By PL JETER
On November 20, 2007 Nathalie McKenzie, MD, played a pivotal role in one of the first success stories of its kind between the University of Miami (UM) Infertility Center and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Only McKenzie's role wasn't as a doctor that day. Instead, it was as the mother of a healthy baby girl.
Before that day, puzzled, because her family history had no sign of breast cancer, McKenzie needed to quickly learn if a pea-sized lump she found in her breast was cancerous. After all, she and her husband of a year had talked about starting a family.
The diagnosis: invasive metaplastic ductal carcinoma, an aggressive form of breast cancer. The lump she felt was only the tip of a high-grade tumor. An MRI showed the cancer had not metastasized.
"I immediately starting thinking about my fertility," said McKenzie, who had a mastectomy in October 2004. Before beginning treatment, McKenzie consulted with the UM Infertility Center, which had recently partnered with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to seamlessly connect cancer patients with fertility preservation counseling to simultaneously protect their ability to have children.
"I was really lucky to have a discussion with an infertility doctor before I started treatment," she said. "Some patients, unfortunately, will lose their fertility. But if the possibility isn't introduced as an option to a young woman with cancer at that critical time, then she may lose the option. So, the first thing (after a cancer diagnosis) is the surgeon and the infertility specialist need to get together and really sit down, brainstorm together and offer her all of the options that might, for which she as an individual, may be a candidate. Then, given her disease, or how progressive her disease is, what does she have time to do or not do."
Instead of freezing her eggs, a move that would have delayed chemotherapy, McKenzie pursued fertility treatment with Zolodex to protect her ovaries. Three years after her double mastectomy, McKenzie gave birth to Gabrielle.
"Now I have two beautiful, smart, amazing children," said McKenzie, also mother to Nathan, 4. "I was able to conceive them ... without any help ... fairly quickly. The first month we tried for Gabby, we hit a home run."
Since then, McKenzie, a board-certified gynecologic oncologist, has become an award-winning physician known for her expertise in radical debulking procedures for removing advanced tumors. She also specializes in scar-less hysterectomy, HPV-related neoplasia and patient-driven cancer treatment. Her most recent research project is ARIEL2, a phase II clinical trial that started last March to evaluate rucaparib for the treatment of women with relapsed, high-grade ovarian cancer. The study was recently expanded to include patients with a minimum of three prior lines of chemotherapy.
It's a surprising twist perhaps to learn that McKenzie worked on Wall Street before turning to medicine. The daughter of a banker and United Nations finance administrator, McKenzie entered college in New York City with international business as her major focus. Quite unexpectedly, her mom had a brain tumor surgically removed. "Other experiences drew me to a hospital setting," she said, "all of which culminated in my decision to want to care for people and use my talents in that way."
McKenzie worked on Wall Street long enough to "rearrange things and go pre-med," she recalled. After completing medical school at the University of New York at Buffalo, McKenzie headed south for OB/GYN residency training at UM/Jackson Memorial Hospital and a Galloway rotation at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York . Nine months after Gabrielle was born, she began a fellowship, while concurrently earning an MPH (master's degree in public health).
"I was (practically) sold on my specialty," she said, at the time she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "My personal experience took away any guesswork."
McKenzie relates well to patients and the medical staff in more ways beyond being a physician and cancer survivor. In 2015, Orlando Health honored McKenzie with the Exemplary Physician Colleague Award. She's fluent in four languages - English, French, (medical) Spanish and Haitian Creole.
In addition to a busy practice, McKenzie, who won student teaching awards for four consecutive years, has held three academic teaching posts since 2012 .
She has served as assistant professor of gynecologic oncology at UF Health Cancer Center Orlando, University of Central Florida School of Medicine, and Florida State University School of Medicine.
For more information on Dr. McKenzie please visit NewCancerDoctor.com