On April 15, 2016, I passed the gavel of the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBrS) to our new President, Dr. Sheldon Feldman. The weeks leading up to the meeting were filled with anticipation, anxiety, and a few nightmares. I had dreams that I slept through my Presidential Address, and that I forgot to prepare my slides. My nightmares stopped when 2 weeks before the meeting, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Chip Cody, my predecessor. He is a breast surgical oncologist at the Memorial Sloan Cancer Center in New York and a very experienced and polished speaker. He let me know that he also had nightmares before his Presidential Address – it wasn’t just me! The meeting itself brought many emotions, including a bit of last minute panic before the big talk, joy, and pride. Those words don’t do the emotions justice.
Our meeting was held at the beautiful Hilton Anatole in Dallas – a one of a kind art museum disguised as a hotel. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to attend a meeting and take advantage of all the host city has to offer. Once I started participating as faculty and then moved into a leadership role, meetings became work. The days start early and end late, and they are filled with official obligations. While I didn’t have much down time during the week, I did have the opportunity to wander around the hotel before the meeting started, taking in the incredible artwork. I even managed to steal away for a bit to just sit by the zen pool in the atrium. I did my best to enjoy all of the moments, knowing that no meeting I would ever attend in the future would be quite like this one – you’re only President once!
I joined ASBrS in 2002. At the time, the organization was only 7 years old. I immediately recognized that it was something special, and I wanted to get involved. I was assigned a position on the Membership Committee in 2004. The next 12 years almost seem to be a blur – I moved from the Membership to the Communications Committee, and then became Chair of the Communications Committee. I was nominated to serve on the Board of Directors, and was then nominated to advance to the Executive Committee, where I served as Secretary-Treasurer and President-Elect before becoming President. It’s a path I never imagined when I joined the organization.
When I was first approached as a possible candidate for a seat on the Executive Committee (which usualy puts one on a 3-6 year path to the Presidency), I told my ASBrS mentor “no”. I had just moved my office, was struggling with some health issues, and knew that I could not take on additional responsibilities. While I knew it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, I also knew that I simply couldn’t handle it at the time. Plus, I told my mentor that I had a perpetual “kid at the grownups table” complex, and didn’t think I would be effective in a leadership role. One year later, he approached me again. I still wasn’t sure I was right for the job, but he wasn’t going to take no for an answer this time.
As a medical student and surgical resident, I always looked back at the end of each year and noted how much I had learned, but realized how much more information there was to master. My years in ASBrS leadership have had a similar feel. While each step comes with more responsibility (and more anxiety), the organization is overflowing with incredible leaders and mentors, and I never felt stranded or unsupported. During my time on the Executive Committee, I developed a clearer vision of my role in the organization, and what I wanted to accomplish. One of my goals as ASBrS President was to bring the patient voice into the organization – I feel that I accomplished that and more.
I am grateful to have had such an incredible opportunity. The opportunity to help influence the direction of an organization that I care so deeply about. The opportunity to learn from some of the best. The opportunity to call many of the giants in the field of breast surgery my colleagues and friends. The opportunity to be able to publicly thank my family and mentors for their support and guidance. The opportunity to throw a great (and extremely casual!) “after party” for the incredible ASBrS staff and my friends in the organization that I’ve known since I first became a member. The opportunity to learn so much about myself.
I was asked in Dallas if I was happy that it was over. It was time for it to be over. It was a long but very rewarding year. I’m only now, a month later, realizing how much time was involved. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.
Presidential Address: What Are We Missing?