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Health | Lifestyle
gene—BRCA 1 & 2—is a factor, as it was for
Angelina Jolie, but points out that it’s small.
About 5 percent of women diagnosed with
breast cancer have the gene or any kind of fam-
ily history of breast cancer. Most women diag-
nosed with breast cancer have no idea where it
Nikki Weiss certainly didn’t. She was in the
shower and noticed a dimpling on her left
breast. “ I just knew,” she says.
Weiss’s story is more common than any
woman likes to think. At 40, she was a high-
powered, A-list agent in Los Angeles, in perfect
shape and health. She jokes that even in college
she was always the designated driver because
she was always health-conscious.
Weiss had a wife, Jill Goldstein, and a
three-month-old son, Adler. She had a be-
loved father-in-law who was himself dying of
cancer. And now, standing in the shower, she
just knew: she had cancer too.
Like Love, Weiss radiates indomitability.
Just as Love is the lesbian doctor determined
to cure breast cancer, Weiss is the lesbian breast
cancer survivor showing lesbians how to, as she
puts it, “ kick the shit out of cancer.”
Angelina Jolie had just revealed her own
breast cancer story to the world when Weiss
was beginning her own battle. (Weiss took the
People magazine with Jolie on the cover to the
hospital with her as a talisman.)
“All these thoughts come into your head im-
mediately,” Weiss explains. “ Like, I can’t be a
cancer patient—I ’m a mom!”
Weiss struggled to be strong for those
around her—her mother, her wife, her son.
She put everything into her job. “ I was in de-
nial every day, just working,” she says. And not
letting anyone she worked with know what she
was fighting. “ I was already afraid I might lose
my life,” she says.
Weiss was diagnosed in January with cancer
in her left breast. Her “amazing, brilliant” doc-
tor, Kristi Funk, of the Pink Lotus Breast Cen-
tre didn’t like the look of Weiss’s right breast.
She decided to biopsy both breasts—luckily for
Weiss, since later pathology returned a diagno-
sis of cancer in that breast as well.
It wasn’t the smooth process Jolie described,
however. While Jolie’s surgery—which Love de-
scribes as “sadly mutilating”—was prophylactic
and nothing went wrong, Weiss’s was urgent
and a lot went wrong. Weiss developed a rag-
ing infection after the initial lumpectomy, which
meant months of healing and prophylactic
treatments before she could even have the mas-
tectomy and reconstruction.
Throughout it all, she kept working.
Weiss’s double mastectomy was done June
24, removing all the cancerous tissue. She
says she has “never felt more feminine or more
womanly.” Her friends threw her a “ Ta Ta to my
Ta-Tas” party before her surgery, but she says
she felt nothing but loathing for her breasts. “ I
wanted them gone.” She’s thrilled with her new
breasts—smaller and more appropriate to her
slim build, she says. “ It was my silver lining,”
While her own positivity and strength got
her through her cancer surgeries, she credits
her lesbian relationship as well. “ I could not
have gotten through this without my wife,”
she insists. “She was a rock. She was the best
mother, the best wife... With her, I could breathe
Weiss’s experience—harrowing and painful
as it has been—has a happy ending. Her scans
in July showed no sign of cancer and a long-
term drug regimen as backup will help ensure
she stays cancer free. But Weiss and Love
both know their cancer experiences aren’t the
And when Love hears stories like Angelina
Jolie’s she gets angry. “ How sad that all we have
to offer her is to cut off a normal body part.
That’s the message that didn’t get out—that
the only way to save the lives of women
with this gene right now is to cut them
up. It’s not good enough.”
Love also thinks the American
obsession with breasts has gotten in
the way of redirecting breast cancer
treatment and research. “ I did some
media [around the Jolie story],” she
explains. “The people most horrified
by her story were the men—‘Omigod,
her wonderful breasts!’ But Jolie was
forced by our lack of options to choose
something that has so many side effects.
This is not a benign surgery.”
Jolie escaped all those side effects
Love notes, but Weiss did not. Jolie’s
choice—at only 37—Love says, “really
shows how little we’ve done and how
far we have to go.”
Love’s determined to get us there.
She’s founded the Army of Women
project in partnership with the Avon
Foundation for Women (they’re paying
for it). The goal is to gather 1 million
women (Love is currently at just under
400,000) to study breast cancer.
Women can help fight breast cancer
by spending 10 minutes filling out the
questionnaire at armyofwomen.org.
“ We have to take the research into our own
hands,” asserts Love. “And with this—you
don’t even have to leave the couch to partici-
pate. Join the study!”
She explains that in the past, research has
focused on who died of cancer, not on who got
cancer and didn’t die. Her longitudinal study will
look at women who have had breast cancer as
well as those who haven’t. Love’s eagerness to save
women’s lives has an urgency to it that makes you
believe we’ll get there.
But what can lesbians do today to cut their
risk factors, as we wait to discover the cause
and then discover the cure?
Weiss is working on a program to get mam-
mograms for women who can’t afford them.
“Cancer is so scary,” she says. “ It’s silent. We
have to do the self-exams. We have to use
whatever platform we have to get women to
take control of their own health.”
Love could not agree more. In addition to
getting mammograms starting at the age of
40, and not smoking, she says, “we have to
take care of our health in general. Eat mostly
fruits and vegetables. Don’t sit too much—
sitting is the new smoking. You need to get
up and be moving and walking. Exercise.
Stay away from radiation: Don’t have X-rays
you don’t need. Avoid the carcinogens. Basi-
cally, make your body as safe as you can.”
Love believes finding the cause and the cure
for breast cancer—so that women like Weiss
don’t have to fear dying at 40 and leaving their
wives and babies alone—is on the horizon.
“ I ’m optimistic. It is possible. We just have to
put our minds to it.”
Angelina Jolie had just
revealed her breast
cancer story to the
world when Weiss was
beginning her own
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