News and articles


 

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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Helping my husband through brain tumor surgery

My husband, Richard, likes to say, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!” That’s what he said to me when I first noticed the small bump on the right side of his head while we were dating.

I’m a physical therapist and have dealt with patients with musculoskeletal, orthopedic and neurological issues, so I knew to ask him about headaches and vision changes. But he didn’t have any other symptoms at that time.

Brain tumor symptoms increase

I noticed some little changes around Christmas 2016. The bump had grown bigger, he had some weakness on his left side, his smile had changed and he started to get headaches with dizziness. By then, we were engaged and busy preparing for our wedding. We got married on March 11, 2017, in Magnolia, Texas. Richard had short-term memory loss at that point and can barely remember the events of our wedding. But he knew he married me!

Richard saw his primary care physician the week after our wedding and was immediately referred to a neurologist. By then, Richard had started vomiting and had terrible headaches.

I was at work when Richard called and told me the neurologist had confirmed what I’d already begun to fear: Richard had a brain tumor. I cried in my car and prayed, “We just got married and have so many plans together; please don’t take him away from me now.”

Brain tumor surgery at MD Anderson

Richard’s neurologist recommended we go to MD Anderson and see Dr. Sherise Ferguson, a neurosurgeon in the Brain and Spine Center. Soon after, Dr. Ferguson performed a craniotomy to remove Richard’s tumor, which turned out to be a baseball-sized grade II meningioma, a benign brain tumor.

Because it all happened so quickly after our wedding, we didn’t get to go on our honeymoon. We stayed five days in the ICU and teased the nurses that we were having our honeymoon at MD Anderson.

We snuggled in the hospital bed together, took a trip up to the MD Anderson observation deck to see the city and just appreciated that his surgery was successful.

Our belated honeymoon

In September 2017, we were able to finally go on our honeymoon in Hawaii. Before our trip, we asked Dr. Ferguson’s advanced practice provider, Ufuoma Avbovbo, what Richard could and couldn’t do after surgery. She told us, “Live your life like this surgery never happened.”

So we did. We snorkeled, parasailed and even swam with sharks. We had a blast!

A brain tumor strengthened our marriage

After Richard’s meningioma surgery, most of his symptoms improved remarkably. Since it was a benign tumor, he didn’t have to go through any further treatment. He still has issues with short-term memory loss and sometimes loses his patience. Being a physical therapist, I had the advantage of being exposed to brain tumor patients before, but it’s different when it’s your own husband.

Richard is a fighter – that’s why I fell in love with him. He survived childhood leukemia and still hasn’t given up. He may fall and stumble, but will always stand tall.

Although I can’t understand exactly what he’s going through, I’ll always be here to ease his burden and help him. I’m his wife and his motivator. If we’ve survived a brain tumor and all the physical, emotional, social and financial consequences, then there’s nothing we can’t surpass, as long as we do it together.

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

Stage IV melanoma survivor: Immunotherapy clinical trial gave me my life back

I was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma in December 2014, a year after I had a cancerous mole removed from my left calf. I thought I was done with it.

Then I felt a lump in my groin while shaving my legs when I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second child. A lymph node biopsy revealed the melanoma was back, but it appeared to be confined to that one area. Not wanting to hurt the baby, I deferred any additional scans or treatment until after I delivered. A PET scan taken the day my son was born showed the cancer was also in my liver, spine and other places. When I heard the results, my daughter was two and my newborn was only a week old.

I went to one of the larger hospital systems for treatment, but the chemotherapy they recommended didn’t work. All of my tumors were still growing. The doctors there told me to enjoy what time I had left. But having such a young family, I couldn’t accept that prognosis.

Instead, I found a clinical trial at MD Anderson that combined targeted therapy and immunotherapy. It saved my life.

Why I chose a clinical trial for my melanoma treatment

I knew I was in the right place at MD Anderson when I first met with my oncologist, Dr. Isabella Glitza. She started my appointment by simply listening. Then, she sketched out a list of all my options and explained each one, as well as its risks and benefits. My husband and I picked the one we thought was best: a clinical trial yielding tremendous results for people with my exact type of cancer.

Fortunately, I qualified to participate, so I enrolled in the clinical trial in March 2015. But I only made it through three of my four scheduled IV infusions of ipilimumab and nivolumab. My doctors thought the severe diarrhea I developed might be colitis, a known side effect of those drugs, so they took me off the trial.

I was devastated. I thought for sure I hadn’t received enough of the drugs for them to make a difference. But my first scans in May 2015 showed a 95% reduction in my tumors. And by November 2015, I showed no evidence of disease at all.

Cherishing the time I never thought I’d get

I’m not sure I can adequately express my reaction to finding out my cancer was gone. It’s hard to explain how grateful I feel just to be alive. I literally fell asleep smiling that night.

I didn’t go into the clinical trial hoping for a cure. I thought if I could just stretch out my time with my husband and children a little, that would be enough. So, when I was told I was essentially cancer-free, I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t even a possibility that had crossed my mind.

Since then, I’ve finished grad school, celebrated birthdays and holidays, and watched both of my kids perform in plays and gymnastics. Those are all things I never thought I’d have a chance to do. So the last four years have been amazing.

Could I be teaching the next Nobel Prize winner?

I’ve since learned that Nobel Prize winner and MD Anderson immunotherapy researcher Dr. Jim Allison is responsible (at least in part) for my survival. It was his research that led to the development of ipilimumab, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of my cancer just a few months after I left the clinical trial.

