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Spring 2014
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Running With the Boys
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After intensive training in clinical teaching techniques, attendees were sent back to their home institutions to teach others to be more skilled clinical teachers at the faculty and resident levels. Cyr was nominated, and
attended the program in 1988.

“That was a terrific opportunity for me—to have this particular area of expertise, to be the only one here who  had been involved in that program, and to bring it back to Brown,” she says.

Cyr later became director of the general internal residency program, and in 2000 she became the associate dean for graduate medical education. Soon after that, her life took an unexpected—and ironic—turn.

The Other Side of the Stethoscope

Having developed an interest in women’s health, Cyr helped Associate Professor of Medicine Anne Moulton
and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Carol Landau start a women’s health practice in 1987. She also wrote a book on menopause with Landau and Moulton. They later updated the book, publishing The New Truth About Menopause. In 2002, Cyr says, “I was literally en route to the American College of Physicians meeting, where I was going to be giving a talk on menopause and women’s health in general, when I discovered what turned out to be breast cancer.”

“It was a stressful time, knowing that I was going back to Rhode Island to have a biopsy. I was pretty certain it was going to be breast cancer,” she continues. “I remember the first question someone asked me after I gave the talk … it was really a statement. This individual thought that I had overstated the link between   hormone therapy and breast cancer. This was before the Women’s Health Initiative results were released,
so the link between hormone therapy and breast cancer was speculative, based on observational studies, not the randomized, controlled trial that was the Women’s Health Initiative. She made the point that the number of excess breast cancers, even if there was this linkage, wasn’t that big a deal. ‘We’re talking about relatively few women who would have breast cancer based on hormone therapy versus the number of women who would be benefited by the effects on heart disease.’ Of course, that turned out not to be  true—there was no benefit.

“I’m listening to this individual talk about ‘What was the big deal about a few extra cases of breast cancer?’ and I’m thinking, My God, she should only be in the situation of looking down the barrel of having this diagnosis! It just brought it home. It was an interesting collision of my personal life with my professional life.”

Cyr had the breast biopsy, and as she predicted, it was cancer. Thus began the strange journey of going from physician to patient.

“The people who gave me the diagnosis were my colleagues and my friends,” she recalls. “It was such an out-of-body experience. You go from one minute being ‘Shelley Cyr-Shelley Cyr,’ to the next being ‘Shelley Cyr, with breast cancer.’ It was just very bizarre.”

She quickly moved from absorbing the diagnosis to wanting to begin treatment, to “just take care of it.” “Being on the other side of the stethoscope was an interesting experience,” Cyr says. “Sometimes physicians  interacted with me as I suspect they interact with all their patients, and sometimes they interacted with me much more as a colleague. I’m not being critical of either approach, but for me I so much wanted to be treated as a patient. I wanted them to tell me based on their expertise what they thought I should do.”

Her physicians knew all of the data and any question she asked could be answered easily by giving her  references to the literature, “but it was that physician who sat with me and said, ‘You know, you’re going to be OK’—that was the thing I needed to hear.”

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