MD Anderson Cancer Center

Some building complexes in Houston are like little cities, self-contained and extensive.  One such is the MD Anderson Cancer Center, where we held our meetings of Latin American educators.  This is one of the best cancer research hospitals in the world.  They try to create a pleasant environment for people in such unpleasant circumstances and they largely succeed.  The complex includes a hotel run by Marriott for families and outpatients.  It looks like a luxury hotel but it has capacity to help people who need it. The restaurants and cafeterias can provide specialized diets with food that looks and tastes good.  It is helpful for people in stressful situations not to have stress added by things like food and surroundings.

The multi-building complex is connected by a network of skyways.  They told me how many miles they covered, but I forgot.  It is a lot of space.  Patients can get their exercise just by walking around the buildings, w/o having to go outside.  Houston can be very hot and humid and outside exercise might be difficult for some patients.

The slogan of MD Anderson is “Making Cancer History”, using both connotations of the word.  There has been a lot of progress in the fight against cancer.  Survival rates are rising and cancer rates have been falling since the the 1990s.  Most people are unaware of this good news. There is some concern that rising rates of obesity will stop or even reverse this positive trends and they told us that 60% of us will get some form of cancer in our lifetimes.  It is one of the ironies of curing other diseases that as we live longer and do not die of other things, cancer becomes more likely. 

Cancer is a difficult adversary because it is not a single disease and in some ways is not a disease at all.  It can be a kind of misfire of cell growth that could be good in other conditions.  I cannot say I know very much about it however.  As I listened to the talk and occasionally saw patients and their families wandering the building, I just felt sad and sort of stopped listening. 

The very word cancer is anxiety provoking. It dragged up old memories of my mother’s cancer.  It is funny how some things stick in your memory. I recall my mother talking to my great aunt Margret. Margaret said something like “Cancer. How can you face the word?”  My mother replied, as close as I can recall, “It is what I have and it’s not the word that scares me.”  That happened more than forty years ago, but I can picture the event.  Of course, I wonder how good my memory is. I regret that I don’t remember more about my mother.  She died young from that cancer. I wonder if more modern therapies could have saved her long enough for me to get to know her as an adult.  

My top picture shows the MD Anderson Center. Notice all the skyways. The next pictures are Houston in general.  Next shows live oaks. One of the things that is nice about Houston is that they plant trees. There are lots of live oaks and bald cypress along streets.  Bottom pictures are Trekies.  There was some kind of comic book convention at the George R Brown Center. You see a picture of George Brown just above.  George R Brown ran Brown and Root, one of America’s great construction companies. He also was a philanthropist, which is I suppose why they named the center after him.