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Business & Professional Women In Austin: Helen Dinkelspiel Eshed, MD, Gynecologic Oncologist, Texas Oncology

Publication: The Jewish Outlook 

As an oncologist, what drew you to specialize in gynecologic cancers?

I love taking care of women with gynecologic cancers because I can relate to these women. I want to help women with gynecologic cancers the same way I would want a physician to help me or someone in my family. I want to provide them with innovative surgery, individualized chemotherapy and clinical trials. I want them to have access to all of the support services they need including genetics, advance care planning, physical therapy and support groups. I want to be by their side helping guide them through challenging decisions. I want to do everything I can to help women with gynecologic cancers fight their disease and get the best outcome possible.

You’ve been recognized for your expertise and research efforts in minimally invasive gynecologic cancer surgery. What inspired you to study this type of surgery and how does this impact patients?

I perform minimally invasive robotic surgeries because patients recover better and faster. They have less pain, less blood loss, spend less time in the hospital, and return to their families and their lives sooner with minimally invasive surgery. I want women with gynecologic cancers to feel like themselves and get back to their families and their lives as soon as possible. I love it when my patients tell me that they are able to do the things they love and that they don’t even feel like they have cancer. Minimally invasive surgery allows patients to feel back to normal sooner after surgery. 

What unique challenges do you think you face when caring for patients with gynecologic cancers versus other cancers?

Women with gynecologic cancers often have to transition from being the caretaker of their family to focusing on their own health and healing. This transition can be challenging. Additionally, some women with gynecologic cancers are young and want to treat their cancer but also want to have children. For these women, I do everything I can to provide fertility-sparing treatments that allow them to have children and a family and treat their cancer at the same time.

The BRCA gene has important implications for women who have this mutation. What is the BRCA gene and how does it impact women in the Jewish community? 

Having a mutation in the BRCA genes increases a woman’s risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers. In the general population about one in 400 women have a BRCA mutation, but in the Ashkenazi Jewish population about one in 40 women have a BRCA mutation. Since Ashkenazi Jews are 10 times more likely to have a BRCA mutation, it is important that those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have access to genetic testing and counseling. Knowledge of this mutation can impact screening, chemoprevention and introduce the potential of risk-reducing surgery that can decrease cancer rates, prevent women from getting cancer and improve survival rates. 

Describe a typical day for you as a gynecologic oncologist.

A typical day starts with a tumor board meeting where a group of experts including gynecologic oncologists, radiologists, pathologists and radiation oncologists sit around a table and review complex patient stories in the spirit of collaboration. We discuss individual patients one at a time and combine all of our ideas in order to give each patient the best individualized treatment plan. Then I head into the operating room and do robotic surgeries to remove patients’ cancers. 

After operating, I will head to my office at Texas Oncology–Austin Central and see patients. Some patients come in with a new cancer diagnosis looking to put together the beginning of their plan to fight it. Some patients have finished surgery and come in to discuss starting chemotherapy or radiation. Other patients are cancer-free and being monitored over time to make sure their cancer either doesn’t come back or, if it does come back, that it’s caught early.
  
What inspires you most about caring for women with gynecologic cancers?

I am always inspired by women fighting gynecologic cancers. They form lifelong friendships and come in to be there for each other through challenging times and celebrations as they finish treatment I am inspired by the resilience of these women. They embrace the situation and make it their own whether shaving their heads or sharing their experiences to help those around them.

What career goals are you working towards next? 

The focus of my career is primarily to provide the best care to my patients. I am committed to offering research and clinical trial opportunities to my patients. The individualized treatment options and targeted therapies that have improved outcomes for patients over the past few years and decades have expanded the treatment options that we are able to offer. Patients are living longer and doing better because of the great outcomes from these clinical trials. 

A dominant focus of my career is continuing to play a leadership role in the implementation of clinical trials to offer novel treatment options to my patients and improve outcomes for cancer patients in the future. Additionally, I spend time teaching and mentoring University of Texas residents who will be the gynecologic oncologists of the future.

What career advice would you offer others considering this profession?

For those considering becoming a gynecologic oncologist, I would say that the profession requires full commitment but will be a life-changing, rewarding career that will continue to challenge you, surprise you and impact you in the most unexpected ways. You will be able to help so many people. You will see people when they are vulnerable and see them when they impress you in ways you can’t imagine. You will be humbled. 

Find good mentors and people to guide you and support you through the process. Ask questions and try to understand as much as possible what your life will be like if you pursue this career path to make sure that it is a good fit for you.

Read the full story at The Jewish Outlook

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