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Breast cancer - an holistic approach
23 March 2016
Breast oncoplastic surgeon, Dr Nicole Yap (above), moves quickly through her day. She must to fit in everything she wants to do.
Nicole is a consultant at various Melbourne private hospitals; writes and delivers presentations here and overseas on her area of specialty; carries out medical education; is a guest speaker and advocate around early detection of breast cancer and breast surgical techniques, and holds various roles on state and national medical associations and bodies.
She’s also an avid traveller, up for anything her friends might ask her to do, including tennis and learning to sail, attends aerobic classes, regularly and, because she isn’t a cook, has an excellent grasp of Melbourne’s foodie culture and restaurant scene.
Routine, she says, helps her get everything done.
Having trained in plastic surgery, Nicole, who has her general surgery credentials, also deals in melanoma and thyroid cancer, but her primary work is in breast oncoplastic surgery. A new and emerging field, she explains that, “the oncological side of the disease is integrated with plastic surgery procedures to produce a more holistic approach for patients with breast cancer.”
Says Nicole, “A cancer diagnoses is devastating, but if you can support a patient by developing with them through surgery an aesthetically pleasing outcome, while treating the cancer, you go a long way toward helping them overcome the psychological effects of the disease too.”
Nicole finds her work extremely rewarding and a long way from her past work history: “I had a scholarship to the Conservatorium and many years playing in quartets.
“I taught music for a short time but I didn’t enjoy teaching people who weren’t interested.
“I was interested to see what the medical field offered and through my dad, who was Director of Pharmacy at the Royal Women’s Hospital, was able to get time with a friend of his who was the Director of Anaesthetics. I loved the science, but then I was introduced to this lady who was having triplets by caesarean. I had to stay on the head side of the drapes because I was shadowing the anaesthetist, but I was so interested in what was happening on the other side they had to keep pulling me back. It was then I knew what it was I wanted to do. I wanted to do something where you ‘cut people and something good came of it’.”
Eventually, that very basic initial impression led Nicole to do surgery, and into a career she believes suits her personality: “I like problem solving - immediate problem solving. I like to assess something, make a decision and assist the patient quickly.
“I don’t think about cutting into someone but I do think about the technique I have to use and what has to be done to get the best result. You can’t get flustered. You have to be steady and level headed.”
Oncologically, Nicole believes the future is “targeting gene mutations and stopping cancer in its tracks”, and this is why, she says, channelling funding to research rather than breast awareness is important.
Dr Nicole Yap is currently working as a consultant surgeon at St Vincent's Private, Melbourne; The Valley Private; Melbourne Eastern Private; Ringwood Private and Epworth. She is also: Secretary of Victorian State Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons; Royal Australasian College of Surgeons representative on the Cancer Council’s Medical & Scientific Committee; President of the Australian Chinese Medical Association of Victoria; Medico-Legal Society of Victoria committee member.