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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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Lymphedema-relieving surgery keeps triathlete in the race

On Oct. 28, Mary Lindimore crossed the finish line of the IRONMAN Waco 70.3 triathlon. Alongside her was Cheryl Pfennig, the MD Anderson advanced practice registered nurse who helped her get there. Both participants biked 56 miles and ran 13.1 miles during the race. The swim portion was cancelled due to bad weather.

“I was nervous about the race, but excited to cheer Mary on,” Pfennig says. “She’s been a big inspiration to me. We’ve inspired each other.”

Mary has overcome three different types of breast cancer and debilitating lymphedema, a common cancer treatment side effect that causes blockages in the lymphatic system and leads to swelling and pain.

But a surgery called a lymph node transfer helped alleviate the swelling lymphedema had caused in her left arm.

“I couldn’t have done this race without the surgery,” Mary says. “It’s a real gift, and MD Anderson gave that to me.” 

Second opinion brings new hope for lymphedema relief

Mary developed lymphedema in 2007, during her first round of treatment for HER-2+ breast cancer. Her arm was so swollen she had to buy specially made clothing. Nothing fit, and nothing made it better, not even traditional treatments like wraps and massages.

“No one could do anything about it,” Mary says.

That is, until she came to MD Anderson.

In 2016, when Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, she and her husband decided to seek a second opinion at MD Anderson. They’d heard it was the best.

On MD Anderson’s website, Mary found information on lymphedema treatment. She called and asked to see a specialist about that, too.

Here, she met with breast cancer surgeon Isabelle Bedrosian, M.D. That’s when Mary learned she actually had two different types of cancerous tumors — lobular carcinoma and malignant neoplasm. But Bedrosian gave Mary faith that she could beat cancer again.

Then, Mary saw Mark Schaverien, M.D., a plastic surgeon who specializes in treating lymphedema. He explained that Mary’s lymphatic system was like a clogged pipe. He could treat it in two different ways. One was a surgery called a lymphatic liposuction that reduces swelling. The other was a surgery called a lymph node transfer. In the latter, surgeons take lymph nodes from other parts of the body and use them to fix the spot where the lymphatic system is clogged, like a plumber replacing pipes. This allows the patient’s lymphatic system to drain fluid. While the procedure can’t completely reverse lymphedema, nearly 100% of patients saw a positive change, Schaverien explained.

Mary had never heard of such  procedures.

“I was stunned,” she says. “In nine years, Dr. Schaverien was the only person who had given me hope.”

Exercising during breast cancer treatment

Around the time of her first breast cancer diagnosis, Mary’s doctor had told her she needed to lose weight.

“It would be a real waste of all that treatment if I lived an unhealthy life and let something else kill me,” Mary says, matter-of-factly. “So I started running. I was 51 and had never run anywhere, but running doesn’t cost very much, and all you need is a pair of shoes.”

Still, running didn’t come easy. Mary had to use her right arm to cradle her swollen left arm as she ran, but she stuck with it. She also signed up for a few 5Ks and learned she actually enjoyed running.

Soon after, Mary’s sister decided to compete in a sprint — or short distance — triathlon in honor of her. Mary thought, “I don’t want people to run in honor of me. I want to them to run with me.” So, she signed up, too.

Mary came to love triathlons, but her lymphedema made them extra challenging. She added splints to her bike’s handlebars to support her arm, and wore a sleeveless wetsuit because she couldn’t fit her arm inside a regular one. The idea of a surgery that could change all that was exciting.

Undergoing a mastectomy and lymph node transfer

In December 2016, Mary had her first surgery at MD Anderson. Bedrosian performed a partial mastectomy to remove the cancer and a sentinel node biopsy to determine if the cancer had spread. Then, Schaverien performed a lymphatic liposuction.

Almost immediately after surgery, Mary noticed that the swelling in her arm was gone. The biopsy showed that some cancer still remained, so in May, Mary opted for a double mastectomy, reconstruction and the lymph node transfer. While the liposuction had already reduced the swelling, the lymph node transfer would help her lymphatic system drain normally, making the change more permanent.

