Stacey’s story: Running for her sister

Leslie Arenson Auslander was an active, healthy, 34 year-old working her way towards partner at her law firm in October 2016, when she felt a lump in her armpit.  While her original doctor was not concerned, she was compelled to seek a second opinion.  That small lump was determined to be breast cancer, which had spread to her lymph nodes.  From that day forward, her younger sister Stacey’s life was forever changed.

“I’ve looked up to Leslie everyday of my life.  She was the best person I knew,” remembers Stacey fondly.  “Her breast cancer diagnosis completely turned our family upside down.  From that point on we were all hands-on deck in fighting this beside my sister.”

Not wanting the disease to define her, Leslie continued working while going through chemotherapy treatment.  Her determination paid off as she made partner and was declared cancer-free.

“Please advocate for yourself!  If you feel something isn’t right, be persistent,” advises Stacey. “Leslie’s initial source of breast cancer was small enough to avoid detection in breast exams and imaging.  Cancer truly does not discriminate.  It can happen to anyone.”

While Leslie and her family were rejoicing over the good news, a few dormant cancer cells had traveled into her cerebrospinal fluid avoiding treatment.  Shortly after they received the cancer-free declaration, Leslie was diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare complication of cancer where the disease spreads to the membranes in the brain and spinal cord.

“Leslie was so full of life.  She always planned fun trips and outings to concerts or new restaurants. She was smart, hardworking and generous.  Even during both bouts of cancer treatment, she was most interested in the lives of those around her. I strive to be like her and make her proud every single day.”

In October 2018, two years after Leslie’s initial breast cancer diagnosis, Stacey joined Team Lynn Sage to run the 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.  In part Stacey committed to the marathon to be closer to Leslie, an avid runner, but also to help motivate Leslie through another year of treatment.

“I had always wanted to run a marathon and I thought it would be a nice way to pay tribute to my sister’s strength and to give us something to look forward to. I felt if I signed up, she would have to be here in October”.

Stacey chose to run with The Lynn Sage Foundation because of her belief in the need for more research.

“Leptomeningeal carcinomatosis has no cure or successful standard of care.  Tumors circulate in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), eluding treatment while spreading throughout the brain and spine.  More research is needed to improve both the prognosis and quality of life for those patients.”

Even though the diagnosis was grim, Stacey and her family kept their spirits up, as Leslie underwent her first course of treatment.  The treatment was difficult for Leslie, but allowed them a few happy months together and a wonderful family vacation that will be cherished forever.

As the treatment’s efficacy declined, Leslie decided to try an immunotherapy clinical trial at Dana Farber in Boston.  This required travel every week or two, but kept them focused on a turnaround.  Throughout months in the hospital, hair loss, seizures, depletion of her immune system, and extreme bouts of pain, Leslie remained a spirited fighter with a positive attitude.  Unfortunately, Leslie passed away in April after the cancer had spread to almost every area of her brain and spine.

Stacey shares one of the most valuable lessons gained from her sister,  “Live your life to its fullest every day, as my sister Leslie did.  Because, some lives are unfortunately much too short.”

In October 2019, Stacey, living her life the fullest, became a proud Chicago marathoner.  While Leslie was not physically present during the race, we know she ran every step of those 26.2 miles with her sister.  Stacey’s outstanding fundraising effort yielded over $20,000, helping fund a collaborative CSF bank for further research into circulating tumors.  Leslie would be VERY proud of her sister, every single day.

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