Reflecting on a Career
Catching up with Dr. Nieves Arriba
When Dr. LUCYBETH NIEVES ARRIBA arrived in Wilmington eleven years ago, she was drawn by the warm weather and how the region reminded her of her native Puerto Rico.
Still new to her role as Wilmington’s first female gynecology oncologist, WILMA spoke to her for a profile story in an April 2012 issue highlighting her career and new role. At the time she spoke about moving to the region, treating cancer patients and promoting regular check-ups, and dancing as an outlet for fun.
Now, Dr. Nieves Arriba is the chair of the oncology department at New Hanover Regional Medical Center Novant Health. WILMA recently caught up with her to discuss her experience in the region, working at the hospital over the last eleven years, medical advancements in her field, and swapping her dancing shoes for boxing gloves.
WILMA: In the 2012 story you mentioned being drawn to the region due to its Latin feel. Is that still true years later?
DR.NIEVES ARRIBA: “I don’t plan to ever move away from here. I think it’s very interesting because, I’ve been here eleven years, so (WILMA) got me on the first interview, still very new to Wilmington. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love the weather and I love all the possibilities.’ So now it’s very interesting to see how much Wilmington is growing. I still remember what downtown was a decade ago and what it is now. I feel that I’m from here and seeing all these people coming from all over the U.S. to move here; it’s fun because they’re discovering something that we know. I think because there’s a lot of people moving here, I see more Latin and Hispanic patients.
Because I’ve been here long enough, I have seen a very interesting transition in the hospital. How we have more female surgeons, more female doctors, and more diversity. And that’s something I did not feel necessarily was present a decade ago. A couple of years ago the hospital formed these projects to cater to minorities within the hospital to LGBT populations within the hospital. And now that those are very established and they’re growing, it’s beautiful to see this quiet growth within the medical community that help kind of balance the very white providers population.”
WILMA: Looking back at 2012 when we had that first interview, have there been any really significant changes or innovations as far as more knowledge in the field or different technologies that you use now that have made an impact?
DR. NIEVES ARRIBA: “When I moved here a decade ago, we were starting to use minimally invasive strategies to do surgeries. And now, that’s the main way that we do surgery on patients with endometrial cancer. And it makes a difference. I remember when I was a medical student a couple of decades ago, patients got diagnosed with cancer, they got a big surgery, and they had to be in the hospital for a whole week or more. Now we send them home the same day, which is crazy. If you had asked me about that two decades ago, I would say impossible. The specialty has tailored very extensive surgery and we have learned to do it through small incisions. It’s beautiful. The recovery is amazing. It eliminates the need to be in the hospital for days.”
WILMA: How has your work with cancer patients been like lately?
Dr. NIEVES ARRIBA: “It’s been really sad because what we’re seeing now is the wave of cancer patients after COVID. We’re very concerned because we feel that many people during those COVID-heavy years stayed at home and they were feeling some symptoms, but just decided not to go to a doctor or not to go to the emergency room because of COVID. And we’re seeing a level of advanced cancer cases that we have never seen before. So, it’s very sad when we compare it to years ago, we’re having a huge number of patients with advanced cancer. And we are trying to do the best we can treating them, but obviously, the more advanced the cancer is, the worse the outcome is going to be. And that has especially affected, in my personal opinion, minorities heavily. Because of COVID, many people were not working. So, they were uninsured. They were afraid to go to the doctors and that just delayed diagnosis and just brings worse outcomes to them.”
WILMA: On a lighter note in the 2012 story you mentioned how you used dancing as a way to have fun and lighten up your mood. Is that still something that you do often?”
DR. NIEVES ARRIBA: “Oh, you’re going to laugh. I switched dancing for boxing. I fell in love with a man that cannot dance so there’s no way for him to try the merengue, those hips don’t move. We live stressful lives; we need to light up. So, I discovered boxing. Growing up, I would always sit with my grandma and my mom to watch boxing fights. For Puerto Ricans, it’s all about beauty pageants and boxing. There’s not a Puerto Rican that doesn’t know about those things growing up on the island. So, now I have my gloves.”
WILMA: Anything else you would like to mention about your experience these past few years?
DR. NIEVES ARRIBA: “I think the town needs to know that there have been a lot of changes and transitions in the hospital, but there’s a lot of quiet heroes that nobody pays attention to. It’s this new generation of female physicians, female surgeons, and diversity coming here. There’s going to be a new colorectal surgeon who is actually Puerto Rican. So he is coming to join us. I’m telling you, every Latino that I know, we love this weather, we love the south, we love the people. And Wilmington in particular has become a home to many cultures because everybody’s moving here.”
Want more WILMA? Click here to sign up for our WILMA Weekly email and announcements.