Marcia Donziger's Cancer 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.”

If you would like to connect with Marcia, send her an email at marcia@mylifeline.org.



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