Eileen Small paddleboarding

Eileen Small

Every so often an extraordinary individual comes along who touches countless lives and inspires others is special ways. For the medical professionals of Marian Cancer Care, breast cancer survivor Eileen Small is one of those people.

Eileen’s cancer journey began well before her own diagnosis. Within a two year period, Eileen saw her sister and mother get similar breast cancer diagnoses. She stood by her family through the rough road of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Due to a family history of cancer, physicians speculated that Eileen’s sister, Melissa Ferrari, had a genetic syndrome. Melissa began genetic testing, but unfortunately Melissa lost her battle with cancer before finishing at only 39 years old. The loss was devastating for both the family and the caregivers at Marian to whom she had grown so close during her fight.

“The Marian Cancer Care team of physicians, nurses, and support staff truly became a part of our family–always there to give a hug, answer a question, or just provide an encouraging word to stay positive,” explains Eileen. It was through this established feeling of trust that Marian Cancer Care nurse navigator Liz Elliott, RN, and breast surgeon, Monica Rocco, MD, encouraged Eileen to schedule a full breast evaluation. During Eileen’s evaluation a mass was found in her right breast and a biopsy revealed a cancerous tumor.

Soon after, Eileen began genetic testing to finishing what her sister, Melissa, started. The Marian Regional Medical Center Foundation funded genetic testing program proved the answer – yes, there was a family genetic predisposition to cancer. With the ability to identify this genetic syndrome, Eileen’s family members will now be able to take preventative measures to avoid the development of cancer.

Due to Eileen’s family genetic predisposition and active lifestyle, she decided to undergo a double mastectomy without reconstruction. A lover of the ocean, Eileen struggled during her recovery to resist paddle boarding. Although difficult, within five weeks following surgery Eileen was again out on the water, calling it her “place of peace and healing.”

In May of 2015, Eileen underwent her last chemotherapy treatment. She proudly cried tears of joy as her oncology nurses who have become her dear friends serenaded her with a celebratory “Happy last chemo to you” song.

In an effort to live her life to the fullest, Eileen and her husband are currently working with Marian Cancer Care leaders to develop a new paddle boarding and kayaking program for local cancer patients. Although the program is still in the beginning stages, it is expected to launch in October of this year.

“I’ve learned so much in the last six months. I’ve learned what’s really important in life: to slow down and take the time to enjoy the simple moments in life. For me, having cancer was just a little speed bump and a small chapter in the story of my life.”

Due to the advanced medical treatment and genetic testing she received from Marian Cancer Care, Eileen is now cancer-free and looks forward to living a long, happy, and healthy life with her family.