Monthly Archives: August 2017

Resiliency; A Cancer Diagnosis can Come with Gifts – Marcia Donziger’s Story

In 1997 Marcia was 27 years old, newly married, working as a flight attendant, and excited to start a family. Everything seemed to being going right, her life was full of hopeful promises. When she started to experience agonizing pains in her abdomen, she decided to get it checked out by a doctor. After an ultrasound, her doctor found a tumor in Marcia’s left ovary, but assured her that it must be benign, telling her, ‘you’re far too young to have cancer.’

Under the impression that she would be back to work and life as usual in no time, Marcia scheduled the surgery to remove the ‘benign’ tumor. She was anxious to have the minor health scare behind her; however, what would happen under the knife would change her life forever.

After a lengthy surgery, Marcia woke up in indescribable pain. In her daze, she was told that she had stage III ovarian cancer and that she had a hysterectomy. Suddenly, her dreams of having children evaporated into thin air.

“I had no preparation for a hysterectomy or losing my fertility, or having cancer, so it all hit me as I was waking up from surgery and in a lot of physical pain, to the point where I had to be on morphine for days to get through the pain… it was physically and emotionally very painful.” She said of the moment she found out about her diagnosis.

Her life was immediately turned upside down. With a vulnerable immune system due to chemotherapy treatments, she was no longer eligible to work as a flight attendant.  The airline offered her a “ground job” in the airport.  The most challenging aspect of this change in duties was not the lack of travel, or the change in schedule, but the fact that almost all of her coworkers were pregnant and grounded on maternity leaves.  When Marcia lost her fertility, those around her were flourishing in theirs.

“There I was… working alongside pregnant women every day, and they were in this exciting part of their lives,” Marcia recalled. “I was grieving my fertility while they were celebrating theirs … to say I was an emotional wreck would be an extreme understatement.”

As Marcia’s internal battle forged on, her marriage was beginning to flounder. The two were trying to get pregnant at the time of Marcia’s diagnosis, and neither were prepared to have that opportunity stripped of them.

“We were trying to work through the loss of our fertility together…when one spouse loses theirs, the other does too. It just came to a point where he decided he didn’t want to have children through adoption or surrogacy.  Our marriage quickly imploded, and we divorced a year to the date of my diagnosis.”

After her marriage fell apart, Marcia moved from Chicago to LA to be closer to family, and to start again, from ground zero.

As Marcia’s treatments came to a close, she found an inner strength knowing that she is capable of anything. Being diagnosed with cancer at such a young age shaped her into the inspiration that she is today.

“I had never really been through a difficult challenge like that in my life, I had never broken a bone, I had never been really sick, so to have a serious illness, face your mortality, lose your fertility, go through a divorce, move across country alone, and all in the space of one year was almost every challenge I’ve come to now…I developed confidence in my ability to bounce back, adapt, and maximize new opportunities. I didn’t know much about resiliency before I was tested.”

Another struggle that Marcia faced throughout her experience with cancer was trying to keep her friends and family up to date with the treatment process and her logistical needs. She was often too tired or too sick to update everyone individually and it was getting hard for her to manage those practical needs.

As a concerned friend of others facing cancer, Marcia experienced these difficulties as well. One friend Leslie, diagnosed at 16 years old, struggled to maintain clear lines of communication. She utilized email for updates, yet replies got lost in the shuffle.  Marcia’s friend Lori, diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 33, utilized a personal website to update her friends and family. Marcia was inspired by this community of online support that revolved around Lori. Although Lori passed away after a two-year-long fight, her legacy lived on through her website. After she passed, Marcia called Lori’s mother who told Marcia, “that website was our lifeline.”

Leslie also tragically passed away at the young age of 27.  Both Leslie and Lori served as the driving forces behind Marcia’s creation of MyLifeLine.  Although Marcia had her own personal experience with cancer, she created MyLifeLine from the friend’s perspective; she created it so that friends and family could understand the process better, learn about key resources, and organize communities around serving the overwhelming practical needs– all while simultaneously providing love, support, and resources to the cancer patient.

“A cancer diagnosis can come with gifts.  I am incredibly grateful for the friends and family members who stepped in selflessly to help me throughout my crisis.  I felt so loved.  With MyLifeLine, all messages of love, support, and hope are centralized and organized.…providing an opportunity to create a beautiful keepsake book of memories and friendship.

