Oct 25, 2021 9:00 AM

Read time: 4 minutes


photo of Phoebe Freer, MD
Phoebe Freer, MD

Video transcript

This is a life-changing disease but it doesn't have to take away you living.

I'm Phoebe Freer. I'm section chief of breast imaging at Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah. And I am an associate professor of radiology, specializing in breast.

What does your day-to-day look like?

My day-to-day is different depending on whether or not I'm wearing an administrative hat, a researcher hat, a teaching hat, or a clinical doc hat.

On our clinical doc days—we, in breast imaging specialize in the early detection and diagnosis of breast disease, which the most common, would be breast cancer. From a teaching standpoint—it's medical students, residents, and we run a fellowship program as well, in addition to peer teaching. So from national conferences or internationally teaching our other radiologists. And then in the community Huntsman Cancer Institute is aligned with other hospitals around the community in the Intermountain West, so it's often involving peer teaching through hospitals and other institutions.

When did you know you wanted to become a doctor?

So I went into medicine from being a patient myself. When I was 19 I was t-boned as a passenger in a car accident—cut out by the Jaws of Life—level one trauma. The nurse in the ICU really helped me approach what my future might be, even when it was uncertain and when it was unknown—to not give up. My doctors had said “oh you know we don't know if you'll be able to go back to college” and my nurse held out hope. And it made me want to go into the field of medicine.

Getting into breast imaging—it's a field where you're really connected with patients. Where you can say, you know, I can't help whether or not the woman has cancer but I can help her approach how she views that disease. As well as just be that person who can say you know this is a life-changing disease, but it doesn't have to take away you living. You know, it can still find ways to really find joy and gratitude for the rest of your life.

What is a common concern you hear from patients?

Most women who are sitting in the waiting room getting ready for their screening exam or waiting for us to interpret their screen exam, are wondering what if there's something on that mammogram. And so every woman in the waiting room is maybe a little bit nervous or trying to distract themselves from being nervous, even though they're normal. And the majority of the time we're able to reassure them that they're normal and they can go on about their way. But for those few moments while they're waiting to find that out it does create, you know, some anxiety. So we do everything we can to try to read it as fast as possible, get the patient the results as fast as possible, so that they don't have to spend time in that anxiety. But I like to remind the residents that women really are, you know, thinking about what if they're the one who's diagnosed during those moments.

What are you up to on your days off?

We try to get out when we can, explore the great outdoors—be it climbing in lava tubes down in Snow Canyon Park and spelunking a little bit. I grew up in Kentucky so I'm used to caves and you know exploring the lava tubes in the caves there. Or be it out biking, mountain biking with the kids as they're learning and teaching me, because that's something my husband does but I've never done. We also really like to make a big deal with made up holidays. My children's favorite holiday is Pi Day. My four-year-old woke up on Sunday morning of Pi Day this year and the first thing she said is, "It's Pi day today!"

What's something your patients would be surprised to learn about you?

I was actually in a movie once with Alec Baldwin and Bill Pullman. Most of me in the movie—it was an extra—and most of me ended up on the cutting room floor. Which has been a common theme in my life where I've been asked to be in things, and then end up not in them. My car, you see me driving in the very opening of a movie. The rest of it ended up on the cutting room floor, but that was kind of a fun experience.

What makes Huntsman Cancer Institute unique?

So many of our patients are coming from hours away from the Intermountain West. We have full reign to add those patients on for the same day care. From the technologists, to the physicians, to just room utilization, to the front desk staff—we are able to accommodate patients, sometimes even late in the afternoon as they're coming through, if they're from far away and need something done so that they don't have to drive back for another appointment. It's a really remarkable thing that we can do. At many top cancer institutes you might be waiting weeks to get in for an appointment and here we try to accommodate everything as smoothly as possible.

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