Published in The Woman Today magazine, August/September 2014
Helping patients from diagnosis through survivorship
Anne Silva-Benedict, MD, St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center
Even as a young girl living in Sri Lanka, Anne Silva-Benedict, MD, oncologist
at St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center, knew she wanted to become
a doctor. Given her natural talents for math, science, problem solving
and working with people, internal medicine seemed like the perfect fit.
When Dr. Silva-Benedict was 16, her family moved to Washington, D.C. Not
long after, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, an experience that influenced
her personally and professionally.
In Sri Lanka, patients rarely survived a cancer diagnosis, mainly due to
lack of education about cancer and appropriate surveillance. But while
helping her mother through her cancer journey, Dr. Silva-Benedict saw
firsthand how differently doctors in the United States approached and
treated cancer. She still feels deeply grateful to her mother’s
medical team. (Twenty years later, her mother is doing well.)
Intrigued by cancer medicine
During college in Maryland, while working on an oncology ward of a local
hospital, Dr. Silva-Benedict became intrigued with the biology of cancer.
“I saw how challenging it was to treat cancer, manage medications
and help patients cope with the side effects,” she says. “Compared
to other fields of medicine, oncology always seemed the most challenging
After completing her medical degree, internal medicine residency, and hematology
and oncology fellowship, Dr. Silva-Benedict was ready to dedicate herself
to research and academics. “But then I realized how much I liked
working with people and that I wanted more than to just work in a lab,”
she says. While still living in Seattle, Dr. Silva-Benedict began searching
for a medical practice that would allow her to both do research and care
for cancer patients. St. Luke’s had everything she was looking for:
a terrific group of colleagues, outstanding support for research, a friendly
community and a climate her husband would enjoy. “He loves the cold!” she says.
Courting across time zones
Dr. Silva-Benedict’s husband is also from Sri Lanka, but by the time
they were introduced, the two were living nearly 9,000 miles apart. “Our
aunts thought we would be a good match, so we started talking through
email, then on the phone and then with Skype,” she says. “We
finally met in person on my annual visit to Sri Lanka, fell in love right
then and there, got engaged and were married in Maryland.” Both
Dr. Silva-Benedict and her husband love living in Duluth and look forward
to raising a family here.
Dedicated to research, cancer care and patient education
Dr. Silva-Benedict is enthusiastic about St. Luke’s Regional Cancer
Center, where she has found the perfect balance of clinical research and
patient care. “We are partners with our patients, always listening
to them, helping them understand their therapy options and giving them
the knowledge to make informed decisions.”
Through St. Luke’s partnership with the Whiteside Institute for Clinical
Research, Dr. Silva-Benedict is involved with clinical trials and postmarket
surveillance, an ongoing initiative that tracks the side effects of chemotherapy
in patients who have completed treatment.
Understanding Cancer: Survivorship Lecture Series
In June, Dr. Silva-Benedict helped launch
Understanding Cancer: Survivorship Lecture Series, a patient-friendly forum for patients, family members and anyone interested
in learning more about cancer, cancer treatment and survivorship. For
each lecture, Dr. Silva-Benedict weaves in information from patients who
have completed treatment. “For patients and family members worried
about recurrence, the data allows us to says, ‘Here’s where
you need to be vigilant and what you should watch for,’ without
causing anxiety or distress,” she says.
The first quarterly lecture,Chemotherapy’s Impact: How It Affects Your Body and Mind, explored the potential long- and short-term physical and emotional effects
of chemotherapy. Other lectures will focus on legal issues such as job
loss and insurance concerns, health issues such as osteoporosis, chronic
fatigue, sexual dysfunction and lymphedema, lifestyle changes such as
nutrition and physical activity, and psychosocial issues such as depression
in patients, family members and caregivers.
For Dr. Silva-Benedict, what began as a childhood dream in Sri Lanka has
become her dream job at St. Luke’s where she can help patients and
help advance cancer treatment.
BELOW: Dr. Anne Silva-Benedict, St. Luke's Regional Cancer Center