COLUMBUS, Ohio — For a Columbus breast cancer surgeon, her own diagnosis is her inspiration to improve care.
Dr. Deepa Halaharvi was diagnosed shortly after becoming a breast cancer surgeon.
The surgeon who helped train her, Dr. Mark Cripe, performed her procedure. Now the two are working together to perform breast surgeries on patients at the same time at OhioHealth. The partnership means patients are under anesthesia for less time and at risk for fewer complications.
“In my mind, there was a bigger divine plan that I did not even know about,” Halaharvi said.
Kelli Santana is a patient of both surgeons after her annual mammogram in February showed signs of stage one breast cancer.
“You feel all the feelings,” Santana said. “You can’t not think, ‘Oh, my God, what if I die?’ I’d be lying if I said all those things didn’t go through my mind.”
But through it all, she said she worked to keep a positive mindset. An Oncotype DX genomic test showed she’d have no benefits from chemotherapy. She decided to undergo a procedure called a Goldilocks mastectomy on both her breasts in May.
“Partly for symmetry, partly for peace of mind,” Santana said.
The Goldilocks procedure is a middle ground between full reconstructive surgery and a completely flat chest.
“We leave a lot of skin and sort of create like a breast mound,” Halaharvi said.
“For some patients, it’s good to say, ‘What else can we do if we’re not ready for reconstruction?’” Cripe said. “And using some of their own tissue to get some of that fill back and get about an A or B cup, so they can walk around in a t-shirt and still look good and feel comfortable in their own skin.”
Having undergone breast cancer surgery herself, Halaharvi understands first hand how scary a cancer diagnosis can be.
“You go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance,” she said. “I tell people it’s normal to go through that. It’s normal not to remember anything I’ve told you.”
That’s why she started The Breast Cancer Podcast, to share her own experience and give patients a place to find information about what to expect. She said it’s been downloaded almost 8,000 times by people in 58 countries.
She also uses social media like TikTok, Instagram and Facebook to raise awareness and debunk myths. The platforms are helping to expand her reach in the community and around the world.
“If I’m seeing patients, 20 to 25 patients a day, that’s all the patients I can reach in a day,” she said. “But through social media, I’m able to reach thousands and thousands of people.”
The tools help Halaharvi help patients like Santana navigate a difficult chapter in their lives.
“Something like this happens to all of us at different stages of life,” Halaharvi said. “It doesn’t have to be cancer, but the main message here is, whatever adversity it is, you’ll get through it.”
Halaharvi is seven and a half years cancer-free.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly described an Oncotype DX genomic test. It has been edited to reflect the change. (11/1/22)