By Katie Sobolik
There’s something patients don’t know about Jillian Allegretti as she helps them manage their appointments at MSK Monmouth, one of several Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) regional locations. Behind her warm smile and calm professionalism lies a shared experience and a touching love story.
Five years ago, she was on the other side of the desk, undergoing treatment for stage 2 breast cancer at age 25. Knowing it could be a tough road, she told her boyfriend Max he didn’t need to stick around. But instead, he doubled down for Jillian. As she grew weak and lost her hair, every day he reassured her she was strong and as beautiful as she had always been.
And on the last day of chemotherapy, Max walked into Jillian’s infusion suite, dropped to one knee, and asked her to marry him.
“What?! Yes!” she exclaimed, as their loved ones who were packed into the tiny room burst into applause and tears. The overwhelming moment was captured on a video that soared across the internet.
“It was a great day all around because I finished chemo,” Jillian remembers. “But then, to have the man that I love propose made it even more special.”
That was five years ago. Now married and cancer free, Jillian is an outpatient care coordinator at MSK Monmouth, working for Rachel Duff — the very person who used to check her in for treatment.
“When you are diagnosed, you feel like you are losing all control of everything. Your body is betraying you. You have no idea what to expect. My job is to comfort patients: ‘Let’s take control of your schedule. This is what to expect. This is how many hours you are going to be here.’ ”
Jillian says working with the people who saved her life is “amazing and strange at the same time.”
After thoughtful consideration, Jillian has decided not to tell patients that she’s been one, too. If a patient is enduring a chemotherapy regime similar to hers, she will reassure them, but without revealing her own history.
“Everybody’s experience is different with cancer,” she says. “And I never wanted to be the person that was like, ‘You’ll be fine.’ I want people to feel all the things that they’re feeling and know it’s OK to not be OK. Having cancer is miserable. It’s scary, and it’s hard.”
Now, in an uplifting turn of events she never could have imagined five years ago, Jillian was recently awarded Employee of the Month. It’s a humbling honor for what she says is the “calling of her life.”