After completing a fellowship at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Tricia Kelly could have practiced anywhere. Fortunately for us and her patients, she chose St. Luke’s for its commitment to quality, its physician-friendly environment and its accessible, patient-focused culture.
As a breast surgical oncologist, one needs to be precise, methodical, pragmatic and singularly focused. On the surface, Tricia Kelly, MD exemplifies all of these qualities and yet, there is a softness and genuine love that lies just beneath the veneer of the white coat.
Dr. Kelly became intrigued by the field of surgical oncology as a general surgery resident. After attending a national meeting in La Jolla, California and meeting some of the biggest names in the business, she set her sights on a fellowship. The sole surgical oncology fellow during her time at the Cleveland Clinic, her training was “unparalleled.”
And yet, there was something lacking in that big, prestigious institution – the personal touch.
“What drew me to St. Luke’s was how friendly everyone is. We are not huge and overwhelming. It’s easier for patients to access our services and get the quality care that they need.”
For Dr. Kelly, this field is her calling. Just as a soldier may feel called to serve their country, or a priest to serve his faith, Dr. Kelly knows that she is meant to help others through medicine.
“There was a day,” she explains, “shortly after I started at St. Luke’s, where I got a phone call from an OB/GYN doctor. He had just seen a patient who was concerned about her daughter’s health. Her daughter clearly had a very prominent lump in her breast and had been trying to get a mammogram at another institution.”
The woman was going through a difficult personal struggle with divorce and was currently uninsured.
“She had been turned away by this other hospital and I thought: I need to help this woman.”
Dr. Kelly agreed to see the patient immediately and asked her staff to stay late that evening. They found a 10 cm mass in her breast and were able to do a biopsy on the spot and start her treatment plan. Surgery soon followed and today, that woman is five-years cancer free.
“It’s moments like those that tell me, I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing.”
That same altruistic attitude and drive carries over to Dr. Kelly’s personal life as well. She and husband Steve are actively involved in, and lead, multiple community fundraisers, awareness events and charitable programs throughout the year. An annual event they help organize, “Beards for Breasts” raised more than $5,000 for the Cancer Support Community of the Lehigh Valley.
Sarah Trimmer, Dr. Kelly’s patient and friend, is also very focused on community outreach. “It’s so special to have a physician like Dr. Kelly, who is so skilled and professional – but also willing to jump in and plan an event. She really owns it.”
Sarah recalls a visit with Dr. Kelly where she happened to mention the film “Decoding Annie Parker” which centered on the importance of the BRCA gene. “Before I knew it, Dr. Kelly was working with the film’s agency to bring a private showing to Bethlehem. It was something I mentioned casually and she took it and ran with it.”
Giving back to the community is part of Dr. Kelly’s holistic approach to healing. She believes that proper balance in life helps ones overall health. “Holistic care is not alternative medicine. It’s about treating the whole patient – not just their disease – but making sure their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is addressed.”
“So while I use conventional methods for treating cancer, like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I also advise patients on their diet, exercise routine, ways to reduce stress and incorporate palliative care [pain management] when needed,” explains Dr. Kelly.
A yoga enthusiast, Dr. Kelly practices what she preaches. Together with friends, she holds regular yoga events for people interested in learning. “Yoga for Hope” is an annual fundraiser she does with the Cancer Support Community. “Yoga is such a good practice for the mind and body. You don’t have to be an athlete to give yoga a try – it’s for everybody.”
“I find it helps balance me – particularly on a stressful day - a little bit of yoga goes a long way to making me feel calm and restored.”
Her career is stressful at times. “It’s never easy to give someone a cancer diagnosis,” she says. “However, I find that most of my patients take the time to educate themselves on their disease and are actively involved in discussing their treatment plan with me. It’s part of what I like about my field. I get to develop relationships with them. With other surgical fields, once you treat the patient, you don’t have much interaction. With cancer, it’s different. You are on a journey together.”