“We offer world-class care, and you don’t have to leave your comfort zone to get it.”
That’s how Joy Greear, president of Novant Health Mint Hill Medical Center, describes the care offered for breast cancer patients at the hospital she oversees.
Dr. Kristina Shaffer, a board-certified and fellowship-trained breast surgical oncologist, joined the team last October, Greear said. “And she was the missing piece of the puzzle. With her addition to our program, we could offer a continuum of care for that patient population.”
Not only can a woman be treated for breast cancer – with the exception of radiation oncology – close to home, but she can be treated by women.
Shaffer joined Dr. Nikki Abinanti, a radiologist; oncologists Dr. Jennifer Dallas and Dr. Lilian Harris; and Dr. Dipti Patel, medical director for Novant Health Inpatient Care Specialists.
“We’ve got a female physician who oversees our breast imaging center,” Greear said. “We’ve got two female oncologists. Now, we have a female breast surgeon. And if the patient has to go into the hospital, our medical director there is a female. It’s all a coincidence, but how cool is that?”
At the same time, Greear is building a team of top-notch specialists who make it possible for Mint Hill residents to get medical care close to home. That’s what potential patients want, she said. “More and more people in suburbs and rural communities outside of a large city don’t want to go into the city,” she said. “Many of us stay mostly within a five-mile radius of home. Our grocery stores, churches, drug stores are all close by.”
Driving to Charlotte – with its traffic, inevitable construction zones and parking decks is “a lot to navigate, especially if you’re already dealing with something stressful like cancer,” Greear said. And while it’s about 12 miles from Mint Hill Medical Center to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, it can take from 30 minutes to over an hour to get there, depending on traffic and the weather.
“Now, women don’t have to leave Mint Hill for their mammograms,” Greear said. “If you do have an abnormal mammogram, now you can be diagnosed, have your biopsies and breast surgery here. You can also have chemo treatments here and stay close to home and your support system.”
“I was aware that women were coming here for their mammograms and then having to go somewhere else for surgery, if they needed it,” Greear continued. “So, when I heard that enough times, I felt like we needed to build this comprehensive service. Fortunately, Novant Health’s Cancer Institute agreed.”
Greear noted that cancer patients who need chemo often have to go to an infusion center multiple times in the same week – and sometimes for hours at a time. The infusion center in Mint Hill saves them literally hours. “And if they have a neighbor or church friend come sit with them during their infusion, it’s more convenient for that person, too,” Greear added. “We’re trying to allow people to stay in their home community as much as possible. It shows we value their time.”
Shaffer, who operates in Mint Hill and at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, has heard from some of her Mint Hill patients that they appreciate having a breast surgeon nearby. “I think it’s been a relief and a benefit,” she said. “We do have medical oncologists already treating breast cancer patients here and, until last year, they were having to refer them somewhere else for surgery. We’re making progress in offering comprehensive breast cancer care in Mint Hill.”
For Mint Hill residents, the Mint Hill hospital is “just easier to get to and less intimidating,” Shaffer said.
It’s all about providing a level of comfort for patients.
That’s something Shaffer does for the patient population that prefers a female surgeon. “It could be aesthetic or body image concerns, emotional concerns relating to femininity. … But I think the important thing is for a woman to find a competent and skilled surgeon she trusts.”
“I do what I can to minimize cosmetic changes, especially for patients undergoing a lumpectomy,” Shaffer continued. “We call it oncoplastic surgery; we do our best to hide scars, bring the breast tissue back together and maintain the shape and contour of the breast.”
A surgeon’s thoughts on breast cancer
“I think it’s important that women understand that breast cancer is very complex, and the causes are probably due to a whole combination of factors,” she continued. “And some of those factors we know to be modifiable, mostly pertaining to a healthy lifestyle. So, diet, exercise – much easier said than done, I know.
“Women should also understand that breast cancer is very common. About one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. So not only are advances in treatment important but also knowing ways to help prevent breast cancer.”
“As far as mammograms, it’s recommended that women start getting them at age 40. And it’s been the only thing to show improvement in breast cancer survival. It is so important to stay up-to-date on those.”
“As far as our practice out here in Mint Hill, it’s definitely growing. My team and I are all in the business of taking great care of patients.”