Breast Surgeon Carolyn Mary Kaelin, MD, MPH, FACS, Dies at 54

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Carolyn Mary Kaelin, MD, MPH, FACS

We will miss her warmth, energy, intelligence, compassion, and humor. She was uncompromising in her pursuit of truly outstanding care for each and every patient.

—Eric Winer, MD

Carolyn Mary Kaelin, MD, MPH, FACS, died on July 28 at the age of 54. A gifted and compassionate breast cancer surgeon, Dr. Kaelin was a surgical oncologist in the Women’s Cancers Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Center and Director of the Breast Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Dr. Kaelin graduated from Smith College and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She earned her master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. At 34, she became the Founding Director of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center at Brigham and Women’s, at that time the youngest woman to hold a position of that distinction at a major Harvard teaching hospital. She quickly established herself as one of the nation’s premier breast cancer surgeons. Also active in research, Dr. ­Kaelin focused on how doctors and patients make medical decisions and on quality-of-life issues for breast cancer survivors, particularly the role of exercise. In 2001, Newsweek featured her as 1 of 15 “Women of the New Century.”

Patient and Provider

Dr. Kaelin rode repeatedly in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a 192-mile bicycle ride fundraiser for Dana-Farber. Shortly after a training ride in 2003, she noticed early signs of her own breast cancer.

A rare complication of breast cancer therapy prevented Dr. Kaelin from returning to clinical practice. Instead, she redoubled her patient education and survivorship efforts, with an emphasis on the underserved.

Dr. Kaelin initiated research on the value of rowing for patients with postoperative lymphedema, with an assist from Olympian Holly Metcalf. She coauthored two award-winning books, Living Through Breast Cancer and The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Fitness Plan, and helped create an innovative, exercise-centered breast cancer recovery program for the YMCA.

She also established the Quality of Life Fund at Brigham and Women’s to support breast cancer survivorship projects and launched the successful Knowledge, Strength, and Grace conference series for breast cancer patients and their families. In Aspen, Colorado, she cofounded the Quality of Life Cancer Fund along with Barbara Berger.

In 2010, Dr. Kaelin was diagnosed with brain cancer unrelated to her previous breast cancer. She had two brain surgeries and was a trailblazer on clinical trials testing medical treatments for brain cancer.

“We will miss her warmth, energy, intelligence, compassion, and humor,” said Eric Winer, MD, Director of the Breast Oncology Center in the Susan F. Smith Center. “She was uncompromising in her pursuit of truly outstanding care for each and every patient.”

Dr. Kaelin is survived by her husband William G. Kaelin, Jr, MD, and her children Kathryn Grace and William (Tripp). ■