Before heading to the hospital for one of her first breast cancer treatments, Ellen Fields opened her dresser drawer and pulled out a pink tutu. “Why not?” she thought.
“There’s no script for how to act when you get sick,” says Ellen, who was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in August 2019. “I figured if I have to spend months putting my life on pause to get this lifesaving medicine, I might as well make it as fun as possible.”
So the now 47-year-old Brooklyn resident decided to dress up in capes and crowns as she underwent chemotherapy at NewYork-Presbyterian David H. Koch Center.
Fortunately, Ellen had an abundance of costumes to choose from — most of them in a costume bin at the school where she works as a social worker, running an anti-violence, anti-bullying, peer leadership program.
The costumes, including a hamburger and a hockey player, had the bonus of making other patients laugh. “One day when I was wearing a silly costume, someone was there on their first day, which can be overwhelming,” she says. “The person who was initially crying burst into laughter and started cracking up reading the sign.”
Her many costumes also brought joy to hospital staff, who looked forward to Ellen’s visits. “Ellen is such a special person,” says Dr. Jennifer Marti, a breast surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “What’s so great about her is that despite her struggles, she shifted her focus to how other people are feeling. I found that so inspirational — to be thinking about lifting up her fellow human beings when she was going through so much.”