Her father, Harold Lipshitz, encouraged her to learn everything
she could about his career -- pharmacy.
"By the time I was 6, I knew the name of every antibiotic. I was
a real strange kid in that sense. But I was very influenced by my
father," said Kornmehl, 44, of Morganville.
Kornmehl followed through on that early goal. After college, she
went to medical school. Then, Kornmehl's dad -- her hero, as she
called him, became ill. The diagnosis: acute leukemia. The diagnosis
"Watching his pain and suffering tore at my heart. It made me
decide to be a leader in the war against cancer," Kornmehl said.
Today, Kornmehl is an attending radiation oncologist at Valley
Hospital in Ridgewood. And as an extension of her work as an
oncologist, Kornmehl recently published a book called "The Best News
About Radiation Therapy: How to Cope and Survive" (Academic
Radiation Oncology Press, $14.95; visit online at
"People have this horrible image of radiation therapy. I think
the average person thinks radiation therapy causes hair loss,
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, burns, and all kinds of horrible things.
But that's the myth," Kornmehl said.
"The fact is that most of the time, radiation therapy is very
easy, painless treatments."
As an oncologist, Kornmehl consults with patients and their
referring physicians to come up with specific treatment plans,
prescribing everything from the number of treatments, to the amount
of radiation per treatment, to the devices to be used to shape the
"We can't cure everybody, but we can help almost everybody and we
can cure a good number," Kornmehl said. "I would say about half of
my patients are treated with curative intent.
"Radiation is a local treatment like surgery, so it only affects
the body part of which it's being applied. If we're treating a
person whose cancer has not spread, we can prevent it from spreading
anywhere else. If it's metastasized, we can impact on it in the area
Although she's been an oncologist for 15 years, Kornmehl said she
had never thought about writing a book until five years ago when she
noticed she was hearing some of the same fears and misconceptions
from her patients and their families.
"These worries were paralyzing people needlessly and I finally
decided there was no resource out there to debunk the myths and
enlighten people from a humanistic standpoint about the realities of
radiation therapy," she said. "I felt it was an ethical obligation
to write such a book. There were a few books out but I don't think
many of them delved into the emotional aspects of treatment."
Kornmehl said her experience with her father helped her be more
aware of what patients and their families were going through.
"Most of the books out there are either not current or not
focused on the emotional or they aren't written for the average
person to read," she said. "My thought is you need to treat the
person not just the disease."
Rewards in her line of work sometimes come in measurements most
people might not consider success.
"I can't cure everybody. But patients who are in pain or bleeding
or who have nasty symptoms from cancer are very grateful and their
quality of life can sometimes be restored somewhat," she said. "And
the patients who are cured, you can actually see the cancers
shrinking down. We see the lumps disappearing in front of our eyes
and that is a wonderful, spiritual feeling."
Kornmehl says the gratifying nature of her work far outweighs the
obviously depressing aspects.
"It's wonderful to be able to help so many people and help
improve their quality of life," she said. "For some people, we've
given them a second chance so they can live their life over again."
Kornmehl said her biggest regret is that her father didn't live
to see her current success as an oncologist. Although his cancer
went into remission for about four years, Kornmehl's father suffered
a relapse just after Kornmehl passed her board exams and never
recovered. He died just as Kornmehl was beginning to establish
herself as an oncologist.
"The fact that he never saw my three children tears at my heart
and I'm sad he didn't see my current success," she said. "I feel
what happened to my father was my inspiration for what I'm doing
"The fuel for my fire today comes from the grief I feel about
what happened to my father."