It was Easter of 2012. Alexa just didn’t feel right. Surrounded by her family, she was feeling nauseous and having food cravings. She couldn’t put her finger on it.
She went to the doctor, and received a complete exam, was told everything was fine and she was healthy. Three days later, after a hike with a friend, she found a tiny lump under her right breast just above her rib bone. She called her dad, also a doctor. He gave her a pat on the back, and told her to go back to the doctor and ask for a diagnostic mammogram. Within the next 3 days she had an ultrasound, a biopsy, and she was told she immediately needed to begin chemotherapy for aggressive HER 2+ breast cancer.
For her it was all very fast, and too much information.
The type of cancer Alexa was diagnosed with is called HER2+, a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called “human epidermal growth factor receptor 2,” which promotes the growth of cancer cells. It was coupled with an aggression factor of 9 (the highest).
In about one of every five breast cancers, the cancer cells have a gene mutation that makes an excess of the HER2 protein. HER2+ breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. This overexpression can cause cells to divide, multiply and grow more rapidly than normal. Research has shown that women with HER2+ breast cancer have a greater likelihood of recurrence, poorer prognosis and decreased survival rates compared to women with HER2- breast cancer.
Alexa tested negative for the BRCA (breast cancer type 1 susceptibility protein) gene, the specific inherited mutation of which can increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers, among others. The HER2 gene abnormality is only present in breast cancer cells, not the rest of the cells in the body, and cannot be passed on to other family members.
Born and raised in Sherman Oaks, CA, Alexa holds a graduate degree, and has lived in Palm Springs, CA and Las Vegas, NV, and currently resides back home in Sherman Oaks with her two young girls, Livia and Colette.
When it came to her diagnosis, Alexa went to a number of doctors, one of whom was a woman oncologist. She was the only doctor who spoke with her regarding how her children would feel about everything, and about saving her hair once she started chemotherapy with what’s called a “penguin cold cap.” Dr. Philomena McAndrew became her Oncologist.
That same June, she had surgery to remove the tumor, and went forward with 12 chemo treatments in a row, which was “like running a marathon. But I was used to running; I already had the mind-set for that.” She then continued treatment every three weeks for a year, through July, 2013.
Alexa spent the following year being tested, scanned and getting a lot of blood work done. But within 10 months, by May, 2014, not only did she intuitively know the cancer had returned, she could feel another lump. Although it may nave been there for a month, it had been too small to detect. The first pathology report on the tumor came back “not invasive,” but her oncologist knew enough to run further tests, showing what she had feared: it was identical to the first one. More Chemotherapy.
Patients cannot receive the same chemotherapy drugs twice, there were a few missteps along the way the second time around, including being allergic to one treatment. Starting in June, 2014, Alexa underwent one more year of chemotherapy, which ended September 10th 2016.
In both cases, Alexa is grateful for her intuition and connection to her body that has been cultivated through Yoga. With her cancer, 4 months is the difference between Early Detection and Metastatic Stage IV Breast Cancer. She practices all styles of Yoga and is devoted to all her teachers.