Marlee Pincus’s ’22 entire world changed after being diagnosed with cancer during her first semester at Cornell. But instead of isolating herself in a hospital room, Pincus decided she will help others with similar conditions through sharing her experiences online and raising money for cancer research.
Shortly after school started in October, a bad cough circulated through Pincus’ dormitory in what seemed to be a normal college sickness. However, as Pincus’ friends recovered, her own symptoms worsened.
“My mom noticed I was extremely pale and decided to take me to urgent care,” Pincus told The Sun. “They drew blood and then received a critical values call from the lab.”
That’s when Pincus received her life-changing diagnosis: T-cell acute lymphoblastic, an aggressive form of leukemia in which too many immature white blood cells are found in the bone marrow and blood.
“Hearing you have cancer is one of the scariest feelings,” Pincus said. “Your first thought is, ‘Am I going to die?’”
Although the cancer is treatable, it will require her to undergo intense chemotherapy for two and a half years. Pincus said that because her future was unknown, she learned to be mindful of her current situation, to accept things as they come and to maintain a positive attitude.
“Here I was, not even 18 yet, always had been healthy, and thriving at college,” Pincus said. “Now that was all taken away, it’s hard to describe the feeling. But when faced with a life-threatening situation, an inner strength comes over you.”
“I describe it best as a fire ignited within you,” she said.
This “shift in mindset” motivated Pincus to blog for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society an organization that funds blood cancer research and provides patient care and access to treatment. Through this platform, Pincus got to share her stories and hopes that it will inspire others going through similar experiences.
When Pincus’s family and friends asked her what she wanted for her 18th birthday, she felt that “besides health, there was nothing [she] needed.” Instead of gifts, Pincus elected to create a Facebook fundraiser for LLS.
“In the Jewish religion, the number 18 is called ‘chai’ and it means ‘life.’ Since I was turning 18, I decided to ask for donations in multiples of 18,” Pincus said.
Pincus’s goal was to raise $1,800 in 18 days. Instead, she raised over $18,000 dollars in 18 days. When Pincus ended the fundraiser, the donations totaled over $20,000.
Pincus believes that her Facebook followers were eager to contribute to her fundraiser because “those around you often feel helpless because they can’t do anything to fix the situation” but “channeling energy into donations is an easy way for anyone to help out.”
The fundraiser was not the end for Pincus’s advocacy efforts. She continues to raise awareness by creating a Facebook page called “Marlee Kickin Leuk’s Butt.” On this page, Pincus and her father continue to provide updates on her treatment, current condition and stories about her experience.
“Although I never thought I would be here, I am willing to take this opportunity to self-explore and gain a new perspective on life,” Pincus said. “This is something I can carry with me forever.”