Cancer is currently the second leading cause of death in the US, but with the number of incidences rising each year, it is projected that this devastating disease will claim the #1 spot over heart disease within the next decade. According to the National Cancer Institute, 1.73M new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the US in 2018. But as these numbers grow, so does the awareness around this disease itself and the variety of treatment options available to patients. At Long Island Plastic Surgical Group’s Eighth Annual Breast Cancer Summit, held last week in East Meadow, New York, Cancer survivors, current patients, and doctors gathered together in solidarity for Breast Cancer awareness month. The day was inspiring and educational for all who attended, demonstrating that although a cancer diagnosis can be devastating, there is hope.
The first guest speaker was Dr. Pankaj Kumar Singhal, the chief of gynecologic oncology for Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center and the chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology/women’s health initiatives for Catholic Health Services. He provided the audience with an eye-opening look at the statistics of cancer in the United States. With case studies and facts, Dr. Singhal brought a stunned hush across the room. Dr. Singhal planted the seed that even if you’re a young woman with no family history, it’s still important to be aware of the signs your body is telling you. The most shocking statistic of the day came from his presentation. In the United States, 1 of every 2 men and 1 of every three women will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Awareness, proactivity, and support are critical in a country where half of the men and one-third of women will fight cancer.
As the day continued, we heard from Christine Brennan, the Director of Programs at Cancer and Careers. She gave insight on living with cancer and dealing with a career simultaneously. For many survivors and patients, being diagnosed with cancer results in anxiety over disclosure to employers. Although it is always their personal decision, Ms. Brennan gave tips and coping mechanisms for navigating this tricky part of a diagnosis. In addition, we heard from Outpatient Oncology Dietician, Gina DeLuca about the optimal nutrition for breast health in cancer care. She debunked the myth that sugar causes cancer, but enlightened the audience on what the body needs throughout treatment. During the questions portion of her presentation, multiple cancer survivors and patients told Gina their current food consumption habits. They inferred about food like flax seeds and wheatgrass, asking Gina for advice.
After a short break to visit the multiple vendors, we listened to a panel of our physicians at Long Island Plastic Surgical Group talk about the medical portion of breast cancer and breast reconstruction. These doctors, including Dr. Barry Douglas, Dr. Matthew Kilgo, Dr. Noel Natoli, and Dr. Michael Dobryansky gave insight into the progressive technology of breast reconstruction post recovery. They have begun implementing new parts to the procedure in order to give the breast a more natural look by using the patient’s own fatty tissue from their stomach, outer thigh, or buttock and inserting it around the implant for a more “natural” look. ALCL or anaplastic large cell lymphoma was also discussed, as it is a rare yet treatable diagnosis if caught early.
For many attendees, the most moving speakers of the day were cancer survivors Carol Nardi and Dee Dee Ricks. As a patient of Dr. Barry Douglas of Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, Carol told us her story of being diagnosed, receiving treatment, and her eventual recovery. After postponing her mammography due to years of healthy results, Carol was traveling back from Pennsylvania with a friend when they got into a car accident with full airbag inflation. As the driver, Carol suffered chest pain from airbag impact and was sent to receive standardized testing. This is when doctors found a spot on her breast. From there she underwent a breast cancer diagnosis, double mastectomy, and breast/nipple reconstruction over the course of two years. Only by irony and chance did she discover her breast cancer at the stage she did. Her strength and life-altering experience was a tearing jerking moment to hear; a moment that many in the room will not forget.
Dee Dee Ricks was the keynote speaker. She was the star of the HBO documentary, “The Education of Dee Dee Ricks” where she underwent treatment for breast cancer with a fellow patient whose circumstances were far less manageable than Dee Dee’s. Dee Dee led the room through her speech with inspirational quotes that she felt summed up her road to recovery and journey afterward.
Although the statistics around Cancer diagnoses in the US are staggering, the Breast Cancer Summit showed attendees that there are a multitude of cutting-edge treatment and recovery options that can help decrease the mortality rate. The number of survivors in the US is steadily growing – in 2016, there were an estimated 15.5M Cancer survivors in the US, and that number is expected to rise to 20.3M by 2026. So there is certainly hope for the patients affected by this disease, and their families. Community events like the 2018 Breast Cancer Summit can have an immeasurable effect on those who attend, bringing survivors, patients, doctors, and professionals together to learn about how we can overcome one of the leading causes of death.