Medical school was a dream come true. I was learning all the secrets of the human body; how the brain fired neurons to make the muscles of the hand close so that I could hold my girlfriend’s hand; how my heart beat rapidly when she kissed me; how my lungs could inhale her sweet perfume; and how my brain imagined those sweet dreams of her. I studied the Krebs cycle, which turns food into energy, with oxygen playing a vital role in this dance. I read about our immune system killing infections, fighting cancer, and healing injury. I learned to cure disease.
Then came my epiphany. As a medical student, I drew the short straw and would have to spend my summer 12 hours a day in the surgical wards. Why could it not have been winter? Still, I remember with vivid clarity that second I walked into the operating room for the first time: the bright lights, the smell of iodine, the sound of healing. At that moment the heavens opened and I knew my destiny lay in surgery. Only the moment I saw my bride for the first time compares to the feeling of ecstasy and purpose I experienced.
My journey as a Breast Surgical Oncologist began in California where I first practiced general surgery. I found meaning, purpose and reward in helping people with appendicitis and gallbladder disease, but my real fulfillment came from counseling and treating patients with breast cancer. I was their guide as we walked the path of diagnosis and treatment. But I felt inadequate. I did not know enough. I could not counsel them properly and I could not know if they were receiving the appropriate chemotherapy or radiation. I knew little of hormonal therapy. I felt stupid. My mother-in-law had a recurrence of her breast cancer and I could not counsel her. I knew whom to ask, but I did not have the answers she needed.
So I decided to take two years off from the practice of surgery. I moved my family to Little Rock, Arkansas and spent two years at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute studying breast cancer. I was awarded an AstraZeneca Scholar and presented a paper to the 2005 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium for research on metastatic breast cancer to the bones. I spent one year doing basic science research, learning the language of breast cancer and another year performing over 300 breast cancer operations, honing my skills and my knowledge.
We then returned home to Knoxville, where I joined the Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center, a medical clinic dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. I now spend my time helping women fight “like a girl” and defeat breast cancer.