Dr. Marisa Weiss, Breastcancer.org ( and more ), Woman Entrepreneur

PhpThumbI met Marilyn Machlowitz almost 10 years ago.  Our kids went to the same school when they were young.  She is an avid reader of this blog, an
incredible connector and one of the most amazing networkers.  She could teach a killer class.  She is also a breast cancer survivor who met
Dr. Marisa Weiss while she was trying to figure out the right decisions to make
about her own treatment.  She had emailed Maria
at 2am in the morning before a 9am appointment for chemotherapy.  She was still unsure which road to take.  Marisa realized that Marilyn was this smart woman
clearly struggling to make a decision, she was almost paralyzed.  Marisa picked up the phone in the early hours of the morning and helped her make
that decision.  Their friendship has
blossomed into one that has provided the same type of assistance to countless
other women. 

Marisa grew up in the Baltimore area.  She was number four of six children.  Her father was a pediatric scientist and her
mother, a Barnard graduate, was an English teacher.  The family would spend every summer at Woods
Hole in Massachusetts.  There are 5
scientific institutions there and the kids would all go to science
school.  One of the perks for the families of the scientists that spend their summers there is that at age 7 you get to start in a summer program and participate for the next ten years. 
At 17 you then get the opportunity to teach to the other kids for two
years and then work in the laboratories with graduate students. These years made quite the impact on Marisa.

After graduating High School from the Park School in
Baltimore Marisa went to Barnard for one year and then changed gears and transferred to UPenn.  She decided to become a philosophy major but
during her summer months she took all the classes needed for pre-med.  Those summer days of science were always in her thoughts.  During those summers she also waitressed to make some cash.  Marisa knew one thing is that she wanted to be in a career that took care of people.  At
one point she thought about becoming a clothing designer but her parents put
the kibosh on that saying that she’d be much better off being a doctor and
enjoying clothes as a hobby.  During High
School she designed and sewed her own clothes even selling them to others.  Marisa says her love of clothing particularly
vintage balances out the serious part of her life.

After graduating Upenn undergraduate she went directly to UPenn Medical
School going into the field of radiation and oncology.  The field was wide open at that time and UPenn
had the best department.  She continued
on there doing her residency.  The
chairman was a breast cancer expert and pushed Marisa to take over his job when
he chose to retire.  Through her clinical
work she spent so much time caring for people that she realized the whole
reason for early diagnosis is to give women their lives back and that is what
she wanted to focus on.

Within a year of that realization she started Living
Beyond Breast Cancer.
   At this point she also had three
kids under 3 years old.  Eight years into
that organization and several books later that her mother helped co-author  she saw that there was so much more
information out there in regards to genetic and protein research.  Through that doctors were spending less time
with their patients yet the patients needed a place where they could get
information 24/7 not only in her clinical practice but everywhere at any time. 

Marisa started using the internet to deliver up to date
searchable information to help people get the right answers from the best
experts.  A place where there was a safe
community to exchange personal information. 
These thoughts happened 14 years ago when she launched BreastCancer.org. 
Besides working on her own personal practice Marisa built out
a team for Breastcancer.org.   That organization
now gets 10 million uniques a month and there are over 200,000 people worldwide in
chatrooms 24/7 talking about breast cancer.  The impact is impressive. 

Marisa was blown away by the amount of people that this
organization she had built touched. Marisa says she is pretty sure her husband did
not sign up for the role she has played in the world but finding the right
partner is definitely one of the keys to her success.  I hear that from many women, including me, the key to being able to pursue a successful career is having the right partner in your personal life. 

Her clinical practice is in Philly.  She does a lot of work in terms of
prevention which she believes is important and talks about it frequently on
CNN, GMA including print media.  Along
the way Marisa wrote four books; Living Beyond Cancer, Living Well Beyond
, Seven Minutes; How to Get the Most Out of your Doctors Visits and Taking
Care of Your Girls, A Breast Guide for Teens, Girls and In-betweens

Just like skincare, the years between 8-18 lays down the
foundation of your health which becomes the building block for breast cancer
prevention.  Marisa is involved in teaching a curriculum in
high school around this.  Another project
that came out of the Woods Hole Cape Cod
is looking at the center for disease control and the data they have accumulated that says that breast
cancer remains to be the highest cancer that affects woman.  29% of cancers for women start in the breast,
14% in the lung and 9% in the colon.  She
wants to take a fresh way to look at this even after 20 years with the question being why was this not common 100 years
ago.  She partnered up with a colleague
at Harvard who is a cell biologist at Woods Hole to look at the environmental
concerns such as the products we use like moisturizers, sun screen because
everything that goes on you goes in to you. 
They have launched a project called Think Pink Live Green.

