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Thursday, 10 September 2015 17:12

Hands of a Surgeon, Heart of a Warrior


Staunch Ally in the War on Breast Cancer Arrives at Saratoga Hospital

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Brooklyn-born, Boston-trained, and polished with a generous helping of Midwest cordiality, Dr. Patricia Rae Kennedy, M.D., FACS, offers the right combination of surgical skill and patient care for women facing breast cancer. 

The fellowship-trained breast surgeon has joined Saratoga Hospital and its Saratoga Regional Medical Group. As the Clinical Director, Kennedy will lead a multidisciplinary breast health program that will coordinate and build upon the hospital’s already strong breast care services.

“There are so many components involved to treat breast cancer,” said Kennedy. “Surgical, oncology, plastic surgery – it can be daunting to someone reeling from a new diagnosis. We can coordinate everything for them. We’ll do the heavy lifting through the process so all they have to do is focus on getting well.”

Kennedy has more than a decade of experience as a dedicated breast surgeon. She comes to Saratoga Hospital from Indiana University Health North Hospital, where she launched and led a successful, nationally accredited breast care program.

"With her training and experience in building a comprehensive breast health program, Dr. Kennedy complements our exceptional breast care team," said Angelo Calbone, Saratoga Hospital president and CEO. "With her at the helm, we look forward to enhancing and elevating the coordinated care that we provide."

A graduate of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, Kennedy earned her medical degree and completed an internship and residency at State University of New York at Stony Brook. She completed a surgical fellowship in breast disease at Faulkner Breast Centre in Boston and was a surgical fellow in breast disease at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, also in Boston.

“Saratoga Hospital has a great patient-centered focus,” said Kennedy, “and is really growing with all the right ideas. It’s the perfect environment for someone who’s a breast specialist to see all the pieces come together for my patients. There’s a really good rehabilitation program here for people following surgery and radiation; survivorship programming; physical therapy…and in future, I’d like to incorporate some complimentary therapies. Acupuncture, for example, can be helpful with chemotherapy side effects.”

Kennedy clearly loves her work, and it shows in her clear, direct language, compassionate voice, and the relaxed confidence of her bearing, garnering instant trust upon meeting her. She did not start out seeking to be a breast cancer surgeon, however. 

“In high school, I knew I wanted to go into medicine, but I thought I wanted to be Marcus Welby,” laughed Kennedy. “Marcus Welby, M.D.” was a television series that ran 1969-1976, portraying the work of a fictional doctor practicing general medicine. “I went in [to medical school] thinking I would practice family medicine, but then I rotated through surgery and absolutely loved it. I found I have a surgical personality, that I see a problem and want to cut it out.” 

She worked with a breast surgeon who mentored her toward general surgery and breast surgery. “There were only a handful of breast surgery fellowships in the country in the early ‘90s,” she said. “I could see the need right away.” 

She noted that much has changed in medicine since she first began. In-patient treatments at the time are now outpatient. Back then, a patient going in for a biopsy had to give signed consent to a mastectomy as well, in case the biopsy was positive for cancer, so the surgeon could take care of it right away. 

“Patients didn’t know whether or not they’d had a mastectomy until they woke up,” said Kennedy. “Imagine that. Waking up to a stranger changing your bandages to find out what happened. In those cases, I would sit with the patient before and after, going in early to change her first bandage myself and sit and talk with her about it.”

The attending surgeon at the time found out what she was doing and encouraged her to focus her surgery on breast health, saying they need surgeons who care as much as she does.

“Some said I’d be bored focusing only on breast surgery and breast health,” remembered Kennedy. “They thought I’d miss abdomen or other interesting areas of the body, but it has never been boring. I’ve found it to be extraordinarily rewarding. Keep in mind, you’re going through this really horrific journey with someone. Your relationship with her matters. You have to partner with the patient. In the beginning it can be so frightening, and the fact that I’m confident helps us get to the other side.”

It is this level of compassion and search for best practices that led Kennedy to become a medical facilitator and serve on the board of trustees for Casting for Recovery, a program that combines breast cancer education and peer support with the therapeutic sport of fly-fishing.

Casting for Recovery aims to enhance the quality of life of women with breast cancer through a combination of breast cancer education and peer support at fly-fishing retreats, which are open to breast cancer survivors of all ages, in all stages of treatment and recovery, and are free to participants.

“I’m a better surgeon than a fly-fisherman,” laughed Kennedy. “But there’s something so therapeutic about being out in nature, and the graceful and gentle stretch of the cast is good for the muscles after surgery. It’s meditative, making you stay in the moment. Everything else drops away. Over 70 percent of women at the retreats had never been in a support group. Here they were, among people where they don’t have to explain why their hair is growing back in. There’s this quote that’s always stuck with me about it – that most people fish all their lives and don’t realize that it’s never been about the fish. It’s transformative, a gift.”

Kennedy’s empathy is born from years of experience and education, working closely with patients in a manner not unlike her childhood hero, Marcus Welby. She takes seriously the meaning behind the letters FACS (Fellow, American College of Surgeons) that follow her name. It signifies that her education and training, professional qualifications, surgical competence, and ethical conduct have passed a rigorous evaluation, and have been found to be consistent with the high standards established and demanded by the College.

"Our breast cancer patients have always had access to some of the finest surgeons in the Capital Region," said Richard Falivena, MD, chief medical and physician integration officer. "There is a segment of our population that has been traveling outside the community, seeking care by a dedicated breast surgeon who is fellowship trained in that specialty. Now, those patients can receive that specialty care right here, at Saratoga Hospital.”

Kennedy intends to develop a cohesive breast program, tailoring the surgical and non-surgical options for patients utilizing the latest technology and research. “The newest breakthroughs have to do with being able to really tailor the therapy,” she said. “Chemotherapy is not one size fits all. We can now tailor it to the disease so we are not over-treating people.”

She says imaging and early detection have greatly improved over the years, and there are so many more options than surgery for women now, including better reconstruction options should a mastectomy be necessary. Kennedy is committed to seeking and incorporating best practices for the patients of the program, not only locally, but nationally as well.

"Dr. Kennedy is also a surveyor for the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers," Falivena said. "We are determined to advance our program to meet the exacting accreditation standards—and we are confident that Dr. Kennedy has the expertise to help us meet that goal."

As a surveyor, Kennedy has evaluated breast programs around the country to ensure that the standards are met for accreditation. “I want women to receive the best care possible, no matter where the get their care,” said Kennedy. 

Kennedy has two children, a 14-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son who is attending Rochester Institute of Technology. She and her family are delighted to settle here.

“Saratoga is so charming,” she said. “There’s so much going on. It’s a college town, there’s the track, and the downtown is so vibrant. I remember driving through here once and saying to my husband – there’s a hospital here. Not long after, I found out they were looking for a breast cancer surgeon, and it seems all these things were leading me here.” 


Kennedy will begin seeing patients on September 14 at Saratoga Medical Park in Malta. There are also plans for an expanded facility in Wilton. For an appointment, call Saratoga Hospital’s HealthSource line at 518-580-2450. No referral needed.

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