MyLifeLine is a free service providing personal, private online cancer support communities to all families impacted by cancer.  Formed as a non-profit organization, MyLifeLine operates thanks to the generosity of hundreds of individual donors, sponsors, and grants.  Marcia’s passion for kindness and helping others has extended to improving the cancer experience and easing the burden of living with cancer for thousands of people; cancer patients, caregivers, friends, and family alike.

MyLifeLine has proved to be just that, a life line, for countless cancer patients, yet Marcia’s principles of authenticity and selflessness are at the foundation of the legacy she has built today:

“Everyone goes through some kind of personal trauma in their lives.  You may just walk by someone and have no idea they’re going through cancer treatment, and divorce, and grieving the loss of their fertility, so it’s always better just to give the benefit of the doubt and be kind to people, because I think we’re all more alike than we are different, no matter what challenges we are each destined to overcome.”

Diane “The Shark” Elmore’s Breast Cancer Story

Diane has always been a runner. As a devoted triathlete; running, swimming and biking were her passions. When she got the news that she had stage III breast cancer, however, she did not run. She decided to face it head on.

In September of 2016, Diane was racing in the Atlantic City Ironman 70.3. During the swimming portion of the race, she was kicked so hard that she thought she would drown. Although she was gasping for air and struggling to stay afloat, she persevered and made it to dry ground, and even went on to finish the race.

After a month, Diane noticed that the pain from the kick never fully subsided. Her doctor told her that it was probably nothing, but to get it checked out just to be safe. What she thought to be pain from the accident, turned out to be stage III breast cancer. She was completely shocked.

“I cried,” Diane said of her reaction to the news. “I knew life was going to become very challenging, and that my normal training plans would change into a new type of medical training plan.”

A new chapter in her life had just opened. Instead of training her body for the next race, she would be training her body to survive. Diane started her AC-T chemotherapy treatments in January and continued through April. On May 22nd, Diane had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction (tissue expanders). On May 31st, Diane was rushed into emergency surgery for a broken artery near her heart. After all of the surgery she was put under, she was given the disheartening news that her cancer did not respond to the chemo.

“That was unexpected since I had thought I was done with it all,” Diane explained of the reality that her cancer was still there. “That really stunk.”

After all that Diane’s cancer has put her through, she has kept a positive outlook on life.

“Some days are more difficult than others to make the choice that I will be the best me that I can, and not wallow,” she said of her fight to stay optimistic. What motivates her the most to be the best version of herself is her family.

“Life is short, and you just don’t know what will happen.  I am able to bike and run today, but I might not be able to tomorrow.  Each day is a gift.  I want my kids to know that, and take advantage of each day!”

Diane’s husband Kevin and her many friends have come together to help in ways that she could never have imagined. It has been difficult for her to ask for help in areas that she used to be independent, such as preparing meals and planning transportation for her children. She uses MyLifeLine to organize these things so that it’s not so much of a struggle.

Another challenge that she has had to face throughout her journey was the loss of her ability to exercise as she used to. Five years before her diagnosis, Diane lost 80 pounds in order to lead a healthier life and be around for her children. Diane has done her best to continue to train throughout her treatment, as it is a way for her to “hold onto some semblance of [herself] and [her] sanity.”

“I might not be fit enough to race right now, but I need to maintain sanity. I never regret a workout after it is done.  They clear my mind and make me sane and able to handle the treatments.  I think exercise should be part of treatment to keep us strong and get us through it!”

MyLifeLine has provided Diane with a forum to keep her family and friends posted as she continues her journey through cancer. “I am grateful to MyLifeline for the ability to post updates to family and friends as well as the calendar feature to organize meals and rides in one place.” She said of her MyLifeLine membership. Because Diane uses MyLifeLine, her brother, who is a policeman in Oceanside, California, was inspired to organize his police department’s participation in 2017’s Relay for Life.

Since her cancer diagnosis, she has learned to ask for help where she did not need it before and to make someone’s day better, even in small ways that she did not before her diagnosis. Although cancer has been a tremendous challenge in her life, posing great obstacles for Diane and her family, there is an upside to the experience.

“A silver lining to cancer is that I have felt loved in ways I never imagined before. Everyone should feel this loved during their lives,” she reflected.

Because of Diane’s perseverance and strong will, she is known by her friends as “The Shark.”