Every summer, hospitals nationwide experience a shortage of blood donations. This summer is no exception.
Nearly 1.7 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, and many of those patients will need blood transfusions during their treatment. Patients at City of Hope alone rely on more than 37,000 units of blood and platelets each year for their treatment and survival.
“Due to the nature of our patients and treatments here at City of Hope, we require more transfusion support than your typical hospital,” said Kasie Uyeno, manager of blood donor recruitment at City of Hope’s Michael Amini Transfusion Medicine Center.
This summer, the Blood Donor Center especially needs O positive and O negative blood types, as well as platelets, which are always in demand because of their short shelf life.
Uyeno said the summer and winter months are the most difficult time for collections, due to donors’ travel and changes in their schedules. » Continue Reading
Upon completing her final round of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer earlier this month, Maria Velazquez-McIntyre, a 51-year-old Antelope Valley resident, celebrated the milestone by giving other patients a symbol of hope – a Survivor Bell.
The bell may look ordinary, but for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, ringing it is far from routine. The ringing of the bell signifies the end of active treatment and the beginning of a life free of cancer.
“The bell represents hope and a sense of accomplishment,” said Velazquez-McIntyre, who donated one bell to the Antelope Valley clinic and another to the main City of Hope campus in Duarte. “My goal is to give someone else going through chemotherapy that hope. If I can ring that bell, so can you.” » Continue Reading
720 days. That’s how long Alex Tung, 38, had to give up surfing after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. For most people, even some surfers, such a hiatus wouldn’t be a big deal, but for Tung, surfing has been everything.
The Southern California resident began surfing when he was in elementary school, immediately falling in love with the sport and the ocean. As an adult, Tung would head straight to the beach to go surfing. It was his version of meditating. Nothing mattered when he was in the water.
“When I’m in the ocean, I feel more connected to mother nature,” Tung said. “It clears my mind, gives me positive energy and soothes my soul. It’s my escape. It’s everything to me.”
It was in the ocean, in early 2014, where Tung first noticed red dots on his body. He didn’t think much of it at the time.
Then, in May of that year, he went on a surfing trip to Hawaii. That’s when he also started noticing bruises on his legs and found himself getting tired easily. When he returned home to Cerritos, he decided to finally take his family’s and friend’s advice to make an appointment with his doctor.
There are few among us who have not experienced loss of a friend or loved one, often without warning, or like those of us who care for people with cancer, after a lingering illness. It is a time when emotions run high and deep, and as time passes from the moment of loss, we often hear how important it is for those who have most directly experienced the void to gain closure in order to move on with their own lives. We seek that closure as a way of tidying up, fearing that the memory of that person or a well-meaning comment may provoke unintended pain or undo what time is said to heal. The reality is, closure is a myth.
My personal and professional experience with those who have lost family and friends, including children, has taught me that going on with life is not the same as gaining closure. The wound of loss is indelible and a part of each person’s life forever, punctuated by many moments of recollection. It is sometimes predictably provoked by a date on the calendar and, less predictably, by a sight, sound, aroma, melody or a place that evokes an immediate awareness of that person, long after their physical presence in our lives has ceased. We continue to think about those dear to us, perhaps not every day, nor with the same intensity, but our lives are populated by those whom we know and, sometimes more profoundly, by those whom we remember. The experience of these personal moments, seemingly forever paused in time, can cause us to feel alone, even while in the presence of others. This aloneness is heightened by a false expectation that these experiences should, and will, at some point be over. » Continue Reading
Tina Wang was diagnosed with Stage 4 diffuse large b cell lymphoma at age 22.
She first sought treatment at her local hospital, undergoing two cycles of treatment. When the treatment failed to eradicate her cancer, she came to City of Hope.
Here, Wang underwent an autologous stem cell transplant and participated in a CAR-T cell therapy clinical trial. Now Wang is back in college studying nutrition and, this month, she celebrates one year of being in remission.
Here she answers questions about her diagnosis and her treatment experience at City of Hope.
What went through your mind when you were diagnosed?
At first, I was just shocked. I didn’t know what to do, what was going to happen. I don’t have a family history of any type of cancer, so at first I questioned if the doctor had misdiagnosed me. After a few days, I told myself that my only task was to follow all the necessary treatments. Other things could wait. » Continue Reading
When Gilbert Fresquez, 72, lost an excessive amount of weight in late 2012, he didn’t think much of it. He assumed it was a side effect from a recent surgery to remove a carcinoid tumor in his small intestine.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later during a routine doctor’s visit that the retired business owner learned that his weight loss, along with his low production of testosterone, was due to a pituitary tumor, located just below his brain.
Pituitary tumors, which are primarily noncancerous, are known to be slow-growing, and many people can live years with one before having any symptoms. Eventually, however, these tumors can grow large enough to cause significant health problems such as vision loss, dizziness, headaches, unintended weight loss or weight gain, weakness, body hair loss and hormone deficiencies.
