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MORE THAN A SURGEON
One of the diseases that women fear most iscancer of the breast and it remains the most common form of cancer that affects women in Malaysia. It is life threatening and it is harrowing to consider the potential loss of a physical part of one self. As a young surgeon, Dr Harjit Kaur Perdamen Singh was struck by the seriousness of breast diseases, particularly cancer in her patients. At the time, she was the only female in the ward in Ipoh Hospital and was tasked to run the breast clinics. In this issue, Top 10 of Malaysia gets to have a heart-to-heart chat with this professional and caring doctor who is more than a successful surgeon to many of her patients.
The lack of available expertise especially in breast reconstructions after mastectomies stimulated Dr Harjit Kaur ’s interest in this field of medicine. She received much encouragement from her mentors and was determined to fill this gap. Her aim was to train fully in the management of breast cancers including the oncoplastic aspect, that is, reconstructive work following mastectomy. After many years of training, experience and accreditation, she has achieved her goal and is now a consultant surgeonwith experience in sentinel node biopsies and oncoplastic breast surger y mainly using implants and local muscle flaps. She has trained locally and overseas inthe UK and Australia as well.Dr Harjit served with the government for 14 years before joining Prince Court Medical Center in Kuala Lumpur as its breast and endocrine specialist consultant surgeon. With the help of a multidisciplinary team, she offers complete management of breast and endocrine patients. Endocrine diseases include thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal diseases which can beboth benign and malignant conditions.Their management is often surgery when needed and close working relationship with an endocrinologist is essential forbest outcome.
“Dealing with patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer are not easy. Breast cancer patients have a unique problem. The breast is a ver y sensitive organ and to have to lose it to disease can be very devastating physically, emotionally and psychologically. It is often emotionally and mentally exhausting for the surgeon as well when counseling these patients,”says Dr Harjit.
But there have been many memorable moments and experiences over the years for Dr Harjit. The most memorableis probably the setting up of the breast cancer support group in Prince Court Medical Centre. This support group is made up of all the patients under her care. They are called the ‘Pink Ladies of Prince Court ’. She recalls that watchings ome of them perform at the fashion shows and the rest supporting them whole heartedly was truly rewarding.To Dr Harjit, seeing her patients getting back to their lives and living it to the fullest is such a precious gift. One has even gone on to write and publish a book as a cancer survivor. “Being adoctor is truly rewarding. The best gift for me is being able to send a patient home well,” she says.
“The most important thing women can do for themselves is regular self breast examinations and annual screening. Regular screening ensures early detection which leads to possible cure. Don’t be complacent about your breast health. A little bit of awareness and vigilance will go a long way and may save your life,” Dr Harjit advises.“Doctors have not been able tosingle out the causes behind breast cancer which is unpreventable. We can,however, minimize our risks by adopting healthy lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and a well-balanced, nutritional diet,” she adds.Her guiding philosophy is to be true to herself and her patients. “ When we believe in ourselves and enjoy what we do we will always be able to give ourbest.
”Dr Harjit believes that what ever specialisation one embarks upon, it is important to be good if not the best in the field and it is important to remember that patients are the priority. “Empathy towards your patients is ver y important and the key is to learn to listen. A lot of important information is obtained if we listen carefully. It ’s not just about treating the disease but rather the whole family unit that is involved. I always believe in giving 100% and more to my patients when it comes to their management. Being up-to-date in the current practices and being absolutely competent is a must. There is no room for mistakes as we are dealing with peoples’ lives,” she says.
Dr Harjit Kaur feels that success can be measured in many ways. “Seeing my patients go through their treatments and coming out of it with a smile and getting on with their lives is the best measure of success! Success is also being able to convince a patient that the treatment path she is choosing is the correct one. It is also being able to go home at the end of the working day with contentment that you have done some good for every one that day,” she says with a smile.
To unwind after work, Dr Harjit does yoga and enjoys time with her family and close friends. For her, having regular relaxation moments is ver y important to keep the mind and body calm and healthy and that includes short trips withher wonderful and supportive husband and two teenage kids.