Maintaining Normalcy Through Cancer

By Madison Loethen

49 -year-old married mother of two Nancy Gillig remembers getting the call that changed her life. She had just undergone a routine mammogram at Boone Health’s Harris Breast Center when an abnormality was found. That led to her getting an ultrasound and then a biopsy.

“I got the call, and they told me I had cancer. They then started talking about next steps. It all felt surreal, but I knew I was going to do what I had to do to keep moving forward,” says Nancy.

A couple days later both Nancy and her husband Brian found out they had Covid.

“We really weren’t that sick from Covid because we had our vaccines, so we spent our isolation making appointments and getting ready for the journey that was to come,” says Nancy.

Nancy and Brian reached out to several friends of theirs who had been going through their own cancer journey.

“So many people supported us through gifts, prayers, and kind words, but Brian was my number 1,” says Nancy.

Nancy was set up with Mark Tungesvik, MD at Missouri Cancer Associates (MCA) as her oncologist. He didn’t want to wait to meet, so their first appointment was via Zoom since she was still self-isolating.

“Nancy had a great attitude from the very beginning. She was very brave at the time of diagnosis as well as throughout treatment. Nancy is an inspiration to us all and we are grateful to have her within our MCA family,” says Dr. Tungesvik.

During the zoom appointment, they discussed her diagnosis and treatment plan. Nancy found out she had early-stage invasive breast cancer.

“We developed Nancy’s treatment program based on her staging as well as markers that help us predict the need for chemotherapy. Since Nancy had positive lymph nodes at time of diagnosis as well as positive estrogen receptors and a negative HER2/neu status, she did qualify for an aggressive chemotherapy regimen prior to resection surgery,” says Dr. Tungesvik.

Nancy began chemotherapy right away.

“I made some friends in that chemo room at MCA. All the other patients and the staff were awesome,” says Nancy.

When she began losing her hair from the chemo, she had Brian shave her head.

“We were hanging out in our basement with our boys, and I had him get out the trimmer. We actually had some fun with it. We did a few different hairstyles and of course did a mohawk,” says Nancy.

Nancy was also given a wig from MCA which she found comforting to wear.

“That wig was great! It was so nice of them to provide that,” says Nancy.

Nancy says her main symptoms from the chemo were fatigue, nail reactions, and neuropathy. Neuropathy is a dysfunction of nerves that causes numbness, tingling, or pain. Nancy experienced the neuropathy mainly in her fingers. She was given a comfortable chair from Healing Chair of Columbia which helped her cope with her symptoms.

“That chair was the best!” says Nancy.

Nancy did 16 rounds of chemo. When the chemo was complete, the next step was a double mastectomy followed by radiation.

“I choose the double mastectomy because the odds were better, and it would completely get rid of the cancer,” says Nancy.

Her surgeons were General Surgeon Anne Petersen, MD and Plastic Surgeon Giorgio Allegra, MD.

“Nancy was the perfect candidate for this operation. She asked lots of questions about the surgical choices, and we had several discussions about the options for surgery as well as what her expectations should be for the recovery process,” says Dr. Petersen.

Nancy says she felt very confident after meeting with her doctors.

“Dr. Petersen was so kind and knowledgeable. I felt very comfortable with her doing the double mastectomy. Dr. Allegra was very likable and has lots of experience. It made me feel very confident going into surgery,” says Nancy.

Nancy’s surgery went well and both her breasts along with 7 lymph nodes were removed, 2 of which were cancer positive.

Dr. Allegra placed expanders that will allow for the placement of implants once her radiation is complete.

“I remember being in Dr. Allegra’s office and looking in the mirror thinking, wow I look good! Which is crazy because I had just had surgery,” says Nancy.

Dr. Allegra joined Boone Health in the spring of 2022 and opened Boone Plastic Surgery. He does both cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries.

“Nothing can be accomplished without the good synergy between all specialists of the interdisciplinary breast unit at Boone. Dedication, expertise and passion are all present with this group. Our new Boone Plastic Surgery service gave its humble contribution to yet another Boone Hospital Center of Excellence experience,” says Dr. Allegra.

Nancy completed her radiation and will have her surgery to replace the expanders with implants later this year.

Nancy with her family on her last day of radiation.

“My focus has always been on maintaining normalcy where I can. That is so important when you are going through a journey like this. For me that means staying active, gardening, spending time with my family and friends,” says Nancy.