Hundreds gathered to support Ellen Palmer and raise money for breast cancer research at Verdi’s Banquet Hall in Westbury on May 30. Above, Palmer, third from left, was joined by, from left, her son Michael, husband George, mother Anne, daughter Maggie and son Kelly.
It is that overwhelming support system, she said, that moved her to act. “I always think about women [with breast cancer] who are maybe a single parent, or their families are out of state, and that don’t have what I have,” she said. “That motivated me.”
A grim diagnosis
Palmer graduated from W.T. Clarke High School in 1977, and from Molloy College’s nursing program in 1981. She and George were married in 1985, and they lived in East Meadow for 10 years. (George is a 1971 graduate of East Meadow High School.) After selling their house in 1996, the family was searching for a new place to live when an old high school classmate, Maureen Gaffney — Palmer’s co-worker at Winthrop — suggested that she buy the house across the street from Gaffney in Salisbury. “We fell in love with the house,” Palmer said.
In the past, the family of five enjoyed regular trips to the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and spending weekends at the beach. Though Palmer’s diagnosis may have altered their lives, it has also brought them closer together. “It’s been an experience,” said Maggie, who was 13 when her mother developed cancer. “It was hard, especially more when I was younger. Not that it gets easier, but you just deal with it.
“I have my support from her,” she added about her mother. “I think she gets a lot of support because she gives a lot of support.”
A career in nursing taught Palmer not to feel sorry for herself, and as a result, she can keep her illness in perspective. “I’ve seen people suffer a lot more than I have,” she said. “So I think it makes me feel grateful. I don’t feel like ‘Why me?’ I see many people get sick and have bad things happen to them.”
Instead, she has faced her illness head on. “You figure out what your treatment options are,” she said, “and you pick your team of medical people that you trust and are going to take care of you.”
Her team is headed by Dr. Alex Hindenburg, an oncologist at Winthrop for more than 20 years. The two have developed a close friendship over the last seven years. “He’s a great guy,” Palmer said. “He always makes me feel like I have plenty of options. And I feel I do.”