Helping Patients from Diagnosis through Survivorship
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 and rewarding.”
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.