Breast Surgeon Dr. M. Michele Blackwood Makes an IMPACT in the Treatment + Care of Breast Cancer Patients
Here at Susan G. Komen Central and South Jersey, we are lucky to partner with many incredible surgeons, doctors and healthcare providers that make true advances in the breast cancer field. One such individual is Dr. M. Michele Blackwood.
Dr. Blackwood is the Chief, Section of Breast Surgery of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the Medical Director, Northern Regional Director of Breast Services for RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH). She is also an Associate Professor of Surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Dr. Blackwood has contributed to the advances of breast cancer treatment and care throughout her career as a leading breast surgeon, working with thousands of breast cancer patients and publishing numerous articles in professional publications and medical journals.
She started her career as a general surgeon, in a time when “there were very few women who became general surgeons” and specialized in breast cancer surgery. She was inspired to go into the field of breast cancer surgery because she felt that “there had to be more sensitivity to this region and to this disease” for women undergoing mastectomies and surgery.
Dr. Blackwood also wanted to see more breast cancer patients survive and thrive.
“Back in the early 1990’s, there was no change in the overall survival of breast cancer patients,” said Dr. Blackwood. “I was hoping and praying — and it has — that survival would dramatically change, and it has over the last 25 years.”
She added, “That’s exciting to be a part of that change. It’s an exciting field, one that is constantly changing and evolving, and we are always learning something new.”
This year, Komen CSNJ is celebrating its twenty-fifth year of making an impact in our local and national fight against breast cancer, and we are celebrating this milestone at the third annual IMPACT Luncheon on Friday, April 5, 2019 at The Hamilton Manor. Dr. Blackwood will be joining us as one of our empowering guest speakers for the event, with the hopes to help us educate and inspire while raising funds for life-saving breast cancer services in our local communities.
“I am looking forward to seeing this gathering of survivors, grantees and fellow speaker Dr. (Yibin) Kang, and experiencing the energy of such a vibrant community,” said Dr. Blackwood.
A day in the life of Dr. Blackwood consists of meeting patients with a new diagnosis of breast cancer.
“The first thing I tell patients is to breathe,” said Dr. Blackwood. “It is overwhelming.”
From there, Dr. Blackwood and other healthcare providers work together to create a plan for treatment specific to the patient.
“It’s really important as a breast cancer surgeon to individualize how we approach each treatment program for patients, concerns, questions, their ultimate choice in surgery and medicines that patients take,” said Dr. Blackwood. “It’s not just a biopsy of a tumor anymore, but how a patient is experiencing this cancer.”
She adds that for a patient battling breast cancer, teamwork makes all the difference in care and treatment.
Dr. Blackwood works with patients of different ages and genders, going over their specific concerns and how to tailor treatment appropriately for them.
“I see a lot of young women lately; I see men with breast cancer, and I think it’s interesting that everybody has similar — and yet very dissimilar — concerns when they get a diagnosis,” said Dr. Blackwood.
The needs and concerns of each patient can vary, but Dr. Blackwood stressed that “it is so important to address all of those concerns.”
“The patient who is seventy years old has very different concerns than the thirty-year-old who has gotten breast cancer, and the men diagnosed with breast cancer have very different concerns than the women who are diagnosed,” said Dr. Blackwood.
For a young breast cancer patient who does not have children, she may be thinking about her future fertility and what her body will look like. An older patient may have worries about her function and how she can remain independent. A male patient facing breast cancer may worry about genetics within his family, and how he could even get breast cancer.
Despite the challenges and concerns breast cancer patients face, Dr. Blackwood has seen many of her patients succeed and thrive after treatment.
“The patients who take in the disease, do the treatments, listen to their doctors and change their lifestyle habits: they do well,” said Dr. Blackwood. “They thrive, and function exceedingly well for the rest of their lives.”
For Dr. Blackwood, she wants her patients to be even more than a breast cancer survivor — her team “wants them to identify as a healthy woman or man and part of their history is that they got through breast cancer.”
She adds that especially for women, it can be difficult to focus on both their physical health and emotional well-being, even after a breast cancer diagnosis.
“It is really hard for women to step back, breathe and take care of themselves,” said Dr. Blackwood. “You have to embrace it, tackle the cancer and move on.”
Dr. Blackwood believes adding emotional well-being strategies and self-care can be helpful for patients struggling with their diagnosis and treatment.
“Sometimes the treatment of cancer can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it’s not a bad thing to confront and get help for it,” said Dr. Blackwood.
For some of her patients dealing with grief, anxiety and stress, she recommends the team of psychologists, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners at RWJBarnabas Health who focus on these issues.
She added, “It really is an anxiety that people live with, and they do not have to live it.”
Dr. Blackwood’s efforts to make a true difference in the field of breast cancer treatment have made a mark in our local communities. Her work has helped save lives.
“We have 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the country,” said Dr. Blackwood. “It’s great to be part of that movement.”
Meet Dr. Blackwood and learn more about the advances made in breast cancer care and treatment at the 2019 IMPACT Luncheon. Visit komencsnj.org/impact to get your tickets and enjoy an afternoon featuring plentiful networking opportunities, exciting prizes and a special recognition of breast cancer survivors.