Female Cancer Doctors Share Insights on Breast Cancer Diagnosis, How Friends who Died from the Disease Impacted Them

As women and cancer care providers, Dr. Nelida Sjak-Shie, oncologist and hematologist, and Dr. Editha Krueger, a radiation oncologist, have a unique perspective when helping patients with breast cancer.

They offered insights on how they help and encourage a recently diagnosed breast cancer patient and their family keep their spirits up.

“I remind them that treatments are so much more effective and safe these days,” Dr. Krueger said. “Prognosis is generally very good. They should be able to live a full and active life after treatment.”

 “I try to focus on the positive,” said. Dr. Sjak-Shie “If a patient can be cured, I focus on how we’ve made improvements in our supportive care, especially if she knew someone who did not do so well with chemotherapy. I say ‘It takes a village’ and point out the multiple layers of support we have ranging, from oncology nurses, financial advisors, genetic and behavior health counselors, infusion oncology nurses, oncology pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, medical assistants, social workers, nurse and social worker navigators to make sure patients and their families are supported on their journey. 

“When the cancer is incurable, I focus on advances that allow us to keep patients alive at much better quality of life for longer,” she added. “Many have a faith system and I encourage them to rely on this higher power. For those who do not, I point more towards the advances in science/technology and note that close to 90 percent of all medical breakthroughs have been made in oncology.”

Both doctors have been impacted by women in their lives who died from breast cancer.

“This year I lost a close friend to breast cancer,” said Dr. Sjak-Shie. “Since my immediate family is overseas, she was a second mom to me. I learned from her that you should be humble and allow your friends and family to show you how much they care by allowing them to help you. For some of us it is easier to be the caregiver daily, and hard to except help. I also learned that you can love somebody so much that you worry about her, her husband and friends for many years. I learned that even though 23 years is a fairly long time to live with breast cancer it still feels just not long enough.”

“One of my good friends died from breast cancer a few years ago,” Dr. Krueger added. “She was my age with young children too. After that, I don't look at patients as subjects anymore. In a very sobering way, I was taught that patients are people with families, hopes, dreams, emotions, etc. It is a huge responsibility to be a part of their cancer care.”