December 21, 2022

From cancer patient to cancer colleague

A Kaiser Permanente member’s cancer journey inspires her to join the team that saved her life.

Radiation oncology center manager Irit Mandelsberg found her calling after her experience with breast cancer.

When Irit Mandelsberg arrives to work each day, she knows it’s exactly where she is supposed to be. As a manager at Kaiser Permanente’s Interstate Radiation Oncology Center in Portland, Oregon, she works with the cancer care team and patients undergoing treatment.

“I feel honored to be a part of this team,” she said. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

Hereditary cancer risk

Mandelsberg’s path to joining Kaiser Permanente started in June 2017, when she was visiting her father in Israel. He was sick and had learned he had a BRCA gene mutation. Being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, he urged his 3 daughters to get tested for the gene mutation.

Everyone carries the BRCA gene. BRCA mutations significantly increase a person's risk for certain cancers, including breast and ovarian cancer. It’s estimated that one in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish women has a BRCA gene mutation.

Mandelsberg believes her father’s request saved her life. After his death, she returned home and met with a geneticist at Kaiser Permanente. While still processing her grief, she learned she also had a BRCA mutation. 

The next step was an MRI, which led to the discovery of an aggressive tumor. At age 38, Mandelsberg hadn’t planned to start breast cancer screening for another 2 years. “My story would have been very different if I had waited,” she said.

Patient-centered care

In September 2017, Mandelsberg had a double mastectomy followed by 6 months of chemotherapy and weeks of daily radiation. 

Her Kaiser Permanente care team quickly became part of her personal community along with friends and family members. “Right from the start, I felt comfortable and cared for,” she said.

The first time she met her radiation oncology physician, Tasha McDonald, MD, Mandelsberg felt at peace. “She had read every line of my chart. She knew me as soon as she walked in,” she said. “I trusted her and felt comfortable with her immediately.”

I have walked in their shoes and feel honored to be able to lead with this perspective.


Paying it forward

As time passed, Mandelsberg could not let go of her feelings about the care she received. “It ignited something that made me want to give back and be a part of a system that delivered that kind of care.”

After 20 years in long-term care administration, she accepted a position with Kaiser Permanente’s ob-gyn team in Portland. Within months, the Radiation Oncology Center manager position opened. She applied and was hired.

“I knew it was right. I knew I belonged there,” she said.

Mandelsberg’s team cares for more than 100 patients each day. “I now see the work behind the scenes and have an even deeper appreciation for what they do.”

She believes her cancer journey helps her better support the patients she works with. “I have walked in their shoes and feel honored to be able to lead with this perspective.”