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.

 
“It’s a little out of control,” Marisa concedes of her eBay jones. She has no off switch, Alice says. Life pours in: Marisa likes junk TV like The Bachelorette, and still goes to Rolling Stones concerts, and the Phillies are an obsession.

At any rate, Marisa wasn’t too consumed by her cancer to miss the shoes her Pennsylvania Hospital surgeon was wearing: Just out of surgery in April, she called her assistant and asked her to text the patient she knew had given Dr. Sataloff those leopard-patterned clogs. From Nordstrom.

The surgery revealed good news, a confirmation of that MRI: The cancer hadn’t spread.

Website workers and friends who set up a schedule of taking food to Marisa and her husband David Friedman, a pediatrician, as she recovered marveled at how easily she accepted the help. “Now that was a Marisa I’d never seen before,” Hope Wohl says.

Like any patient, she was initially caught off guard: The pain from surgery derailed her for a couple of weeks. Marisa tried to limit pain meds because she was keeping track of patients in her care and keeping up with website news. “But the pain wore me down,” she admits. “It wore me thin.”

She also realized how hard it is to remember all the stuff doctors have told you, when you’re half out of it, exhausted, when you hurt. And she found it amazing, the array of medical people you need to see. Right after surgery, Marisa had noted wryly to Hope that she was glad she’d invented Breastcancer.org, because if she hadn’t, she would have to now — when you’re down and out, the inherent aloneness of this disease hits everybody.

The hardest part was giving up her independence for a few weeks, needing somebody to carry in her groceries, for chrissake. But while the rest of us might spend the wee hours huddled on our bathroom floor, cursing our helplessness, that was never Marisa. She shares a summer home with Alice on Cape Cod, and during her recovery there, they didn’t talk about the woes of cancer, but whether, Alice says, “We should get rid of those dishes and get new ones. Or buy two or four chickens. She’s built to move forward.”

To focus trauma into action: If Marisa had to be a patient, she would be the world’s best patient. Or, as she puts it: “I felt powerful in the patient role.”

Apparently. I saw her in early August, just over three months after her diagnosis. Marisa had lost 15 pounds, and she was wearing a ’50s-era flowered dress (eBay!) and pearls and ’60s-era horn-rimmed glasses, with her curly hair pulled back and a splash of tan and little makeup.

“You look terrific!” I told her.

“I feel better than I did before the diagnosis.”

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  • A

    Bob, that was a great article. Very meaningful. What an experience. Keep up the good work.

  • Kristina

    What a brave and amazing woman! I discovered breastcancer.org when I was diagnosed in 2007. It remains my favorite “go to” website when I have a question, need support, etc. The part of this article that I loved was how she says everyone’s diagnosis and treatment are unique to that individual. How true!!! And for me, the best medicine is POSITIVE THINKING!!! And LOVE!!!

  • Debbie

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  • Debbie

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