University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

A Brief History of the Breast Care Center

Breast Care Center Banner

Before the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center served people with breast health concerns from prevention and diagnosis to treatment and follow-up, the center's services, doctors and care givers were spread out in clinics throughout UCSF. The patient experience was daunting as it involved moving from place to place to see doctors and get tests and services. Meanwhile, no one UCSF health care giver could provide the patient's full breast health needs or coordinate how the variety of essential services were delivered.

As a founding program of the UCSF Cancer Center on the Mount Zion campus, however, the Breast Care Center as an interdisciplinary center was an idea that served an essential role in building a world class cancer program at UCSF.

Early Days

In 1993, Dr. Laura Esserman was recruited to join the faculty of the Breast Care Center as a breast surgeon. She became the Center's Director in 1996, and began realizing her vision of the future of breast health. She imagined a place where a woman with an abnormal breast finding could find all services needed in one location. Genetic counseling, surgical oncology, medical oncology, and radiation therapy services would all be organized around the patient's needs. Clinical care and research would be integrated and patients would have the opportunity to participate in the latest treatments.

Carol Franc Buck

In 1996, Carol Franc Buck gave a generous gift to the Breast Care Center that would allow for the physical expansion of the clinic facilities and would support the hiring of nurse practitioners and genetic counselors. The CEO of Mount Zion Hospital at that time, Marty Diamond, facilitated the building of this comprehensive breast program which allowed all disciplines to practice in the same place.


Thanks to Dr. Esserman's foresight, to the collaboration and passion of the Breast Care Center faculty and staff,and to some additional generous donors this dream was realized and resulted in the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center that exists today. The BCC's interdisciplinary environment has led to the advancement of the field globally. Our researchers and clinicians now have more ability to cross intellectual, bureaucratic and institutional boundaries and to develop the rapid transfer of ideas from the laboratory to clinical trials.

Our Tiles

One of the hallmarks of the Breast Care Center are the ceramic tiles with images of native plants and stories from our patients, their families and friends, our staff and other caregivers. People come upon them and are touched by their beauty and informed by the depth of feeling and words of wisdom.

The story of the idea behind the tiles begins with a patient of Dr. Esserman's who felt that "the voices of the patients are missing" in the clinical setting. This patient, Ann Chamberlain, and Dr. Esserman proceeded to discuss ways to address this issue during Ann's treatment. Once Ann's treatment was finished, she applied for a grant from the Creative Work Fund (established by Walter and Elise Haas) which provided for her time and the materials to create this amazing work of art.

Ann conducted workshops in the outdoor cemented courtyard at the location of the Cancer Center at that time, 2356 Sutter Street. People came with stories and poems to decorate their tiles and then planted seedlings so that patients having chemotherapy would see the plants growing over time. It was important to Ann that there were blooming plants representing new beginnings. She saw that people have seasons like a garden and cancer treatment progressed in that way. After the withering of winter, spring followed with abundant plant life. She wanted the tiled walls to remind staff of their patients and why they choose to do the work they do, to remind them of their special purpose of improving the lives of cancer patients in whatever way possible.

Ann made the stories of the people receiving care in the Breast Care Center a structural centerpiece of the buildings where that care is delivered. The tiles continue to remind us of our humanity and our need to reach out to support one another. They express the extraordinary community made up of women, men, their families, and loved ones who have gone through the cancer experience. The tiles remind us that their suffering is our suffering, their success our success.

During this same time period, Carol Franc Buck and Joseph Friend contributed to the revitalization of the courtyard, replacing it with a garden and a café that Ann would eventually surround with tiles.

In 2000, Ann salvaged tiles from the old School of Nursing building that was torn down and used them as the founder stones for a fountain. She worked with renown landscape designer Katsy Swan to plan the layout for the garden, ensuring that there were blooming plants all year around.

The UCSF Cancer Center moved to its brand new home at 1600 Divisadero in 2002. It was very important to bring the spirit of the tiles to the new Breast Care Center location. Ann spent an additional year conducting workshops in order to have enough tiles for the this additional wall space. These are the tiles that you see there now. You can visit the original tile installation on Sutter Street in what is now the UCSF Center for Women's Health.

Ann Chamberlain was a far-ranging artist who specialized in collaborative works, using everything from granite and natural light to photography, found objects, maps, text and earth, She worked with others to replace a barren, concrete courtyard with a lush garden where cancer patients could share their personal stories.

Ann's spirit lives on through all of us and through the story tiles. She fundamentally altered the way we think about spaces where we deliver health care. Ann Chamberlain, an incredible public artist, advocate, and friend, passed away from metastatic breast cancer in April of 2008.