Don’t Survive… Thrive

Published: October 19, 2015

By Helen A. Pass, MD, FACS, Co-Director, Breast Center, Chief of Breast Surgery


With Breast Cancer Awareness month in full swing, it is important to keep in mind how many people are living –and thriving- after the diagnosis of breast cancer. The pink ribbons that come out in October remind us that there are more than 3.1 million women who have beaten breast cancer!

The bad news? It’s estimated that more than half of the women who have beaten the disease, are left with a physical or psychological impairment as a result of their treatment. These issues clearly take a toll and affect quality of life.

At Stamford Hospital, our entire team is committed to treating not just the cancer, but the whole person so that we can try to prevent those impairments. Our goal is to make the patient wholly better, rather than to just accept the new normal.

Caring for the whole person is a Planetree philosophy, embraced by Stamford Hospital, which starts even before the diagnosis of breast cancer is made. We recognize that one of the most anxious times for a patient is the time period from the moment a problem is identified (either a physical symptom/finding, or an abnormality on an imaging study) until a diagnosis is made. For this reason, imaging results are given the same day for patients seen during regular business hours. If additional mammograms or an ultrasound is needed, they can usually be completed at the same visit. We have a dedicated nurse navigator in breast imaging. She meets with patients as soon as an issue is identified. Her goal is to facilitate the work up so that the patient can get an answer as fast as possible. For patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer, an appointment with a fellowship trained breast surgeon is usually available in one to two business days. We understand that if it were a family member with a similar problem, we would want answers as soon as possible. That is why we try to treat every patient as if it were Mom!

Another way that we tend to body and mind, and that we ensure that all of the patient’s and their family’s needs are met, is through our collaboration with the physicians in Integrative Medicine. They teach guided imagery to patients (and their families) prior to surgery to help alleviate stress. They offer acupuncture, Reiki, meditation, craniosacral therapy, yoga, tai chi, massage therapy, reflexology, art and music therapy, as well as nutritional education. Additionally, individual and group counseling is available.

As a Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation (STAR) certified program, our patients benefit from the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of clinicians who have undergone additional training to identify and treat therapy related sequelae, or a condition resulting from a previous disease or injury. Patients who have completed chemotherapy meet one-on-one with oncology certified personal trainers to begin a guided exercise program. Assessments of physical and emotional well-being are performed routinely and for years to ensure that any abnormality is promptly recognized and personalized interventions instituted.

Breast cancer cannot be prevented. Our goals are to ensure that patients are detected early, and treated kindly and respectfully with the most advanced surgical and medical therapies, so that they do not have to adjust to a new normal, but can resume all of their previous activities. We do not want out patients to just survive. We want them to thrive!

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