Gina's Story

Dr. Jason Weaver Joins “Gina’s Army,” Removes Brain Tumor

In the fall of 2015, Gina Hollenbeck was a 38-year-old Labor & Delivery nurse at Baptist Hospital, a marathon runner, a competitive tennis player, a volunteer with Life Choices, a wife and a mother to two young boys. She’d never smoked in her life but had a curiously persistent cough.

Doctors initially dismissed her symptoms, but she trusted her gut and dug deeper. She contacted a friend at an imaging center got a chest X-ray that revealed a mass in her lung. Shortly after, a biopsy confirmed lung cancer. DNA testing on the Cancer led her to seek a CT scan, which revealed a large brain tumor as well.

She remembers well the day she got the call. Every year, Gina, her family, and friends enjoy a big, festive Halloween party. A few hours before the party, she got the news about the brain tumor and her stage 4 status. As a nurse, she knew what it meant.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone that night,” she says. “If I was going to die soon, I wanted to have joyful memories of the party and my time with friends and family. It was incredibly hard, but we held off.”

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When she did break the news, two important things happened: she experienced an amazing outpouring of love and support from her community … and she was referred to Semmes Murphey’s Dr. Jason Weaver for treatment. Dr. Weaver joined Semmes Murphey in 2007 and works in neuro-oncology, managing both the operative and non-operative aspects of brain and spinal tumors, among other specialties.

Dr. Weaver recommended brain surgery, but Gina was hesitant. “Dr. Weaver was very nice,” she says. “But being nice doesn’t make you a great doctor,” she adds with a laugh. She sought a second opinion at MD Anderson Cancer Center and they concurred with his treatment plan. By January 2016, she was ready to move forward with the surgery.

She describes herself as a “girly girl,” and she has long, beautiful dark hair that she was mourning. “I knew he’d have to shave it off for the surgery, and I already felt like I’d lost so much.”

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When she opened her eyes post-surgery, the first thing she noticed was that she wasn’t in pain and wasn’t on a ventilator. The second thing? She still had her long hair! Dr. Weaver was sensitive to her concerns, and instead devised a plan where he slicked her hair down with antibiotic ointment and shaved only a small line right at her part. It wasn’t noticeable, and she looked like her old self.

“It’s a small thing, but it was such a gift! It mattered to him to help me preserve some of my normal life and appearance. Saving my hair made me feel SO good. He kept reminding me that he’d also removed a malignant tumor!”

Gina notes many ways Dr. Weaver’s meticulous and personal care has changed her life. He delayed her initial surgery a bit to ensure the suite was thoroughly sterilized after a GI case. He accompanied her to see a radiologist to discuss cyberknife treatment, and then stood by while the doctor performed the procedure. He even wears a Gina’s Army t-shirt and donates to her golf tournament fundraiser for lung cancer research.

“He always goes the extra mile to make sure I’m safe,” she says. She continues to see him every three months to monitor her progress and treat any new spots that come up. “He has such a level personality, and his confidence gives me confidence that it’s going to be ok. We keep our options open and keep going.”

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Gina also had surgery to remove part of her lung, and she’s had success with targeted therapy medicine to treat the Cancer. “The good news is that the pills work, but they don’t last long. I’m on my fourth and last one currently, so when this one quits working … I’m not sure what’s next. But I have confidence in my medical team, I have hope, and research continues. I hope there are new therapies, but in the end, God’s plan will prevail. What happens to me can help others,” she adds.

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She now devotes much of her time to raising money for lung cancer research. “It doesn’t get as much funding because people see it as a smoker’s disease and therefore preventable,” she says. “I’ve never smoked. I was the picture of health, and it happened to me.”

Gina says she’s grateful for the time she’s had to be a wife to her very supportive husband and mother to her two boys, now 16 and 12. “Cancer has been a gift that makes me value every day. I wake up and think, ‘I get to live!’ It’s made me understand that some of the things I focused on before are not important. I am so thankful Dr. Weaver is a part of my medical team. He removed a brain tumor and got me back to life. I am so thankful for Dr. Weaver and his staff for becoming a part of my army and helping me fight Cancer.”