How a cancer diagnosis changed this woman’s perspective on life

Brain cancer patient Molly Marco gives her testimonial.

In July of 2016, Molly Marco of Royal Oak was at a coffee shop in Detroit when she began to feel dizzy and nauseated.

Minutes later, she woke up on the floor with an EMS crew asking her questions.

They immediately took her to a Detroit-based hospital where several tests were performed, including an MRI.

Marco learned that she had a brain tumor.

The tumor was approximately the size of an avocado pit located deep in her left temporal lobe.

While Marco was in the MRI she had a profound feeling.

“It wasn’t the devastating state of fear as one would expect,” she said. “In that 40 minute-or-so-journey in a tunnel, nothing I used to stress over or obsess about before that moment was important. I remember thinking, ‘I love life. I love life so much.’”

One thing that Marco never thought that she would hear in her life, especially at age 36, was, “You have brain cancer.”

Finding the right team

Marco was given the opportunity to shop around for a health system and surgeon who specialized in deep left temporal lobe surgery.

Marco chose the Hermelin Brain Tumor Center, part of the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, for her care.

Ellen Air, MD, a neurosurgeon, was the right surgeon for the job.

The craniotomy took place in early October 2016 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Dr. Air was able to safely remove what she could of the tumor without causing permanent damage to Marco’s speech or short-term memory.

“Surgery went well,” Marco said. “I was confident that the test results would be ‘peachy’ and everything would go back to ‘normal.’”

Marco never expected what would come next. About 10 days after the surgery, Molly received a phone call that changed everything. The biopsy results had come in.

“That phone call, that is the day that my world crashed around me,” she said. “It was easily the worst day of my life.”

The week prior to the call, Marco was introduced to her neurooncologist, James Snyder, DO, but at that time the diagnosis was not yet finalized.

“Dr. Snyder sounded perfectly calm and not at all sad or scary when he discussed the diagnosis,” she claimed. Marco was diagnosed with grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma.

“My tumor discovery was scary. But the world didn’t end,” she said.

Snyder offered her the opportunity to visit him at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital that same day to discuss more in person, which Marco greatly appreciated.

”I was absolutely terrified,” she explained. “Cancer happens to other people. Sick people. Old people. But not me. I was really healthy, and I worked hard to be healthy.”

Undergoing treatment

Marco quickly moved into the max treatment, radiation over six weeks targeted to the area of the brain where the tumor had resided with chemotherapy followed by cycles of chemotherapy every month for about a year.

Her care team consisted of Vijay Donthireddy, M.D., a medical oncologist, and Mirah Shah, M.D., a radiation oncologist who specializes in the care of brain tumors.

Flash forward to today, Marco takes daily antiseizure medications and has a brain MRI every four months.

The MRI studies have not shown any further tumor activity.

”Molly has made me a better doctor,” Snyder said. “She has driven me to advocate nationally for brain tumor resources, illuminated the real-life challenges one faces when living with a brain tumor, and most of all to live every day with purpose and compassion.”

What’s next?

Grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma is a terminal illness.

“I am not cured. I am not in remission. The cancer is expected to return as itself or, as glioblastoma – which is grade 4,” Marco said. “Life is terminal. Let’s not delay life with the assumption that we have time. Now is the time. I got that lesson hard and fast. I have found that for me, the best way to tackle challenges, fear and grief is to allow myself to feel those feelings. I can thank my diagnosis for that perspective.”

“Molly continues to share her experience with others in a very open and constructive way, which has helped many overcome the isolation of this diagnosis,” Snyder said.

Marco’s world started new after her diagnosis. She claims that her life is filled with purpose and meaning.

“I am blessed with a terrible diagnosis,” she exclaimed.

Marco finds power in speaking and writing about her story, and she does so in complete honesty.