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Breast Cancer Then & Now

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Dr. Eric Gamboa is an oncologist & hematologist at Columbia Basin Hematology & Oncology.

My mother is a survivor twice over.  She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993.  It was a stressful, scary time for my family.  We had very little understanding of what cancer was, of what to expect, how to cope.

It was an entirely different era in cancer care.  Chemotherapy was brutal in those days, and there wasn't much in the way of supportive care.  My mom was suffering, and we were fumbling in the dark.

But treatment was successful, my mom's cancer went into remission, and I decided to go into medicine.

It wasn't any less stressful or scary the second time my mom battled breast cancer, but I was better prepared.

In 2003, I was finishing medical school, and I understood much more about this disease and its treatment.  I spoke with my mom's oncologist, and I had a clearer understanding of what was happening and what to expect.

And again, after successful treatment, my mom's cancer went into remission.

I approach my work with my mom in mind.  I have been a confused and scared son to a mother fighting breast cancer.  I have also been a well-informed and scared son to a mother fighting breast cancer.  The concerns that come with this disease aren't just medical-they are also personal and emotional.  I try to address both sets of concerns with compassion and empathy.

It is always a huge relief when treatment is successful, but the period of time after remission also brings challenges.

We don't stop caring for our patients after their treatment is over.  For each patient, we put in place a survivorship care plan, a record of where we've been with this disease and a plan for where we may go in the future.  These plans contain the patient's medical history, and address long-term health concerns.

Losing a breast is a terribly painful experience, and it's often difficult for patients to relearn their own bodies.  And even for patients who don't have to deal with this particular loss, the experience has a lasting effect.  Chemotherapy can have a huge impact on fertility, for example.  This can be devastating for any woman, and it's something we try hard to work through.

We closely monitor our patients, and counsel them in how to maintain health and wellness.  Diet, exercise, and weight management are among the most important considerations for breast cancer patients after treatment, and we incorporate this into survivorship care plans.  We recommend Vitamin D, and advise regular mammograms, follow-up visits, and genetic screening for certain cancers.

I do all I can to ease the experience for my patients, and to make sure I never leave anyone fumbling in the dark.  With my mom in mind, I try to remember that I don't treat diseases-I treat people.  A patient once wrote to me, "Thank you for taking care of my wellness, and not just my illness."  This has become my mantra.  I take care of wellness, and I love what I do.

The OctNov issue of MOM Magazine is here

The October/November 2013 issue of MOM Magazine is out in the Tri-Cities! Read these stories and much more:

 

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