Patients can opt for an all-female team. Picture: Jerad Williams
Patients can opt for an all-female team. Picture: Jerad Williams

‘How we rebuild 350 breasts a year’

LEADING plastic surgeon Rhea Liang has 350 reasons to prove she knows breasts better than most.

That is how many breast cancers the team she is part of diagnoses, treats and reconstructs each year.

Dr Liang is part of a passionate all-female team at Robina Hospital.

For each member, it is as much about treating the cancer as it is about helping a woman feel comfortable again in her own skin.

Gold Coast group of medical professionals. (l-r) Rasha Alzuhairy (Consultant Radiologist), Kathy Devantier (Breast Care Nurse), Bree Ryan (Genetic Counsellor), Tania Peterkin (Physiotherapist) and Dr Rhea Liang (Breast Surgeon). Picture: Jerad Williams
Gold Coast group of medical professionals. (l-r) Rasha Alzuhairy (Consultant Radiologist), Kathy Devantier (Breast Care Nurse), Bree Ryan (Genetic Counsellor), Tania Peterkin (Physiotherapist) and Dr Rhea Liang (Breast Surgeon). Picture: Jerad Williams

"Owning a pair'' themselves, the team of physicians, nurses, psychologists and other professionals brings lived experiences as women to medical care.

From empathy about periods to hot flushes and the dreaded "chicken fillets'', the all-female team offers patients the option to be treated just by women from the first mammogram all the way through the process.

There are male staff in the breast cancer section, and Dr Liang acknowledges it is rare to see an all-female team.

Gold Coast group of medical professionals. (l-r) Kathy Devantier (Breast Care Nurse), Bree Ryan (Genetic Counsellor), Tania Peterkin (Physiotherapist), Dr Rhea Liang (Breast Surgeon) and Rasha Alzuhairy (Consultant Radiologist). Picture: Jerad Williams
Gold Coast group of medical professionals. (l-r) Kathy Devantier (Breast Care Nurse), Bree Ryan (Genetic Counsellor), Tania Peterkin (Physiotherapist), Dr Rhea Liang (Breast Surgeon) and Rasha Alzuhairy (Consultant Radiologist). Picture: Jerad Williams

But after watching her grandmother suffer from the disease, she became aware of the sensitivities involved in the often intimate treatment.

"I think back and my grandma, who is 105, had breast cancer in her eighties," Dr Liang said.

"For a woman of that age and of Chinese origin to be treated by a male physician would have been a hard experience.

"There weren't that many other choices back then but that always sticks in my mind.

"Men get breast cancer too, so it is different for everyone, but I do think it is important that those that want it can have an all-women service from the beginning."

For each patient among the 350 diagnosed annually, treatment and recovery is a unique process.

"Some women are vocal about their choice to stay without breast, for others it is very important to have them rebuilt," Dr Liang said.

"Unfortunately the women that do seek reconstruction seem to feel like they are asking for too much - there is a lot of judgment that is it cosmetic or vain.

"There is something about the way we talk about breast cancer, almost a survivor guilt, like they don't deserve this which is so wrong."

"I feel quite strongly we need to change the way we talk about reconstruction.

"When men have testicular surgery, it is replaced, so why should women feel guilty about their choice for a reconstruction?"

Dr Liang does not see herself as surgeon as being anything spectacular and instead credits the colleagues and patients around her.

"You can't sit in a clinic with women with breast cancer and not want to make things better for them. I am just responding to a human need," she said.

"It is not just me, a team of people - it takes an entire village.

"I am surrounded by amazing women every day, and the patients are the standouts with all they go through.

"There is an incredible amount of care, not just physical, that goes into the team.

"Having an all-woman service from the moment you have your mammogram done, to the oncologist, to your nurse, I think it is important."