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Beating Breast Cancer Twice, Emerging Stronger

When Yu Zheng was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in China, she was terrified and unsure she would survive. Following a single mastectomy and chemotherapy, she moved to New York to live with her daughter.

Soon after, Zheng felt a pain in her chest and rushed to an NYC Health + Hospitals emergency room where she was told the cancer had returned. But, this time, the retired literature professor held hope that she would defeat it and emerge even stronger.

“It was unexpected, but I was not frightened,” she said. “I won that battle before and it was difficult. Now, I’m confident with the wonderful medical care I am receiving that I can overcome this again.”

Zheng said her positive outlook stemmed from the deep trust she held in her physician, Dr. Kathie-Ann Joseph, Chief of Breast Surgery and Director of Breast Care Service at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. Because Zheng speaks no English, they discussed medical care and treatment through Zheng’s daughter.

Still, Zheng said the connection with her doctor went beyond words.

“I communicated with Dr. Joseph’s smile and her gaze,” she said. “I felt comfort and I trusted in her tremendously.”

Dr. Joseph also confided on their unlikely friendship.

“I felt a bond with Ms. Zheng from the very beginning,” Dr. Joseph said. “While it’s more difficult to communicate with patients who do not speak English because I have to go through an interpreter, I try my best to maintain eye contact and ensure that my patients know that I still care for them I have empathy for their condition. If they cry, I hold their hand or give them a hug.”

Zheng is one of 70,000 women who receive mammograms and breast cancer care at hospitals and community based health centers across the NYC Health + Hospitals system, a leader in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer. The system’s award-winning cancer treatment centers offer the latest therapies and support programs for patients and their families.

In Zheng’s case, detection of the second recurrence in its earliest stage was key to successful treatment and higher likelihood of survival. After the cancer was detected, Zheng was scheduled for lumpectomy and radiation treatment.

At Bellevue’s cancer clinic, the grateful and inseparable mother and daughter duo became known for their warmth and quiet kindness. On the day of surgery, they surprised staff by bringing a batch of chocolate chip and almond cookies to the operating room.

After Zheng’s surgery, Dr. Joseph was honored with the American Cancer Society’s Leader in Cancer Care Award. She invited Zheng and several other breast cancer patients to the award ceremony held at the Intrepid Museum. After the event, Zheng reflected on her experience in battling breast cancer.

“Some people think having cancer is unfortunate. But I don’t think that way. I know now that I have a right to live longer. And I have all the exceptional nurses and doctors I need to make sure I do,” she said.

If you or someone you know needs more information on breast cancer screening or treatment, go to: nychealthandhospitals.org/breasthealth.