DaVia shares others’ cancer journeys

Published 10:05 pm Friday, June 11, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

Nicole DaVia is a fighter. She’s faced cancer not once, but twice, and came out on top.
Her first battle, with leukemia that was diagnosed when she was 13 years old, inspired her to enter the field of medicine.
A physician’s assistant at the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center, a division of Beaufort County Medical Center, DaVia had to fight the battle against cancer again nearly two years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
That diagnosis came 25 years after the first one, when, after feeling tired and suffering from bruises that wouldn’t heal, she learned she had leukemia. Her world turned upside down that day, April Fool’s Day.
“One of the hardest things to deal with was not being able to be a teenager,” DaVia recalled during an interview. “I grew up in a matter of a week, and that was one of the hardest things.”
Two years of treatments followed her diagnosis, as well as two hip replacements necessitated by side effects of what her body was going through. She also developed diabetes. She wears an insulin pump to treat that disease.
“I couldn’t finish the eighth grade at school, and I was tutored at home for the first half of my ninth grade,” DaVia said.
DaVia was determined to win her battle with leukemia.
“I finished high school on time and I was on the honor roll,” she said with a smile. “Cancer was one of the best things that has ever happened to me, but I wouldn’t wish it on anybody in the world.”
Cancer — a good thing?
In DaVia’s case, leukemia opened up a new world to her, sparking an interest in the field of medicine.
“I was always interested in medicine and science before my diagnosis, but the leukemia definitely kick started it,” she said. “From the first day of high school, my goal was to go to medical school. The doctors would let me look at slides of bone marrow in a microscope.”
DaVia received her physician’s-assistant degree from MCP-Hahnemann University in Philadelphia and her bachelor of science in biology from Binghamton University in New York.
As a college student, she sometimes found herself a “guinea pig” of sorts.
“In medical school, I was called on to speak to my fellow students about my leukemia diagnosis and treatment,” she said.
After living in New York and West Virginia, DaVia and her husband, Bob, made the move to Greenville in October 2002. The Southern climate appealed to them and they liked the idea of being close to the ocean.
DaVia went to work in the medical field and met Dr. Jennie Crews, whom she immediately liked and respected.
Even though she lived and worked in Greenville, DaVia turned to Crews and the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2008.
“I first came here as a patient,” DaVia said of the center. “I opted to come to Washington for treatment and for my chemo. During a routine follow-up appointment, my husband asked Dr. Crews if they needed a physician’s assistant at the center. I wanted to get back into oncology, so I began working here in October 2009.”
DaVia and the cancer center turned out to be a perfect match.
“I like the personalized care that you get here. You’re not treated as a number, you’re treated like a person,” DaVia said. “And the staff and volunteers are just wonderful. There are no negative thoughts or negative vibes. It’s easy to work here and it’s easy to come here as a patient.”
Having been a cancer patient — make that cancer survivor — herself, DaVia can commiserate with those currently fighting the disease.
“Having been there, I can relate, but I can’t say I know exactly what they’re going through because every cancer journey is different,” she said. “But every day is a celebration.”
Sunday, in particular, will be a day of celebration. That afternoon, area cancer survivors and their families and caregivers will gather at First Church of Christ in Washington for Survivors Got Talent, a variety show.
“We’re celebrating being a survivor of something that could have killed you, and you just turn around and make a face at it,” she said with determination.
And DaVia will be right in the thick of the celebration. In fact, she’s putting together a juggling act for the show. That’s only fitting, since she’s been juggling school, work and cancer for a large part of her life.
And doing it successfully.