Toni Green: Snowboarding cancer surgeon

Dr. Toni Green finds it hard, impossible really, to maintain any distance from her patients. A surgeon who recently opened a new practice associated with Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Green specializes in the type of surgeries that breast cancer patients undergo. “I chose this type of surgery because it allows me to build a relationship with patients for the rest of their lives,” she said. “There are a lot of ups and downs, though, and it can be hard to leave work at work.” Green has been in Colorado Springs for about six months, when she opened the newest practice to affiliate with Penrose – the Southern Colorado Breast Care Specialists, at the St. Francis Medical Center on Woodman Road.

What new techniques do you bring to the practice?

We do a lot of nipple sparing in mastectomies, that’s a fairly new procedure. It helps patients feel better about themselves and the surgery. We’re also working on a new technique where we use localized anesthesia and attempt to target the tumors that you can’t feel. It’s less invasive and it’s easier for the patient when you can localize the surgery and reduce the amount of breast tissue that you have to take.

Does there seem to be a rise in breast cancer?

More women are getting screened earlier with mammograms, and the mammography machines are better, so we’re catching more breast cancer earlier. It only seems like an increase – but it is better for the patient if you catch it early. Early cancers are curable.

What’s different about your surgical practice than a general surgeon?

What we do is so very personal. The diagnosis of cancer is one that requires many conversations; patients just can’t grasp it all in one conversation. So it’s very, very hard to tell someone they have cancer, but it’s fulfilling to know that I can help treat it, and help save their breasts. It’s also a wonderful feeling to tell women that they’re cured – and to get to tell them that year after year as they come back for check-ups.

Do you work with Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, Penrose’s newest partner?

Yes, I work in concert with oncologists. The partnership with Rocky Mountain allows us to cooperate more closely. It started Jan. 1, so it’s still quite new, but now we can work together officially. This way, everyone has the same view, the same sense of cooperation. Before, there was a little bit of competition, but that’s alleviated and we’re working together for the patients.

How do you cope with the emotional aspects of your work?

You try to distance yourself, but with breast cancer, it can be hard – it’s personal for the patients and it becomes personal for you. I love to bake, so that’s a great outlet. I roller-blade and I’m learning to snowboard. I keep hearing about how I’m guaranteed to break my wrist, but it hasn’t happened yet. It can be hard to leave work at work, but you have to have outlets. It’s the only way you can be effective for your patients.

Audio excerpt of the interview with Dr. Toni Green.