December 18, 2019
Best of MD Anderson 2019: Cancer survivors’ and caregivers’ stories of hope
BY Cynthia DeMarco
During the past year, dozens of our patients and caregivers have shared their stories with us. Some dealt with proving a terminal diagnosis wrong. Others involved struggles with a challenging treatment, or making the best of life after cancer. The one thing they all have in common is hope.
Here are some of our patients’ most inspiring tales from 2019. Our wish is that they will bring you hope, too.
Tongue cancer survivor: Half of my tongue is gone, but I couldn’t be happier
Jeannie Hopper will always speak with a lisp and have trouble swallowing. But she’s grateful to be alive after a stage IV oral cancer diagnosis, which required the removal of four teeth, the floor of her mouth, and half of her tongue.
“I will never look in the mirror and see the person I expect to,” she says. “But I’m proud I made it, elated with my life and happy to be where I am today.”
Medulloblastoma survivor: How I laughed in the face of cancer
Sabrina Dominguez was undergoing treatment for medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer, when a nurse advised her to “find her laugh.” She took that advice and found three ways to ease her journey with humor, including making jokes about bodily functions, commiserating with friends, and playing with a rainbow of colorful wigs.
“Whenever my grandmother or mom noticed I was feeling sad, she would put on one of the sillier ones,” she says. “It never failed to make me smile.”
Nasopharyngeal cancer survivor: A remarkable recovery
Stewart Wright’s nasopharyngeal cancer was so advanced that he was originally told he would lose his left eye. But after coming to MD Anderson, he learned that was not the case.
“My recovery has been nothing short of remarkable,” he says. “I went from not being able to see out of one eye or hear out of one ear to being almost completely back to normal.”
Lung cancer survivor: New targeted therapy working for me
Amanda Nerstad thought only smokers developed lung cancer, until her own diagnosis at age 39. She came to MD Anderson after local doctors said she had less than a year to live. Three years later, she shows no signs of cancer, and the targeted therapy that made it disappear is still keeping her cancer at bay.
“Eventually, my lung cancer will build up resistance to this drug,” she says. “As of right now, the results are wonderful.”
Conjunctival melanoma survivor: Preserving my eye and my life
Liza Dora was ready to sacrifice her right eye to save her life after she was diagnosed with a rare type of eye cancer called conjunctival melanoma. Then, she came to MD Anderson, and learned that drastic option wasn’t necessary.
“My vision won’t ever be 20/20 again,” she says. “But I still have both eyes and I don’t need corrective lenses to see.”
Skull base tumor caregiver: MD Anderson gave us the best shot possible
When Dusty Bailey’s husband, Mark, was told to get his affairs in order after being diagnosed with a rare skull base tumor, the school librarian put her online research skills to work. That’s when she found MD Anderson’s skull base tumor program — and hope for her spouse.
“When it comes to cancer, MD Anderson is a whole different ball game,” she says. “No one can beat it.”
Liposarcoma survivor: Amputation hasn’t slowed me down
Tom Gattle hasn’t let a shoulder amputation stop him from enjoying his favorite hobbies. After receiving treatment for liposarcoma at MD Anderson, he is once again hunting, biking and fly-fishing.
“You can’t grow an arm back, but you can cope and find a good quality of life after cancer,” he says.
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I’m proud I made it.