Fighting a Two-Front War on Cancer
by Janie Henker, Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare | Photography by Dave Barfield
It was December 2015 and 39-year old Tallahassee native Nashenna Nix was surprised when her husband, Jonathan, found a large lump in her breast. Just two days before Christmas, that tumor would be diagnosed as triple negative breast cancer.
A diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer means the three most common types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth (estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2/neu gene) are not present. Since the tumor lacks the necessary receptors, common treatments are ineffective.
“I am somewhat ashamed to say this, but it was not during a self breast exam that I found the lump. In truth, I never do those. If I had, I possibly could have caught it earlier and not had to endure all of this. It was um, my husband. Yep, my attentive husband who happened to save my life,” said Nashenna.
Referred to the multidisciplinary breast cancer team at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center, Nashenna was on a long road to recovery. She began her journey with state-of-the-art chemotherapy with Jayan Nair, MD, medical oncologist, TMH Physician Partners, Cancer & Hematology Specialists.
“Dr. Nair and I hit it off really well. He talked to me about the results of a European clinical trial. It showed that a modified chemotherapy was more effective than the usual chemotherapy for my type of cancer. We decided to go for this modified treatment, although more intense, I couldn’t feel the tumor after just a couple of treatments. Dr. Nair was very compassionate and supported me through everything I was going through.”
After completing six weeks of chemotherapy, Nashenna was feeling more positive about her situation when she was blindsided with yet another major medical concern. Around the same time she had discovered the lump in her breast, Nashenna had noticed complications after being intimate with her husband. Thinking it was probably due to endometriosis, which had been diagnosed years prior, Nashenna tried not to worry and went to see Kenneth McAlpine, MD, OBGYN at North Florida Women’s Care. Dr. McAlpine sent Nashenna for an MRI and the results came back that she had cervical cancer.
“I wanted to cry, but I also wanted to laugh, because I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I had been diagnosed with not one, but two cancers – at the same time.”
Continuing on her journey, Nashenna was referred to Arvind Bakhru, MD, gynecologic oncologist at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center.
“Dr. Bakhru spent so much time with us. When we were done with all of our questions he just sat patiently to make sure we didn’t need anything else. It was so nice to have his undivided attention. I knew we were in good hands when all the nurses were saying what a great physician he is. Receiving care at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center and working with these physicians made my experience that much easier.”
The only cancer program in the Big Bend region to offer hematology/oncology, radiation oncology, surgical oncology and gynecologic oncology, the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center is known for its highly-trained medical team and for delivering the most powerful treatment options, all under one roof.
“Everyone was just incredible. We had so many people say we should leave town to get care but we felt like this was where God wanted us to stay. It was so nice having treatment right here at home in a place where the staff treated me like I was family. Everyone made me feel like they were all on my team. It definitely helped me not feel nervous.”
Nashenna completed 15 chemotherapy treatments over a course of 20 weeks to treat both her breast and cervical cancers and it resulted in a complete disappearance of the tumor before surgery. She continued on to receive a double mastectomy with Eliot Sieloff, MD, general surgeon, TMH Physician Partners, Surgical Specialists.
“I walked in to meet with Dr. Sieloff and immediately requested a double mastectomy. He was great and felt completely fine with me doing what I had preferred.”
Following surgery, Nashenna was referred to receive radiation at the Cancer Center from Raj Bendre, MD, radiation oncologist and medical director of TMH Physician Partners, Radiation Oncology Specialists.
“Dr. Bendre is highly intelligent. He knows an incredible amount of information and was very thorough in explaining my type of cancer and how radiation would help. He was also so personable which made my visits pleasant.” With all of her care in one facility, Nashenna’s mind was at ease knowing her physicians were all working together.
“I loved that everyone was in one place at the Cancer Center. When I was diagnosed with cervical and breast cancer – it made it so much easier to have my doctors in the same location and to know they were always collaborating and working together.”
Following radiation, Nashenna finished her journey with breast cancer with reconstruction with Alfredo Paredes, MD, plastic surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
“I absolutely loved Dr. Paredes. He was fully involved in my mastectomy with Dr. Sieloff and each time we met with him he spent so much time explaining everything so I was comfortable. Once my body has time to heal, he will provide delayed reconstruction and complete a dermal flap procedure, which helps breasts appear more natural.”
Now cancer free, Nashenna looks back at her journey to reflect on everything she went through. “Going through this has made me cherish the little things in life. I couldn’t have gone through this without my family who were the best support system.”
Nashenna and her husband look forward to a healthy future with their six-year-old son Levi. As a family, they plan to enjoy doing what they love most, being outdoors and spending time together.