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Lucky to be Alive: A Physician’s Breast Cancer Story
11/21/2013

Sheila Newman, MD of Chilton HospitalSheila Newman, MD, has been practicing obstetrics/gynecology for the past 20 years. Dedicated to her specialty, she has delivered thousands of babies and developed expertise in many aspects of women’s health – including breast cancer, a disease that affects about 20 percent of her patients.

Until recently, Dr. Newman’s breast cancer experience was categorically professional. But that changed in a heartbeat in April of 2012 when she faced the results of her own mammogram, along with the sobering reality that physicians are diagnosed with breast cancer too.

Like most women, the 48-year-old Montville resident was busy with work, family obligations and other commitments, but managed to schedule her annual appointment at Chilton’s Breast Center – as she had done faithfully every year since the age of 35.

Her procedure was routine, but the outcome was entirely unexpected. The radiologist pinpointed an abnormality, which prompted a stereotactic breast biopsy and a confirmed diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

DCIS is a non-invasive cancer characterized by abnormal cells in the lining of the milk duct. It is considered the earliest form of breast cancer, Stage 0, because the cells have not spread to other parts of the breast. However, the condition can progress to invasive disease if left untreated.

Often elusive and rarely palpable, most cases of DCIS are detected through mammography alone, underscoring the importance of breast cancer screenings. “If I’d waited longer, I might have a very different story,” said Dr. Newman. “Chilton’s Breast Center saved my life.”

Dr. Newman’s medical background alleviated some fear and anxiety, but she’s the first to admit that it didn’t shield her from the inescapable devastation associated with a cancer diagnosis. “I cried like everyone else, because deep down in my heart I didn’t believe it would happen to me,” she revealed. A potentially life-threatening illness is difficult regardless of your profession. Even when you happen to be a physician.

Dr. Newman addressed her medical needs in the same fashion she addresses those of her patients – swiftly and decidedly well-informed. She elected to have all of her diagnostic procedures and treatment at Chilton Hospital, including a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

“I had complete confidence in Chilton … in the staff and my doctors,” she asserted. “I went to medical school at New York University and completed my residency at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center, training at some of the most prominent medical institutions … and still value the exceptional quality of my community hospital,” remarked Dr. Newman, who practices at Associates in Women’s Healthcare based in Wayne, NJ.

“I’ve used Chilton almost exclusively for my care and the care of my family.” Reflecting on her experience, Dr. Newman views her practice – and her patients – in a slightly different light. Because, along with her roles as physician, surgeon, spouse and mother of three, she’s also a breast cancer survivor. She feels a strong camaraderie with women travelling the same journey, as well as a responsibility to share her story and educate patients more vigilantly on the importance of screening mammograms.

“Some of my patients are reluctant or afraid,” she stated. “If I can encourage only one person to go for a mammogram, who wouldn’t have gone otherwise, then I haven’t gone through this for nothing.”

At the same time, Dr. Newman hasn’t lost sight of her personal recovery. She recently celebrated her youngest son’s Bar Mitzvah and wears a Chai, the Hebrew symbol for life, indelibly displayed on her wrist.

Added Dr. Newman, “Whenever I’m feeling sad, I can look down and remember how fortunate I am to be alive.”

Chilton Hospital is a fully accredited, 260-bed, acute-care, community hospital. It is Five-Star Rated, the highest possible by Heathgrades, for Total Knee Replacement and Heart Failure, for three years in a row and two years in a row, respectively. Chilton is also named a Top Performer on Key Quality Measures by The Joint Commission for Heart Attack, Heart Failure, Pneumonia and Surgical Care. Chilton’s reputation in the community has been built on personalized care and many close-to-home services including an Emergency Department, MotherBaby Center, Comprehensive Wound Healing/Hyperbaric Center and Sleep Health Institute. The hospital has nearly completed its $24 million modernization project, which includes the Cardiovascular Interventional Lab, The Breast Center, Total Joint Center, Cancer Center and Surgical Services. The Chilton Health Network is continuously growing with satellite offices currently in Butler, Haskell, Hewitt, Pompton Plains and Wayne, NJ. Chilton Hospital is located at 97 West Parkway in Pompton Plains, NJ  07444. For more information about its facilities and services, or to find a doctor by name, specialty, or location, please visit www.chiltonhealth.org or call 1-888-CHILTON.

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