Cancer doesn’t frighten Agnes Weisiger. “I don’t scare easily,” she said. It just makes her mad. And motivated.

Her husband, Ed, survived prostate cancer in 1989. Agnes survived breast cancer in 2011. Motivated by their journey fraught with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, the Weisigers decided to fight back. With the fruits of their labor, they are helping provide the best possible screening and treatment for a disease whose impact is nearly unfathomable. According to the World Health Organization, one in six deaths worldwide is caused by cancer.

First, they gave the lead gift toward the Novant Health Agnes B. and Edward I. Weisiger Cancer Institute, an outpatient center that also houses the Novant Health Claudia W. and John M. Belk Heart & Vascular Institute. The 260,000-square-foot facility in Charlotte, which opened in 2020, provides comprehensive oncology services.

Thanks again to the Weisigers’ generosity, the Novant Health Agnes Binder Weisiger Breast Health Center will open this month just a few blocks from Presbyterian Medical Center at 315 Lillington Ave. The 13,500-square-foot standalone building, with its bright layout, spa-like changing area and easy access and parking, was designed to enhance and expand early detection of breast cancer. Routine appointments are expected to take less than 30 minutes.

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“This new breast health center is a beautiful illustration of what can happen when good ideas and even better people come together to make a difference in our community,” said Ann Caulkins, senior vice president of Novant Health and president of Novant Health Foundation. “I know this place will serve as a refuge for our patients to have their concerns heard and their mammograms completed with dignity and grace.”

With this latest project, the Weisigers are once more living out a mission born of personal experience. Each time they learn of an opportunity to do something about cancer, they say the same thing to their friends at Novant Health.

As Agnes puts it, “Let Ed and me do that.”

Her roots run deep

Why this deep connection to Novant Health?

Agnes inside
Agnes Weisiger touring the Novant Health Agnes Binder Weisiger Breast Health Center, a building designed to enhance and expand early detection of breast cancer.

Agnes, who turns 83 Feb. 2, was born at Presbyterian Hospital, now Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. She was a candy striper there before they gave teenage helpers that sweet moniker. She graduated from Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing and worked in the intensive care and coronary care units at Presbyterian.

Back in the day, she administered chemotherapy to cancer patients. She yearned to do more, so she returned to school and became a family nurse practitioner, the first in Charlotte. In addition to caring for patients, she advocated for the expansion of that now-widely appreciated position in the medical community.

In all, she worked some 40 years for what is now Novant Health before officially retiring, not that she will ever retire from supporting health care initiatives.

This is Agnes: When she was being treated for breast cancer, she wanted to know why the hospital system didn’t have mobile mammography units to take breast cancer screening into the community to serve people who might not be able to get a screening otherwise. The Weisigers helped fund Novant Health’s first and second mobile mammography units in Charlotte. Today there are six units across the Novant Health footprint.

Angela Rigsbee is well-acquainted with such “Agnes” narratives.

Rigsbee’s association with Agnes dates back three decades to a time when Rigsbee oversaw healthcare initiatives at Sharon Towers and Weisiger served as a nurse practitioner at the retirement community in south Charlotte. Fast forward to today, Rigsbee is now President and CEO of The Sharon at SouthPark – its new name – and the Weisigers are residents. They also provided a major contribution to help expand what is now known as the Weisiger Health Center there. Throughout this journey, Rigsbee has come to appreciate the qualities that inspire their philanthropic nature.

“She is candid,” Rigsbee says. “She is personable, honest, genuinely interested in learning more about you on a personal level. She has a keen interest in advancements in the medical field. She’s always open to helping or suggesting a way to help.”

A commitment to equal access

Given their story, it’s only fitting that medicine brought the Weisigers together. One evening in 1981, Agnes was taking patients’ telephone calls for her medical office.

Here’s how Agnes tells the story:

Agnes and Ed in New Zealand
Agnes and her husband, Edward Weisiger, in New Zealand.

At a friend’s suggestion, Ed called her. The answering service took his message and passed it on to Agnes, who assumed it was health-related. “When I returned the call and asked if I could help him, he said he was going to ask me to go to dinner with him.”

Their first date was eating supper at a friend’s home. Agnes and Ed, now 92, were married in 1983 and together have made benevolence a profound part of their lives. When the Novant Health Agnes B. and Edward I. Weisiger Cancer Institute was being built, they hosted the construction workers and their families for a day of recreation on their family’s 1,700-acre farm in rural Lancaster County, S.C., where they raise pine trees. It was the Weisiger way of saying thanks.

Ed, rarely without a smile, is happy to defer to his wife when someone wants to write about them. Agnes is happy to tell their story. But inevitably the conversation turns away from them and toward the cause that keeps them giving.

Agnes believes every individual deserves equal access to quality health care. That conviction is rooted in her heart and soul. Since this latest act of philanthropy involves the opening of the breast health center, she is happy to get on her soapbox.

Get that mammogram. The worst words a woman can say? “I’ll do it next week,” Agnes said.

On guard against breast cancer

The need for mammograms – both standard annual screenings and diagnostic or follow-up scans/biopsies – is reflected in the statistics.

Each year in the United States, 240,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and 2,100 in men. Some 42,000 women and 500 men die each year in the United States. Mammograms are recommended for women starting at age 40.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should ask your doctor about getting screened sooner.

The new, standalone Novant Health Agnes Binder Weisiger Breast Health Center opens soon at 315 Lillington Ave.