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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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For follicular lymphoma survivor, clinical trial and laughter are the best medicines

When it comes to facing cancer, follicular lymphoma survivor Michael Baker says laughter is the best medicine.

Well, actually lenalidomide. And also rituximab.

But laughter is right up there, too.  

It worked for him and it’s the first thing he tells current patients when they ask for advice through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one cancer support community for patients, caregivers and survivors.

“Look at this disease right between the eyes and laugh at it,” Michael says. “Tell it, ‘Scary as you are, I’m stronger.’”

A B-cell lymphoma diagnosis

Michael was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma, in 2009. He’s has been cancer-free for more than seven years.

He first noticed a lump on his neck in the spring of 2009, but he ignored it for several months.

When it began hurting while he was exercising that fall, he decided to see a doctor. He had the lump biopsied and was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma.

Michael’s aunt told him he needed to go to MD Anderson, but it was almost a non-starter.

“I live in DFW (Dallas-Forth Worth). If I have to drive to Houston once a week for chemo, I’m not doing it,” Michael recalls saying.

But his aunt convinced him to make the trip, telling him about MD Anderson’s cutting-edge clinical trial offerings.

Michael had initial lab work done at his first appointment and met with Nathan Fowler, M.D., who told him he was eligible for a clinical trial.

The clinical trial tested the efficacy of lenalidomide in the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lenalidomide is already the first-line treatment for multiple myeloma, and has shown promise in the treatment of several other diseases. In fact, MD Anderson presently has many clinical trials involving lenalidomide.

Michael was relieved to learn his treatment would not include chemotherapy, just a lenalidomide pill for his immune system once a day for six cycles of three weeks on, one week off and rituximab, an antibody therapy, administered through an IV at the start of each cycle.

Michael showed no evidence of disease by his fourth cycle. 

“Honestly, I’ve had colds that were worse than my cancer,” he says.

Laughter helps Michael through treatment

Michael’s treatment also included plenty of laughter, with him working jokes into even the most serious of conversations.

“Aww, does this mean I’m not going to lose weight?” he quipped to Fowler when told he would not have to undergo chemo.

Michael concedes that some people might find it offensive to make light of what are literally life and death circumstances, but he staunchly believes it’s the best way to disarm the disease and empower the patient.

While drawing Michael’s labs near the end of his treatment, his technician told him his carefree antics gave the others patients hope.

Appreciation for MD Anderson

Michael returned to MD Anderson for quarterly follow-ups during the first year following his lymphoma treatment. The next three years he came back for twice-yearly check-ups and now he visits once a year.

The thing that impressed Michael most, from his first visit to this day, was the attitude every MD Anderson employee shared.

“The amazing thing about MD Anderson is that every person I encountered was so incredibly helpful and positive and caring,” he says.

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

Pancreatic cancer surgeon: Individualized treatment makes the difference

At MD Anderson, we don’t just practice medicine by the textbook — we are the ones writing those textbooks. That’s why it’s so important for people with pancreatic cancer to come to a place like MD Anderson for treatment.

Because the best chance someone has to beat cancer is their first chance. And MD Anderson doctors are doing really incredible things.

Earlier pancreatic cancer diagnosis makes a difference

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose early. Symptoms include jaundice, weight loss, fatigue, and abdominal pain. But all of those can be signs of other diseases, too.

The good news is that we have better imaging techniques now than we used to. And we are actively developing blood tests so we can detect pancreatic cancer earlier. That can lead to more successful treatment, because the sooner we catch cancer, the greater the number of options we have to treat it — and the better the chance we have to cure it.

Advances in pancreatic cancer treatment

Pancreatic cancer has historically been resistant to standard treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But we have stronger therapies today than we did in the past, and we have a better understanding of when these treatments should be used to their greatest effect. On their own, these therapies can prolong patients’ lives and improve their quality of life. But when combined with surgery, these treatments may even result in a cure.

Surgery is often considered difficult or even impossible with pancreatic cancer, because that organ is surrounded by so many important blood vessels. MD Anderson surgeons routinely remove and reroute critical blood vessels to allow removal of tumors that may be unremovable elsewhere.

Through clinical trials, MD Anderson doctors are also investigating new chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy combinations, to be administered before and after surgery, that can make our operations more effective.

Patients do best when they’re treated by a surgeon who does 20 or more pancreatic cancer procedures a year. MD Anderson surgeons do 50 to 100. These are just some of the reasons our operations tend to be so successful.

Data and individuality mean more effective pancreatic cancer treatment

Data is everything to us here at MD Anderson. But the data we use to generate treatment plans for our patients are not just limited to the results of some lab tests. We don’t treat patients with a playbook.

Our physicians develop individual treatment plans that are specific to each patient’s exact type and stage of disease, but also consider their goals, lifestyle, access to health care at home, financial situation, availability of caregivers and other factors. We look at the whole person. Because individualized care is the key to successful outcomes.

As a result, we are now treating and curing pancreatic cancers often considered untreatable or incurable. Our patients with pancreatic cancer are living much longer now than they did 20 years ago. So, there’s lots of hope.

And that’s why I’m here. It’s why we’re all here.

Matthew H.G. Katz, M.D., is chief of pancreatic surgery at MD Anderson.

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

 

Breast cancer survivor: Why I support clinical trials

As an 18-year cancer survivor who has been on three clinical trials, I am a big proponent of them – especially at MD Anderson. I joined the first one in March 2010 to see if a drug normally used to treat high cholesterol could also prevent a breast cancer recurrence. I joined the second one in September 2010 to see if an IUD could prevent a precancerous condition from developing into uterine cancer. And I joined a third just a few months ago to see if controlling my blood sugar levels might help prevent a breast cancer recurrence.

