Ever since my husband Jason was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013, we have been steady visitors to MD Anderson Cancer Center. (MDA from here on out to save my fingers!) It can be a daunting first trip, and if you are not prepared, can become quite frustrating. We would like to share with you our experience over the years to help you tackle your first trip to MD Anderson like a pro.
Here are our 10 Tips for Surviving your first day like a Pro!
Number one, and most important of all is “Be a patient, patient”.
The doctors and nurses at MDA help thousands of patients every day. Don’t be surprised if your 9:00 am appointment time turns into an 11:00 am appointment. People around MDA joke around that “MDA” stands for “Most of the Day”, and sometimes that is not wrong. For the top care and the top doctors in their fields, you may have some wait time. Be patient and don’t stress. Most days MDA runs like a well oiled machine, but come prepared to wait, which leads us to tip #2…..
Come prepared with an “electronics survival bag”.
Pack your own entertainment. Bring your tablet, chargers, laptop, etc. Bring a book, crossword puzzles, etc. Anything to help you relax and pass the time between appointments. We have seen ladies knitting, crocheting, meditating, etc. Pack snacks and other items to keep you comfortable throughout the day. It can be cold at MDA as well. You will see white blankets provided by the hospital everywhere. Pack a lightweight jacket or bring your own lap blanket. When you enter the lobby of MDA for the first time, you will notice that seasoned veterans are toting around their own survival gear. Come prepared with your own comfort in mind.
Tip number three is an important part of your MDA experience. Download the MY MD Anderson App.
It is wonderful for viewing your appointments, labs, learning materials, maps, and much more. This app is a great way to keep organized and any changes to your schedule will show up there throughout the day. Our own experience with MDA was greatly enhanced after downloading and using their app. It is available for Android and Apple.
Plan your day around your appointments.
Check your schedule ahead of time. Plan your lunch areas, rest areas, etc. around your appointment times. This helps keep you organized and ready for changes. MDA is a busy place! Lines get long during popular hours like lunch. Plan accordingly so you don’t miss an appointment. You can also check into your appointments early and leave your cell phone number with the receptionist. Tell them where you are headed, and they will call you with any changes in your appointment. In our experience it makes the day pass by much smoother.
Learn your elevators and your floors.
Your appointments will be labeled with which floor, building, and elevator to take. MDA’s main building is a large place. You can easily get lost. Fortunately MDA has informative signs everywhere to assist you. Floor Three is where you access both sky bridges and Parking Garage 10. All elevators are labeled with letters, floors with numbers, and the parking garage has color coded floors. MDA has made it very easy to navigate around.
Locate the restaurants, coffee shops, gift shops, library, etc. It is good to know their locations. MDA also has an indoor park where you can sit and enjoy your lunch. If all else fails, and you get lost, ask! People and employees are very friendly at MDA. They will not hesitate to point you in the right direction. There are also mini maps available at the various information desks, and you can use your My MDA App for step by step directions.
Educate yourself if you already know your diagnosis. “Knowledge is Power”.
It may not seem that important to you at the time, since the doctors will be discussing the specifics of your disease with you, but pre-educating yourself can help by making it easier for you to ask questions and make the most of your time with your doctor. The doctors at MDA are very busy. They treat hundreds of patients a day and are usually limited to their amount of time they spend with each individual. Make a list of questions to take with you. Become an expert on your disease. That is what my husband did. He was researching non-stop all the time. Reading blogs by other cancer patients can help immensely. Being educated can make your life just a little bit easier.
Know your medications!
This is very important. Be very involved with your treatments and medications. It can save your life. You will be constantly asked about what you take and when, and how much. Be involved. Do not blindly trust that the nurses and doctors, or your family for that matter, know what you are taking. A patient would not want to be prescribed a second blood thinner by accident because they forgot they already take one. Write all your medications down on a main list. List the dosage and frequency that you take them. This will help the nurses keep your file up to date. They can even print your medications out so you can compare and edit any errors. Stay updated! It will make your appointments easier and allow you to focus on other areas of your time with your doctor.
Start a binder or folder for all your paperwork, business cards, lab work, etc.
If it is your first time to MDA, you will be loaded down with information. Keep it organized and you will quickly reach the information you need. Track your progress, gather information on your specific disease, organize business cards, keep lab work in order, and write about your experience. It helps. It is just one more step in making your appointments and treatments easier.
PARKING!!!! Ahh where do I park?
Those of us who have been to MDA before, know this should probably be higher up on the list. There are a few different garages to use to access MDA. Garage 10 is probably the most popular and is connected to MD Anderson’s Main Building. When you enter into the MDA’s main building from Garage 10 you enter onto floor three. This is the floor that gives you access to the garage, as well as both sky bridges. Each floor to the parking garage is color coded so you don’t forget where you parked. Parking is just $12.00 dollars a day and credit cards are accepted. If you are going to a separate building, such as the Mays Clinic, it has its own parking garage as well. Plan accordingly! Check your schedule for your last appointment. Sometimes you may get treatment in another building. Park accordingly. It’s a long walk between buildings after a long day at MDA. You can access maps and the parking garages through your my MD Anderson App.
Finally, the last tip. A lot right? Don’t get overwhelmed. You will get thru this! The last tip is about where to stay. If you are not local, finding a hotel near the MDA Center can be a little tricky. We use a third-party app like Hotels.com to book our stays. When searching for a hotel, make sure you include the term “Houston Medical Center” in your searches. It will find all the hotels nearby. Believe me, you don’t want to accidentally stay farther away. Traffic in Houston can be brutal. The NRG stadium, home of the Houston Texans, is also a good reference point. It is right next the medical areas. Check events that are happening in the area. Hotel rooms will be harder to find, when for example, the Rodeo is in town, or a football game is at home. This creates room shortages and drives prices up.
We have stayed at just about all the hotels around, and we know the area well. You can find anything you might need at the stores in this area. We usually book a kitchen suite, and cook for ourselves. (Its cheaper!) (Check out one of our recipes here). Almost all the hotels around also have MDA discounts. Just ask when you call. They also provide shuttles to and from the cancer center, which is great if you don’t want to drive, or can’t drive. The hotels and local businesses have made it very cancer patient friendly around this area.
We have had our ups and downs like any couple going thru this fight. It is a full-time job. We’ve encountered a lot thru this process. You have to be TOUGH! STAY POSITIVE! You will hear that phrase a lot, and it is true! FIGHT! Keep your loved ones close, and remember that this affects them as well. We hope that through our experiences that we can help you get through your first day to your last day at MDA like a PRO!!!!!
Read our Cancer Story HERE