“I Chose a Double Mastectomy, Even Though I Didn’t Have Cancer”

More than 20 years ago, Karen Weiss joyfully welcomed the first of her three daughters at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital.

While the celebration of new life is always a special moment, St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital knows there are times when a patient’s visit with us is significant for a different reason – because we need to save their life.

Karen has experienced both.

When her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2023, Karen was understandably upset and concerned about her well-being. When her sister also tested positive for a genetic mutation, Karen got tested just to be on the safe side.

“I didn’t expect anything to come back positive. There was no history of breast cancer in our family. But the results were discouraging. Not only do I carry the same mutation as my sister, but I also have a second more alarming mutation that puts me in the highest possible risk category for developing breast cancer.”

She turned to her doctors at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital for guidance, one of whom told her it wasn’t really a matter of “if,” but “when.” She watched as her sister struggled through her treatments. She thought about the waiting and wondering that would now fill her future. She knew she wanted to be around for her girls who were just beginning their adult lives.

Karen remembered the wonderful care she received when her daughter was born, so she once again relied on the expertise of St. Josephs Women’s Hospital to get through another major event in her life – a preventative double mastectomy.

“I didn’t want the prospect of a probable cancer diagnosis weighing on me every day,” Karen said. “I didn’t want my husband and daughters to have to deal with watching me go through treatment. I didn’t want my girls to have to consider navigating the future without me. So, I saw an opportunity to take control and I took it.”

Karen’s decision wasn’t one she took lightly. It’s a major surgery with a long and difficult recovery. While she did have a non-surgical alternative available to her – extra surveillance to keep a closer eye on things – after consulting with her doctors and surgeons at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, she knew a double mastectomy was the right choice for her.

“It was all quite overwhelming, but my medical team at St. Joe’s was amazing,” she said. “They patiently answered all my questions and made me feel really comfortable with my decision. I was still scared but I went into my surgery prepared and confident.”

Although she experienced some complications post-surgery, Karen was reassured by the constant support she received from everyone at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital and has no regrets about opting to get a preventative mastectomy.

“Because of my complications, I wound up getting to know various team members in more departments within the hospital than is typical after this type of procedure,” Karen said. “Each and every time, my experience was the same – warm, welcoming, professional. I never felt like just a patient. Everyone took a very personal interest in my care.”

As a “pre-vivor,” Karen wants to create awareness about this less common reason for mastectomy. There are many support groups for those who go through the procedure after a cancer diagnosis, but not as many for those who opt for preventative mastectomies, even though they experience most of the same physical and emotional challenges.

Karen is grateful her sister – who was also treated at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital – is doing well now. And even though her daughters each tested positive for either one or both of the mutations, she is glad they now have the power of that knowledge to help them manage their health moving forward.

“I think seeing me take control of my health in such a proactive way, and seeing how St. Joe’s was there to guide and support me, has given my girls a level of reassurance that they have the information and resources to do the same,” Karen said. “We’ve all learned so much together.”

Karen knows that for 50 years, St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital has been there to help patients like her through some of the biggest moments in their lives – both joyful and frightening. And she feels better knowing the hospital will continue to be there for her girls, too, no matter what the future holds.