Bedrosian’s and Schaverien’s teams worked together seamlessly to perform all the procedures in one  10-hour surgery.

“The collaboration between the teams was just amazing,” Mary says.

Surgery finally brings relief from lymphedema

Mary stayed in the hospital for seven days before returning home.

The surgery changed my world,” she says.

She decided to take on longer distances. First a half marathon, then a half triathlon.

She continued to take oral chemotherapy for her breast cancer treatment and returned to MD Anderson for her checkups. It was during those appointments that Mary bonded with her nurse practitioner, Cheryl Pfennig, over racing. When Mary learned that Pfennig was training for an IRONMAN 70.3, she excitedly challenged Pfennig to do another one after that — this time with her.

“I was thinking, ‘I haven’t done the first one yet, but OK,’” Pfennig says.

When Pfennig finished her race, Mary congratulated her, and then quickly reminded her of her promise. They followed each other’s training through social media. And when training was difficult, Pfennig thought of Mary.

“I can’t complain at all. Mary has been through so much more and does it with a smile. She gave me that perspective,” Pfennig says.

Now, with more races under her belt, Mary shows no signs of stopping. She continues to run, swim and bike.

 “The quality of life I have now is just amazing,” she says.

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

Colorectal cancer made me a better version of myself

Some people say that cancer changes them. But I don’t think that’s right. I believe it’s more accurate to say that cancer enhances who you already are. It helps you focus on what’s important.

In my case, a colorectal cancer diagnosis enhanced all the qualities I already had that make me who I am. It made me appreciate more of the things in life that really matter and not sweat the small stuff that doesn’t.

More patience and less defensiveness

Before my cancer diagnosis, for instance, I might have spent a lot of mental energy cussing out the person who cut me off in traffic or didn’t allow me to merge on the freeway. But today, I’d rather take a deep breath and just take it easy. So, my patience level has increased substantially.

I also mind a lot less if someone disagrees with me or won’t take my medical advice. I understand that their differences and refusals come from having another frame of reference, and that’s OK. I don’t take it personally.

A deeper appreciation for nature … and love

I appreciate nature more now, too. A sunset or sunrise rarely passes by unnoticed. And I find I can enjoy any type of weather, whether it’s scorching or freezing or storming. They all offer lessons in sublime beauty.

Most importantly, though, love never escapes me the way it used to. I still remember times when I was going through chemotherapy that my kids or wife were fighting about pointless matters. I would sappily tear up because I understood that they were only fighting with each other because they cared so much.

Those are the kind of things I never did before having cancer that I never would’ve done otherwise. So, does that mean cancer changed me? Or did it just make some parts of me more prominent? The analytical part of me says it’s the latter. The “take it easy” part of me tells me it doesn’t really matter.

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

Gynecologic oncologist: Specialization let me achieve my professional dream

As a gynecologic oncologist, I see women with every type of cancer related to the female reproductive system, except breast cancer. I treat women with ovarian, uterine, cervical, and vulvar cancers. And I routinely perform surgery, prescribe chemotherapy and suggest clinical trials.

I decided to specialize in gynecologic oncology after figuring out what was really important to me in medical school. I realized one day that I didn’t just want to operate on my patients. I wanted to take care of them long-term. Being a gynecologic oncologist allows me to do that: I see women from the time they’re diagnosed though their whole cycle of cancer care. And that is really satisfying.

What goes into every diagnosis

Part of each new patient’s evaluation process is obtaining the imaging, pathology slides and reports from any previous treatment, so that our pathologists and radiologists can review them. Because about 20% of the time, the diagnosis we render is slightly different from the one patients got originally. And that difference can change our treatment recommendations.

