At our sixth annual Survivorship Celebration, held June 23 at the Zuckerman Research Center, cancer survivor Jennifer Arnold — a neonatologist and mom of two who stars with her husband, Bill Klein, on the TLC show The Little Couple — shared her story with more than 500 of her fellow survivors, their families and friends, and MSK staff.
Despite being born with a condition called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia that caused her small stature, Dr. Arnold said her early life was a happy one.
“I grew up very well‑supported by wonderful family and friends,” she said. “And they taught me that despite any challenges that I may have had…I had this one life, and if I wanted to enjoy it and make the most of it, there’s nothing that should stop me.”
She fulfilled a lifelong dream to go to medical school and become a neonatologist, met her husband on a dating website, and began a joyful life with him in Texas. What followed next was unexpected in many ways.
Dr. Arnold’s diagnosis came at a less-than-ideal time in the family’s life. She and her husband were on a trip to India with their newly adopted son to bring home their daughter, whom they were also adopting, when unexpected bleeding sent her rushing home. She was diagnosed with stage III gestational trophoblastic neoplasm, a cancer caused by pregnancy, which had already spread to her lungs.
Initially, her tumor didn’t respond to treatment as expected, as the dose of her chemotherapy was challenging to determine due to her size. But once her doctor took a more aggressive approach, she was cured of disease.
Dr. Arnold went on to share more about her relationship with her husband, her years in medical school, and how she strives to live her life with grace — by going for her dreams, taking time to heal, accepting help and support from others, identifying and focusing on personal priorities, and finding the fun in challenging times. “We have this wonderful life yet ahead of us,” she said.
Finding Support, Getting Back to Normal
Colon cancer survivor and former patient Lisa Barr also shared thoughts about her diagnosis and life after cancer. She is an active member of Visible Ink, MSK’s writing program for patients and survivors that allows them to work one-on-one with mentors and publish their work. In addition to the program’s founder, Judith Kelman, Ms. Barr thanked her MSK doctors, parents, and friends for their support during her treatment.
Jake Prigoff, a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, spoke to the crowd about the little things in life he took for granted before his cancer diagnosis, such as the taste of food or the ability to hum a tune. An avid singer, Mr. Prigoff’s cancer was diagnosed after he was unable to hit a high note that was normally an easy feat and realized something was off.
He was successfully treated at MSK and got back to life as usual. But his family didn’t accept that he was completely back to normal until he took up his favorite activity again: singing in the shower.
Mr. Prigoff now sings with his a cappella group, Blackout, which treated the audience to a performance at the end of the day’s events. “Singing, to me, is a reminder that I’m a cancer survivor,” he said. He’s now a medical student and hopes to help others going through similar experiences. “Some day I hope I can fill a room like this with my patients, who will be able to say to themselves that [they] can really appreciate the little things in life,” he said.
Craig Thompson, MSK President and CEO, and Mary McCabe, Director of Clinical Programs for MSK’s newly established Cancer Survivorship Center, also spoke at the program, welcoming survivors and wishing them well.Back to top
The Party Continues
MSK also held celebrations for survivors treated at our regional sites in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and West Harrison and Long Island, New York. In New Jersey, wellness educator Regina Rosenthal spoke about the connection between the body and mind and reminded those present of the importance of caring for oneself spiritually and emotionally as well as physically.
At the event in Westchester, MSK medical oncologist Michael Postow shared details about advances in immunotherapy, and Angelica Strong told of the challenges she faced after her diagnosis with stomach cancer and how she was able to place her faith in MSK gastric and adrenal surgeon Vivian Strong. And exercise scientist Lee Jones, who is researching the relationship between cancer and exercise, told survivors at the event on Long Island about his work.Back to top