A pink banner hung inside Verdi’s Banquet Hall in Westbury on May 30, where more than 300 people from Salisbury, East Meadow and across the country gathered in support of Ellen Palmer. The banner read simply, “Here for Ellen.”
Palmer, 54, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. The Salisbury native is a nurse of 30 years at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, having assisted patients with every type of illness. At work and at home, the mother of three has been paying it forward her entire life. So it came as no surprise that when she was the one who needed help, friends and family were there for her.
“Ellen is our family caretaker,” said Maureen Buttafuoco, the eldest of her five siblings. “She takes care of everybody. She’s the one who everybody goes to when we have a problem. She’s our angel.”
Palmer has triple negative breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of the disease in which a patient lacks receptors that feed off female hormones. Most treatments for breast cancer target these receptors. Triple negative breast cancer accounts for about 10 to 20 percent of breast cancer cases, and is prone to reoccur.
And in Palmer’s case, it did. After undergoing chemotherapy treatment, she was nearly cured — until 2009, when the cancer spread to her lungs. Following another successful round of chemotherapy, it reappeared in her brain in December. She needed emergency surgery to remove the tumors, and now she is back on her feet.
The first thing she wanted to do after her latest setback was what she has always done — pay it forward. With the help of her husband, George, her children, Michael, 25, Kelly, 22, and Maggie, 20, her siblings and her friends, she held a fundraiser to benefit the Adelphi Breast Cancer Hotline & Support Program, a nonprofit organization based in Garden City that provides free resources to women with breast cancer. They raised more than $30,000. “I’ve always felt so blessed over the last seven years,” said Palmer. “I can’t tell you the thousands of cards I’ve received, and prayers that have been sent, and meals that have been cooked for my family … it’s just been really overwhelming to witness.”