By Danica Rivera
Special Education Aide Sylvia Eisen never thought she would leave her successful marketing career to work alongside high school history teachers. But that all changed when she was diagnosed with cancer, a battle that would test her strength and resilience.
In 2005, at age 34, Eisen encountered an abnormal marble-sized lump on her chest. Her gynecologist eventually sent her to an oncology surgeon to undergo a fine needle aspiration (a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis) to break the lump down. Throughout the entire process, Eisen did not expect cancer.
“I remember [the doctors] saying ‘whatever it is, we want to remove it.’ They didn’t go into a whole lot of detail and were just more concerned with removing it,” Eisen said.
Eisen underwent an extensive lumpectomy (a surgical removal of a portion of the lump). Her doctors found out that the lump was cancerous and had spread to her lymph nodes. She had all the lymph nodes from the right side of her body removed. Fortunately, Eisen’s lumpectomy was a successful surgery, removing all traces of cancer. She followed the surgery with multiple rounds of chemotherapy. This left her cancer-free for the next 13 years.
Like many cancer patients receiving the news they had cancer, it took Eisen some time to process her diagnosis .
“Once I had the surgery, that’s when I realized I had cancer,” Eisen said. “From that first night I had chemotherapy after the surgery, I spent the night on my bathroom floor. I think that’s when it really hit me that ‘Oh my god, I’m a cancer patient.”
Eisen’s first session of chemotherapy caused her to be extremely nauseous, which is what led her to sleep on her bathroom floor. She had chemotherapy treatments every three weeks for six months.
In 2014, her cancer metastasized, and she has to continue fighting her stage 4 breast cancer diagnoses with chemotherapy.
“I just had one of my scans and everything is working fine. I had some shrinkage so that’s good for me,” Eisen said.
After going through such hardships and setbacks, Eisen keeps a positive attitude and perspective on life and continues to be strong each day. She tries to live as if every day is her last.
“I try not to let the little things bother me. I know I have other issues. So, I try to enjoy my family and everything else as much as possible,” Eisen said.
The cancer had not only affected Eisen’s life but her son’s as well. Eisen’s son was in fifth grade when she first received the first diagnosis. Eisen’s son did not want to go to school as he was afraid to leave his mother’s side. It was definitely a rough time for the two.
When Eisen was rediagnosed with cancer, her now adult son came back home, to ensure his mother wasn’t alone in her second journey of cancer.
“There are some things now that I don’t want to tell him because he gets so upset but he’s handling it. I tell him saying ‘honey I’m okay, I’m okay,’” Eisen said.
Eisen has a flexible work schedule as a paraprofessional. Eisen mainly works alongside history teachers Charles Klevs and Jonathan Bent. The duo has known Eisen for about 15 years, six of those years working together as a trio in the classroom.
“She’s like our backbone in the classroom,” Klevs said. “Because of what Ms. Eisen is going through and how she still shows up to work, she makes me want to come to work on days I feel like not working.”
Special education teacher Straun Joseph considers Eisen as his little sister. Joseph especially recognizes the struggle Eisen is going through as his mother was also diagnosed with cancer.
“She has given up so much to be where she is today,” Joseph said. “She is a diamond in the rough who makes me proud to be able to be called a friend. I love who she is and what she stands for, an inspiration to all students and adults.”
Eisen is an inspiration to all those around her whether family, students, or coworkers. Her determination and resilience stand as encouragement that we can all continue on and care for each other no matter what battles we face.