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UT Physicians, Memorial Hermann Cancer Center change storyline for grandmother with breast cancer

Vernita Eddins, 51, is ready to beat cancer in honor of her mother, whose name she proudly wears on her arm. (Photo by Andi Atkinson, UT Physicians)
Vernita Eddins, 51, is ready to beat cancer in honor of her mother, whose name she proudly wears on her arm. (Photo by Andi Atkinson, UT Physicians)

Thanks to the breast cancer team at UT Physicians and Memorial Hermann Cancer Center, Vernita Eddins, 51, now has hope for a cancer-free life.

Vernita’s story began at the start of 2022, when she visited her primary care physician for the frequent, burning sensations on her chest and a small lump underneath her right breast.

“The doctor I saw sent me to get a mammogram,” Vernita said. “It showed I had breast cancer.”

The news was crushing but not surprising. Vernita’s daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. Vernita’s mother also passed away from breast cancer in 2001.

“We learned from my daughter that we have a breast cancer gene. They did a genetic case when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I thought it might have skipped me,” Vernita said.

Just two years ago, Vernita was working 13 hours a day as a fast-food restaurant manager. She did begin to feel increasingly tired, but she assumed it was just a side effect of her job. Later, she began to feel burning sensations in her chest and shortness of breath. When her condition worsened, Vernita finally went to have it checked.  

“I would have seen the doctor a little bit sooner if I had insurance,” Vernita said. “When COVID hit, the day cares shut down so I had to quit my job to take care of my grandson. I couldn’t afford to pay the premiums of my market plan anymore, and I wasn’t old enough to receive Medicare.”

By the time summer was in full swing, Vernita decided she had waited long enough. She called the office of Jessica Trevino Jones, MD, assistant professor of oncology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and breast oncologist with UT Physicians, to schedule an appointment.

“I knew if I kept waiting until I had insurance it would just get worse,” Vernita said. “I went ahead and called Dr. Jones’ office. Dr. Jones treated my daughter for her breast cancer, so I knew I’d have a chance if I could see her.”

On July 29, Vernita was finally able to see a breast cancer specialist for the first time since her diagnosis.

“Dr. Jones was prepared and ready for me, and we came up with my treatment plan right away. She also arranged for me to see the breast cancer surgeon (Emily K. Robinson, MD),” Vernita said.

Robinson is a professor of surgery and Memorial Hermann Chair with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

“I began my chemotherapy in September,” Vernita said. “I’m on my way.”

Best of all, Vernita now has medical coverage.

“When I first called the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center, I told the nurse navigator about my situation, and they still took me. That’s how nice they are in the office,” Vernita said. “Then when I met Dr. Jones, she had me meet with the social worker. I was referred to Rose Breast Center, and that nonprofit helped me get Medicaid.”

Vernita still faces a long road ahead, but she feels positive and optimistic.

“After I finish my chemotherapy, I’m going to have a double mastectomy because I have a genetic condition. It’s recommended to prevent future cancers. As long as it doesn’t spread, I’m curable,” Vernita said. “I know it won’t be easy, but I’m just glad that now I’m getting treatment.”

Jones, founder of the Breast Cancer Prevention program at UTHealth Houston, believes Vernita’s future looks promising.

“Vernita has a second chance at life thanks to all the care and coordination with UT Physicians and Memorial Hermann Cancer Center at the Texas Medical Center. We’re all dedicated to personalized care and working together to make our patient’s life better,” Jones said. “After Vernita completes her treatment, she’ll also have a comprehensive plan to screen her for other cancers that she’s more at risk of developing.”

“We will change the storyline for Vernita and families just like hers,” she added.

Vernita is especially grateful to the team of people who helped her. 

“Since the first time I called, everyone I’ve dealt with has been extremely helpful and caring,” Vernita said. “I’m getting the best care in the world here, and they’re the nicest, most helpful people. I’m blessed.”

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