Stephanie Linthicum, pictured here with her dog, Cookie, found a friend in Gregory Gurfinchel, MD, during her cancer care at MedStar Harbor Hospital.
Eight years ago, Pasadena resident Stephanie Linthicum, now 47, had a routine appointment with her physician and he suggested she undergo a baseline mammogram.
The mammogram found an abnormality. Linthicum had a series of tests performed at MedStar Harbor, including a sonogram, biopsy and lumpectomy - surgery to remove the mass and a small amount of tissue around it that's then inspected for cancer cells. For the biopsy and lumpectomy, Dr. Popkin referred Linthicum to Gregory Gurfinchel, M.D., department of surgery chairman at MedStar Harbor.
"The day I went to MedStar Harbor Hospital for the lumpectomy, some of the nurses asked me who my surgeon was going to be," Linthicum said. "I told them it was Dr. Gurfinchel, and everyone told me he was one of the very best and that I was in good hands. It immediately put me at ease."
Breaking the News
A few days after the lumpectomy, Linthicum returned to Dr. Gurfinchel's office and received the diagnosis - she had stage 1 breast cancer. "I could tell that he was really upset and genuinely concerned," Linthicum said. "I figured that surgeons see cancer every day and must get numb to it all, but Dr. Gurfinchel didn't seem to be that way at all. The fact that he was so honest with his emotions made me feel that he saw me as a person with a life, a career and a future, and not just a patient with a disease."
Despite 27 years as a surgeon, Dr. Gurfinchel said breaking bad news to a patient continues to be the hardest part of his job. "Doing all of the workup and the surgery is the easy part," he said. "The difficult part is approaching a patient like Stephanie and telling her face-to-face that she has cancer. There's no way around it. When I'm telling a woman that she has breast cancer, I'm thinking about my wife, my daughter, my mother and everyone who I care about, and I can imagine how difficult this must be for her."
After presenting the diagnosis, Dr. Gurfinchel also is able to provide some positive news - he will do everything he can to beat the cancer. "While the news is devastating to the patient at first, I know I have all of the tools, skills and experience it takes to help each one of them. In fact, patients are often surprised by how well they will do throughout their treatment and that many of them will go on to live long and healthy lives after breast cancer."
A Bright Future after Cancer
Today, Linthicum is one of those patients. A month after the lumpectomy, Dr. Gurfinchel performed another surgery to remove all of the cancer cells around the tumor. Linthicum then received chemotherapy and radiation to completely wipe out any remaining cells. She's been in remission for more than five years.
"Throughout my treatment, I came to see Dr. Gurfinchel not just as my surgeon, but as a friend because he cared so much about me, how I was dealing with the treatments and how I was healing," Linthicum said. "He helped make a terrible experience that much better."