I came to MD Anderson after I'd already started treatment in Chicago for Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer with bone metastasis. I had finished 4 rounds of neoadjuvant chemotherapy with Adriamycin / Cytoxin and was about to start with Taxol.
I knew I was likely to be moving to Houston in the near future, and wanted both a second opinion regarding my current treatment and help deciding whether to transfer my care to MD Anderson.
Here's what helped me during my first visit to MD Anderson -- and what I wish I would have known.
Communicate with your medical team
We checked into the Breast Center and went through the registration process. The process had gone pretty smoothly, but some of the imaging results that I had sent prior to my arrival didn't get into the system in time for my appointment.
I learned then how important it is to communicate with the MD Anderson team before your appointment to make sure all of your materials have arrived successfully.
They're all trying their best to make sure your visit goes efficiently, but you have to remember that you are one of many people visiting the clinic that day, and paperwork and samples can get lost.
My husband and I met with one of the oncologists in the breast center and discussed my diagnosis, prognosis and treatment options. I appreciated having my husband with me. It was nice to have a second set of ears for the conversation and someone else who could ask questions.
Since I was in the middle of chemotherapy, I was already suffering from many of its side effects, including exhaustion and confusion, so it was critical to have someone else with me.
What I wish I would've known
In retrospect, it would've probably been even better if I had also brought someone with me who was more familiar with MD Anderson and had gone through treatment for breast cancer.
I think we were unclear at times what questions we should be asking and how to compare this institution with the ones that we were more familiar with.
I also didn't realize how big MD Anderson was before arriving. We fumbled our way to the parking garage instead of valeting the car, but looking back I realize that we should have valet parked just so we would have one less thing to worry about.
Advice for others
Be patient. It's a big institution and though everyone works hard to make sure it works without any problems, things do happen. You need to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture of why you are here. It's because you know you're going to get exceptional care and have access to resources that you wouldn't have at a smaller institution.
Sandra Bishnoi was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer with bone metastasis in January 2011; she currently has no evidence of disease. Prior to her diagnosis, she was a chemistry professor and scientist living in Chicago. She is now in pursuit of a new identity with the aid of her two young children, her supportive husband and the Houston scientific community.