Marisa has made a substantial impact on so many womens lives.  She herself is a breast cancer survivor
having to be a dual citizen as a doctor and patient gave her some very
interesting insight on the gap in care and the importance of what she

Marisa is committed to a new group of young people who
are totally healthy and find out that they have the breast cancer gene. She
does not want them to be haunted by that. 
She wants women to understand that this is a treatable problem with solutions.  That they can lower the risk and lead a full
live.  She tells her patients if you were
boring and uninteresting she could not fix that problem but this is one she can
help with.  The other issue which I found
startling is that in the highly Orthodox Jewish community women are made
to have genetic testing and that information becomes part of their dowry.  Women that are pre-dispositioned to breast
cancer have a very difficult time getting married.  They have a stigma. 

She is also interested in the new data around the social
fabrics of our lives.  Most adults over
18 are living single lives, women more than men.  A study just came out that reinforces that
marriage is protective for a better quality of life and is the most powerful for
cancer survivors.  She is integrating
that into her private practice as women are post phoning getting pregnant. Having a womans body go through the act of preparing for breast feeding later on can be a cause in higher rates of breast cancer.

In her free time Marisa loves to cook and throw dinner
parties.  She said two of her greatest
recipes are chocolate chip sour cream banana bread cake and gravlax.  She wouldn’t share but I might make her bake
one and bring it to NYC on her next trip. 

Truly and incredible woman with a wealth of knowledge and a
brilliant curious mind that has made a major impact on a cancer that affects way too
many women.  

Comments (Archived):

  1. AG

    Penn pride! On a somewhat tangential but related note, I have had this idea of creating a unique database of thoroughly reviewed doctors for years now. My interest in doing so has only grown since living jn Philly for grad school, because it’s been surprisingly hard to get recs from my NY network. Good doctors are so important but often so hard to find.

    1. Gotham Gal

      having a good doctor makes all the difference in the world.

    2. LE

      Penn and Philly pride.Marissa looked familiar turns out she was on the cover of Philly Mag a few years ago.

  2. WA

    We just lived through this this summer. Game changing.

  3. Lisa Abeyta

    Thank you for sharing this story; Dr. Weiss has my respect and gratitude. How I wish something like this had been available to my mother in the 80’s. She is now in her 70’s, cancer free and is a three-time breast cancer survivor. I well remember her coming home in the wee hours of the morning, having checked herself out of the hospital to escape a surgeon who was pressuring her to agree to a double mastectomy after having just discovered that her pre-surgery tests indicated calcifications in her breasts that could be cancerous. It was the early 80’s, and there was little information or advocacy to help women make decisions, and if wasn’t for my father who helped her check out against doctor’s advice, she would have had to make a very permanent decision in a vacuum of information. She decided against the radical mastectomy, enrolled in a study at Ohio State, and managed to beat cancer three times over the next two decades. But she had to make those decisions pretty much alone with only the information shared across the desk from her doctors. So grateful for women like Dr. Weiss who have given women today a completely new way to make very tough decisions.

    1. Gotham Gal

      what a story. my grandmother found a lump in her breast at 83 in 1981. she immediately had a mastectomy and she did not need to. she was scared and just reacted. if more information was available i am sure she would have chosen a separate path.

      1. LE

        “she was scared and just reacted”Same with my father (bladder) and with my ex wife (breast) (she was 39 it was after our divorce).Part of the issue is that it’s really tough to get 2nd opinions with the top docs on an expedited basis.So the anxiety factor looms large. Can take months to get scheduled in.

  4. JLM

    .Great person, great story.Well played.JLM.