As a specialist in breast cancer management and surgical oncology, Dr. Yara Robertson has treated thousands of people with breast cancer.
Robertson has 11 years of surgical experience, including two years of experience working for CARTI in Arkansas.
Robertson said she decided to pursue a career in breast cancer surgery after seeing the need for “properly delivered, compassionate oncology care.”
She also has a personal connection to this type of cancer as she has a long family history of breast cancer.
A native of Memphis, she attended Quilleen College of Medicine in Johnson City, Tennessee, prior to her residency and fellowship at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
“I have deep ties to Arkansas and a love for the people,” she said.
She previously practiced in Atlanta before becoming a CARTI physician and treating patients from across the state. At CARTI, she said she has many other health professionals to work with who can provide other treatment options.
In her work, she appreciates being able to give hope to women.
While many believe breast cancer treatment begins with surgery, Robertson said breast cancer treatment is individualized and changes for each case. Surgery is not always the first course of treatment and several factors go into deciding the best treatment options.
Depending on the size of the tumor or the aggressiveness of the type of cancer, the first option may be chemotherapy.
If a patient decides to keep the breast, chemotherapy is one treatment that will make the tumor smaller for removal, she explained.
Cancer treatment also involves patients visiting doctors in various specialties. Genetic testing may also be needed to determine the best form of treatment, she said.
In some situations, a patient may have cancer in one breast but not the other. Although the second breast is completely normal, some patients have decided to have both breasts removed.
Although the removal of both breasts reduces the risks for patients, this does not mean that they will never face cancer again.
“You can have recurring cancer of the chest wall or skin, so removing both breasts doesn’t mean you can’t have cancer anymore,” she said, adding that for some people, a double mastectomy gives peace of mind and reduces their follow-up treatment. .
“It’s their personal choice. My job is to give them all of their options,” Robertson said.
Along with looking at treatment options, Robertson must also balance the emotional and physical side of breast cancer surgery. Breast cancer surgery can change a patient’s appearance.
“A woman should be given the opportunity to rebuild if she wishes and be allowed to undergo an assessment,” she explained.
For reconstructive surgery, Robertson works alongside a plastic surgeon who places an implant after the patient’s breast is removed.
While surgeons can make women’s breasts look the same after surgery, a reconstructed breast does not feel the same and patients may experience pain.
“I always tell patients it’s not a free boob job…it’s not the same thing. We can’t make you like God made you,” she said.
Another option for women who don’t want a reconstruction is to have Robertson make their chest completely flat.
“My job is to make sure they’re as flat as possible and have a good aesthetic appearance of their chest wall,” she said.
During the operation, Robertson said she put a bra on the patient and stuffed the bra.
“When they wake up, they don’t see they’re flat,” she explained. The day after the operation, during a visit to the patient, she removes the bandage with him.
Emotional conversations about all the options are a big part of a breast cancer treatment plan, Robertson said.
“Even if you’re the most prepared person, it’s very shocking to look down and see that you don’t have boobs,” she said. “Breasts are part of our femininity and our sexuality…there is an emotional attachment to breasts.”
Although Robertson said she often used tough love when speaking with patients, she also relied on her spirituality.
“We put God at the helm of all of our treatment plans. We pray before the operation and we have faith,” she said.
Robertson noted that she builds a relationship with her patients because she has to see them regularly — usually once a year — for the rest of their lives.
Although breast cancer is not preventable, she said annual mammograms are still advised once a woman turns 40. It is also important for women to know their family history of breast cancer.
“Mammograms save lives,” she said.
She also encourages women to practice self-awareness about breast health. If a woman notices that something has changed, she should see a doctor. Robertson also encourages women to seek a second opinion if they feel they are not being treated properly.
By 2022, 35 million people will survive breast cancer thanks to early detection and better treatment options, she said.
“We are the most advanced in the treatment of breast cancer than ever before. Breast cancer is not a death sentence,” she said.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, CARTI is hosting Mammograms and Muffins events from 8 a.m. to noon at CARTI Centers. Today’s event is to take place in Russellville. The October 22 event is scheduled for central Little Rock and the October 29 event will be held in North Little Rock.