A 41 year-old Spring woman is cancer free less than a year after her diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer, a cancer that once had a devastating prognosis.


Tova Parker, an engineer with Exxon Mobil, began treatment for stage 3 triple negative breast cancer last December, at Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital.


Oncologist Dr. Fadi Abu-Shahin led her care, which involved chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, along with participation in a clinical trial that is now under review.


“We fully believe in providing our patients with the most advanced and compassionate care available, from diagnosis to reconstruction, without making them leave the comfort of their own surroundings,” Shahin said. “We take a team approach with each of our patients, and we were happy to team up with Tova for her care.”


Parker has always taken breast health seriously, starting annual mammograms early at age 36, and performing frequent self-exams. Though she had no other factors, she knew she was at higher risk being a Black woman. According to Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Black women under 45 have a higher risk and a higher rate of breast cancer. Black women also have a greater chance of being diagnosed with the aggressive triple negative variety, which carries a higher mortality rate.


“I don’t need stats to know that breast cancer affects Black women at a higher rate. I’ve lost two very good friends to the disease,” she said.


Before her annual mammogram last year, Parker felt something amiss. She tried to dismiss the premonition after receiving an all-clear, but just a couple weeks later, she found a lump. Her gynecologist, Dr. Lexanne Mauney, ordered a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound at Houston Methodist Breast Care Center at Willowbrook.


Indeed, breast radiologist Dr. Ainel Sewell did find an area for concern, and performed a biopsy the following day. The worst was confirmed: Parker had breast cancer.


Appointments were quickly scheduled with Shahin and surgical oncologist Dr. Liza Thalheimer. A second opinion confirmed the diagnosis and treatment plan, but Parker ultimately chose Houston Methodist for her care.


“The comfort and compassion provided at Houston Methodist was what I needed,” she said. “I’m a positive person, and I needed that in my doctors. From my first day at Houston Methodist, I knew I was in the right place.”


Parker underwent chemotherapy for five months at Houston Methodist Willowbrook’s Infusion Center. In June, she was declared cancer-free and underwent a double mastectomy.


As she prepares for breast reconstructive surgery with Dr. John Shuck next month, Parker reflects on her journey. “2020 has been quite a year thus far. But I can’t live in the past. I am too busy loading Tova 2.0,” she said.