Celebrating Life on National Cancer Survivors Day

One mom from Cortlandt, NY, credits NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital with giving her a second chance at life and the confidence to have her second child.

Cancer survivor Alessandra Savo and her two children
Cancer survivor Alessandra Savo and her two children

It was New Year’s Eve, and Cortlandt, New York, resident Alessandra Savo was eager to ring in 2016. It had been an eventful year: She gave birth to her first child, Giuseppe, and from the outside everything seemed perfect.

But shortly after giving birth, Alessandra knew something was not right. She had lost interest in so many of the things that she used to love. Cooking and socializing went by the wayside, and even keeping up with hygiene and housework was too much to handle.

“Simply put, it was my darkest hour,” she says. “I was almost on the outside of myself looking in, and I just remember being scared and feeling that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t know how to fix it.”

Since she had recently had a baby, many people thought that Alessandra was suffering from postpartum depression. But she knew deep down that wasn’t the case. “I didn’t feel sad. I just knew something wasn’t right, and Joe, my husband, felt the same,” she says. “He was very convinced that this wasn’t depression, this was something more.”

At some point, Alessandra began to present physical signs that something was wrong as well. She suffered from unbearable headaches that medication could not relieve, and she was vomiting almost daily. She was not eating or sleeping, and she would even faint. After weeks of fainting spells, while she was taking a shower before getting ready to ring in 2016, Joe heard a noise from down the hall. Alessandra had fainted in the shower.

More certain than ever that this was not just postpartum symptoms, Joe took Alessandra to the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital. It was there that doctors did a CT scan and discovered the cause of all of Alessandra’s recent suffering.

Alessandra was diagnosed with meningioma, a slow-growing tumor that forms from the meninges, the membranous layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord. An estimated 371 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with atypical and anaplastic meningioma each year, according to data from the National Cancer Institute.

“I felt immense relief,” she said of the diagnosis. “I wasn’t scared or sad or nervous. I basically said ‘get this thing out of me.’”

After a few days at the hospital, Alessandra underwent a craniotomy to remove the meningioma with a neurosurgery team at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center led by Dr. Theodore Schwartz, with anesthesiologist Dr. Peter Goldstein. “The entire team was amazing,” she says.

Dr. Koutcher

Dr. Lawrence D. Koutcher

For her treatment, Alessandra chose to return to NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital and undergo radiation close to home. It was there that she met Dr. Lawrence D. Koutcher, Regional Director of Clinical Operations for Radiation Oncology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital. Alessandra underwent 30 sessions of radiation under Dr. Koutcher’s care. “He made me feel that it was going to be OK,” she says.

Says Dr. Koutcher: “I am so happy for her that she is doing well and enjoying life with her husband and two beautiful little children, whom she loves and adores.”

This National Cancer Survivors Day, Alessandra can proudly say that she is now cancer-free. In addition to her good health, she credits her care team at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital with giving her the confidence to have a second child, Inessa, in 2019 — a concept that was daunting after receiving a cancer diagnosis immediately after having her first baby. “Quite honestly, [Dr. Koutcher] is the one who gave me the confidence to have my daughter.”

Today she is counting her blessings and celebrating life, including saying “thank you” to each and every person who has supported her along the way and given her the courage to smile at life, every day.

“They are all literally earth angels,” she says of her care team. “They are so patient, understanding, and kind. They made me feel hopeful again.”

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