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Dr. Susan M. Love





Year of Birth / Death

b. 1948


Medical School

State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center


Geography

LOCATION
Massachusetts
LOCATION
California


Career Path

Surgery: Oncology
Dr. Susan M. Love



Milestones

YEAR
1990
ACHIEVEMENT
Dr. Susan Love was a co-founder of the National Breast Cancer Coalition.


Inspiration

I wanted to help people.



Biography

Dr. Susan Love has said that changing the world is simply "a matter of trying." She has attempted to do just that, bringing hope and new treatments to women with breast cancer. In addition to her scientific and popular books on breast cancer and the menopause, she co-founded the National Breast Cancer Coalition to help breast cancer patients and their supporters campaign for action, advances, and change. She also holds several patents for methods and kits used in the diagnosis of breast cancer.

Susan Love was born in New Jersey and grew up in Puerto Rico and Mexico, where she attended Catholic schools and developed an interest in science. After her second year of pre-med studies at Notre Dame of Baltimore, Love was drawn to the religious life and entered the convent. After six months she left, realizing that it was not her calling, and enrolled in Fordham University in New York, to continue her studies. In the 1970s, medical schools were still admitting few women, perhaps 10 percent of the class, but Love, who was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha and graduating cum laude, was among the five women who were the top graduates from the State University of New York's Downstate Medical School in 1974.

Dr. Love has tackled controversial topics in her professional and personal life, in her criticism of the medical establishment's treatment of women, her advocacy of cancer surgery that conserves as much breast tissue as possible, and her fight to expand the rights of same-sex couples as parents. She was lead author on a pioneering article for a 1982 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, in which she and her team of writers challenged the diagnosis of fibrocystic disease of the breast, questioning a purported link to breast cancer and demonstrating that fibrocystic disease was not actually a disease at all, and should not be used to determine the need for surgery of the breast.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when radical mastectomies were the norm, Dr. Love argued that surgeons often performed mastectomies because these were the operations they had been trained to do, not because they were needed. She championed the use of more conservative lumpectomies. Love championed advocacy for women with breast cancer. Too often women had little to no say in their treatment beyond consenting to surgery, and many patients only learned they had cancer at all on waking from surgery to discover a breast had been removed. Dr. Love offered women information and choices and helped establish Boston's Faulkner Breast Center, the first American facility to specialize in breast disease.

In 1990, Dr. Love published Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, which The New York Times called the "bible for women with breast cancer." She also helped establish the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which influenced the federal government to increase research funding for breast cancer from $90 million to $420 million.

Dr. Love also advocated for the rights of same-sex couples as parents. In 1989 she gave birth to a daughter conceived from sperm donated by a cousin of her life-partner, Dr. Helen Cooksey. Following a four-year court battle, the Massachusetts Supreme Court, in a precedent-setting decision, granted Drs. Love and Cooksey joint adoption rights and changed the birth certificate to give them status as co-parents. Dr. Love's current research interests are the intraductal approach to the breast, including markers and therapy. She hopes to develop tools that will allow identification of cancerous cells in the ducts, before any tumors have formed. Her interest in hormones and breast cancer led to Dr. Susan Love's Menopause and Hormone Book: Making Informed Choices, updated through 2002, which addresses one of the most disputed topics for women this decade. Although no longer practicing surgery, she continues to help women as president and medical director of the Susan Love, M.D., Breast Cancer Research Foundation and through her website: www.SusanLoveMD.org.



Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I went to medical school before "women's lib" when there were still quotas on how many women were admitted. When I trained in surgery there were very few women surgeons and so no role models. Finally being a lesbian, woman surgeon meant that I was never going to be accepted into the "old boys club." It meant that I had to be better and that I had to serve my patients so well that they would come to me for that reason and not because someone had referred them.

How do I make a difference?

I work to eradicate breast cancer. Initially it was in practice when I fought for women to be given options and a voice in their care. I wrote a book, Dr. Susan Love's Brest Book, to give women the tools and information they needed to make decisions about their care. I founded the National Breast Cancer Coalition and thus helped the advocacy movement come into being. I did research to develop a new approach to breast cancer and started a company to manufacture the ductal lavage catheter. Now I am trying through my nonprofit foundation to take that platform technology to the next level so that we can find not cancer, but the cells that will become cancer some day and then ablate them.

Who was my mentor?

William Silen, M.D., was the chief of surgery at Beth Israel Hospital where I trained. Laura Schrock, M.D., was the first breast surgeon I ever met who showed me it was possible.



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