you feel comfortable asking questions.

I still consider MD Anderson my happy place today, because no matter what the scans show, I know it’s where I’m supposed to be. And I feel very safe and secure there, because I know I’m getting the best cancer care on the planet.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.

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