It was spring of 2012. Alexa just didn’t feel right.
It was Easter, and she and her family were together at her home in Los Angeles BBQ’ing sausages (thanks to her Estonian mother), cooking food and hanging out. All the while, Alexa remembers having continuous visions of asparagus, to the point of an overwhelming craving for it. Eventually, she came to found out asparagus has certain properties that help fight tumors and cancer.
For her, it was weird. Weird enough to get her attention, considering she just kept thinking something was wrong… She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she just didn’t feel well. She was nauseous. And one day after a hike with a friend who told her she was breathing heavier than normal, she found a tiny lump under her right breast just above her rib bone. After a diagnostic mammagram six days later followed by an ultrasound, it was biopsied, and she was immediately told she needed chemotherapy for breast cancer.
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.
Just two and a half months earlier, she had been thinking about asparagus, not knowing why.
Born and raised in Sherman Oaks, CA, Alexa has a business degree from Cal State Northridge and studied for her MBA with an emphasis in aviation at Embry Riddle. She has lived in Palm Springs, CA and Las Vegas, NV, and currently resides 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 radiation with what’s called a “penguin cold cap.” Alexa chose her to be her oncologist because she felt as a woman, her approach was particularly empathetic toward breast cancer.
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 continued treatment every three weeks 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 tumor in the same place, right on top of the scar tissue. 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 as “not invasive,” but her oncologist knew enough to run further tests, showing what she had feared: it was identical to the first one. Same size, same aggression factor.