I like Dr. Allison’s story because he seems like such a normal guy. And anyone who comes from a small town and plays in a band can’t be bad, right? Sometimes, I look around my own small-town classroom and think, “Could one of you be the next Dr. Allison?”

That’s why I’ve started sharing his story with my students. I think it’s one that young people can really learn from: it’s about not giving up and believing in yourself. Dr. Allison trusted his gut with his research, and because of that, he’s saved many lives — including mine.

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

5 things I didn’t expect from life after cancer

Cancer survivorship is not exactly what I thought it would be. It has brought both unexpected hardship and indescribable joy to my life. But the more I speak with others who have faced cancer, the more I see repeated patterns in our lives about making the transition between active cancer treatment and post-treatment life.

Here are five things I didn’t expect from my first year-and-a-half of being cancer-free.

1. Cancer has long-term side effects. I don’t know why I thought I could just “go back to normal” after sarcoma treatment. Because for the last year and a half, I have practically lived in my doctors’ offices, seeking ways to manage my chronic back pain. Some days, I literally sit down and cry because it hurts so much. Others, I am reminded of what a gift it is just to be alive. But always, my own experience helps me stay empathetic to what other people are going through.

2. It’s a misconception that everything is OK now. When you move from active treatment to post-treatment, an invisible shift happens. In the eyes of others, cancer-free = all good. The expectation is that since you don’t have cancer anymore, everything about your physical, mental and emotional health must be OK, too. Yet your mind and heart are still processing the experience, and your body is still healing. Before my own cancer diagnosis, I was as guilty of thinking this way as anyone. I heard “cancer-free” in relation to my friends and family members and automatically breathed a sigh of relief. Back then, I didn’t know any better. But I also didn’t mean any harm by it, so I know other people don’t either.

3. I’ve had to relearn the art of conversation. After going through such a life-changing journey, it was hard to know what to talk about after becoming cancer-free. For so long, my life revolved around when my next sarcoma treatment was and what side effects I’d been experiencing. I almost forgot what I used to talk about before being diagnosed. Counseling helped a lot, but I’m also very thankful to the family and friends who’ve stood by me as I’ve figured things out.

4. I now realize what really matters. Cancer is a terrible thing, but it did teach me some valuable lessons. For example, I easily brush off stuff that used to really upset me. Even when someone responds unpleasantly now, I realize that it has more to do with them than me, and I find myself being more compassionate. I am also more present in my conversations and more intentional in my relationships. Faith, family and loving others have become important to me in a whole new way.

5. I have truly started living. I have always been a jubilant person, but WOW, am I on fire for living now! I go on walks as much as I can, simply to enjoy the outdoors. I’ve changed my eating habits to take better care of my body and keep cancer away with nutrition. And I volunteer at a local children’s hospital with my husband when I feel well enough. It brings me so much joy just to write, speak and work hard at my job during the two days a week that I can. I hate that it took me almost dying to really start living, but after spending so many hours sick and in bed, all I want to do is live well and love deeply.

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

5 things I didn’t expect from life after cancer

Cancer survivorship is not exactly what I thought it would be. It has brought both unexpected hardship and indescribable joy to my life. But the more I speak with others who have faced cancer, the more I see repeated patterns in our lives about making the transition between active cancer treatment and post-treatment life.

Here are five things I didn’t expect from my first year-and-a-half of being cancer-free.

1. Cancer has long-term side effects. I don’t know why I thought I could just “go back to normal” after sarcoma treatment. Because for the last year and a half, I have practically lived in my doctors’ offices, seeking ways to manage my chronic back pain. Some days, I literally sit down and cry because it hurts so much. Others, I am reminded of what a gift it is just to be alive. But always, my own experience helps me stay empathetic to what other people are going through.

2. It’s a misconception that everything is OK now. When you move from active treatment to post-treatment, an invisible shift happens. In the eyes of others, cancer-free = all good. The expectation is that since you don’t have cancer anymore, everything about your physical, mental and emotional health must be OK, too. Yet your mind and heart are still processing the experience, and your body is still healing. Before my own cancer diagnosis, I was as guilty of thinking this way as anyone. I heard “cancer-free” in relation to my friends and family members and automatically breathed a sigh of relief. Back then, I didn’t know any better. But I also didn’t mean any harm by it, so I know other people don’t either.

3. I’ve had to relearn the art of conversation. After going through such a life-changing journey, it was hard to know what to talk about after becoming cancer-free. For so long, my life revolved around when my next sarcoma treatment was and what side effects I’d been experiencing. I almost forgot what I used to talk about before being diagnosed. Counseling helped a lot, but I’m also very thankful to the family and friends who’ve stood by me as I’ve figured things out.

4. I now realize what really matters. Cancer is a terrible thing, but it did teach me some valuable lessons. For example, I easily brush off stuff that used to really upset me. Even when someone responds unpleasantly now, I realize that it has more to do with them than me, and I find myself being more compassionate. I am also more present in my conversations and more intentional in my relationships. Faith, family and loving others have become important to me in a whole new way.

5. I have truly started living. I have always been a jubilant person, but WOW, am I on fire for living now! I go on walks as much as I can, simply to enjoy the outdoors. I’ve changed my eating habits to take better care of my body and keep cancer away with nutrition. And I volunteer at a local children’s hospital with my husband when I feel well enough. It brings me so much joy just to write, speak and work hard at my job during the two days a week that I can. I hate that it took me almost dying to really start living, but after spending so many hours sick and in bed, all I want to do is live well and love deeply.

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

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