How Finding A Cancer 'Buddy' Gave Me The Courage To Go Through Treatment



How Finding A Cancer 'Buddy' Gave Me The Courage To Go Through Treatment

Melinda Eng, 62, a fashion designer living in New York City, was diagnosed with stage two ovarian cancer last November. She's now in remission and doing great, which she credits in large part to the support of a new friend who has walked the same path. (Make 2019 YOUR year by taking charge of your health and jump-starting your weight loss with the!)

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Last November, I started sensing something wasn't right with my body. I had been feeling bloated for months, but when I began seeing drops of blood in my urine, I called my gynecologist immediately. A few days later, I was staring at a vaginal sonogram that revealed a malignant tumor on my right ovary. I was shocked. I'm a single 62-year-old woman without children. I kept wondering, "Who's going to help me get through this?"

A week later, I had a hysterectomy to remove both ovaries. My brother and sister and several close friends insisted on coming to the hospital, so thankfully I had tons of support that day. When I woke up after surgery and saw everyone in the recovery room surrounding me, I felt so comforted and blessed. I thought, "I made it through the surgery; I can do anything."

That feeling didn't last for long, though. About an hour after the procedure, I got terrible news: I had stage 2, very aggressive ovarian cancer. My oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital recommended beginning five cycles of chemotherapy immediately. 

I was petrified of cancer, but I was equally petrified about chemotherapy. It's such a toxic treatment, and I knew it would not only kill cancer cells, but the healthy cells in my body as well. After a couple days researching chemo on the internet, I called the physician assistant in my doctor's office, crying that I couldn't go through with it. She called back immediately, told me about Mount Sinai's Woman to Woman cancer support program, and promised to connect me to someone else who had had the exact same experience.

A half hour later, I was on the phone speaking to Marilyn Aronson, a breast and ovarian cancer survivor who proudly informed me that she was in her 70s and had been in remission for 25 years. She was so warm and engaging on the phone that I felt a connection to her instantly. She said to me, "Chemo saved my life, and it will save yours, too. I know you can do this."

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Forging ahead
I was still reluctant, but Marilyn persuaded me to at least visit the chemotherapy center with her so I could see firsthand what was going on. I did a double take when this gorgeous 5'7'' woman with a mane of reddish brown hair walked in. She introduced herself and I couldn't believe she was in her 70s, let alone a cancer survivor. Her skin was flawless—smooth and wrinkle-free, and she seemed so radiant and healthy. Her voice was soft and low and friendly; she calmed me as she told me her story. I thought to myself, "If this woman can look so amazing after what she's gone through, I can too. I can get through this." 

Chemotherapy pump
Pratchaya Ruenyen/Shutterstock

I agreed to start chemotherapy, and Marilyn actually stayed with me in a private room as I sat getting 4 hours of treatment. I was so grateful—this was someone who barely knew me, yet was willing to carve out her whole afternoon for me. That really surprised me, especially because I come from a culture where disease is viewed with embarrassment and shame. My mom had a hysterectomy when she was 40, but she never spoke about it. She died 5 years ago, so I'll never know what happened.

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Thankfully, I have felt like I can be very open about my diagnosis with my siblings, and my sister has accompanied me to every single doctor appointment since my surgery. But Marilyn almost feels like another sister at this point—one who has gone through the same thing, recovered, and is now living life to the fullest. 

My treatment spanned several months, and Marilyn sat by my side for several more chemotherapy sessions, entertaining me with stories of her rich, rewarding life: It seemed like she was always off to Florida to visit her granddaughter, and if she was home in NYC, she was busy volunteering teaching English to children of immigrants in her neighborhood. It was so inspiring to see how she'd refused to let her cancer define her and take over her life. She also texted me almost every day, wanting to know how I was doing. She was the first person I called anytime I felt scared or nauseous, and she was always willing to listen and quick to offer advice based on what had helped her get through chemo. (She's a fan of ginger and mint tea.) 

Growing stronger
I had my last chemo session this past April, yet I still marvel at how bonded I feel to Marilyn. We still speak every couple of weeks and see each other several times a year—the last time was at a special fundraising concert for the Foundation for Women's Cancer. We had lunch just a couple weeks ago, and for the first time we actually didn't discuss cancer at all. We chatted about the election and movies we'd seen (I told her she had to seeDenial), and I gave her some fashion advice about dressing for an upcoming bar mitzvah. For so long, I'd only seen Marilyn when I was frightened or not feeling well; it was incredible to see her now that I'm healthy and feeling on top of my game. 

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Marilyn has never let her cancer define who she is—she overcame it and now it's a footnote to her life, not an entire chapter. I look at her and think, wow, when I'm in my 70s, I want to be exactly like her. I'm not back to work yet, but I've been keeping busy most days by taking salsa, yoga, and cooking classes. I'd also love to volunteer as a cancer buddy, so I can help someone else the way Marilyn helped me, but I have to wait until I've been in remission for a year to sign up.

As a cancer patient, it's so easy to feel scared and alone. Mount Sinai's support program has been around for 10 years; my hope is that one day every cancer center in the country will offer something similar. The fact that I was able to connect with another survivor who knew intimately what I was going through gave me the courage I needed to go through treatment. Every woman should have that same hope.






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Date: 17.12.2018, 12:39 / Views: 64365