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Thriver Thoughts: Marla Milone

When I found out I had Hodgkin lymphoma in October 2017, it didn’t seem real. A few days before my diagnosis, I was running around at The Hunt and making sure my friends all made it to the Giants tailgate the following morning. The next day, my life was turned upside down. Dr. Cairo explained the results of my biopsy, along with the full history of the disease, but it still didn’t hit me. As my parents cried, I kept a smile on my face—partially because I wanted to be strong for them, but mostly because the doctors were confident this was just a small bump in the road I would soon overcome. The certainty he had in the positive outcome of my journey and the efforts he made to ensure I was comfortable made this dark time so much brighter, and I don’t think I will ever be able to thank him enough for that.

When I was diagnosed, I feared I would never be able to enjoy the life I had worked so hard to achieve. Sure, I had to make major adjustments, but everything I wanted to do, my team of doctors and nurses made sure I did! When the NCAA basketball tournament came around in March, I told my doctors I didn’t want to miss a Villanova game, as they were on their way to winning another championship. Knowing this was important to me, they did what was needed to make sure I watched the games with my friends after going through my rounds of chemo on those particular days. When I wanted to travel, they never said no and figured out ways to make it happen. Because of their dedication and the advances in chemotherapy studies, I was able to continue making memories.

In addition to the support I received from my doctor and his incredible team, I was surrounded by an endless number of friends and family who stood by my side, and for that I will be forever grateful. Making the decision to move home for treatment and leave my roommates behind was extremely difficult. However, looking back, I could not have been happier with the decision I made. I was able to spend valuable time with my parents, who were there for me and gave me the strength and unwavering support to win this battle. I realized I was actually living with two of the coolest roommates around. They kept me laughing constantly, and their smiles never faded. My brother would even come back from his first year at college to keep me company, even if I forced him to watch endless episodes of “Friends” or asked a million questions while he tried to watch “Westworld” in peace. Needless to say, the entire first month I was sick, I had someone keeping me company every second of every day and night. Yes, we might have been stuck in a hospital room for most of it, but through the tears, we had many laughs and always made the best out of the situation.

Throughout this journey, I faced many obstacles I never in a million years thought I would have to worry about. I went from getting a blowout every week to figuring out how to get a wig to stay on my head. However, I was never in it alone. My friends and family embraced these challenges with me. Whether they were helping me learn the trendiest way to tie a head scarf, cutting their hair with me or my guy friends actually wearing my wigs for a beach photo shoot, we were always in it as a team.

This isn’t all to say I wasn’t scared. Of course I was. I was even a little scared to write this. At first, I thought it was because I didn’t want to relive everything I had gone through. But now I realize it’s the opposite. Writing this is the last step in putting this chapter behind me, and that’s harder for me to do than I thought. Most people would think that this chapter was only filled with hardship and one I’d be happy to close and never return to. But it wasn’t. Throughout all the frustration and pain, I met new people, learned the importance of patience and discovered what is truly important to me.

I wasn’t given this disease as a punishment. I was given this disease because I could handle it. My friends say, if roles were reversed, they would not smile as much as I did. But I smiled because I knew I was going to be okay. I smiled because I had family, friends, doctors and nurses by my side. And I am smiling now because I beat this terrible disease and have been given a chance to make a difference.

I made a promise when I finished my own journey against cancer that I would give back. I am proud to say I am now 11 months in remission and have found my chance to do this through the V Foundation’s Next Gen committee. Last fall, we put together the Great Gatsby Gala at the New York Athletic Club, which raised money and awareness for cancer research.

I am beyond grateful for their support in making this night happen, and I am excited for what the future holds for us as a team. Our efforts will help those battling cancer, and I hope that they, too, will be able to tell their stories. As the next generation of cancer research supporters, it’s our mission to create awareness and join together to bring us one step closer to finding cures for cancer!