Darlene grew up in Lynbrook, Long Island, NY, which was a predominantly blue-collar middle-class town. She lived with her father, Tony, stepmom, Joan, and older siblings Michael and Debbie. She was a happy, athletic, and obedient girl, never giving her parents a moment of trouble, even as a teenager. She loved desserts, chocolate and especially Yodels. She was a good student, popular, a cheerleader, and beautiful - with the most unique, gorgeous blue-green eyes with a golden ring in the center. She was always changing her hairstyle, had a knack for interior design and loved decorating her spotless house. She liked change, except when it came to her friends and family. She kept her childhood friends and made new ones along the way. She especially valued honesty and was very straightforward - you knew where you stood with her, and she had no time for insincere or phony people. She knew her own mind and when she met her husband, Michael, she knew he was the one. They were engaged after only a few months of dating and were married the following year. They had three beautiful children, Angelo, Anthony, and Michelle, that she loved dearly and was extremely proud of.
Darlene was a hard worker and had multiple jobs during high school and college; such as McDonald’s, bank teller, and various office jobs. Fortunately for her, she had worked as the office manager for neurosurgeon, Dr. Kevin Mullins, at LI Brain and Spine when it was a solo practice and helped it grow to now 11 neurosurgeons and 5 pain management doctors. In October 2012, Darlene was at work when her brain tumor was discovered. Her first symptoms were she couldn’t remember her computer password or sign her name. She had an MRI which revealed a tumor on her brain stem, inoperable because of the high risk associated with this extremely delicate location.
They found a neurosurgeon with the expertise to do a biopsy on that region of the brain, and then Hurricane Sandy hit New York. Now she had to wait a few agonizing days to get the biopsy results. Unfortunately, it confirmed the doctor’s worst suspicions - it was a glioblastoma - the most aggressive and fatal type of brain tumor. She had asked the surgeon to be straight with her and not sugarcoat anything. He told her she had a .1% chance of survival for five years and she probably had 2 to 3 more months to live. She faced it head on with strength and grace. She was only upset for her husband and her children...she wouldn’t get to see her son get married in May and her daughter graduate high school in June. Her family and friends were also in shock and couldn’t believe it ...… How could a perfectly healthy 52 year old woman, in no pain, have 2-3 months left?
Since surgery wasn’t an option Darlene was treated with oral chemotherapy and radiation. She was fortunate not to experience any major difficulties, and never complained. One unexpected side effect was a mild personality change when she became a little more indecisive and passive. Just not quite herself. After several months of treatment, she defied the odds. Her tumor was shrinking and she still felt well. She was able to return to work, attend her son, Angelo’s wedding (looking beautiful) and her daughter’s high school graduation! Happy milestones! She was able to travel with her family and visit her son, Anthony, in Nevada. Even her personality had returned..... she would say something funny and everyone would laugh and say “Darl’s back!”.
As time passed, one, two, three years, all of her scans were tumor free. This was very rare since glioblastoma is known for mutating into different parts of the brain. She thought she had beat it and then around Thanksgiving 2015, she was on the phone and just couldn’t speak anymore. She had recently had a clean MRI so she wasn’t too concerned, then it happened again. They were seizures that would last from a few seconds to several minutes.
She had a new tumor on the right side of her brain and underwent a 6-7 hour surgery in January 2016 to remove it. Her recovery was a little slower but she did well for several months. However, during the next year she developed new tumors and was treated with different chemotherapy and radiation. Her balance was a little off at times, and then she developed problems with her vision.
When she was unable to work because of sight difficulties, she started to feel as if her fight was coming to an end. She was grateful that she raised 3 wonderful kids and knowing that her youngest, Michelle, had graduated college, started working, and beginning her new life as a beautiful young adult with her now fiancé, Pete.
She was also very grateful for her husband, Michael, who had always been a very hands-on father, and had now become her caretaker and best advocate. She knew she was extremely fortunate to have worked for neurosurgeons, and had credited Dr. Mullins’s knowledge and guidance throughout her entire journey to her unexpected longer survival time.
Unfortunately, Darlene lost her battle on August 5, 2017, just a couple of months shy of the 5 year mark, but extremely grateful to have had all of that time to live beyond the 3 month time frame initially given. She would hope that others would be able to benefit from the information given through her foundation to help with their own personal journey.