October 28, 2016 | by Michael Easterling
Author and wellness specialist Elizabeth Lesser came to know City of Hope Chief Medical Officer Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., after a mutual friend suggested she get in touch following her sister Maggie’s cancer diagnosis. Her sister's mantel cell lymphoma had returned and Lesser had tested as a perfect bone marrow match.
“I didn’t know who she was really and she didn’t know who I was, but she listened,” Lesser says of Levine, whom she now considers a dear friend. “She didn’t rush me, she gave me her informed and considerate opinions and she welcomed me to contact her whenever I needed. I thought ‘Why is she giving a complete stranger so much attention?”
After they hung up from that first call, Lesser says she did what anyone would have done after such an impressive exchange. “I Googled her,” she says. “I was shocked to learn she was the chief medical officer at one of the most prestigious cancer hospitals in the world, and an expert in hematologic malignancies and stem cell transplant.”
Lesser writes of the transplant experience, her sister’s illness and their bonding moments in her best-selling memoir, “Marrow: A Love Story.” She will be discussing the book and reading excerpts at a special event on the City of Hope campus, Tuesday, Nov. 2, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., in the Arthur & Rosalie Kaplan Family Pavilion. The first 100 people to arrive will receive a signed copy of the book.
In “Marrow,” Lesser recounts the time she and her sister spent together at Dartmouth Medical Center as they prepared for the bone marrow harvest and transplant. She discusses how they decided together to take a mind-body approach to the procedure, something they’d end up calling their “soul marrow transplant.” In the process, they told some difficult truths to each other, cleaned up their relationship, and ultimately found forgiveness and love. It would be what Lesser's sister called the best year of her life.
During that year of treatment, Lesser says Levine’s support and encouragement became “legendary.”
“Alexandra stepped in over and over to offer Maggie comfort, information, second opinions and support,” she says. “And Maggie was so grateful.” An artist, nurse practitioner and maple syrup producer in Vermont, Lesser says her sister would send some of her framed artwork to Levine, and kept her with a steady supply of maple syrup.
During a particularly difficult time when her sister's health was deteriorating, Lesser says she pulled over in the middle of an East Coast snowstorm to call Levine.
“I remember sitting on the side of the road in the snow being comforted and held, across a continent, by a woman who truly knows what it means to care.” Lesser says she is delighted that City of Hope is the last stop on her national book tour, and she is looking forward to being here more than anywhere else the tour has taken her.
“I am so happy to be able to give back to this amazing woman and this amazing institution that is City of Hope.”
R.S.V.P for the reading at City of Hope.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Lesser is an author and co-founder of the Omega Institute, a learning center devoted to health, wellness and social change. She is also the author of “Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.” She has shared her work and teachings at two TED Talks, and has been featured as part of Oprah Winfrey’s "Super Soul Sunday.”