Working with breast cancer patients can be a challenge. Because while some are coming to us for the very first time for their treatment, others have already received treatment — including one or more surgeries — elsewhere.
That means they may already be dealing with pain, scarring or other side effects, all of which we need to take into account before deciding on a plan of action. That’s why, at MD Anderson, we tailor our treatment to the needs of every patient — because each one’s situation is unique.
My strategy for communicating with patients
The key to working with patients effectively is not to overwhelm them. It’s important to discuss both their expectations and our expectations early on, so we can meet as many of those as we can. Ideally, this will happen through multiple conversations over time. Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming — both for our patients and their families — and it’s hard to take in everything all at once.
Having multiple conversations about care, treatment and recovery is also important because when you’re a cancer patient at MD Anderson, you aren’t just meeting with one doctor to discuss your disease or treatment plans. You’re meeting with a surgical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a plastic surgeon and many other specialists who will play key roles in your treatment and recovery. And as healing evolves, so must our plans.
Innovation is the key to plastic surgery, and we have so many different tools we can use now that were not available 10 or even five years ago. Today, for instance, advanced microsurgical techniques enable us to use a patient’s own tissue to reconstruct a breast. And the more we do these surgeries, the safer and more effective they become.
The best part of my job as a plastic surgeon
It’s so wonderful to have patients return to see me, and to hear that years after they completed treatment, they’re doing all of the things they used to do before a breast cancer diagnosis. When they look good in (and out of) clothing, feel confident and are not limited in their activities in any way, I consider that a successful reconstruction.
Not every patient needs or is a good candidate for reconstructive surgery, but every patient deserves to have that conversation, and I love that I can provide that for them. It’s what brings me to work every day. And there is no other job in the world that would allow me to do what I do daily at MD Anderson.
To have a patient wake up from surgery, look down and see a new breast in place of the cancerous one, then look back at me and smile — that is an incredible feeling. And hearing a patient say “thank you” makes it all worthwhile.
David M. Adelman, M.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor in Plastic Surgery.
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