In the fall of 2017, Elissa Reynolds was preparing to move to Indianapolis with her boyfriend and begin an exciting new chapter in her life. Unfortunately, those plans had to be put on hold following a life-changing discovery.
A Surprising Diagnosis
Knowing her upcoming move meant she would be without health insurance for a time, the 36-year-old thought it best to get any potential health issues examined while she still had insurance. After experiencing dizziness and a rapid heart rate, Elissa visited Gainesville’s Northeast Georgia Medical Center, where scans of her lungs revealed pulmonary emboli – blockages in her lung arteries. Doctors determined they were a secondary effect of an unknown cancer that had started in her colon and spread to her liver. Having displayed no cancer symptoms, Elissa was shocked by the diagnosis.
“It was a strange conversation with my doctors,” Elissa said. “But I was determined to do whatever it took to beat cancer, so I began researching all of the treatment options I could.”
World-Class Care in her Community
At first, Elissa’s mother was adamant that she travel to a large cancer care center in a major city for treatment. However, Elissa’s research led her to realize she could receive cutting-edge care close to home.
“Meeting my oncologist, Dr. Christina Saurel, and surgeon, Dr. Ken Dixon, gave me a whole new perspective on the level of innovative care I could receive locally in Gainesville,” Elissa said. “How they work together and with patients is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the country.”
While Elissa and her healthcare team initially embarked on a traditional chemotherapy course, due to the advanced nature of her cancer, they also considered other options in case the treatments were not a success.
“Because Elissa presented with an advanced colon cancer that had spread to her liver, we were uncertain of her care and had to think outside the box a little bit,” Dr. Saurel said. “Although one of her tumors responded to chemotherapy and shrank to the point Dr. Dixon could remove it, the other tumor did not, which meant we had to get creative.”
SpeciCare Enables Personalized Care
Thankfully, Elissa had other options to consider because Dr. Dixon did something many cancer surgeons don’t – after removing her tumor, he stored her living tumor tissue and shipped it to a state-of-the-art laboratory, where specialists tested the living tumor cells to see what potential future treatments would be most effective.
Dr. Dixon recommended this course of action for Elissa because he understands no two cancers are exactly the same, and he knew that her living tumor sample could offer information on how to treat her unique cancer that a traditional tissue sample could not. Dr. Dixon feels so strongly about this matter that he founded SpeciCare, an organization dedicated to preserving patients’ living tumor tissue for their own benefit.
“Under current practice guidelines, cancer tissue dies when it is removed, which limits the information it can provide,” Dr. Dixon said. “However, if a tumor is preserved alive and tested, it has the power to unlock the secret to personalized care, resulting in improved outcomes and opportunities for patients. By storing live tumor tissue, SpeciCare links research, clinical care and precision medicine, so patients have the greatest chance at survival.”
Hope for the Future
Without Dr. Saurel, Dr. Dixon and SpeciCare, Elissa could be facing a very different future. However, the tests on her living tumor tissue found several new treatment options for Elissa’s care team to consider – options that showed they were effective against her cancer in a laboratory setting. These potential treatments included leukemia and breast cancer drugs that normally would not have been considered for Elissa because they are not commonly used for liver or colon cancers. She was also able to identify two clinical trials to pursue.
“Without SpeciCare there would be no more options for me; I’d be living with the tumor. Now this is giving me hope of shrinking it and having it removed, too,” Elissa said. “This has opened up so many more options for treatment. It’s been a crazy journey, but it’s also been pretty miraculous.”