Philanthropist Faced Breast Cancer with Support from Husband


Billi Marcus

Never quitting or giving up on the things she loved doing the most kept Billi Marcus going after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. Billi remained active by raising awareness about breast cancer, playing in golf tournaments, and fundraising for organizations, such as the Shepherd Center, the Ovarian Cancer Institute, Jewish Association for Residential Care (JARC) of Boca Raton, Canine Assistants and the Georgia Aquarium, to name a few.

Although she could not comment on the impact the disease had on her family, as her children are grown and have their own families, she did express gratitude for her husband, Bernie, for his support. “Bernie was my rock. He acted as if the disease didn’t affect us,” she said. “He joined me for every doctor’s appointment and chemo treatment and always kept me sidetracked, so I was less aware and nervous about what was going on.”

Billi did mention difficulties associated with her treatments. “They were each different, and the doctors would always say ‘one out of 10 will experience this,’ and I, of course, would be the one every time,” she said. “That may have been the toughest time; I tried to preserve as much energy as I could.”

To help maintain an active routine in between treatments, Billi played two or three holes of golf every day in addition to working with charitable organizations. She created and then chaired a golf tournament for the Shepherd Center for 16 years, an organization that is dear to her and Bernie.

It was not long after she stopped organizing events in Atlanta that Professional golfer Morgan Pressel contacted Billi for help running another tournament in Florida, after losing her own mother to breast cancer. Billi said the tournament has helped raise over $1 million every year, with Bernie serving as the auctioneer. “That’s probably one of the things I do best,” Billi said. “Even though I’m involved in so many organizations, it’s never about golf, but the organization itself.”

In addition to the tournament, Billi has helped initiate a mammo-van which provides mammograms to women who otherwise might not be able to afford them. 

Billi did not recall any obstacles to getting cancer treatment, thanks to great care from the staff at Emory and conversations with women previously diagnosed. “I knew I was going to a place I trusted,” said Billi, who received treatment at Emory and the Lynn Cancer Institute in Boca Raton. “Everyone there was incredible and made it so much easier for me.”

Because there is no prior history of cancer in Billi’s family, she believes she got the disease from taking Prempro and Premorin, a progesterone pill created to prevent osteoporosis, a disease her mother had, beyond the recommended years of consumption. “I thought it would prevent me from getting osteoporosis, but it appears I traded one disease for another,” she said. According to Billi, anyone who takes too many hormones during an extended period risks cancer.

While various support groups, clinical trials and classes help people during recovery, Billi spent most of her time seeking advice from friends who had the disease. “The most important thing was that I didn’t change who I was and what I was doing,” said Billi, adding that all the advice she needed came from the people closest to her. “We all know someone or may have a friend who was previously diagnosed, which helps.”

 

Years have passed since Billi was diagnosed, but she never considers herself a cancer survivor. “It’s not a death sentence, and having the disease for me was similar to getting a bad cold or pneumonia. I had cancer, and now I don’t,” she said. The biggest lesson she learned was to refrain from taking hormone pills longer than prescribed. “I can’t dramatize it or make it romantic, but the fact is that I had cancer, and I now no longer do.” 

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