To know Stacey Fusco is to know Mildred Ellen. The two were by each others side for nearly all of winter/spring 2018. After Stacey noticed a lump under her arm the size of a marble in October of 2018, she received news from her doctor that she had early stage breast cancer. She was taken aback, but immediately decided to turn her dread of chemo into something fun- thus, Mil“DREAD” Ellen (because of Ellen Degeneres’ tagline “be kind to each other”) was born. Mildred is of course, Stacey’s infusion pole and the two quickly became a phenomenon around the treatment center. They faced the hardship of chemotherapy together and the two did an astounding job: Stacey did not get sick during treatment. In fact, she stuck to her rigorous pre-diagnosis gym schedule and her five mile runs. Doctors were in awe, but Stacey notes it was her simple determination to remove the dread from her new normal and remain positive. Faith, she notes, can move any mountain, and she had faith that not succumbing to a “poor me” mentality would help her defeat the difficulties she was facing.
She wasn’t without pain, however. Stacey’s elbow length blonde locks defined her for many years and when her hair began to fall out, she eventually had to buzz her head. It felt like a deterioration of her identity, so she allowed herself three days to cry and mourn over its loss. On day four, she confidently charged ahead with treatment. She opted for a double mastectomy with double reconstruction and to be extra careful, radiation. As an added layer of precaution, Stacey received a laparoscopic hysterectomy in March 2020. Her positive energy paid off, as doctors alerted Stacey that treatment was nearly 100% effective and told her to go live a happy, full life, something Stacey calls a true blessing. The last leg of her cancer journey will occur this summer, when her permanent implants are put in.
She notes that she could not have done it alone. Mainly, her doctors at Dana Farber, who embraced her and Mildred from the beginning, fueled her determination to forge ahead. Their partnership made her the obvious choice to be the representative of the brand new state-of-the-art Dana Farber Cancer Center in Methuen, MA. Stacey was part of the ribbon cutting ceremony, featured on TV and in the center’s brochures. It was a poignant moment marking the success of her journey and simultaneously giving back to the medical community that supported her (and Mildred!) during treatment.
Stacey tells her story with astonishing ease and lightness, but her tone turns keenly appreciative when she talks about her tribe. Calling them the “soldiers to her fight,” Stacey thanks her family for their immense support and credits them for her continuous positivity. Her mother, an ovarian cancer survivor, modeled strength during treatment in 2014 and Stacey notes that her mother’s example proved inspirational during her own treatment. While her mother struggled to see Stacey actually receive chemo, she made sure Stacey had meals, home support and more. Stacey’s father, Jack, was equally as notorious as Mildred around Dana Farber. Dubbed Stacey’s shadow, he drove her to every treatment and sat with her during every infusion. Her two sisters were there to cheer her up, motivate her and support her in all the ways only sisters know how. Lastly, but no less important were her three four-legged friends- Foster, Winston and Ashford. They provided her comfort during treatment and the days since.
Given the current COVID-19 crisis, Stacey’s normal routine is on hold, but her support system still remains. Her sisters grocery shop for her and her dogs keep her company. She FaceTimes with her parents and friends. She still has reminders of her cancer, of course. Chiefly, the regrowth of her hair proved another painful challenge, as it grew back grey. While her tone turns sad during the description, it quickly rebounds to upbeat when she talks about dying her hair back to blonde once society re-opens. It’s no surprise that when asked how she feels about her cancer journey, Stacey remains positive in her response: “You learn to appreciate more, accept the new normal, and not let the little things get in the way. You design your life more colorful and view it as a true blessing.”