It was January 2018 when Cincinnatian Amy Eskoff Garret learned she had breast cancer.
According to Amy, family, friends, colleagues, doctors and people she didn’t even know played a huge role throughout her journey. And, while she says “luck” isn’t a word often spoken in the same sentence with cancer, her good luck started with a dear friend.
“She told me, ‘I have to get you in to see my doctor Lisa Larkin.’ And so, it began,” she recalls. “I called to inquire about becoming a patient of Lisa Larkin, MD.” Dr. Larkin, a women’s health internist, is Founder and CEO of Ms.Medicine, a concierge primary care practice for women. “Her patient navigator said something to me that unexpectedly touched me,” says Amy. “She said, ‘Dr. Larkin will be your quarterback throughout the whole process.’” Those words resonated with Amy. Her dad was a high school football coach for 30 years. “Right then, I knew exactly what that meant from a patient’s perspective. The care that brings together confidence, accountability, informed decision and extraordinary care,” she said.
“She has a way about her, not just professionally in the medical field, but in her understanding and compassion towards women experiencing a breast cancer diagnosis,” says Amy. A Stage 3 breast cancer survivor herself, Dr. Larkin is passionate about women’s health. “So, I can see where she is just the right doctor for me,” says Amy. “She’s this guiding light, a trusted source, the emotional support that whispers, ‘Hey! we are going to get through this emotionally, too!’ She just sees the big picture.”
Amy has a lot of passion when she speaks about the importance of great medical care. “Understanding how to navigate the medical system isn’t always easy,” says Amy. “But when you have a doctor who is a true partner in your whole-health care, it makes common check-ups so much easier and gives a patient confidence in the delivery of care for the more difficult and complex medical conditions.”
As Amy’s health needs unfolded, she had honest conversations with Dr. Larkin about the cancer treatment, what to expect during chemotherapy treatment and how the medicine affects the body, and the phase of radiation therapy. Because all kinds of things happen along the cancer journey, Amy checked in regularly. Even when she read cancer articles on the internet that made her feel uncomfortable or uncertain, she would check in with Dr. Larkin. “She was there every step of the way, guiding me to make that path smoother – emotionally and physically,” Amy says. “Her medical intellect, coupled with a relatable and compassionate side is the perfect combination.”
Over the past 12 months, Amy never felt alone. She would often receive text messages from Dr. Larkin, who would just ‘check-in.’ Amy says, “Dr. Larkin’s capacity to serve her patients is truly amazing.”
It’s not always easy to provide this type of care in today’s healthcare environment. In typical primary care practices, insurance companies and health systems mandate the number of patients a physician needs to treat in a day. The high quota leaves little time to respond to anything except urgent needs. “It’s really unfortunate because there are a lot of really phenomenal physicians out there providing care who want to provide even better care, more care and have longer conversations with their patients,” says Amy.
Today, Amy is on her journey to better health. “I am good, and it’s more about my energy level given what treatment (chemotherapy, radiation and surgery) puts your body through. Dr. Larkin was my problem-solver; she did a lot behind-the-scene to make my care seamless and effortless and was so responsive to my needs. Test results were communicated without delay. She never sat on things that could create a lot of emotional worry for a patient.”
“Amy did everything right. She made sure she got her annual mammograms, stayed on top of her routine check-ups. Genetic testing did not uncover a genetic predisposition, such as a BRCA I or II gene, she has no family history, yet faced a stage 3 diagnosis,” said Dr. Larkin. “Like most women, she was not aware that she was personally at high risk for developing breast cancer.”
Recognizing that most women are unaware of their personal risk for developing breast cancer, Dr. Larkin is an advocate for changing the conversation about breast cancer from one focused purely on detection to one focused on prevention. Through Ms.Medicine, she provides her patients with individual breast cancer risk assessments. Additionally, she launched a community-based risk assessment program, educating women about the importance of understanding individual risk for developing breast cancer.
“Most women know the statistic ‘1 in 8,’ meaning one in eight women might develop breast cancer in their lifetime. But that is the statistic for the general population as a whole,” says Dr. Larkin. “New tools allow us to provide an individualized breast cancer risk assessment based on a number of factors, such as history, biometrics, and lifestyle factors. Knowing your individual risk is incredibly empowering, and it allows women to work with their physicians to take measures to lower their risk.”
Amy says she admires Dr. Larkin and her mission to empower and educate women about their breast cancer risk. Through her breast cancer risk and prevention program, Dr. Larkin and Ms.Medicine have set out to help women be proactive about their breast health, and advocate on their own behalf. In particular, according to Dr. Larkin, women who have dense breasts should have a breast cancer risk assessment. “Women with a lifetime risk over 20 percent should consider an annual MRI in addition to their mammogram, and women with an elevated 5-year risk might be a candidate for chemoprevention (taking a medication for 5 years to lower risk),” she says. “In addition, all women who are at elevated risk should prioritize lifestyle changes—such as diet, exercise and avoiding alcohol—to lower their risk In Amy’s case, the mammogram alone did not detect her tumor.
“Honestly, her passion to educate women is priceless and a gift she gives to others,” says Amy.