March 8, 2019

Holding On

Cancer survivor Solita Johnson-Davis with her husband, Josh, and daughter Hadley

Cancer survivor Solita Johnson-Davis with her husband, Josh, and daughter Hadley

Solita Johnson-Davis was reeling as she got off the phone.

The oncologist had bluntly informed the 27-year-old Little Rock realtor that she had cervical cancer.

“I was in such a state I was dizzy. I went to my mom and said, ‘I need a second opinion.’ I wanted a doctor I could easily talk to.”

That’s when she called UAMS and Dr. Alexander “Sandy” Burnett. The gynecologic oncologist had recently become the first surgeon in Arkansas to use a robotic procedure called a trachelectomy to remove a patient’s cancerous cervix through small incisions in her abdomen while preserving her ability to have children. Could he help her?

As a young adult, Johnson-Davis was punctual in getting her annual Pap smear. Her grandmother had died from cervical cancer when her mother was just 10 years old. Johnson-Davis’ tests had always been fine until the spring of 2007 when it showed abnormal cells on her cervix.

She underwent a colposcopy, a procedure that uses an instrument with a magnifying lens and a light to examine the cervix, and a biopsy. Afterward, the doctor’s office called her to come in immediately.

“My stomach was in knots. I had no idea what they were going to tell me,” said Johnson-Davis.

Her gynecologist sent her to see the oncologist, who performed a procedure to remove the abnormal cells. After receiving the startling cancer diagnosis by phone, she went for her next appointment and was told, “You’ll never have kids. You need a full hysterectomy.”

Something rose up in her. She thought, “You’re not going to decide my future. I’m going to decide it.”

After she turned to UAMS, Burnett studied her file and repeated the colposcopy. The cancer had grown. Burnett recommended she undergo the trachelectomy.

But before she could be scheduled for surgery, she discovered she was pregnant. Surgery would have to wait. Since going into labor could disturb the cancer, Burnett scheduled a C-section two weeks before her due date.

A perfectly healthy Hadley Davis was born July 31, 2008. On Nov. 21, 2008, Burnett performed a robotic radical trachelectomy, removing the cervix and five lymph nodes. The cancer was finally gone.

“I just can’t thank Dr. Burnett enough. Had I not found him, I’d have a huge void in my life. I think I would have a little bit of a broken spirit.”

The new procedure allows a woman to have more children, though Johnson-Davis is not sure she will choose to due to the high risks. “Dr. Burnett is so positive. He said, ‘Give that baby some brothers and sisters. If you want to have another one, I feel confident that you can.'”

These days she is back working full time. She is grateful to her husband, Josh Davis, who with their parents helped care for her and the baby during her weeks-long recovery.

“We have such strong faith in my family. That’s the only thing probably that kept all of us from breaking down,” she said. “I tried to just hold positive and be so grateful that yeah, I’m going through this, but look at this blessing that I’m holding.”