Survivor Series – Meet Elisse Rosen

Her treatment journey began 27 years ago when “they threw cannons at you.”


Elisse Rosen, TBBCF top supporter, marathoner and "thriver"

Cancer, especially breast cancer, has been unwelcome but omnipresent in Elisse Rosen’s family going back generations. Three women in her family lost their cancer battles. 

Elisse has breast cancer, but she’s a survivor. In the truest sense of the word.

“Breast cancer wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, and it never will be,” she shared. “There is life and I want to live it.” 

She found the first lump when she was 31. Feeling like a “bowling ball,” it turned out to be a cyst. Not uncommon in women with dense breasts, of which Elisse was one. Years were filled with doctor appointments and no clinical changes, and she was told to come back if something changed. 

She did, three months later, she said.

At one point she visited a plastic surgeon to explore prophylactic mastectomy, but much to her dismay, his only concern was breast augmentation, not health.

She was 45 when, while bra shopping one day, she noticed one nipple was pointing in a different direction with a big dimple on the underside of her breast, she said.  She had no symptoms. Not only that, but she’d just had a mammogram and was scheduled for another mammogram that, again, found nothing. A biopsy was ordered.  

The tumor found was malignant. Elisse decided to have a “modified radical” mastectomy, she said, adding she opted not to do genetic testing because of insurance concerns and because she had no daughters or sisters. Her diagnosis was Stage II-B with migration to the axillary lymph nodes, and the tumor was estrogen and progesterone positive.  Elisse had four months of chemotherapy, which was followed by six weeks of radiation, five years of tamoxifen, and seven years of an aromatase inhibitor.

But she never felt sorry for herself.  To get through her treatments, she set small goals. One week of radiation; ‘OK, I’m a sixth of the way there.’ Three weeks of radiation; ‘OK. I’m halfway there.’ Step by step. 

A workaholic, although fatigued, she never missed a day of work throughout treatment. And, just two days after she completed treatment, she flew to Paris for a conference. And, astonishingly, climbed the Sacré-Cœur Cathedral Tower with a hemoglobin of three!

Both old and new, friends were her support throughout her cancer journey. She joined the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery, and met TBBCF founding member Marcie Brensilver, who became her trainer.  They and others organized a fashion show, which evolved into the Pink Ribbon Tappers. Tap dancing brought friendship to these women whose only commonality was breast cancer. 

(Pictured left to right.) Pink Ribbon Tappers: Elisse Rosen, Marcie Brensilver, Barbara DeFronzo, Sandy Wayne, Barbara Chiangi, Barbara Paul, Barbara Souder.
(Pictured left to right.) Pink Ribbon Tappers: Elisse Rosen, Marcie Brensilver, Barbara DeFronzo, Sandy Wayne, Barbara Chiangi, Barbara Paul, Barbara Souder.

Elisse, too, has become something of a mentor, champion, and counselor for many breast cancer patients, some eager to talk and others more reticent. 

Rosen working her way through treatment
Rosen working her way through treatment

“Your feelings are your feelings. If you want to laugh, laugh. If you want to cry, that’s okay too. Don’t let other people tell you what you should feel,” Elisse emphasized to patients. 

Rosen's post treatment hair
Rosen's post treatment hair

In one case, a young woman undergoing chemo and suffering its effects, marveled over Elisse’s ‘new’ hair, grabbing her head and holding it for a long while. Elisse said it was so meaningful for this woman to see someone who had lost her hair, and it grew back. 

“You touch people in many ways,” she realized. “Though they may take a different path.”

A longtime community volunteer, she is on the President’s Council for the Mystic Aquarium and the Development Committee for L&M Hospital and is co-founder of two local nonprofit organizations. She retired from Pfizer after 33 years, and obtained certification in Executive Coaching and Leadership Development, but like with so much else, the pandemic scuttled that business. 

So while she’s no longer working full time, her days are nonetheless full.  In spite of two hip replacements, she works out every day, does Pilates, and walks, so she said she’s ready for the TBBCF Walk. Elisse raised $19,077 for the 17th Annual Walk for a Cure, making her one of the top fundraisers. 

Elisse is a thriver.  One might say this is her motto:  “There is life and I want to live it."

Contributors include Elisse Rosen, Shelley Gregory and Ellyn Santiago

About the Survivor Series

The hoped-for goal of the survivor series is to educate and inspire others who are struggling with this disease. Breast cancer is a life-changing experience. Some may prefer not to speak about this time in their lives, and that choice is respected and honored. Some may find it cathartic to share their experiences. If you are interested in sharing your story, we would love to hear from you with your answers to a few questions. Contact TBBCF Walk co-chair Shelley Gregory via email at [email protected]  for more information.

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