The Breast Surgical Oncologist: Helen Mabry

January 22, 2012

I met Helen Mabry when I paid her a visit regarding an unusual post pregnancy breast situation. (my breasts had a happy ending… and we’ll leave it at that.)

She entered the examining room with a glow and ear-to-ear smile as if she couldn’t wait to get her hands on my boobs. From that moment I knew that Helen was a woman who loved her job, and I was thrilled that she would be the one taking care of my girls…

 

where are you from?
Toledo, Ohio.  I’m now in the Los Angeles area.

what do you do?
I am a breast surgical oncologist. I treat women with benign and malignant diseases of the breast. I also see women for breast cancer risk assessment and risk reduction.

what inspired you to specialize as a breast surgical oncologist?
In medical school I was interested in oncology, psychiatry and plastic surgery. Oncology interests because of all the mystery involved in cancer. For example a patient diagnosed with breast cancer may have a long remission such as 13 years and then the cancer returns and spreads throughout her body growing everywhere except the breast.  Where was the cell living for 13 years and if it was cancer why wasn’t it growing?  Psychiatry also interests me because so little has been known about mental illness compared to “physical” illness and it seems to me that more human suffering is linked to mental illness. I expect understanding of mental illness as well as how to optimize human mental health will increase dramatically in the next two decades.

what do you love about your job?
I love the life-saving aspect. I also love helping another women through a difficult experience and doing everything I can to achieve a beautiful curative result.

what is a typical day like for you?
I usually see patients in the office in the morning and then operate in the afternoon.

what is the hardest part of your job?
I feel very sad when I see someone deal with an aggressive cancer and spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes when surgery becomes ineffective.

what particular work experiences do you hold close to your heart?
Some of my patients have become dear friends and one who died has left a lasting impact on my life. That patient and I were the same age when I diagnosed her breast cancer. She knew immediately that she would be unable to have a child and she was deeply distressed by that idea. She strongly encouraged me to get started on the process of having a baby. Without her strong encouragement and our close connection I don’t know if I would have had a baby–I certainly would not have had The Baby I do. I am grateful to have known her. She was a beautiful person who lived a beautiful life and I think of her often.

do you find it difficult to emotionally draw the line between work and personal life?
My work has a strong impact on my personal life. It is always difficult in an emotionally demanding job.

what will you do for a break?
the sky is the limit. My dream vacation is a trip to Buenos Aires with lots of tango lessons and dancing with my husband.

what is your other dream job?
Novelist.

what do you collect?
Dollhouses. I make them and pretend that they are for my two and a half year old daughter.

Helen and I swapped a few kid tidbits. This is one of her favorites…the adorable Heidi of the Alps…