What comes to mind when you think of a breast cancer diagnosis? For many, fear, anxiety, and dread are the first thoughts. However, when patients cared for by surgical oncologist Gerlinde Tynan, MD receive a breast cancer diagnosis, they leave her office with a sense of hope. How can this be?
Delivering hope along with a breast cancer diagnosis
When delivering a breast cancer diagnosis, Dr. Tynan tells her patients, “This diagnosis doesn’t define you.” And in a vast majority of cases she can also say, “What you have is quite treatable.”
Advances in breast cancer screening mean the disease is usually caught early and the latest technology allows for highly targeted treatment. “This means we do less and less big surgeries, take out fewer lymph nodes, and do less chemotherapy,” said Dr. Tynan.
Explaining current breast cancer treatments and surgery goes a long way to alleviating patient fears. Advanced imaging gives doctors more information than ever about tumors, allowing for highly individualized treatment programs. Surgical options are more sophisticated now. With the old ways, surgery would leave breasts deformed. With new methods, there is less scarring, nipples are spared, and both breasts are made symmetrical. In some cases, the removal of cancerous tumors is paired with breast reduction surgery. Typically, insurance covers the reduction because it’s not for cosmetic reasons; it’s to make the breasts symmetrical.
Patients also need to know their breast cancer isn’t the same as their mom’s or their neighbor’s. “We put it into context that their case is very personal,” Dr Tynan explained.
“I help patients come to terms with their diagnosis,” Dr. Tynan said, “They want to know, ‘How it possible that I have cancer?’ and ‘Am I going to die?’ 90% of the time breast cancer is not life-ending. There must be good things about tumor, like it’s less aggressive, it’s small, or there are no lymph nodes involved.” In most cases, Dr. Tynan can reassure her patients that the outcome will most likely be positive.
Providing gold standard care
One of the things that makes Dr. Tynan’s care stand out is her multidisciplinary approach that is usually only used at academic institutions.
At the first visit, patients meet with Dr. Tynan and her colleague, Sara Robinson, MD, a medical oncologist. Both doctors share the implications of what the images show, the prognosis, and answer the patient’s questions.
Plus, every patient’s case is reviewed twice a month by a team that includes Dr. Tynan, Dr. Robinson, a radiation oncologist, a genetic risk specialist, and a nurse navigator. Patients benefit from having more eyes looking at their case, and the team approach “keeps us on our toes,” Dr. Tynan says. Each member stays up-to-date in their area of breast cancer treatment which changes all the time as research validates new practices and technology.
In addition to medical care, Dr. Tynan’s patients are looked after on an emotional level.
“We create a kind of cocoon for our patients,” Dr. Tynan said. “Our nurse navigator is half social worker, half oncology nurse, and half a shoulder to cry on,” Dr. Tynan said. Yes, three halves add up to more than one, but that extra half shows just how much compassionate care patients get. “If we see that a patient was due to have an MRI and it hasn’t been done, we call.” Often, the patient is scared; the team provides a hand to hold on to give them the courage and strength they need to move forward.
Plus, the nurse navigator takes notes at every visit and patients leave with a transcript. This written record removes the pressure of trying to both understand and remember everything the Dr. Tynan says.
Did covid cause you to delay your mammogram?
When the pandemic hit, medical facilities were closed down or limited services which didn’t allow women to get their regular breast cancer screenings. “We’re seeing more patients in the later stages of cancer because of delayed screenings,” said Dr. Tynan. She encourages women who missed their mammogram because of Covid to get back to screening. The sooner the better because the sooner breast cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.
Learn more about Dr. Tynan and her gold standard breast cancer care and office locations.