That’s why a lot of people come to MD Anderson: for a fresh set of eyes. But my patients aren’t just getting my personal opinion. We have 23 full-time gynecologic oncologists on staff. And I rely on my colleagues and their expertise to help me provide each patient with the best possible options to choose from.

Every time I make a recommendation, I consider the current standard of care, as well as any clinical trials available. Those could deal with new therapies or new combinations of existing therapies. Sometimes, there’s even a novel treatment that’s only available here at MD Anderson.

Helping women weigh their options

I try to have a discussion with every woman right after her diagnosis, to see what options she wants to hold onto. That way, we can weigh her wishes against the treatment opportunities available, and explore any fertility sparing options, if she’s of childbearing age and has a relatively low-risk cancer.

Fertility preservation has become more of a concern, as we’re seeing cancer in younger and younger patients. Historically, doctors have only looked ahead a few years when taking care of cancer patients. Today, they’re paying more attention to survivorship, and how patients are doing 10, 15 or even 20 years after diagnosis.

What keeps us going

I love my job. It gives me a unique opportunity to take care of women. Curing patients is obviously very rewarding, but so is helping them figure out the right choices for themselves. We’re giving our patients peace of mind that they’re making the right decisions, whatever those may be.

I’ve seen more clinical trials and treatments become available over the past 15 years than ever before. A number of new treatments have been approved in the last two years alone, and there are others on the horizon that could also have a significant impact on patients’ lives. As a physician, that’s what drives me: the opportunity to give hope to other patients.

Pamela Soliman, M.D., is a gynecologic oncologist at MD Anderson.

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

Breast cancer surgeon: Why people should choose MD Anderson first

When I was growing up, it always amazed me how my pediatrician could ask just five or six questions, and then magically know exactly what to do or which medicine to prescribe. That was one of the reasons I became a doctor.

In medical school, I focused on breast cancer because it interested me. I became a surgeon because I could better direct patients’ care. And I chose to work at MD Anderson because I admire its multidisciplinary approach.

What sets MD Anderson apart

As a physician myself, I want to go wherever people specialize in whatever is being treated. That’s why I tell people to come to MD Anderson first for cancer treatment. Because your first shot is your best shot at beating cancer. And when patients come to us after they’ve already received treatment elsewhere, their cancer treatment is often more challenging, due to mistakes made along the way at other places.

Patients are not just a number or a disease process here. MD Anderson’s patient-centered approach brings physicians from various subspecialties together to make a plan. This approach is what sets us apart. And it leads to better outcomes, so we have a lot of happy endings.

How cancer treatment has changed

Cancer is an ever-changing field, and it advances very quickly. Even since I completed my residency four years ago, we’ve found new ways to attack the disease, more diverse treatments (such as targeted therapy), and more cures.

One of the biggest changes in our approach to cancer is offering less surgery. Instead of removing all lymph nodes from a particular area, for instance, we might remove only the ones most likely to be cancerous, if the disease has spread. This reduces patients’ risk of developing lymphedema, in which fluid builds up in areas where lymph nodes have been removed, causing swelling in the surrounding tissues.

I know it might seem counterintuitive that a surgeon would be excited about the prospect of less surgery. But no surgical procedure comes without some risk, so being able to offer less surgery while still effectively treating cancer is a really meaningful change.

Putting myself in my patients’ shoes

Sometimes I picture cancer as individual cells and sometimes I think of it as a barrier made of blocks. But no matter how I see it in my head, the next thought is always, “How can I disassemble this?” And then, “How can I keep it from coming back?”

Still, everyone measures winning differently. Sometimes that means completing treatment and being cancer-free. And sometimes it means making it to see the birth of a grandchild, a child’s graduation or a wedding. For these patients, the focus is on quality of life, not just quantity.   

So, I always try to put myself in the patient’s shoes when making a recommendation for a treatment plan. I think that’s the only way you can really understand what each person is going through — and ultimately, help them decide what the best choice is for them.

Makesha Miggins, M.D., is a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer at MD Anderson in Sugar Land.

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

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