Home is Where the Heart Is

Breast oncology surgeon Crystal Fancher returns to the hospital where she was born.

BY SHARI ROAN / PHOTOGRAPHED BY PHILLIP GRAYBILL

The Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center continues to grow under the direction of Janie Grumley, MD. A few months ago, the center welcomed the addition of surgical breast oncologist Crystal Fancher, MD. For Dr. Fancher, the position represents a homecoming. She was born at Saint John’s and grew up nearby in Mar Vista. Dr. Fancher earned her medical degree at the Medical University of South Carolina and performed surgical residencies at Loma Linda University Medical Center and Mercer University-Medical Center, Navicent Health. She also completed a breast surgical oncology fellowship at the University of Southern California. She is a specialist in oncoplastic breast conserving surgery, surgery that removes breast cancer while using plastic surgery techniques to achieve a good cosmetic result, and intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT), a one-time radiation treatment administered during the initial cancer surgery. Aside from work, she’s a baseball and softball fan who loves the beach. We asked Dr. Fancher about her career and her medical specialty.

WHAT DREW YOU INTO THE FIELD OF MEDICINE?

I was always really interested in math and science. Those were my favorite subjects in school. I also absolutely loved my pediatrician growing up. I think that inspired me to want to do something similar. My mom says that at age 4 or 5 I said I want to be a doctor, and I never changed my mind. That’s the path that I’ve always been on. Each step I took continued to confirm that decision for me.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE BREAST CANCER AS A SPECIALTY?

I was at Loma Linda for my internship, and during my surgical oncology rotation I spent a lot of time in the breast cancer clinic with my mentor, Dr. Sharon Lum. Treating surgical breast cancer patients was everything that I wanted in my career. People sometimes think of surgeons as people who operate and then they never see the patient again. What I really enjoyed and appreciated was the continuity with the patients that I saw in the breast cancer clinic. I enjoyed the women’s health aspect to it and being an advocate for that. I appreciated the bond patients have with their breast cancer surgeon.

YOU’RE A SPECIALIST IN ONCOPLASTY. WHY IS THAT TECHNIQUE IMPORTANT TO YOU?

Oncoplasty is about using plastic surgery techniques to design an operation that allows us to remove the cancer with both the best oncologic and cosmetic outcomes. Many times, it allows us to remove larger cancers with wider margins and still have a good cosmetic outcome. We’re realizing the aesthetics of breast cancer treatment is also important. We want to do a good cancer operation, but we want to do it in a way that we get a good aesthetic result. I think it’s important and can help a woman feel like herself after surgery. Once she’s through cancer treatment, she can more easily put it behind her if she feels good about the way she looks after surgery.

DO YOU THINK TOO FEW PATIENTS ARE OFFERED ONCOPLASTIC BREASTCONSERVING TECHNIQUES?

The pendulum is starting to swing toward breast conserving surgery, and that includes oncoplastic surgery. Despite all the studies that show breast conservation has equal outcomes to mastectomy, women still seem to feel they are better off if they remove all their breast tissue. The problem is even with a mastectomy, recurrence is still possible. I think that seeing celebrities in the media undergo a bilateral mastectomy, women tend to want to follow in their footsteps. However, cancer care should be individualized. For some women, mastectomy may be the right choice. My goal is to make sure women understand that is not the only choice and may not be the best choice for them. There are other options. My hope is that I can continue to show that oncoplastic surgery is a great option so that more women are given the opportunity to make the right choice for them.

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO JOIN THE BREAST CENTER AT SAINT JOHN’S?

I was born here at Saint John’s. I’m coming here and taking care of patients in the community I grew up in. I’m excited to join Dr. Janie Grumley because she has built the center into something I was looking for, offering both oncoplasty and intraoperative radiation therapy.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE AN OVERARCHING PHILOSOPHY OF CARE AT THE MARGIE PETERSEN BREAST CENTER?

What we really want is to have an environment where each patient has individualized treatment. Our focus is patient care and how we can get it done as efficiently as possible with the best care possible.

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