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50 years of being there for breast cancer patients

The CIBC Breast Centre opened in 1972. It was ahead of its time, and is still setting the standard of care today.

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Marta Bisiker, the CIBC Breast Centre’s care and transitions facilitator, and Dr. Ralph George. The CIBC Breast Centre opened in 1972. It was ahead of its time, and is still setting the standard of care today.

Marta Bisiker, the CIBC Breast Centre’s care and transitions facilitator, and Dr. Ralph George. The CIBC Breast Centre opened in 1972. It was ahead of its time, and is still setting the standard of care today.

Fifty years ago, Dr. Leo Mahoney had an idea for delivering a particular type of care to a particular set of patients. The approach, while common and popular today, was decidedly avant-garde back then. From that idea, in 1972, the St. Michael’s Hospital Breast Centre was born.

Dr. Mahoney, a staff surgeon, wanted to make things easier for women dealing with either the fear or the reality of breast cancer. Dr. Ralph George, who has worked at the centre for the past 14 years, explains Dr. Mahoney’s vision this way:

“So many places offer just a mammogram or just an ultrasound, for example. We wanted to put the whole package together, in one location, for the convenience of our patients and their families. You can get a biopsy, you can be seen by a physician, you can get a cancer looked after. Whatever you need. That’s so much better than being shuffled from place to place, and back and forth.”

Indeed, it might be said that the Breast Centre foreshadowed by some five decades the St. Michael’s Foundation HUMANCARE campaign to reinvent the patient experience and make healthcare more human.

Angela Amiri mammography technical specialist demonstrates the new Brevera biopsy machine supported by donors

Angela Amiri mammography technical specialist demonstrates the new Brevera biopsy machine supported by donors

Michaela McCrady is a registered nurse at what is now called the CIBC Breast Centre, thanks to a leadership gift from that bank. She says that she is often amazed by Dr. Mahoney’s foresight, and never more so than when she and her colleagues are able to bring it all together and help patients when they need it the most.

“We had one patient who had just had a baby. She found a lump while breastfeeding. You can imagine how upsetting that would be,” she relates. “She was a perfect example of what we do best here. A new mom with a new baby at home, and then breast cancer. She was terrified. Everybody huddled around her. We made her appointments. We got her chemotherapy. Then surgery and radiation. At every step of the way, we made sure she had the resources and the support she needed.”

Thousands of surgeries and hundreds of thousands of other procedures have been performed at the centre since 1972. It has long been a model for other comparable centres, and continues to innovate in patient-focused care. For example, there is a navigator on staff for Indigenous women, and there have been special clinics for them because some of these women are reluctant to seek screening or treatment. And with support from donors, the centre also has a new breast biopsy system that streamlines the process, making biopsies shorter and less uncomfortable for patients.

For Michaela, it comes down to providing holistic care.

“We look at the patient from all perspectives. What are they feeling? What is their family situation? Do they have drug coverage? What do they need from us, and how quickly can we do it?”

Her colleague Marta Bisiker, the centre’s care and transitions facilitator, adds:

“Something we really do pride ourselves on is patient advocacy. Being there for patients in every way. Because everybody’s different and everybody has different needs. One woman might need to be screened every two years. Another might need urgent treatment. And our team triages quickly: we get things moving as fast as necessary, and offer emotional as well as medical support. Dr. Mahoney understood 50 years ago that it’s never one size fits all.”

Dr. Mahoney passed away in 2003. He worked right up until the end. He received the Order of Canada in 2001 and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002. He was also appointed a lifetime member of the Ontario Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association, and was designated an honorary consultant of St. Michael’s Hospital.

He would have been pleased to know that the young woman who discovered a lump in her breast just days after delivering her baby is doing well two years later. And every time she comes in for follow-up, she talks about how grateful she is to the CIBC Breast Centre.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the CIBC Breast Centre, we are raising donations for a new mammography machine. If you would like to support this campaign, please contact Katie McMillan, Director of Philanthropy, at McMillanKa@smh.ca.

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