This article is part of Jmore’s “Innovation in Health Care” special section.
Dr. Dee-Dee Shiller doesn’t just treat the pain. She treats the person.
“We need a holistic approach,” she says, “because our bodies are so complex.”
As a gynecologist and surgeon with Baltimore Suburban Health, Dr. Shiller brings such a whole-person approach to her work. Take for instance endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue that makes up the uterine lining is present on other organs and can result in chronic pain.
“For these patients, I will address the psycho-social component of the pain, the hormonal component, the musculoskeletal component. Then, I also use regular medications and surgery,” she says. “That’s a very different way of looking at the patient.”
Dr. Shiller trained in this approach at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, where she completed an undergraduate fellowship in osteopathic manipulation, and went on to complete her OB/Gyn residency at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. She served as chief of gynecology at Good Samaritan Hospital and was the founding director of the Women’s Wellness Center at Northwest Hospital, where she also practices surgery.
Dr. Shiller continues to pursue an interest in women’s wellness as an advocate for preventive health. While her community work embraces a range of issues, including fertility and contraception, Dr. Shiller has been especially active in raising awareness around the BRCA gene.
“That’s the gene that one-in-40 Ashkenazi Jews carry, and it’s responsible for breast and ovarian cancer. This is a dominant gene, so if a woman has it, every one of her children has a 50 percent chance of having it, which leads to a very high risk of cancer,” she says. “I believe that all Ashkenazi Jews should know their status.”
Dr Shiller believes that knowing a family’s status saves lives not only in this generation but in the next as well. A young family with the BRCA gene can choose to use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to help choose embryos that will not be affected or carry the gene. This will greatly reduce the children from ever having cancer in their lifetimes. This empowers and reassures many families.
In addition, Dr. Shiller has been part of a grassroots community movement to partner the Baltimore Shabbat Project and Myriad Women’s Health. The initiative is now nationwide with 25 “Pink Challah Bakes” occurring this year.
Dr. Shiller has lobbied the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a nonprofit alliance of leading cancer centers, to have BRCA testing incorporated into the standard guidelines for cancer screenings. She has also spoken out frequently at the local level.
“Five years ago, I would talk about BRCA and no one would know what I was talking about,” she says. “Today, the local level of awareness is amazing. Today, women ask me about it. They want to know their family’s status.”
Dr. Shiller describes such effort as a sacred obligation. “I believe completely in tikkun olam,” she says, alluding to the Jewish dictum to heal the world. “As a physician who is embedded in my community, I have a responsibility to my community.”
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