Suzanne Mahon brings together the best of nursing science and
genetic counseling to empower individuals and families to make informed
decisions about their health and well-being.
She relies on her
Catholic faith — as well as her expertise in interpretation, management
and test results — to do her job well in her clinical practice.
professor in hematology and oncology at the Saint Louis University
School of Medicine, Mahon was inducted as a fellow of the American
Academy of Nursing, the nursing field’s highest honor, late last fall.
Working in cancer prevention and early detection since 1988, she is one
of less than a handful of nurses in Missouri to be certified in
Relying on God
It’s a privilege to take care of
patients, Mahon said. She works with patients who are anxious and
vulnerable, many newly diagnosed with cancer or have family members who
have had a diagnosis or died from cancer, so they’re worried about their
risk for developing it.
Patience and empathy are important in her
work. “You have to walk in their shoes,” Mahon said. “I have to think
about that every time I see a patient or make a call to talk to a
Often, before she sees or calls a patient she takes a
minute to reflect to ensure she’s delivering potentially stressful
information in a loving way. “I have to stop and say, ‘This is going to
be difficult for the patient,’ put my best foot forward and ask God for
the courage and the tools I need to the best job I can. People deserve
that kind of care.”
Her role focuses on disease prevention. “If we
work with a family and we find they have inherited risk for developing
cancer, then we can look to design a set of recommendations that might
help to prevent it,” Mahon said. “Those interventions come with a
physical and emotional cost, but we can detect it earlier when it’s
treatable. We have a responsibility to promote health, and I feel lucky I
landed in a position to actually do that.”
If someone has a
hereditary predisposition to developing cancer that’s verified with
testing, “then we can recommend intensive screening or something else we
wouldn’t otherwise recommend,” Mahon said. “It can be life-saving and
life-changing. There are things you can do to decrease that risk.
Genetic testing is a good use of health care dollars and helps us put
the money where we most likely reap benefit. If your mother inherited
risk for some cancer, and you didn’t inherit it, that’s relieving and
you don’t have to do that extra screening.”
of work, Mahon’s Catholic ties are strong as well. Her children
attended St. Justin Martyr School and Cor Jesu Academy, the same schools
she attended. “St. Justin Martyr is home for us. When my husband and I
were looking for a home, we only looked inside the parish boundaries,”
Cor Jesu was a good fit too. “I always say that was the best money we spent for our kids — on a Catholic education.”
was on the St. Justin School board after her children graduated, and
she gives guest lectures at Cor Jesu Academy on topics related to her
field and in the context of the Catholic faith. “I felt so strongly
about the importance of Catholic education.”
Her three daughters
followed in their mother’s footsteps. Her oldest daughter, Emily
Tschopp, has a degree in musical therapy and is a graduate of SLU with a
bachelor’s degree in the accelerated and master’s in nursing options.
Tschopp works on the palliative care team at SSM Health Saint Louis
University Hospital and is an adjunct instructor in the SLU School of
Nursing. Mahon’s middle daughter, Maureen Varty, received her
undergraduate degree from SLU and recently completed her doctorate in
nursing and is a nurse scientist at the University of Colorado Anschutz.
Mahon’s youngest daughter, Elaine, graduated in 2018 and is a pediatric
oncology nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Their mom and
dad didn’t push them into the medical field, just wanting them to be
happy, but their parents’ passion for their jobs obviously rubbed off.
It makes for fun conversation when they get together and discuss their
work, while Mahon’s sons-in-law stand by with puzzled looks.
education prepared her well for nursing school and her career. Social
justice and health care ethics were a huge part of her education at
Saint Louis University, where she obtained bachelor’s and master’s
degrees, “and that played a large part in steps I’ve taken,” she said.
and her husband, a physician-gerontologist who also practices at SLU,
both value the Catholic charism of taking care of patients of all
Mahon passes on her knowledge with clinical
students and teaches a section of various courses in the SLU School of
Nursing. She touts the importance of spiritual care for health care
workers, especially now with the stress from the COVID-19 pandemic.
>> Accomplished nurse leader
expertise was cited upon her induction as a fellow of the American
Academy of Nursing. Mahon is a professor at Saint Louis University in
the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology and
Her clinical practice “focuses on advancing care in
cancer genetics to patients and families. Her sustained clinical
practice of more than 30 years demonstrates advance practice nurses can
provide excellent comprehensive genomic care and counseling that
ultimately decreases the morbidity and mortality associated with
cancer,” the Academy reported.
Mahon has served on the Centers for
Disease Control Task Force on Direct to Consumer Marking for Genetic
Testing, the Advisory Board for the Missouri Show Me Healthy Woman
program, the Oncology Nursing Society Hot Flash Clinical Guideline team,
and the Oncology Nursing Society Genomics Task Force. Mahon has more
than 220 publications in peer reviewed journals beginning in 1986. She
has served as an associate editor of the Oncology Nursing Forum and
Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing coordinating departments on
She is the recipient of the Oncology Nursing
Society national award for Excellence of Scholarship and Consistency of
Contribution to Oncology Nursing Literature Award (2005). Mahon was also
awarded the 2011 International Society of Nurses in Genetics Founders’
Award for Excellence in Education, the 2012 Saint Louis University
School of Nursing Alumni Award, and the 2018 Certified Nurse of the Year
from the American Nurses Credentialing Commission for Advanced Genetic
Mahon received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing at Saint Louis University and a doctorate degree from Rush University.