Are clinical trials going to work for everyone who participates in them? No. But I think there’s a misconception out there that joining one somehow makes you a guinea pig. And that’s not the case. By the time a new medicine or protocol is tried on humans, it’s been vetted by many doctors and scientists. And a lot of the cancer drugs and treatments we have today, such as immunotherapy, started out as a good idea explored through clinical trials.

How cancer research saved both my breasts

I benefitted very early on from MD Anderson’s research. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2000, I’d just relocated to Houston, and my first oncologist recommended a double mastectomy. But there was nothing wrong with my right breast, and I was only in my early 40s at the time. My employer encouraged me to seek a second opinion.

At MD Anderson, I met with surgical oncologist Dr. Henry Kuerer. He said, “Well, a double mastectomy is one protocol to treat breast cancer, but it’s not our protocol.”

Dr. Kuerer and his team considered my cancer more advanced than the original oncologist had. But because of what MD Anderson’s doctors had learned through research, my treatment plan there was still less invasive. So, instead of a double mastectomy, I just had a segmental (or partial) mastectomy, followed by five weeks of radiation therapy. I also took the drug Tamoxifen for five years afterward.

A clinical trial prevented cancer from starting

The second clinical trial I joined actually prevented me from developing uterine cancer. I was 10 years out from my breast cancer diagnosis in 2010, when my ob/gyn discovered I had endometrial hyperplasia, a pre-cancerous condition that can lead to uterine cancer if it’s not treated.

My doctor recommended a complete hysterectomy and oophorectomy, but I had three teenage daughters at the time — two with special needs — and I just couldn’t afford to be out of commission so long. I needed to buy some time until my girls got through their teenage years, so I started researching clinical trials.

I found one at MD Anderson that sounded very promising and I contacted the lead investigator. I joined the trial, and three months later, the endometrial hyperplasia was gone. I’ve shown no evidence of disease since then.

You can help future cancer patients

The moral of this story is to be your own advocate and ask about your clinical trial options.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 years ago, the radiation field stretched from the neck down to the waist, which can affect the lungs, heart and other organs. Now, doctors are using targeted therapy and brachytherapy to irradiate a much smaller area. Through research, they learned that these new protocols could be just as effective as the older ones, and with fewer side effects. Which is great news for women who are diagnosed today.

Now, I tell practically everyone I meet to consider joining a clinical trial if they’re ever offered one. The research you contribute to today can have long-term benefits for future generations.

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

Kindness made the difference during my leukemia and kidney cancer treatment

I don’t get sick very often. And no one in my family has ever had cancer, so when I was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2012, I didn’t even really know what it was.

But I believe we go through certain things so we can be there for other people. That’s why I’m sharing my story here now. Because I went through some pretty dark times during my leukemia treatment, and I wasn’t always sure I was going to make it. But with the help of my doctors at MD Anderson, I did — and you can, too.

Why I chose MD Anderson

It was around Christmas in 2011 that I started feeling really bad. I thought I was getting the flu, so I picked up some over-the-counter medicines and treated myself at home. When I still didn’t feel any better after a couple of weeks, I went to see my general practitioner. She did some blood tests and discovered I had leukemia.

Once I understood what that was, I knew I wanted to go to MD Anderson. It had a track record I respected, and its doctors care for people from around the world — from the simple man to the CEO.

My leukemia treatment

The first time I met Dr. William Wierda, I knew I’d come to the right place. He sounded and acted so confident. His confidence proved well-founded, too, because here I am six years later, cancer-free.

To treat my leukemia, Dr. Wierda recommended eight initial rounds of chemotherapy, which I received through an IV over 8 months. I also took chemotherapy in pill form for another 30 months, as well as two additional rounds of intravenous chemotherapy.

I lost all my hair three times as a result of the chemo, gained 40 pounds from the steroids, and had to endure a spinal tap and bone marrow aspirations every month. But the treatment worked. My leukemia went into remission after the first round of chemotherapy and has not returned.

My surprise kidney cancer diagnosis

Then, I got another surprise. In April 2015, I went to the doctor because I kept getting “stuck” when I bent over to pick up my grandkids. He ordered a CT scan to see why I kept locking up. It turned out that I had stage I kidney cancer, which was completely unrelated to my previous diagnosis.

Dr. Wierda referred me to urological surgeon Dr. Christopher Wood. He said because we’d caught the cancer so early, all I needed was surgery to remove the top 5% of my right kidney. I wouldn’t have to endure additional chemo or receive radiation treatments.

The MD Anderson difference: lifelong relationships

Dr. Wood performed the surgery to remove my kidney tumor on April 28, 2015. So, I expected to see him checking up on me after the procedure. But when Dr. Wierda came to visit me in the ICU afterwards, too, I was kind of surprised. I have since come to realize that it’s the compassion that sets MD Anderson apart.

Morning, noon and night, I could feel that my doctors and nurses genuinely cared about me. They held back my hair when I was throwing up, encouraged me to persevere even when things seemed very dark and did whatever they could to make me as comfortable as possible.

I’ve built lifelong relationships with many of them. And when my husband threw a surprise party recently to celebrate my one-year anniversary of being cancer-free, all of my doctors and nurses came. I don’t think you can find that kind of care and compassion just anywhere. That’s why I don’t look at MD Anderson as the place I went to when I got sick anymore. Now, I look at it as the place I went to get well.

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

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