Dina Levin is an OB/GYN in Portland, Oregon. She graduated from the University of Illinois in 1985 as a marketing major in the College of Business, then went on to attend medical school in New York and Chicago with a residency in St. Louis. She has two sons.
Dina’s experience with cancer was as a caregiver. Her mother was diagnosed with three separate cancers: chronic lymphocytic leukemia, for which she received chemotherapy; breast cancer, for which she underwent a mastectomy; and finally uterine cancer, for which she underwent a hysterectomy. As Dina puts it, her mother had “a triple whammy.” After fighting leukemia for twelve years, Dina’s mother passed away in March 2003. Dina’s children were only 2 years and 9 months old at the time. Since then, Dina has become actively involved in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), which helps to raise funds for cancer research and provide support to families affected by blood cancers. In 2010, Dina and her husband trained with LLS to run in the San Francisco Half Marathon, personally raising over $6,400 for the organization.
Dina’s story shows the impact that cancer has on not only the patient, but also the caretakers. Dina supported her mother in her fight against cancer at the same time as she completed her medical education and raised two children of her own. Her story offers inspiration to both patients and caregivers for how to carry on throughout the battle.
I think that it probably had to do with her office being in the basement in downtown Chicago. Because everyone she worked with - one guy had colon cancer and one lady had ovarian cancer, somebody else had lymphoma. They all had different things but they all had something... Electromagnetic radiation in the L. She was riding the L track and she was there 8 to 10, 12 hours a day for 30 years. So I guess I feel like I blame it on that because then it’s not me. It has nothing to do with my being. It has nothing to do with anything. It makes it simpler for her.
My aunt got breast cancer also - her little sister. And then I was like, “Oh gosh. Am I going to be next?” Then my aunt got tested for the breast cancer mutations and she was negative. So I feel relieved. I think it was just a random thing.
Right after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I guess she had radiation, she finished and then she went to Africa on a safari that had already been planned. She wasn't going to be beaten down. And after her cancer diagnosis, actually, she went to Australia, Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe… She wasn't going to let her life be taken over.
There never was really an almost better. There were just kind-of better times because [chronic lymphocytic leukemia] never really goes away. It's just hard to get involved in family. I don't know… get too enmeshed in family sickness, and you can't do anything. With my work [with LLS], if I am having a down day, it shows me that [the patient’s] life is so much worse.
I think the hardest part for me of having her gone is that she is not here to enjoy my children. My husband and I feel really sad every day that she is not here. My mom used to love hot fudge sundaes, so as a memorial for her and because all of her friends were in Chicago and her funeral was here, I had a big party for her in Chicago at the North Shore Hilton up in the top, because she used to like it there. It’s really easy for all her friends to get to and we had ice cream sundaes. And everyone got to talk. And there were 100 people there… It was a nice goodbye for her.
Emily Schornstein Columbus, Ohio
Colista Lich Rapid City, South Dakota