Dr. Lieberman merits Bnai Zion honor

When Bnai Zion honors Zeck Lieberman next Monday evening, I’ll be leading the cheers! Here’s why: Thirty-five years ago, when the words “breast cancer” were still spoken in whispers and mastectomy was the treatment of choice, I found a lump in my own right breast. I hadn’t been in Dallas long enough to know much about its medical community, but several women in our Jewish community steered me toward Dr. Lieberman.
Forty-plus years ago, when I lived in a suburb south of Chicago, Illinois built its Governors State University near my home. A woman I knew from synagogue became its research and reference librarian, and when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided to speak out about it. In her professional position, Mimi Kaplan studied her own disease, found that some new and different ideas about treatment were beginning to emerge, and organized a community conference on the subject. I covered it for the newspaper I worked for then, and what I learned resurfaced for me when I needed it myself.
Our cutting-edge Dr. Lieberman first acknowledged that my tumor was very small, so small that he might not even have seen it on a mammogram. And then he said this: “Your lump didn’t grow in 10 days, so you can take 10 days to decide how to handle it.” He was one of that small, early cadre of oncologists who did not believe that immediate mastectomy was the only treatment for breast cancer. He offered alternatives, and as a result, my breast was saved.
Twelve years later: another health plan, another lump, this time in my left breast. This one showed clearly on the mammogram, but my physician did not propose an immediate mastectomy, instead asking me to first be part of a new study testing whether lumpectomy alone was sufficient treatment for my second type of breast cancer. Of course, I said yes, and of course I was sorry when it turned out that my cancer would need more than that one simple surgery. I was offered a tough choice: mastectomy, or five long years on the drug Tamoxifen.
My new oncologist was a woman, so I asked her what she would choose if she were in my position. Without hesitation, she said, “I’d have the mastectomy. Otherwise, I’d get up every morning, look at myself in the mirror while I was brushing my teeth, and wonder if the cancer was coming back.” But she had already gotten to know me well enough to follow up her initial statement with this: “That wouldn’t be the case with you, would it?”
I opted for the pills, one every day for 60 months. This regimen also required two gynecological exams each year instead of the usual one, the second for a uterine biopsy to determine if the drug was causing cell changes, which eventually it did. My fifth year of Tamoxifen treatment ended with a complete hysterectomy, which was OK: I was beyond child-bearing age, and that surgery was much simpler than any mastectomy.
My initial lumpectomy kept me hospitalized for days because there wasn’t yet any drain that could go home with the patient. My identical second was done in a day. I remembered Dr. Lieberman telling my husband during that first long stay, “Your wife doesn’t have to eat this hospital food! Go out and get her a corned beef sandwich!” After my same surgery the second time, Fred and I went immediately to Cindi’s and ate corned beef sandwiches together.
Oct. 26 of this year marked my 34th Komen Race for the Cure. I never ran; I no longer even walk the course. Now I sit in the survivors’ tent, cheering on the many young women who’ve been able to opt for minimal surgeries, thanks to today’s doctors routinely following the pioneering lead of a few, including our own Zeck Lieberman. I cheer for him now, and I cheer Bnai Zion for honoring him!

Leave a Reply