Special Reports

Dr. Vassi Gardikas: 'I knew I was going to live'

Dr. Vassi Gardikas had been operating on women with breast cancer for years, so it didn't really surprise her when she was diagnosed with the disease.

She knew she wasn't immune.

And she knew it was good news when the pathologist told her what type of cancer she had -- ductal carcinoma in situ, confined to one site.

"I knew I was going to live," she said. "You have to understand, I had the knowledge of what had hit me."

She had the earliest stage of breast cancer, with a nearly 100% cure rate.

She chose to have a mastectomy, or total removal of her breast. She considered risk factors (she'd already had a noncancerous tumor in the same breast) and appearance (she had such small breasts a lumpectomy would be disfiguring anyway).

Her practice partner and one-time intern Dr. Deborah Gumina performed the surgery. She also had immediate reconstruction.

"I had not one moment of sadness about my breast," she said. "I didn't have a scared moment."

But it was hard on her family, including her surgeon-husband, Dr. Keith Boone, and her son and daughter. Her daughter, Alexis, who was about 9 years old at the time, had a lot of questions.

And Gardikas took stock of her life: "I had to stop going at the pace I was going and take a breath."

She stopped taking emergency room calls and focused on the types of patients she wanted to care for, including those with breast cancer.

Today, she understands what her breast cancer patients are going through. She openly shares her story with them.

Her biggest life lesson from cancer: "Your family, friends and the way you take care of people is more important than anything you do in life."