Katina Herring wasn’t going to let breast cancer define her, so she earned her master’s degree while going through her breast cancer journey.
“I had to make sure I had a plan for life, and that included getting an MBA, because why would I get one unless I planned to live?” Herring said, “At this point, I plan to live forever because I’ve been through so much. “
Herring decided to see UTMB Health’s Dr. Julie Park, plastic surgeon, professor and director of breast reconstruction; and Dr. Colleen Silva, professor in the department of surgery and medical director of breast health services at UTMB Health.
“I’ve had several doctors tell me, ‘You’re only going to get the care you need from these doctors,'” Herring said. “That’s the best thing anyone could have said to me.”
Park, one of the doctors who treated Herring for cancer, specializes in microsurgery, which, as it sounds, is a surgical technique that involves viewing small structures such as blood vessels and nerves through a sophisticated microscope using special miniature instruments.
“What makes UTMB special is that we offer multidisciplinary care, which means we coordinate all the different areas that a woman may need as she goes through her cancer journey,” Park said.
A member of the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, the UTMB Breast Center provides women with the best possible care during cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“Maybe it starts with the mammogram being abnormal and she may need a biopsy,” Park said. “We have breast imaging, which is a radiologist who only specializes in imaging and diagnosing things about the breast. Then there’s a patient coordinator who helps people get involved if they need to have a follow-up with different imaging or a biopsy.
As soon as a patient tests positive, she is referred to surgical oncologists at UTMB Health.
“You consult with them and they review everything from imaging to pathology and come up with a plan of care,” Park said. “We have something called the Breast Cancer Tumor Board, which means these cases are presented to the whole team. The specifics of the patient are discussed and a plan is made, with everyone having input and all that coordination being done for them.”
The UTMB method helps patients navigate their care journey.
“Breast cancer can be very stressful,” Park said. “It’s really important to have someone who knows how to navigate the system, who is on your side and helping you.”
Park and Silva took time to get to know Herring.
“I wasn’t just a number and I never felt like 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 I thought was best for me, and sometimes we agreed to disagree.”
When patients get rid of cancer, they ring a bell to mark this milestone. Herring was due to ring the bell in November 2021.
“Dr. Park always made the situation I was dealing with better,” Herring said. “She would always come in and talk to me and hold my hand. After each operation, she herself came and checked on me. He treated me like a person and we became friends. That’s the kind of person she is and 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 everyone else on the team is doing something to save their life,” Park said. “I’m not going to save your life – my job is to improve your quality of life. It will mean something different to each person.”
Through her work as a plastic surgeon, Park has had patients who thought they needed to be disfigured to live, but she shows them otherwise.
“My colleagues are the ones who will say [the patients] they have an excellent prognosis, and these are the things you can do, you’re going to live into your 80s,” she said. “I’m the one who can say, ‘These are our options for reconstruction, and these are the things, which we can do.’ Sometimes we can even make the breasts a woman always wanted, not necessarily the ones she had. My job is not to make you feel disfigured. My job is to help you reintegrate 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 on breast health at UTMB Health, visit utmbhealth.com/breasthealth.
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