Feature: What Happens When One of the World’s Leading Breast Cancer Doctors Gets Breast Cancer?

After treating and advocating for breast cancer patients for more than a decade, Dr. Marisa Weiss received a diagnosis of her own.

Better? Not only was she back in full working mode, but her doctors had discovered a vitamin D deficiency she’d apparently had for years (a by-product of long indoor work and keeping her funky moles covered up when she did go out). She’d cut social wine-drinking down to maybe two glasses a week, and had gotten curtains for her bedroom to squeeze an extra half-hour of sleep out of her mornings, and was generally eating better, and working out to Zumba, an African-Cuban dance/exercise.

Hormonal therapy hasn’t dulled her — she’d worried about that. Marisa is well aware of what she’s got: “I have a very rigorous mind and I have a great memory and I’m very creative and think in unusual ways. I have a big edge.”

And in that way, too, Marisa’s come back stronger. She’s invigorated, she says, because that laser-like focus is only more so. “And I’m much clearer about the importance of the work that I do.”

Every morning, my wife Karen checks into Breastcancer.org, scrolling for updated medical news, going into chat rooms, listening, sharing advice herself now.

Breast cancer doesn’t go away, especially the consciousness of it. Over the past couple of decades, radiation therapy has gotten more targeted, and chemotherapy better at extending lives. More than 80 percent of diagnosed women will survive more than five years. But the incidence is predicted to increase 20 percent in this country over the next two decades, and to double worldwide over the next 30 years. Those numbers are partly due to lifestyle changes, and partly, many believe, to our compromised environment. But, mostly, we don’t have the answers we need. It’s a bitch of a disease.

My wife is doing well. And after she logs off of Breastcancer.org, she takes a shower and slips into her day as a psychotherapist at a private school.

For Marisa Weiss, though, her day — work — only takes her deeper into the world of breast cancer.
Consider what’s demanded of her, given the way she works. Nancy Schmidt, a nurse, has managed the practice of her husband Dick, chief of orthopedics at Lankenau, for 25 years. She’s seen a lot of sick people, a lot of death. When she got diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in October, she went with Dick to Marisa Weiss. When Marisa walked into the exam room to see her, Nancy started crying.