At 37, Dr. Toni Green-Cheatwood has a lot of responsibility. She’s the director of breast oncology at Penrose-St. Francis Cancer Center — and counsels women on their options once they’re diagnosed with breast cancer.
It’s not an easy job, but creating long-term relationships with patients is one of the things Green-Cheatwood enjoys about her high-stress job. She loves the intensity of the operating room and the hands-on aspect of surgery as well.
And while it’s stressful, she says it’s also rewarding to see women survive the disease and thrive.
She has a doctor of osteopathy degree from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, and she went on to study general surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She recently completed a multidisciplinary breast surgery fellowship at the Mayo Clinic.
What made you decide to become a breast cancer surgeon?
Early in medical school, I knew that I wanted to be a surgeon. The hands-on aspect and the intensity of being in the operating room were two things I loved. I focused on breast surgery during my residency. Following my residency, I completed a breast surgery fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. While there, I not only honed my surgical skills but was also able to spend valuable time within all of the medical specialties that touch a breast cancer patient. I am now the Medical Director of Breast Oncology at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services.
A woman facing breast cancer today has many options to consider regarding her treatment. I find it rewarding to discuss all of the options with a patient, weigh the pros and cons, and help her make decisions. I develop long-term relationships with my patients and that is the best part of my job.
How will health care reform change specialty fields like yours?
Health care reform will affect all aspects of medicine. The Affordable Care Act is huge and the details surrounding how to enact parts of it are still being figured out at the state and federal levels. Most importantly, it will increase access to care. The number of uninsured or underinsured women in El Paso County who get routine mammograms is low. I would expect with increased access, those numbers will improve and we can continue to catch cancers early. Additionally, with the use of electronic medical records, patient information will be more easily shared among a patient’s health care team with the goal of increasing the quality of care and reducing the overall cost of providing care.
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Talking to a woman about cancer. Even though breast cancer has a much higher survival rate than, say, 10-20 years ago, it is still very humbling to sit at a table with a woman who is, often for the first time, being confronted with her own mortality. Discussions about survival, recurrence and the different treatments she will be undergoing over the next several months are a lengthy conversation. I believe it is my duty to ensure my patients are well informed about the options and what is ahead of them. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is when I get to see my patients six months after surgery when they are done with all of their treatments and starting to move forward.
What advice do you have for other people considering health care or surgery as a career?
Don’t be afraid. The changes coming with health care reform are daunting and there can be some uncertainties about what it will mean, but people will always need doctors. It is a very meaningful and fulfilling career.
To what do you attribute your success?
Dedication and hard work. From the time I began college to the completion of my fellowship, it was 14 years of school and training. My parents were always supportive of my goals and encouraged me every step of the way. I was very blessed to have the support I did. I am forever indebted to the surgeons who trained me in both residency and fellowship. Being the Medical Director of Breast Oncology at Penrose-St. Francis, and part of the Centura Health Cancer Network, has allowed me to realize my vision for a world-class breast center right here in Colorado Springs.