Kidney cancer survivor Jacque Howard thought her new diet and workout regimen were paying off when she shed 25 pounds from her already slight 5'4" frame.
Unfortunately, Jacque's weight loss and diminished appetite were kidney cancer symptoms. The doctors told her the tumor was the size of a large cantaloupe.
"The thought that I had cancer never crossed my mind, not once," Jacque says.
Doctors estimated the mass had been growing for roughly four years before a physical exam in 2005 sent Jacque on the fast track to MD Anderson from her home in Oklahoma.
Coming to MD Anderson for kidney cancer treatment
Jacque's oncologist told her she needed to travel as quickly as possible to a special cancer hospital 500 miles away in Houston, where a doctor had already accepted her as a patient.
"That's the first time in my life I had even heard of MD Anderson," Jacque says. "I guess because cancer never pertained to me or my family, it just never hit who MD Anderson was."
The urgency scared her. She cried all the way home. But her fear didn't have a chance to hang around.
Just 30 days after learning she had cancer, Jacque was on an MD Anderson operating table, having the kidney and tumor removed. The expeditious response time by her new doctors made dealing with a frightening kidney cancer diagnosis much less overwhelming.
"It went so fast, I didn't really have time to dwell on it," Jacque says.
Fighting recurrence fears with positive thinking
After her first surgery, Jacque's doctors had warned her there was a roughly 20 percent chance cancer would return in her bones or lungs.
True to form, she epitomized optimism.
"I just knew I was going to be part of the 80%," she says.
And when the cancer did return as a small spot on her lung, her proverbial glass was still half full. Her doctors monitored the spot for a year and then decided to operate.
"I just felt very fortunate that that's where it went," Jacque says.
That 2007 surgery was the last time Jacque needed treatment at MD Anderson. She began packing suitcases for her nights at the Rotary House less and less frequently until Sept. 24, 2014, when she finally rang the bell at MD Anderson to mark her transition to survivorship.
That simple, symbolic gesture brought closure for Jacque, shutting the door on cancer and punching her ticket to life as a survivor.
"Anyone can tell you you're cancer-free, but, for some reason, ringing that bell made it more real," Jacque says. "It was like saying, 'This is really over and I can put it behind me.'"
Aiding in MD Anderson research to help other kidney cancer patients
Jacque reflects on her nearly decade-long experience at MD Anderson with a sense of humor, tinged with that indomitable spirit that twice bested cancer. She laughs when she talks about how her kidney tumor was so large, her doctors asked her if they could use it for research.
Jacque gave them the tumor, and each time she visited MD Anderson she gave them 12 to 15 vials of blood.
"It was worth giving them all my blood," Jacque says. "And they could have the tumor and the kidney and whatever else they wanted if it will help somebody else."
These days Jacque is just giving out advice to anyone touched by cancer.
"If you ever get diagnosed with cancer, go to MD Anderson," Jacque says. "If they can't help you, nobody can."