When Mai Salem looks in the mirror, she sees a survivor. After all, she's beaten pancreatic cancer twice. Her journey has changed the way she faces each day.
"Now I focus on the good and positive things," Mai says. "I don't think about anything but living."
A second pancreatic cancer treatment journey
Mai received her first pancreatic cancer diagnosis seven years ago. After three rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, Mai was cancer-free. But five years later, her pancreatic cancer returned.
Initially, Mai was devastated, but with the help of her family, friends and medical team, she found the strength to go through pancreatic cancer treatment for a second time. She underwent four rounds of chemotherapy before her doctors told her they didn't think her body could handle any more. She would have to return to her home in Virginia and wait to see if it had worked. In January, doctors told Mai the chemo had worked and scheduled her for another surgery. On Feb. 12, 2014, Mai returned to MD Anderson and received good news. Her scans showed no evidence of disease (NED).
"I was so happy and relieved, but most of all, I felt so blessed to be alive," Mai says. "I'm eternally grateful for this second chance and enjoying my every NED moment. It can't get any better than this."
Mai's first cancer journey was difficult, but after her second diagnosis, she felt strong. She made sure to maintain a healthy diet, exercise a little each day and spend time with friends and family. But most importantly, Mai maintained hope.
"A good attitude, perseverance, strong faith, as well as a support system go a long way in fighting this battle. It sure helped mine," she says.
Mai also attributes her health to her husband and caregiver, David.
"He taught me about determination, about perseverance and about doing what it takes to get where I am now," she says.
Appreciating life after pancreatic cancer treatment
Mai's second cancer journey changed her outlook. Because she knows her cancer can always return, now, more than ever, she's more focused on enjoying every moment.
"Through this journey, I've learned that it's very important to keep moving and striving to find life's silver linings," she says. "Whenever I don't feel well, I think of the things I'm grateful for. Gratitude changes everything."
She plans to continue helping others by volunteering with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson's one-on-one support program. Mai hopes that sharing her journey will inspire others.
She also plans to spend lots of time with her friends and family. After going through cancer treatment twice, Mai refuses to waste a moment.
"Each day I celebrate my victory, my joy and the priceless adventure that life truly is. My time is not over. It's just more valuable," Mai says. "I'm going to enjoy the very best life I can."