FIVE TIME CANCER SURVIVOR

On the last day of the 20th century, as the world geared up for a once-in-a-thousand-years bash, Elaine Glass was at home in Beverly Hills making other plans. She had just been told that she would be welcoming the year 2000 as a lung cancer victim.

That marked the beginning of an odyssey as sad as they come, yet as inspirational as anyone could ever hope for.

Since January 1, 2000 Elaine has twice fought off cancer in both lungs and her bladder. Brain cancer retreated after just one encounter with this gutsy lady.

Score: Elaine 5, Cancer 0. But hold your applause. There’s more.

During this period, Elaine also underwent two hip replacements plus a disc fusion, and she developed diabetes. There were also three bouts with non-contagious tuberculosis, which “compared to everything else, seemed like the sniffles,” she said.

“Everything else” included losing 25% of a lung to cancer. But the damn thing didn’t touch her spirit or dampen her courage. I guessed that as I watched her emerge, all smiles, from a Curves fitness center.

We met on the patio adjoining Curves, where I interviewed her for this story. And where she took command. Before I could ask the first question she announced, beaming and bubbly, that she had trimmed off 12 ½ inches in only 3 ½ months of workouts.

Then with a flourish she whipped out a Curves report to prove it, adding: “It sure beats my last exercise program—dragging the IV back and forth from my oncologist’s treatment room to the bathroom.”

Next on the agenda was her resume. It was short but very impressive. Elaine worked in the motion picture industry for 40 years, over 32 years as Administrative Assistant to  Norman Levy when he was President of Columbia Pictures and Vice Chairman of 20th Century Fox.

Did I guess right about her or what!  This is no woman worn out and worn down by years of unbelievable sorrow and pain. This is a woman who can remain high on life, no matter what hits the fan. And plenty of stuff did.

One of her favorite coping mechanisms is the irreverent response. For example, when her lung cancer was found to be active the second time, she was informed that chemotherapy treatments would be resumed immediately. To which she replied: “I’m finally having a good hair day, and you guys start screwing things up. Can’t I enjoy this for a while?”

Her message got through, as usual. The doctors switched to a special “target” chemotherapy technique that treated the tumor directly without seriously affecting her hair.

The interview showed Elaine to be a giving person, too. At one point she worked at a school playground for kindergarteners through grade 8, “caring for kids I loved and who loved me. That wasn’t a job. That was pure joy,” she said.

Unfortunately only one immediate family member is on Elaine’s grownup playground, which includes a host of friends.  Both parents and her twin sister died of cancer. Another sister, currently in remission, has survived three cancer attacks.

Though upbeat, Elaine Glass has no illusions about her situation, pointing out that “it can be a terrible way to live unless you find reasons to be happy that you’re here to live it.”

There’s a lesson in that for all of us, healthy or otherwise.

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