Carolyn Mary Kaelin Photo Credit: Steve Marsel

Carolyn Mary Kaelin
Photo Credit: Steve Marsel

BWH and the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) mourn the loss of Carolyn Kaelin, MD, MPH, FACS, who died surrounded by loved ones on July 28. She was 54.

Dr. Kaelin, of Boston, was a breast cancer surgeon at DF/BWCC and the founding director of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center at BWH. Known for her empathy and skill, Dr. Kaelin was active in the research field, focusing on quality of life issues for breast cancer survivors and how doctors and patients make medical decisions.

“Our hearts go out to Dr. Kaelin’s family in this time of profound loss and sadness,” said Michael Zinner, MD, BWH Surgery chair. “As we grieve for our dear colleague and friend, let us find some comfort in the remarkable legacy she leaves behind. In her life, she made an everlasting difference to each patient who came to her for care and to every colleague she mentored. Let us be inspired by her example of grace and fortitude.”

Born in Syracuse, New York, Dr. Kaelin graduated from Smith College and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She earned her master’s degree from Harvard School of Public Health.

In 2003, Dr. Kaelin was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. A rare complication of breast cancer therapy prevented her from returning to clinical practice. She decided to redouble her patient education and survivorship efforts, with a particular emphasis on the underserved population. In 2010, she was diagnosed with brain cancer, which was unrelated to her previous cancer.

Over the years, Dr. Kaelin worked to improve the lives of women facing breast cancer. She established the Quality of Life Fund at BWH to support breast cancer survivorship projects and launched the “Knowledge, Strength and Grace” conference series for breast cancer patients and their families. She also cofounded the Quality of Life Cancer Fund in Aspen, Colorado, to support indigent cancer patients.

Dr. Kaelin coauthored two award-winning books, “Living Through Breast Cancer” and “The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Fitness Plan,” and helped to create an innovative, exercise-centered breast cancer recovery program at the YMCA. She was extremely physically active throughout her life and cycled in Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s (DFCI) Pan-Mass Challenge to support cancer research and treatment.

In 2001, Newsweek featured her as one of “15 Women of the New Century.” She received many honors, including an Exceptional Women Award and the Mary Horrigan Connors Award at BWH, which recognized her outstanding commitment to women’s health.

Dr. Kaelin is survived by her husband, William G. Kaelin, Jr., MD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at DFCI and Harvard Medical School professor; children, Kathryn Grace and William (Tripp); parents, Mary and Richard Scerbo; brother, Richard Scerbo, and his wife, Ellen; and additional family and friends.

On Friday, Aug. 28, at 4 p.m., a memorial service will be held at St. Ignatius Church, 28 Commonwealth Ave., in Chestnut Hill. Guests are welcome to wear a touch of pink.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in Dr. Kaelin’s honor to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital or DFCI to support brain tumor research under the supervision of Patrick Wen, MD, chief of BWH’s Division of Neuro-Oncology. Read an obituary written by Dr. Kaelin’s family.