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