Boone, NC – To say 2020 was challenging is an understatement. Among the many lessons learned that year, most people were reminded that life is precious and fragile. Laneece Trivette of Matney probably learned that lesson better than most that year. She also learned that she has a compassionate team of healthcare providers fighting in her corner at Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center.
These lessons began a week after her birthday on August 9, 2019. She was preparing for a hernia repair surgery and needed a pre-operation scan.
Life is turned upside down
“They called and said they found a mass on my liver, and they needed to do a biopsy,” she remembers.
The stay-at-home mom of four was only 34 years old at the time and absolutely terrified.
The biopsy along with other tests helped determine that she had stage 4 breast cancer and it was also in her lymph nodes and liver.
“My heart was broken. I walked to the church and prayed and prayed,” she said. “We had everyone praying.”
While her husband James was scared, he says he always had faith that everything would be all right. “I knew God was in control,” he says.
Laneece and James met with Dr. Khurram Tariq, a triple-board certified Hematologist and Medical Oncologist at the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center. He started her on a treatment based on the CLEOPATRA trial, which includes chemotherapy and targeted therapy as part of the new precision medicine that, Dr Tariq explained, the field of oncology is headed toward.
For Laneece, everything seemed to be going well. Then a year later, around the time that her treatments were ending, her mother died. As if that weren’t enough, her youngest daughter broke her femur and had to have an operation. And then life dealt her another blow. While Laneece was shopping in late December, she had a seizure and blacked out.
After being rushed to Watauga Medical Center, they found three tumors on the right side of her brain and a couple of lesions on her spine.
Hope comes in the form of a new clinical trial
“Generally speaking, once a cancer goes to the brain, the prognosis becomes very grim. Once this happened to Laneece, it was very sad news for both her and me personally especially as I thought about her young children and asked myself the essential question: ‘How can I help her,’” Dr. Tariq remembers.
And then, one day while coming out of a patient room in the clinic, he had an epiphany. He had just followed a breast conference in San Antonio where he remembered something that was mentioned within the minute details embedded in the brand new HER2CLIMB study. In this study a new targeted drug, Tucatinib, along with a second agent from precision medicine was paired with an older chemotherapeutic agent and it showed amazing results in breast cancer patients – especially those with brain metastasis.
“No one at Watauga Medical Center had used it before. We created a new care plan based on that trial. She was the first patient to receive this three drug combo. It was first administered on January 14, 2021,” he said. “We kept it going and she had an exceptional response. The tumor in her liver and lymph nodes melted away and the tumor in her brain was radiated and never came back. The cancer in her breast shrank as well. Later another out of the box decision was made when her breast surgeon, Dr. Beaver, agreed to my request to remove the remaining tumor from her right breast.”
Dr Tariq explained that although surgery typically isn’t an option for stage 4 cancer patients, an exception was made because of the amazing results of this new treatment. The remnants of cancer in her breast (1.6 cm) and some tissue in her right armpit were removed in June 2021. The tissue in her axilla was non-cancerous.
Since that day, Laneece has been cancer-free. Her last PET scan and MRI of the brain were in May 2022, and she remains cancer free.
Planning for the future
Because her cancer was so aggressive, she continues to regularly take Tucatinib and receives infusions every three weeks to prevent it from returning.
Though Dr. Tariq’s progressive approach with out-of-box solutions and tenacity could easily be credited with eradicating Laneece’s cancer, he admits it doesn’t always work out that way.
“I wish everyone could have the same fate,” Dr. Tariq says. “No matter who you are – cancer is something that transcends age, ethnicity and socioeconomic barriers in terms of the emotional turmoil it brings to people’s lives. In the field of oncology we don’t always have all the answers and therefore it is important to stay humble and work together as a team. However, there is the possibility of a positive outcome – like with Laneece.”
He gives credit to Laneece’s resilience and strength of character and believes she can be a source of hope for other individuals facing what seem like impossible circumstances.
Laneece found a big part of that strength from her faith and her support system. That support system included Dr. Tariq and the team at SBJRCC. “They always make me laugh. I love Dr. Tariq. He always listens.”
James echoes her sentiment. “We had a good doctor from the get-go. We connected with him and it goes beyond doctor/patient. Every step of the way – everyone we’ve dealt with on this journey – God has set in place, which gives me that much more strength in my faith.”
As for the things Laneece is planning to focus on in the near future, they involve something less traumatic. With her new prognosis, she is planning to return to school soon to complete her degree in accounting and recently had her hernia repaired successfully.