Beth DuPree: The Good Doctor

Meet the woman who wants to revolutionize breast cancer care

By Melinda Henneberger
Dr. Beth DuPree on her last day of work at the breast cancer hospital she is determined to reopen.
Photograph: Photo by Samantha Appleton

Nobody is thinking about sustainability, however, as DuPree’s first patient of the day lies facedown on an elevated table with one breast hanging through a hole so the doctor can remove some calcifications that ma  malignant. I had breast cancer myself six years ago, and one patient joke I remember is that once you’ve had a needle the size of your elbow stuck into your nipple, everything else is a cakewalk. At my own biopsy, the “little tight pinch” Beth warns this patient about was anything but. DuPree, however, wields the dreaded needle so skillfully that the woman—and I kind of can’t believe this—is actually laughing from relief. “That wasn’t so bad,” she says after the procedure is over. “Really?” DuPree asks. “Most people say it sucks.”

Next, DuPree examines a woman who has just found a new lump—on the last day of her radiation treatment. “Hop up here on the table, girlfriend,” DuPree says brightly. “Cute shoes! I’ve got a fetish.” The woman is visibly shaking and doesn’t understand, she says, “how anything could possibly grow in there with all the nuking I’ve had. Could there be more of them that I haven’t felt?” DuPree winds up doing an immediate core biopsy while the tech holds the patient’s hand and tries to divert her with gossip about a hunky young radiation guy who works in the hospital. At the end, DuPree tells the woman that the lump is “tiny, and it looks like a cyst, but we’re not going to take a chance with it,” meaning she will send it to the lab to be certain.

“Well, I am having cocktails tonight, that’s for sure,” the patient says, so we go around the room and place make-believe drink orders for our make-believe happy hour. And although no amount of jollying or reassurance is going to ease the couple of days before the new biopsy results come back, the patient clearly appreciates the tender treatment she’s receiving: When DuPree gives her a hug on the way out the door, the patient clings to her with an unabashed vulnerability that not every doctor inspires.

Of course, not every doctor insists that her hospital be a holistic medical practice that offers not just traditional medicine but also preventative and complementary care, or liberally dispenses such extras as heated blankets and deep-tissue massages. Or hands each of her breast cancer patients a heart-shaped rose-quartz crystal to “remind them to make themselves a priority in their life.” For the cancer patients, services such as acupuncture and guided imagery (aka visualization) are provided free of charge by DuPree’s foundation, The Healing Consciousness (More’s publisher sits on the board). The money comes from the sale of DuPree’s book, The Healing Consciousness, and from her fundraiser fashion galas in which all of the models have had breast cancer surgery. The funds also come from the sale of a special line of jewelry, including a “breast cancer education bracelet”; its rose quartz and silver beads, which range in size from four millimeters to two centimeters, represent the sizes a breast mass can reach at varying stages of detection.

Next DuPree makes an appearance in the OR, excising a benign tumor the size of a couple of grapes; then she goes to check on one of her nurses, who is here as a patient today, having just gotten a new nipple, post-reconstruction. In fact, several women who work at the hospital tell me they’ve had breast cancer themselves, which DuPree feels “gives them an edge” on the job. The next woman DuPree checks on has just had reconstructive surgery after a double mastectomy: “Oh, they’re perky,” DuPree says, checking out the new breasts. “I know!” the patient agrees. “He listened to me, and they’re not too big.” DuPree awards the surgeon a gold star in absentia: “He’s a very good boy; he doesn’t oversize.”

Share Your Thoughts!

Comments

Post new comment

Click to add a comment