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Recipe for Recovery: Meeting the Nutritional Needs of Cancer Patients

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Houma native Dominique Schexnayder is a mother of three, a chef and certified sommelier, and a restaurant proprietor. Now she’s also a breast cancer survivor, thanks to the team at Terrebonne General | Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center.

When she was nine months pregnant with the last of her three children, Dominique Schexnayder discovered a lump in her breast. At the time, she assumed it was a swollen milk duct; but when the lump was still there after nursing her daughter for six months, Dominique decided to go in for a mammogram. On October 1, 2021, doctors found two tumors, as well as an axillary node, or a lymph node in her underarm. Following the mammogram, doctors took biopsies of the tumors and node; all came back positive. 

Over the next sixteen weeks, Dominique received eight rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a single mastectomy surgery with an axillary lymph node removal in early 2022.

Dominique helms two restaurants located in downtown Houma—Dominique’s Bistro (formerly Dominique’s Cafe) and Cuvee Bistro—along with Boutique Dominique, a gourmet food and wine shop she opened last July. In addition to overseeing daily operations for the three small businesses, Dominique also offers catering and custom cakes, hosts private events, and curates monthly multi-course wine dinners. If it sounds like a lot for one person—not to mention someone fighting breast cancer—you’d be right. But the mother of three says she couldn’t have done any of it without a strong support system, both at work and at home.

“My family has a genetic mutation of the BRCA gene, which gives us a much higher chance of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer,” Dominique says. Her older sister, Abbie, was also diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. “She has been my biggest supporter through all of this, walking with me every step of the way.”

After her diagnosis, Dominique could no longer eat the same foods; luckily, the Cancer Center assigned her a clinical dietitian, Allison Cazenave, RDN, LDN, to help guide her through her treatment with nutrition support every step of the way. Cazenave is one of eight board-certified specialists in oncology nutrition in the state, and the only one in the Houma-Thibodaux area with this certification.

“My job is to make recommendations that address the side effects of cancer treatment and to provide maximum nutrition for each patient based on their type of cancer,” Cazenave says. “My patients are the reason I enjoy going to work every day.”

“Allison was very supportive in encouraging me to make healthy choices when I could to build up my immune system, but to not focus on what I was eating so much as that I was actually eating,” Dominique said.

Growing up, Dominique says, food was a huge part of her life. “My great-grandfather had a huge garden that he tended to until he was ninety-two years old!” she says with a laugh. “My mom had a catering company and a cooking show on our local television station. I was always surrounded by the best food.”

Amid the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Dominique created the Feeding the Bayou initiative to support the Bayou Region’s frontline workers at area hospitals using donations from the community, keeping local restaurants afloat in the process. She advocated for her community when it mattered most—so when she found herself in the reverse position, her neighbors were there to return the gesture. “When you think your life has flipped upside down,” Dominique says, “everyone rallies together to flip you back right side up.”

Dominique recently finished treatment. In September, she will undergo surgery again to have a prophylactic mastectomy of the other breast, removal of the radiated implant, and reconstruction of both breasts.

At Terrebonne General | Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, you can look to the strength from within to fight cancer. We provide comprehensive cancer services right here in the Bayou Region to meet each patient’s individual needs. Through advanced technology, programs and services, and decades of experience in treating cancer, we work in collaboration with every patient to help them beat their disease. To learn more, visit marybird.org/houma.

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