Pay it Forward
After Cancer, Giving Back Not Giving Up
Marie Aloisi wears a “Cancer Sucks” pin every day. After enduring five cancer diagnoses and subsequent treatments over three decades, however, she has never been more determined to give back—and to never give up. Marie has raised more than $20,000 to date for Windows of Hope, a nonprofit specialty shop at BIDMC offering products and services to patients with cancer.
Marie’s battle with cancer began in 1987, when she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Shocked and terrified, she was referred to Deaconess Hospital, where she underwent a mastectomy followed by six months of chemotherapy. Then in 1991, Marie was diagnosed again in her other breast. That was the beginning of her journey—17 years later, a scan revealed cancerous tumors in her lungs and her esophagus. Sidhu Gangadharan, M.D., chief of Thoracic Surgery and Interventional Pulmonology, performed a nine-hour surgery to remove the lower lobe of her left lung and most of her esophagus.
During her third round of chemotherapy, Marie began to lose her hair. “I will never, ever forget that day in June 2009 when I first felt it fall out,” says Marie. On her care team’s recommendation, Marie visited Windows of Hope at BIDMC to find a wig. There she met shop manager Linda Myers, who helped her try on multiple wigs. To Marie’s dismay, wigs were not covered by her insurance. Though she could not afford to pay for it, Linda didn’t want Marie to leave empty-handed, so she offered the wig free of charge.
Marie remembers her first time out with her wig, at a friend’s birthday party. “Everyone complimented me and it really brightened my spirit,” says Marie. That summer, it was excruciatingly hot and Marie found her wig very uncomfortable. So Linda prepared a bag full of scarves for Marie, and gave it to her daughter, Gina. “Linda told me they would keep her head cool, and she asked me to put on a little fashion show with my mom,” recalls Gina. “She said, ‘Try your best to make her smile.’”
At this point, Marie would have never guessed more cancer was in her future. But in 2014, Mark Huberman, M.D., found nodules in her right lung. Marie underwent therapy at the Keith C. Field CyberKnife Center at BIDMC, where she received a sophisticated type of radiation therapy that targets tumors using real-time, image-guided robotic technology. After four months of treatment and another long recovery, she finally felt like herself again—and knew exactly what she wanted to do.
“Many people with cancer don’t have the support I had,” says Marie, who set out to raise money for Windows of Hope. She spent months organizing a fundraiser at a local restaurant, where she drew a large crowd and raised more than $7,000 through ticket sales, donations, and a silent auction. Overwhelmed with pride, Marie began working on another event. Her second fundraiser filled the venue over its capacity and raised $14,000. “People did not let me down,” says Marie, who found a larger location for a third event. “Family, friends, friends of friends, and total strangers came together.”
Over the course of her journey with cancer, Marie has come to appreciate her family more than ever. “I don’t think anyone understands how cancer can affect a family,” explains Marie. “My husband and children suffered terribly. Being a caregiver is stressful—when I was at home, [my son] Mark checked in daily to make sure I was taking all my medications. ” She also developed a close relationship with her BIDMC family—including her care team and Linda. “I have the greatest respect and admiration for everyone at BIDMC,” says Marie. “Drs. Huberman and Gangadharan saved my life and Windows of Hope saved my spirit. Linda is one of the most kind and caring people I know.”
Today, Marie enjoys time with her family, including her three grandchildren. She must, however, consistently undergo screenings and diagnostic tests—and her recent genetic tests were positive for pancreatic cancer. Despite her uncertain future, Marie remains positive and focused on her next event. “Windows of Hope helped me in my time of need and I want to keep paying it forward,” says Marie. Adds Linda: “Marie’s energy is contagious. She spreads love, kindness, and generosity wherever she goes.”
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Drs. Huberman and Gangadharan saved my life and Windows of Hope saved my spirit.