Breast Cancer Surgery (2009)
I'm An Oncologist With a Mastectomy: Now, How Can I Help You?
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When people ask what I do for a living, I say I'm a Radiation Oncologist (that’s a cancer physician who treats patients with high energy x-rays both to cure and palliate cancers.) However, I've learned early on in my career that we are often so much more--both personally and professionally--than our job titles, and that it often takes a change in perspective to bring the other parts of ourselves into sharp focus. Necessity, as they say, is so often the mother of invention.
In my last year of medical school at Johns Hopkins in 1993, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in women’s health. When my mother developed breast cancer, I became determined to help women in the same predicament. I completed a residency in Radiation Oncology and also received a Master’s Degree in Public Health.
I worked part-time as a Radiation Oncologist while raising our 4 children and also taught medical terminology at night school. That’s when I realized how much I enjoyed explaining concepts to people, seeing that “ah-ha” moment. I realized that both in my medical practice as well as with my children and my students, explaining things clearly always made people feel better, more in control.
In 2006--after years of breast surveillance, biopsies, and endless consultations with genetic counselors due to my family history--my perspective once again changed when I underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. The experience of recovering from this surgery and the interactions with my physicians led me to begin working in the reconstructive surgery field, helping other women with the difficult decision-making process and recovery from breast surgery. I made lists and “tip sheets” for my patients so that they would be prepared and ready for the surgery and recovery. This original tip sheet has blossomed into a real business in improving patient experience. What I could not find for my patients--post-mastectomy bras, for example--I set out to manufacture myself.
What I really find rewarding and exciting, however, is explaining confusing medical terms, conditions, and diseases, as well as helping people prepare for surgery and recovery. It’s along the lines of “what to expect” when facing a diagnosis and treatment. I continue to work as a Radiation Oncologist, as my patients are my inspiration for new ideas and new topics to discuss, and I am incredibly lucky to work with a gifted team at BFFL Co., the company I founded in the wake of my mastectomy, but I have to say I'm so pleased to have been given this new platform at everydayhealth.com, where I can answer your questions directly. Seriously, no question about women's health--whether it be about diagnosis, treatment or reconstructive surgery on the cancer front, or about anything else going on in your body--is too silly for you to ask or for me to answer. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments section. Who knows? Maybe one of your questions will spark my next column.
Video: Dr. Shelley Hwang on choosing a double mastectomy
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