Facing cancer again, marie is determined to cross the finish line with her oncology nurse navigator, for a second Time
Marie Candiotti has her eyes set on Orlando 2020. Her mission – to run the Disney Princess Half Marathon in full princess costume.
She’s also fighting cancer for the second time around.
“She is the embodiment of courage,” described Marie’s husband, Lou. Self-dubbed Captain of Team Candiotti, Lou has watched his wife face cancer fearlessly since receiving the first diagnosis in 2017.
It was stage 3 ovarian cancer, Marie and Lou were told on Feb. 15, 2017. Marie had been having trouble emptying her bladder, and went to the ER after she couldn’t complete a set of jumping jacks. A lifelong fitness instructor, she otherwise looked and felt healthy. She was working for St. Joe’s ShapeDown program at the time.
This diagnosis was shocking and disorienting.
What Marie and Lou didn’t know was that, behind the scenes, St. Joe’s was rallying to connect Marie with a care team who would expertly guide her through this unfamiliar territory.
Oncology nurse navigator Roxanna Miller received a call about Marie late that night. Knowing how quickly Dr. Rebecca Liu wanted to start treatment, Roxanna drove up to Brighton on her day off to meet with Marie and Lou.
From their first meeting, Marie and Roxanna felt a mutual connection. Similar in age, the two women soon discovered they had a lot in common. They both enjoyed teaching fitness classes, and they each had two daughters. Moreover, Roxanna seemed to know just how to assure Marie and Lou that they were in great hands.
“Her message: You can do it,” Lou recalled.
By the following week, Marie was receiving her first cycle of chemotherapy. Dr. Liu put her on an aggressive treatment plan that involved three cycles of chemo – nine weeks total – followed by a total hysterectomy, before another three cycles of chemo. They call that “sandwich therapy,” Roxanna explained.
As fate would have it, Roxanna’s daughter, Jennifer, was Marie’s infusion nurse. Surrounded by Roxanna, Jennifer, Lou, and daughter Ellie, Marie and her “Team Candiotti” assembled to fight the cancer until Marie received the official declaration, “no evidence of disease.”
In triumph, Marie and her daughter and husband ran the Disney 5K in Orlando in February 2018. Though they didn’t find them in the crowd, Roxanna and Jennifer were there as well. Crossing the finish line was an exhilarating experience. Marie, Roxanna and their daughters vowed to return this year and run together.
Life went on – for what felt like eight short months until Marie learned the cancer had metastasized. She had three brain tumors.
Roxanna jumped in again, helping Marie and her family navigate yet more unfamiliar territory. Marie underwent two brain surgeries to remove the tumors and is currently receiving radiation therapy. Neurosurgeon Dr. Jayesh Thawani and radiation oncologist Dr. Marie-Adele Kress joined Marie’s cancer care team.
“You get what life gives you, and you just do your best,” Marie said.
In February, she kept her word and traveled back to Walt Disney World Resort, this time to run the half marathon with her daughter Ellie. Roxanna and Jennifer found them at mile 10, and they crossed the finish line together, with Lou cheering them on.
Online registration for the 2020 Disney Princess Half Marathon will open in a few weeks, and Marie and Roxanna are ready to be ahead of the line. (The event sells out in minutes.)
Marie is set to go on a targeted therapy drug to prolong her remission. Whatever may happen, Marie and Lou are determined to live their lives with the same zest they would in any circumstance.
“This is not about prognosis,” Lou said. “For me, it’s about loving and caring for each other each day. “
For Marie, that means continuing to teach Pilates, enjoy hot yoga, and look forward to next February when Team Candiotti will unite in Orlando for the third time.
“So many people have it a lot worse than I do. I’ve got it good,” Marie said.