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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: M. Ellen Mahoney, M.D.

Picture of M. Ellen Mahoney
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M. Ellen Mahoney, M.D.

“I entered medical school in 1976, when my first child was six months old and after putting my first husband through law school. My love of science coupled with my social conscience influenced my decision— I wanted to contribute the most that I could for as long as possible. So in my quest for the most useful life I could live, medicine looked like the biggest challenge. Add to that the fact that women in medicine – much less mothers in medicine! – were pretty unusual, I just couldn't resist the challenge.”


Anna G. Eshoo

Mike Thompson



After seeing the havoc breast cancer wreaks in so many women's lives, Ellen Mahoney and one of her patients set out on an a nationwide journey of discovery to do something about it. They traveled throughout the country, observing how different breast cancer treatment centers operated, listening to patients and physicians, family members and loved ones, constantly developing their own ideas of needs and possible solutions to the suffering they were witnessing.

Back in the San Francisco Bay Area, they conducted 23 brainstorming sessions, meeting with more than 250 breast cancer patients, their families and friends, to help them further determine what would improve the lives of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

What evolved from this extraordinary, personal research was the Community Breast Health Project —CBHP— which recently celebrated more than a decade of giving support to those with the dread disease. Using the information gathered by Mahoney and her patient—colleague, a core group of volunteers helped to develop programs and services to meet the special needs of patients and their families.

In jointly recommending Mahoney to be a Local Legend, Representatives Anna G. Eshoo [D–CA–14] and Mike Thompson [D–CA–1], praised her as "a teacher, writer, scholar and mentor. Her legacy to those in the 14–th Congressional District is the memory of a superb surgeon, a gentle physician and a visionary who created an important community organization."

By the end of 1994, in its first full year of operation, Mahoney's dream had become a unique community resource, providing information about breast cancer and treatment, emotional support, varied programs, services and referrals to other agencies and resources, all at no charge. Today, BCHP continues its personalized approach and draws on the help of its many dedicated partners, medical professionals, therapists, breast cancer survivors, volunteers, staff and supporters, to help fulfill its mission and make Mahoney's initial vision a continuing, reaffirming reality.

Due to Mahoney's warmth, empathy, knowledge, skills and leadership, women in communities across California have been inspired to pursue a similar course. In Northern California, for example, the Humboldt Community Breast Health Project was started. The Project has become an invaluable community resource, providing caring support, education and up–to–date information on breast cancer. It also provides advocacy and outreach through peer support. Lastly, the Project has joined a wider breast health alliance to improve access to care and help overcome barriers to early detection.

Mahoney trained as a surgeon at Stanford University School of Medicine after graduating with her MD degree from there in 1981. By 1986 she had risen to become Chief Resident in Surgery at Stanford, before going on to become a board–certified Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1993. In 2000 she moved to Arcata and opened her own practice in breast cancer surgery. She speaks frequently on breast cancer to community groups and serves as medical editor and expert contributor to the website of the Susan Love Foundation, a non–profit organization dedicated to the prevention of breast cancer through innovation, education, research and advocacy.



Founds and becomes first Medical Director of the Community Breast Health Project, Palo Alto




Stanford University School of Medicine


Surgical Medicine

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