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Remembering Susan Love, surgeon and advocate for breast cancer patients

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This past Sunday, the world lost a titan in the field of breast cancer research and advocacy. Renowned surgeon Susan Love has died after a recurrence of leukemia. She began her career at a time when women were discouraged from pursuing medicine in the first place, as she told Makers for their YouTube channel.

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SUSAN LOVE: In fact, my pre-med adviser said to me that if I went to medical school, I would be killing some boy because he would have to go to Vietnam. And you're just going to get the education, and then you're going to stay home and have babies, and it'll be totally wasted.

SUMMERS: But as she told Sheila Kuehl of the talk show "Get Used To It," Dr. Love found strength in standing out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GET USED TO IT")

LOVE: You're never going to be part of the old boys' club. So it really freed you up. It means you can speak the truth. You can do what's right.

SUMMERS: Dr. Love fought to empower patients, and to that end, she published "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book." It's widely considered a critical resource for patients with breast cancer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOVE: It was the first book that actually explained the science. Doctors hated it. Actually making the patient a participant in the process was very new.

KAREN STABINER: She was not what the male medical establishment was ready for, and I think the more she got pushed back, the harder she pushed.

SUMMERS: Journalist Karen Stabiner spent more than a year shadowing Dr. Love for her 1997 book "To Dance With The Devil: The New War On Breast Cancer." Stabiner says that despite Dr. Love's fierce fight against the status quo in medicine, she always brought a deeply human touch in her practice.

STABINER: She was the most genuinely empathic doctor I think I've ever met. She had a supply of tape recorders. And when she went in to see a new patient, she would hand them the tape recorder and a tape and say, listen, tape this consultation. And when you go home and your friends and family start driving you crazy, asking the same questions over and over, give them the tape and go to the movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STABINER: And that was her way of saying, you don't have to become the capital-P Patient. You are a woman who has breast cancer, and you don't have to be living that 24/7. And that, I think, humanized the whole thing.

SUMMERS: Dr. Susan Love died July 2, 2023. She was 75 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Sarah Handel
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