The Hirshberg Foundation is thrilled to welcome Esther Lee, DPT, as our Honorary Starter for the 2021 LA Cancer Challenge Walk/Run! Esther exemplifies courage, hope and positivity in the face of her pancreatic cancer diagnosis. We first met Esther in January of 2021 when she joined our Patient & Family Webinar where we celebrated 10, 20 & 30 year pancreatic cancer survivors. Esther instantly made an impression on Zoom in her purple headband and within hours had ordered purple beanies and wristbands for her whole family; and from there she became part of the Hirshberg Family.
As a local cancer patient, we invited her to participate in our Healing Bloom Zoom, a virtual flower arranging class for survivors. She and her sister created a beautiful floral arrangement. Esther shared that this floral class inspired her “new favorite hobby” of gardening in her back yard. Before we knew it she had registered Team Esther for the LA Cancer Challenge, 6 months in advance! She is all in with her support of the Foundation and we are some of her biggest cheerleaders – although she has many, a great community rallying around her.
She generously shared some details of what the last year has been like for her:
Prior to a year ago, I was zipping around my typical busy fast paced life. I was thoroughly enjoying my super busy life as a doctor of physical therapy, providing manual treatments for my private clients in LA and around the world. When I wasn’t working, I was playing beach volleyball 3-4 times per week, playing tennis, snowboarding, riding my bike, jogging, and working out. I lived a “healthy,” active life and was passionate about traveling and exploring the wonderful cultures and beautiful landscapes around the world. When home in LA, I loved hosting game nights with friends and loved building deeper connections with loved ones.
July 29th, 2020, my world flipped upside down and took a sharp turn. I was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor with metastasis to my liver, spine and lymph nodes. Fortunately, on August 26th, 2020, I was able to undergo surgical removal of my 14cm tumor, spleen and part of my pancreas because I was having difficulty eating and had developed severe pain in my spine. Due to complications with fluid build-up around my right lung, I had to undergo several procedures to drain and resolve the accumulation that was resulting in my lung collapsing and making it extremely difficult to breathe for almost 4 months. I had the fluid around my lung drained every morning for 3 months until I was finally able to have my pleural catheter removed December 10, 2020. I underwent 3 rounds of chemotherapy and then 4 rounds of peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT, which I am about to complete July 27th, 2021), “the bazooka treatment for neuroendocrine tumors” according to my wonderful oncologist. I will be getting my first scan post-PRRT treatment, in late October, just prior to the LA Cancer Challenge. This scan will assess how my cancer cells have responded to treatment.
It has been a long bumpy road but I am so very thankful that I have come an extremely long way in (almost) 1 year. My family, friends, medical team of doctors, nurses, techs, and my chaplain at UCLA, the wonderful Hirshberg Foundation community and of course my adorable sidekick maltipoo pup, have been my greatest support, inspiration and gift along my journey. My sister and brother immediately stepped in from day 1 to be my personal 24/7 nurse, pharmacist, chef, driver, masseuse, tear wiper, dog walker, maid, secretary and entertainer to keep me smiling. My incredible community of loved ones have consistently blown my socks away with the love, prayers, encouragement, and thoughtful, generous gifts over the past year.
I am overflowing with gratitude that I am still here to appreciate each day, continue building each relationship in my life and create new wonderful memories. I am continuing to learn the incredible healing power of love, gratitude, and positive determination which come in all shapes and sizes. We all constantly cycle through different ups and downs of life, but we all have the powerful ability to help ourselves and others make our journeys enjoyable and fulfilling. I’ve truly learned to take it one day at a time, the greatest challenge being fully present in each day, moment by moment… this is the amazing place of peace and gratitude.
Esther exemplifies grace and expresses gratitude in every step of her treatment journey. She is a constant source of inspiration and joy, which is just a part of why she has been chosen to be our Honorary 5k Starter for 2021 LA Cancer Challenge.