Breast cancer researcher and author Dr. Susan Love to speak at Vail luncheon Friday | VailDaily.com

Breast cancer researcher and author Dr. Susan Love to speak at Vail luncheon Friday

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

It's not often the roles of researcher, doctor and patient all come together, but that was where Dr. Susan Love found herself a few years ago.

Love, a researcher and surgeon who has dedicated her professional life to the eradication of breast cancer, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012, allowing her the rare opportunity to step into the shoes of the many women she's treated or reached throughout her career.

"That was a surprise and just shows that the only difference between researcher, doctor and patient is the diagnosis. We're all in this together. It taught me a lot being a patient," she said.

She successfully received a stem cell transplant and went right back to work trying to find the cure for breast cancer once and for all, and that's what she'll be speaking with Vail audiences about as the featured speaker at the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group's 21st anniversary Celebration of Life Luncheon. The annual event will be held on Friday at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa.

"We are thrilled to bring Dr. Love back to the valley," said Brenda Himelfarb, president of the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group. "She is down to earth, amazingly entertaining while speaking on such a serious subject and a true visionary."

Love's book, "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book," still acts as a guidebook and reference for women with breast cancer. At the time of its publication, it was the first book to comprehensively educate women on their options and treatments. The latest edition of the book, due out in October, brings readers up to date on "breast cancer in the 21st century."

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Love has strong feelings when it comes to her goals — to find the cause for breast cancer so that there isn't even a need for a cure. Besides her own work, she has raised an Army of Women, a database that collects information from thousands of women with and without breast cancer. The women also have the opportunity to help researchers in studies around the country.

"We've been walking and marching for a long time — I think we've achieved awareness," Love said. "I think now we have to do more than that. It takes the will and energy and an Army of Women."

We caught up with Love by phone at the California offices to chat about the latest in breast cancer research and what it was like to be a trailblazer for women physicians.

Vail Daily: Tell us about what it was like to be one of the few women in your field when you started.

Susan Love: I became a surgeon early on before there were women surgeons. When I went to medical school, there were still quotas as to how many women were allowed in the class. There was still a lot of sexism and people were still getting used to the idea what women could be surgeons. At one job interview, I was asked what kind of birth control I used. Another place said, "Well, how are you going to operate when you're pregnant?" I said, "Well, even if I were pregnant, I'd still be smaller than half your male surgeons." Needless to say, I didn't get that job.

VD: How did you come to focus on breast cancer?

SL: I became a breast surgeon because of sexism. No one gave me a job when I got trained, and they only sent me patients who were women with breast problems. I learned that we were learning a lot about the breast and how lumpectomy and radiation were just as effective or more effective than mastectomies, and women weren't being given that option. What started out as a career became a mission.

VD: You have said that you believe breast cancer can be ended in this generation. How close are we to that goal?

SL: I think we don't aim high enough. We can end breast cancer if we find out what causes it. My example is that in my lifetime, we ended cancer of the cervix. When I started, you had a hysterectomy and lost your fertility. Then we figured out it was caused by a virus and now there's a vaccine.

This isn't crazy. We're trying to better understand the breast and how it gets cancer in the first place. We still don't completely understand the anatomy of the breast, and we need to find out if cancer there is caused by bacteria or a virus. We've shown there's even the possibility of a protective bacteria in the breast, which could lead to a vaccine if we see the changes early enough.

Take the cancer of the stomach. We used to remove stomachs for ulcers, but now we know it's caused by bacteria. There's no reason we can't do the same for breast cancer.

VD: How did getting leukemia change your perspective or the scope of your work?

SL: One of the big things I noticed was that doctors compare the patient to the people who died, and if you haven't died, it's a success. However, patients compare themselves to who they were before — all the treatments have collateral damage. You are changed. Your physical body and brain are changed forever. It's another argument that the cure is not enough, because treating and curing comes with this big cost. I've redoubled my efforts and I'm paddling hard. It reminded me that you don't know how long you have.

VD: How can people get involved in your research?

SL: We're looking for both women who are with and without breast cancer. They can sign up at http://www.Army ofWomen.org, which will put them on an email list. Researchers come to us with their studies, and we send it to everyone in the army. Some people are eligible to sign up and participate or can send it out to others who are. People can support our research with donations as well at http://www.drsusanlove researchfoundation.org.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

If you go…

What: Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group’s Celebration of Life Luncheon

Who: Dr. Susan Love, breast cancer researcher and author.

Where: Vail Marriott

When: Friday, July 10 at 11 a.m.

More info: For sponsor opportunities and more info on the event, call 970-479-8595 or email info@vailbreastcancerawareness.org. For more info on Dr. Love’s work, see http://www.dslrf.org.