Doctors estimated that Fresquez’s tumor had been growing in his pituitary gland for nearly 10 years.
“I told Gil to put his Superman cape back on because I knew we had another battle in front of us,” said Fresquez’s wife, Marianne Nugent.
The transplant patient had been hospitalized for a couple of months. A professional violinist, he hadn’t touched his instrument for too long, ever since chemotherapy had caused his skin to peel and his fingers to go numb; they were too sensitive even to touch the metal strings, much less make them sing.
He had no interest in music. He was depressed.
Kimberly Bradstreet, a board-certified music therapist at City of Hope, knew she had to reach this patient on a different level from other cancer patients she treated at City of Hope. They’re all at different points in their treatment, and respond differently to their circumstances, she knew, but as cancer patients, they have in common challenging physical side effects and, often, fragile emotions. Science has shown that both can be ameliorated through music therapy.
With a bachelor’s degree in music therapy and a master’s in music education, Bradstreet is well-equipped to help cancer patients. She surveys them about what music they like and the kind of relief they seek: Do they need to manage their pain? Are they unable to relax, and to sleep? Are they having difficulty concentrating? » Continue Reading
Family members can find themselves wandering an unfamiliar wilderness of grief when cancer takes a loved one. City of Hope’s newly launched bereavement groups offer a safe place for them to explore and reconcile their feelings, and find their way back to their new normal lives.
Through 12 weekly meetings, spouses, close relatives, parents, siblings and children learn about grief, mourning, healing, communication and coping strategies. Maybe more important, they find companionship and validation from others experiencing similar profound loss, disconnect and confusion about how to move forward.
“We’ve had a lot of ‘aha’ moments: ‘Oh, my, gosh, you cry in the shower, too?’; ‘I’m not able to talk to Auntie So and So because she won’t let me’; or ‘I’m afraid to cry because I’ll make my kids cry,’” said Tiffany Yang, M.S., C.C.L.S., a child life specialist and one of five facilitators of the groups. “They find they’re not alone.”
Two bereavement support groups have been held so far. The first group focused on loss of a child, the second on loss of a spouse or significant adult. Registration for a third – open to all and set to begin on Aug. 19 – has begun. All are tailored to cancer deaths, which have a particular grief and bereavement journey unlike others, such as sudden, traumatic death. » Continue Reading
Many women think they can’t develop breast cancer while pregnant or nursing. They can.
In fact, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer detected during pregnancy or while breast-feeding, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s rare, to be sure, but the incidence is expected to rise as women delay childbirth, leading them to have children later in life.
A City of Hope breast cancer surgeon wants to make women aware of this risk.
Remain vigilant, advised Courtney Vito, M.D., an assistant clinical professor in the Division of Surgical Oncology at City of Hope. Know your body, be aware of any changes in your breasts, and if something seems amiss, have it checked out, she said. In short:
“Yes, you can get breast cancer while you are pregnant. Yes, you can get breast cancer while you are nursing. Yes, it is rare. But no, it is not normal to have a persistent hard area or mass in your breast.”
Vito continued: “You should have a doctor look at it – and by look at it, I don’t mean just tell you it’s normal. Look at the skin of your breast and your nipple, touch and feel the whole breast not just the hard area, and then at least check it with an ultrasound. Every woman needs to know this information.”
Vito is passionate about this message because more than once she has had to tell a new mother that she has cancer, and that it is advanced. She also understands how frightening a potential breast cancer diagnosis can be – especially in the midst of prenatal appointments, picking out nursery essentials, and the excitement and anticipation of holding your baby for the first time.
She’s been there, and had a scare herself. » Continue Reading
The childhood journal of Kevin Chan, M.D., foreshadowed his future: At the tender age of 6, he wrote that he wanted to be a surgeon when he grew up. “I liked the idea of fixing broken arms and legs,” Chan said. “Back then, those were the procedures I could relate to.”
Although his passion for medicine never waned, Chan eventually chose a new specialty. Today he is head of reconstructive urology and a clinical associate professor of surgery at City of Hope, specializing in urology and urologic oncology.
Chan’s interest in urology was launched soon after he entered USC medical school and met Donald G. Skinner, M.D., its urology chair. “He did these amazingly elegant urologic surgeries, and afterward the patients were doing very well,” Chan said. “I was immediately drawn to urology.”
In particular, Chan was inspired by the neobladder procedure pioneered by Skinner. In this complex surgery, a new bladder is created out of intestine, and the kidneys are connected to this pouch, which is connected to the urethra, or as Chan explains to his patients, “the original plumbing.”
According to Chan, if a patient’s bladder needs to be removed, most urologists offer only an “incontinent diversion,” in which the urine drains into an external bag.
However, City of Hope has a much higher percentage of “continent diversions,” either the neobladder or an Indiana pouch, an internal pouch fashioned from intestine that allows the patient to drain urine by passing a tube through a small opening in the abdomen, called a stoma. No drainage bag is necessary. » Continue Reading