Tennis pro with breast cancer stays active with Ascension on her team | Ascension

Tennis pro with breast cancer stays active with Ascension on her team

When Phillis Stephens was diagnosed with breast cancer, her friends told her she should go to a specialized cancer center. Instead, Stephens chose to get her care close to home with Ascension Sacred Heart.

She says having this level of breast cancer treatment in her community is something she is proud of. It has allowed her to continue to be there for her family including her two grandchildren she drops off at school daily. 

“I am at home, I don’t need to go anywhere else,” said Stephens. “I feel like I have the best team right here.” 

Stephens says she was getting ready for an appointment with Dr. Anne Piantanida-Whitlock, OB-GYN with Ascension Sacred Heart. Dr. Piantanida-Whitlock ordered a mammogram and blood work before the scheduled visit. Stephens went in for her mammogram at Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast Women’s Diagnostic Center and they immediately got her scheduled for an ultrasound. 

After that, Dr. Piantanida-Whitlock quickly signed off on the biopsies that were needed. Then at 7:45 in the morning a week and half before her appointment, she got a call to come into the office. She said at that point she kind of knew she had breast cancer. 

“They could have waited but they didn’t,” said Stephens. “They figured out a way to get me in earlier.” 

Stephens said not waiting long to get the appointments and services she needed is one of the many things that surprised her, in a good way. She gives a lot of credit for coordinating her care to her breast navigators, Nishita Patel and Danielle Snoodgrass. She also spoke about the compassion, information and “hands on” care she continues to receive.

“I kind of sit and watch,” said Stephens. “They’re like that with everybody from what I can see.” 

Dr. Mose Hayes is Stephens medical oncologist. Dr. Hayes promptly set-up all the testing and diagnostic imaging that would be needed for Stephens to have breast surgery with Dr. Jonathan Smith at Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast. Stephens said she felt comfortable with Dr. Smith, she was impressed by the entire team and they continued to check on after her surgery. 

Through the teamwork of Ascension Sacred Heart care teams, Stephens said there is a lot of discussion and problem solving that takes place for patients. One example connected the infusion team at Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast with Dr. Hayes. Together, they found a solution that allowed her to continue to receive her chemo treatment through an IV to avoid additional procedures. 

Before her diagnosis, Stephens was a tennis pro teaching students 10 to 12 hours per day. She says she is learning her limits and the whole experience has been very humbling. She continues to walk for exercise and uses her sense of humor to avoid getting depressed. She says not only do Ascension Sacred Heart care teams treat you physically, they look at your full picture of your health.

“They asked me what’s going on in your life so we know how to help you — mentally, physically and emotionally and that’s what I loved about them,” said Stephens. “They wanted me to be in the best place to get through this.”

Stephens hopes to be able to complete her chemo treatments in mid-October. It will be an emotional day for her, her family and her care teams. She and her sister-in-law, who battled breast cancer 11 years ago, will be ringing the bell together. 

After that, Stephens will undergo radiation treatments and will continue to receive care from Dr. Hayes. She says although it may be some time before she gets back to tennis, she is looking forward to the day when she can play pickleball as she works to rebuild her strength for the game she loves. 


  • If you would like to learn more about the cancer services available at Ascension Sacred Heart, please click here
  • To view a list of cancer care center in the Pensacola & Destin areas in Florida, please click here.
  • To view a list of Ascension mammography locations in the Pensacola & Destin areas, please click here.
  • If you would like to speak to an Ascension Cancer Care Patient Navigator, please call 850-416-2398.