Sunday, October 04, 2009

Marisa Petroro -- Cancer Survivor and Inspiration

If you've watched Deal or No Deal, you might recognize actress Marisa Petroro as one of the gorgeous models carrying the briefcases. She is truly a beauty -- inside and out.

Outside of acting, Marisa holds philanthropy close to her heart. She recently accepted a second term as spokesperson for the Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA), an organization dedicated to increasing sarcoma related research. Currently, there are about 50,000 people living with sarcoma. Roughly half of who are children.

In fact Marisa is a cancer survivor of Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare childhood sarcoma that affects the muscles and has said that taking on this responsibility has allowed her to achieve one of her lifetime goals. Not only does she participate in a variety of programs and events to help SFA fulfill its mission, she continues to volunteer her time to helping individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer and are undergoing chemotherapy.

Marisa and I talked some time ago regarding her own diagnosis.

When I was 19, I had a tumor removed from my arm. It's a rare childhood cancer and affected the muscle on my right forearm.

When did you notice a problem?

I was at Rutgers University and I had my nerve in my arm was painfully numb. A few weeks later, I was putting my hair in a pony tail and noticed a lump on my arm. I went to the campus doctor who said you bumped yourself, it's just blood vessles. But over the holidays I showed my family and got another opinion and it was cancerous. I had the tumor removed on February 11, 1991. I've been a cancer survivor for 18 years.

Did you have treatment?

I had a year of chemotherapy.

Can it come back?

Yes, there is a chance that it can come back. Surgery takes it all out and you hit it with chemo. If you are in remission for five years you are cured supposedly.

It could have spread to my bones where it is worse. One-third of those with rhabdomyosarcoma don=t survive. It's very rare.

How did you get involved with the Sarcoma Foundation of America? (The picture above is a photo from the Sarcoma Foundation Of America (SFA) Gala this past April. Couple with Marisa are board member Gary Tomei and his wife, Addie (parents of Marisa Tomei).

I was at a movie screening and it was a film and Adam Tormei (actress Marissa Tormei's brother) was stricken with sarcoma. We started talking after about how he has to go to New York and has sarcoma. We just started chatting, and his parents were on board of the foundation. I investigated it and approached them. I wanted to be a spokesperson to get the word out. Whatever I can do to spread the word, since people don=t know what it is.

Sarcoma is most prevalent in young adults and children. Fifteen percent of pediatric cancer is sarcoma! It was in my right forearm inside the body, I really didn't notice.

You have a scar from it now right?

You can't see it unless I raise my arm or have on a short sleeve shirt. I also had a portacath from chemo and I have a scar from that.

You're a model. How are your scars treated?

Sometimes it will get (photo) shopped out, it depends on what it=s for.

You seem to have a lot of patience. How did you cope with your disease?

When I was first diagnosed, my oncologist sat me down and told me I needed to have chemo and radiation for a year. He said how you get through it is to take a calendar and black marker and take it one day at a time. Staying in a positive light and having positive people around you.

What advice do you have for those already going through the treatment?

If you can have positive people around you, do so. Otherwise, watch comedies. I wasn=t open to this back then, but it=s also about nutrition. I cut meat and chicken out of my diet. I eat fish. I went to a place one-and-a-half years ago and they teach you how to eat raw. It's amazing how wonderful you feel. If there are any issues where you are out of place, don=t let it go for week or months, just get into a doctor and see what=s going on. You know when something isn=t going right. The longer you wait the worse it can get. If you don't have your health, you don=t have anything.

How can we help?

Visit the website You can donate money online and then there=s always sponsorships for the annual gala and educational conference every year. You can also become a member of SFA, it's free to sign up and you get an annual newsletter and quarterly updates. You can also find out events that are taking place in the state.

Currently, Marisa is also involved with multiple non‑profit and charity organizations including the Tomorrow's Children Fund at the Hackensack University Medical Center, The Young Storytellers Foundation, Tag the World, Operation Shoebox New Jersey, The Embrace Kids Foundation, Team Sarcoma B Los Angeles, Crime Survivors, REDWING 19 and the Sarcoma Foundation of America.

Over the past few years, Marisa has been Commencement Speaker at her alma mater, Kean University in New Jersey and was honored as AWoman of the Year@ by The Center for Italian and Italian‑American Culture. She also contributed to the book The Vision Board: The Secret to An Extraordinary Life by Joyce Schwarz. She's now on Showtime's Dexter.

Marisa, thank you for being such an inspiration!

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