April 22, 2018

Theresa S. Emory, MD

Peninsula Pathology Associates
By Alison Johnson

 

After 13 years living and practicing pathology in rural southwestern Virginia, Dr. Theresa Emory is painfully aware of how many uninsured and underinsured women never schedule screenings for breast and cervical cancer. She has seen diseases caught far too late, such as one breast tumor that had pierced through the skin of a 36-year-old woman; the sample arrived with a small piece of her bra attached.

Now practicing with Peninsula Pathology Associates in Newport News, Dr. Emory is determined to help such underserved women through the See, Test & Treat program, a national outreach by the College of American Pathologists Foundation. A foundation board member, she led an effort to bring a day of free screenings to a hospital near the Virginia/Kentucky border this summer, and she hopes to do the same in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore within next two years.

“Simply put, these exams can save lives,” Dr. Emory says. “These women generally are very smart, but they tend to be so focused on their families – on taking care of other people – that they don’t take care of themselves. Many also have limited transportation options, major time constraints and a lack of funds. Our goal is to remove those barriers.”

Dr. Emory, who is affiliated with Riverside Health System, secured a $20,000 grant shortly after joining the foundation board in March 2016. She spent 17 months coordinating an event at Norton Community Hospital, about 420 miles from Newport News. On Aug. 5, she was among a multispecialty team of physicians and nurses who shepherded 44 women through 300-plus medical encounters, including mammograms, Pap tests, skin exams, bone density screens and routine blood work.

Most patients received same-day results, along with all needed referrals. The first woman through the door had critical hypertension and was sent to the emergency room; about 30 percent had abnormalities requiring follow-up care. Women also were counseled on nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation, diabetes care and local resources available to help them stay well.

“It was a really emotional day,” Dr. Emory says. “We had women who were so scared because they knew they’d put these tests off for too long, and then they were very relieved if they got good results. Everyone also was so thankful. There were a lot of hugs.”

See, Test & Treat has run for 10 years, but never before in Virginia and typically in urban areas or at large university hospitals. Many people were instrumental in organizing the Norton event, Dr. Emory stresses: two competing health systems partnered to host it; University of Virginia’s College at Wise opened dorms to volunteers; and Food City, a large supermarket chain, supplied breakfast and box lunches. Two other Hampton Roads physicians also participated: Dr. Lucy E. DeFanti of Peninsula Pathology Associates and Dr. Roger E. Emory – Dr. Emory’s husband – a plastic surgeon with offices in Williamsburg and Gloucester.

Much work remains to be done, Dr. Emory notes; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 38 percent of uninsured women receive mammograms, and 63 percent cervical screens, on a recommended basis. She already has an Aug. 4 date set for a second screening event in Norton, which she hopes can expand to 200 patients with additional radiology support.

Dr. Emory, a graduate of Eastern Virginia Medical School who is Board certified in anatomic and clinical pathology, has practiced locally since 2013. She encourages other community physicians to learn more about See, Test & Treat by contacting her or visiting foundation.cap.org.

“It should bother all of us that people in our own state are missing these screenings, ultimately presenting with advanced cancer,” she says. “My message to women is: by the time symptoms are bothering you, it will be much more complicated to treat. It’s not selfish to get screened. That’s how you can continue to be around for your family.”