Meet the Oncologist: Breast Cancer
I’ve been an oncologist specializing in breast cancer for almost a decade now, and I find it rewarding to work with patients. As I follow my patients over the years, I am grateful to have the opportunity to watch them go through various stages of their lives. A few weekends ago, I went to one of my patient’s weddings and it was a very emotional experience. I have witnessed some of my patients get pregant and have healthy and happy babies. These are just some of the times when we, as clinical providers, feel like we’ve really made a difference in somebody’s life.
When I was young, several of my loved ones passed away from cancer, so being a cancer doctor was always in the back of my mind. When I went into medicine, I explored all kinds of opportunities and ended up being drawn to internal medicine. In my fourth year of medical school, I got to know a breast cancer oncologist and surgeon, and I felt very inspired by them. That led me to consider focusing on medical oncology as a specialty. During my training, I was fortunate to have a really prolific breast cancer oncologist as my mentor. I got to witness the unique relationship he’d developed with his patients. Breast cancer patients today often live for a long time, so you get the opportunity to truly get to know someone. Eventually, I knew I wanted to specialize in breast cancer and develop strong, long-lasting relationships with my patients.
It’s a very interesting time to be treating breast cancer. There have been tremendous strides in how we care for patients in the last several years. We’ve seen amazing developments, particularly with metastatic breast cancer, in which the cancer spreads to other parts of the body. There are new drugs that target specific types of breast cancer and now patients can get more effective and targeted treatment, with fewer side effects. The goal of these treatments is to ultimately help patients with metastatic breast cancer live longer, fuller lives. And there are more exciting therapies coming down the pipeline. There’s so much interesting novel research being done for various types of breast cancer, and we’re making great advances in being able to offer more treatments for those patients.
It’s incredibly important to find a physician you can have an open, trusting relationship with. Look for somebody you feel you can be honest with, and that needs to go both ways. It should be a therapeutic relationship; one where you feel you’re getting lots of information, but you can give a lot of information to your doctor as well. One of the reasons I went into breast cancer is that there are a lot of data and research, and patients are informed and ask a lot of thoughtful questions. With your breast oncologist, it’s important to feel like you can ask research questions, email new articles you’ve found, and have your doctor respond well to your concerns about what you’re learning. I like to joke with patients that we’re in a long-term relationship. Even if they have early stage breast cancer and they’re only coming in every six months, we’ll check in with each other throughout the years. So that’s why it’s really important to find an oncologist you trust and who trusts you as well. Given the importance of this relationship, it is crucial you choose the right provider for you.