“Mass General” became a sacred name in my house. When I was six, my family moved to Massachusetts, and we spent three years here. My brother was quite ill, and my parents went through a lot during those years trying to determine what was ailing him. Massachusetts General Hospital was the only place with an answer and they helped my family tremendously. From that point on, even when we moved out of state, we looked at Mass General with immense respect and admiration.
I didn’t move back to Massachusetts until I was in my thirties, and by that time I had already been diagnosed with and successfully treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Treatment options in 1978 were new and limited, and I became part of a small population of people who had lived but would later deal with the consequences of radiation damage.
It was more than 20 years after treatment when I started experiencing shortness of breath and other various symptoms. At first, I chalked it up to being a busy mom who was not sleeping or exercising enough, but after some time, it reached a crisis point. My primary care provider ran some tests and referred me to Mass General’s cardiology department.
As my journey with Mass General began in 2002 with a triple coronary bypass graft, the hospital quickly became my anchor. My surgeon and cardiologist worked together to determine the best plan for surgery and follow-up care. The care provided by my cardiologist has made a huge difference in my life. I have always believed if my heart isn’t doing well, it is hard for anything else to go well. His care, guidance, support, ongoing research and consultations with other specialists have been vital for me.
Since then, I have had three secondary cancers — melanoma, breast cancer and, most recently, lung cancer — due to the radiation treatment I underwent at 19-years-old. It’s important to mention that although the radiation caused long-term issues, without it, I would not have survived. I was lucky. It was the only option at the time, and I wouldn’t have done anything differently because today, I have so much — a growing family, including two grandchildren.
I’m also incredibly fortunate to have Mass General by my side during this experience. For more than two decades, throughout all these illnesses and hospital stays, they have provided unified, superb care. For instance, the first thing my lung surgeon did, after telling me my recent diagnosis of lung cancer, was talk to my cardiologist. Communication is essential, in my opinion, and Mass General exceeds expectations.
About 15 years ago, I was looking for a way to show my appreciation, so I began giving to the MGH Fund, the hospital’s main source of flexible funding, used at the discretion of the hospital president. The MGH Fund supports the areas of greatest need across the hospital not only during times of crisis, but also for the long term. By giving to the MGH Fund, I wanted to recognize the providers who have been important to me. I also wanted to be sure Mass General has the unrestricted funds they need to fill gaps. Health care is complicated — I have witnessed this firsthand over the course of my medical journey — and leadership needs flexibility to make the best decisions for the hospital and its patients, including me.
My story might not be wildly exciting. I am not here to say that I am now well enough and feeling inspired to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. That’s never going to happen, and that’s okay. Honestly, it’s what makes my story unique. I’ve learned to accept that I am never going to be in perfect health again. But I have Mass General to thank for helping me to create the best life for me. That’s why it is an honor to give back to the place that’s made this beautiful life possible.