Katina Herring was not going to let breast cancer define her, so she earned her master’s degree while going through her breast cancer journey.
“I needed to make sure that I had a plan to live, and that included getting my MBA because why would I get that unless I plan on living?” Herring said. “At this point, I plan on living forever because I have been through so much.”
Herring decided to see UTMB Health’s Dr. Julie Park, plastic surgeon, professor and the director of breast reconstruction; and Dr. Colleen Silva, professor with the Department of Surgery and the medical director of breast health services at UTMB Health.
“I was told by several physicians, ‘You will only receive the care that you need from those doctors,’” Herring said. “It’s the best thing that anyone could have told me.”
Park, one of the doctors who treated Herring for cancer, specializes in microsurgery, which just like it sounds, is a surgical technique that involves observing small structures like blood vessels and nerves through a compound microscope when operating with special miniaturized instruments.
“What makes UTMB special is that we offer multidisciplinary care, meaning that we are coordinating between all the different fields that a woman might need as she goes through her cancer journey,” Park said.
A member of the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, UTMB’s Breast Center provides women with the best possible care during their cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“Maybe it starts with the mammogram being unusual, and she might need a biopsy,” Park said. “We have breast imaging, which is a radiologist who specializes in just imaging and diagnosing things for the breast. Then there is a patient coordinator who helps get people in if they have to have a follow-up with different images or a biopsy.”
As soon as a patient gets a positive result, she then receives a referral to the surgical oncologists at UTMB Health.
“You consult with them, and they look through everything from imaging to pathology and come up with a care plan,” Park said. “We have something called a Breast Cancer Tumor Board, meaning those cases are presented to the whole team. The patient’s specifics are discussed, and a plan is devised with everyone having input and all that coordinating is done for them.”
UTMB’s method helps patients navigate their care journey.
“Breast cancer can be very stressful,” Park said. “To have somebody that knows how to navigate the system that is on your side and helping you is really important.”
Park and Silva took the time to get to know Herring.
“I wasn’t just a number, and I never felt like I was just another person with cancer,” Herring said. “They came in and took the time to listen to me. They let me tell them what I wanted, what they thought was best for me, and at times we agreed to disagree.”
When patients become cancer-free, they ring a bell to mark this milestone. Herring got to ring the bell in November 2021.
“Dr. Park always made the situation that I was dealing with better,” Herring said. “She always came in and talked to me and held my hand. After every surgery, she herself would come and check on me. She treated me like a person, and we became friends. That’s the kind of person she is, and she gives her all to her patients.”
Park’s patients are amazing women despite their difficult circumstances.
“I feel very privileged to work with cancer patients because when I meet a patient, I tell them that everybody else on the team is doing something to save their life,” Park said. “I am not going to save your life—my job is to improve your quality of life. For every single person, that is going to mean something different.”
Through her work as a plastic surgeon, Park has had some patients who think they need to be disfigured to live, but she shows them otherwise.
“My colleagues are the ones who will tell [the patients] they have an excellent prognosis and these are the things you can do, you will be living until your 80s,” she said. “I am the one who can say, ‘These are our options for reconstruction, and these are the things that we can do.’ Sometimes we can even make the breasts that a woman has always wanted, not necessarily the ones that she has had. My job is to make you not feel disfigured. My job is to help you integrate back into your life.”
As a result of the exceptional care patients receive at UTMB Health, families can be confident they are receiving the highest level of breast health care.
For more information about breast health at UTMB Health, visit utmbhealth.com/breasthealth.
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