Soul Survivor: How One Breast Medical Oncologist’s Personal Experience With Surviving Cancer Influenced Her Patient Care

Metastatic Breast Cancer Heroes™CURE® Metastatic Breast Cancer Heroes™ 2021 Essay Book
Volume 1

A colleague writes about a medical oncologist who has a rare metastatic breast cancer diagnosis but still manages to go above and beyond for her patients while dealing with her own cancer treatments, and how her empathy guides her.

As a medical oncologist with a 40-year career, I have had the pleasure of interacting with many peers in my field, and in my current position as director of the division of medical oncology at The Ohio State University, I have seen many faculty grow professionally and evolve as very capable researchers and clinicians.

From left: Dr. Claire Verschraegen and Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy. Photos by Devon Albeit.

From left: Dr. Claire Verschraegen and Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy. Photos by Devon Albeit.

From these vantage points, I can attest that Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy, a specialist of breast cancer, is a truly gifted, perseverant and compassionate physician whom I have the privilege of closely working with. She is herself a cancer survivor, receiving a diagnosis of a very rare metastatic breast cancer and still undergoing intermittent therapies.

Despite these tribulations, she offers tireless dedication to patient welfare through education and compassionate care and demonstrates intellectual prowess and discipline as a successful laboratory researcher. I can think of no one more deserving of the CURE ® Metastatic Breast Cancer Heroes™ award.

Since joining The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2006, Dr. Ramaswamy has been working hard to improve care and quality of life for patients with breast cancer. She is the founder of the Living Well With Advanced Breast Cancer Clinic, specially designed for patients with newly diagnosed metastatic breast cancer, focusing on educating patients about their cancer and empowering them with knowledge, as well as keeping them informed about relevant new tests and clinical trials. She also leads the annual NY Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference, focused on providing patients with metastatic breast cancer with education and resources.

Dr. Ramaswamy routinely goes above and beyond the call of duty to positively impact the lives of patients affected by metastatic breast cancer. When she first received her breast cancer diagnosis in 2016, she was shaken yet she recognized the ways in which her medical knowledge base helped her gain steadier footing in the often-overwhelming landscape of treatment options and outcomes.

She instantly understood how her patients — most of whom do not share the same degree of medical knowledge — must feel. Going back to work full-time post-treatment, she used this experience to inform her practice, centering patient education and compassionate care with the goal of supporting informed, independent and fulfilling lives for all her patients.

A formidable researcher, Dr. Ramaswamy is the principal investigator for several investigator-initiated studies, has received continuous National Cancer Institute funding for her research and has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles. Her lab focuses on improving outcomes in breast cancer by addressing drug resistance and by addressing racial disparity in breast cancer incidence and outcomes.

In 2017, she became the section chief of breast medical oncology, where she leads the breast cancer research program, provides mentorship for the junior faculty to become successful investigators and researchers and steers the group toward national prominence in advancing science and the care of patients with breast (cancer). She is a true servant leader who devotes her energy to the success of her colleagues.

As a physician, Dr. Ramaswamy has been consistently recognized for her patient-focused service. She has been named by Forbes as one of the top 27 breast medical oncologists in the nation, and has received the Stellar Practitioner for Compassionate Care Recognition, given to exceptional physicians by patients and caregivers. She was also selected as one of only five women at Ohio State recognized as “Medical Center Marvels.”

These honors speak to her values as a physician, always placing the patient first and putting her own personal achievements second after patient care. It is an approach many junior faculty in the division are lucky to learn from, and she leads her section by example. In 2019, she received the Mentor of the Year award, exemplifying her commitment to junior faculty development, and in 2021 she was inducted into the OSU Mazzaferri-Ellison Society of Master Clinicians.

Inspired by her dedicated example, Dr. Ramaswamy’s son, Rahul Chakravarthi Ramaswamy, also decided to pursue medicine. In his heartfelt essay “Incoming Call” (The Oncologist, June 2021), he offers the following insight gleaned from managing his mother’s cancer while training to be a doctor himself: “I now know that we are not fighting against death, but rather we are fighting for more meaningful time. Maximizing the quality of one’s life is the most important goal of care for patients with advanced disease.

With this approach, the goal posts shift from aggressively staving off death at all costs to focusing back on the patient’s goals for life. How do we improve her quality of life? How do we give her the time to accomplish her goals? I now know these are the questions we must ask for our patients. Our own mortality is not the enemy; in fact, it becomes the very idea that gives our life meaning.”

Our meaning is what drives us, and I can say without a doubt that Dr. Ramaswamy’s drive is the well-being of her patients.

Dr. Ramaswamy is a brilliant and compassionate doctor and scientist who is nothing short of an inspiration to the people around her. She continuously proves her leadership competence and organizational prowess by initiating a team-focused approach to advancing the shared goals of the cancer center and improving outcomes for patients with cancer. Her personal experience with cancer, while unfortunate, has only strengthened her commitment to compassionate care. It is a great honor to nominate Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy for the CURE® Metastatic Breast Cancer Heroes™ Award.

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