Dr. Elizabeth Brady has been a breast surgeon for over 20 years and joined the Baystate Health team two years ago. She started as a general surgeon in the Navy and saw a void of women in health care. “Back in the early 90s, there weren’t a lot of women surgeons so many women came to me with their breast issues because they wanted to see a female. It took on a life of its own. It got bigger and bigger and pretty soon I was only doing breast surgery and I love it,” Dr. Brady shares.
"10 women with breast cancer have 10 different diseases"
Dr. Brady thinks a lot about her approach when working with women and men who have breast cancer. She speaks with a positive tone while getting to the patient’s unique concerns. “As surgeons, we see patients who are recently diagnosed. For us it is about cure. So we say to them ‘okay we have work to do, but we can tackle this problem.’ The second thing I say is ‘10 women with breast cancer have 10 different diseases. If you hear someone that had a bad experience or died, that is not you. You will have your own experience.’ I let them know that it is going to be a process and everyone’s process is different.”
Dr. Brady notes that another important part of the care is the patient's support system. “It is not just about the patient. They come in with family and often the patient’s biggest concern is their spouse, or child, or job, or finances.”
Dr. Brady shared her first three top priorities when meeting with a patient for the first time.
- Get a feeling for what their disease is.
- Provide reassurance we can treat it.
- Get an understanding of their greatest concerns and greatest needs.
EVERY CAREGIVER PLAYS AN IMPORTANT ROLE
When it comes to breast cancer, Dr. Brady stresses the importance of teamwork and the vital role every caregiver plays. From breast imaging radiologists, to breast pathologists, medical oncology, radiation oncology, plastic surgery, physical therapy, social workers, surgical schedulers, anesthesia, the ripple affect goes on.
Dr. Brady shared, “There was a study done at Baystate Medical Center, and it showed that when a surgery patient came in, they were touched by 50 different people from start to end. That is huge.
As a surgeon, we can’t do it alone. It is all about the team.”
GOING ABOVE AND BEYOND
Dr. Brady works to inspire others to go above and beyond the expectations of patients. Even the simplest of kind acts – like getting them a coffee – go a long way.
“I am not any different from any other surgeon who can remove a lump. What I really want to do is make them leave with hope and assurance and be able to see them smile.” She goes on to share, “I usually will give my patients my cell phone number. I say ‘look, if it is 3 in the morning and you can’t sleep because of some question that won’t go away, call me. I will typically know the answer and can fall back asleep. I am here to reassure you.’ It is all comes down to reassuring their needs.”
"I want to be forgotten"
“Before the surgery starts, I always thank whoever brought my patient into the hospital for their support. Their role is really important. I talk with the patient for an hour or more so they have a clear understanding of everything,” Dr. Brady said.
Once she steps in the OR, she has two concerns.
“My biggest concern is doing the best operation I can to guarantee that they will be cured. The second is their incision. I tell my patients they won’t have a dimple or a divot. They tell me they don’t care. But I reassure them, ‘when you are done with this and it is behind you, I don’t want you thinking about me every day you get dressed.’ I determine that in the operating room. I want to be forgotten about.”
THE REWARD IS IN THE RELATIONSHIP
“The most rewarding part is when you see a patient and they give you a hug. That is really cool. Even the patients that come in that are stage 4 that are dying from breast cancer. There is nothing I can offer them surgically but what I can do is talk to them. It is hard because I can’t fix it but it also rewarding to know we have a relationship and I still can provide something. To be able to see them as people, they appreciate that.”
Learn more about breast care and wellness.