Houstonian Beth Williams didn't come to MD Anderson when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her mid-30s. But when she received a colon cancer diagnosis nearly 20 years later, she couldn't imagine going anywhere else. "I felt like if I was going to survive, I needed to be at MD Anderson," Beth says.
The 76-year-old CEO of an international language and logistics company now jokingly calls herself an MD Anderson "frequent flier." In the past two decades, she's been treated here for four different types of cancer. That includes colon cancer, breast cancer and -- just this past year -- kidney cancer and skin cancer. Her multiple cancer diagnoses don't appear to be based on genetics, just luck.
Still, Beth doesn't consider herself unlucky, and she doesn't let cancer run her life. Below, she shares her advice for thriving in the face of cancer.
Don't wait to go to MD Anderson.
Beth encourages newly diagnosed cancer patients to go straight to MD Anderson. "The care you get is amazing," she says. "I had so much confidence in everybody at MD Anderson, and no one ever has let me down or disappointed me."
Though the hospital's size made Beth feel a little bewildered the first time she visited, that changed almost instantly.
"All of the people who helped me quickly made it feel like the place was the size of a very small medical clinic," she says. "When you go to MD Anderson, everyone is so warm and nice. It's like getting wrapped up in a big blanket."
Don't dwell on your cancer diagnosis or be overly controlling.
With two daughters and 210 employees in seven countries, Beth believes the hardest part of cancer has been worrying about those who depend on her.
"It may be hard at first, but don't dwell on your cancer diagnosis," she says. "Pray, do whatever you do and put your trust in your doctors at MD Anderson."
Beth calls herself "ordinarily very bossy and controlling." But, she says, "When it comes to cancer, I just put myself in MD Anderson's hands and got on with my life. I had a company to run and things to do. My cancer was their problem, and they took it very seriously."
Find the humor in cancer.
Beth has avoided dwelling on cancer, in part, because she finds it so amusing. In fact, when she and her daughters talk about cancer now, they only laugh about it and all the funny things that have happened along the way.
"Laughter can get you through anything," Beth says. "Just focus on the silly things that happen. They're there if you're willing to look for and see them."
Enlist a buddy and ask for help.
Beth may be a pro at beating cancer, but even she couldn't have done it alone.
She needed someone to help run her business while she was undergoing and recovering from treatment. She also wanted someone to be by her side at doctor's appointments, to remember all of the things her care team told her.
Her daughter, Jane, played both of these roles, enabling Beth to keep working throughout her cancer treatment. Jane, a nurse, also helped make sense of the medical terminology and make decisions about Beth treatment.
"A buddy is the most valuable tool a patient can have," Beth says. "Find someone you trust, and don't be afraid to ask for help or just a listening ear."
Allow yourself to move on after cancer.
Though Beth just beat cancer for the fifth time a few months ago, she's already moved on.
"At my age, I don't look back. I don't regret. I deal with it and move forward," she says. "I rarely talk about cancer because once I'm done, once I finish the chemo, I'm kind of done. At this point, I just see cancer as more of an aggravation than anything."
Beth hopes she's dealt with that aggravation for the last time, but if that's not the case, she'll be ready to show cancer who's boss. As she says, "Don't fear it. Fight it."