Formerly Homeless Cancer Survivor Returns to Work in Clinic that Saved Her Life

Friday, September 6, 2013 - 3:44pm

Cancer devastates lives, and that devastation isn’t limited to physical health. Many cancer patients find their disease has an impact on their finances, personal relationships and even careers. But when Angela Gabrielli faced the greatest challenges of her life during cancer treatment, she found herself on the path to new hope at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

When Angela was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (a cancer occurring in the head and neck area, particularly in the mouth, on the tongue or lip, or near the upper part of the throat) in 2009, she had just given birth to her third child. The joy of welcoming her new son soon gave way to the demands of dealing with cancer, including a rigorous treatment regimen at Roswell Park that included radiation and chemotherapy. These drastic changes combined began to take a toll on Angela’s entire life.

“I was a certified nursing assistant my entire adult life, but I couldn’t keep my certifications up to date during treatment and I lost my job,” said Angela, who had been working in a nursing home at the time of her diagnosis. Soon after, with no income and no place to live, Angela and her three children found themselves temporarily homeless.

While she continued to search for work, the family stayed with a relative. Then, a new challenge: in March 2012, Angela faced a second cancer diagnosis of melanoma and returned to Roswell Park for surgery.

Her recovery from surgery required frequent trips to Roswell Park’s head and neck clinic, and she found herself marveling at the warm, welcoming atmosphere.

“Everyone on staff was wonderful and helpful, and it’s a really cheerful place,” said Angela. “I began to think, ‘I would love to work here!”

When she saw an opening for a healthcare assistant (HCA) position on the ambulatory surgery unit—the same department where she had her 2012 surgery—she jumped at the chance.

“During my interview, I thanked the nurses again for the wonderful care I had received, and I made sure they knew I wasn’t saying that just to get the job!” said Angela. When she got the call a few months later offering her the position, “I called my mom and cried. I said ‘Mom, this is the start of a new life for us.”

Today, Angela’s cancer is in remission, and she’s found a career at Roswell Park that provides a new level of satisfaction as she cares for and supports patients who are scared and stressed as they face their cancer—a feeling she remembers well. 

“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t want to face life,” said Angela. “Now, I love my job and I get to help patients who are going through the same thing I did. Roswell Park saved me in more ways than one.”

Learn how to watch for signs of squamous cell carcinoma by reading or watching our July 2013 Cancer Talk blog from Dr. David Cohan, MD, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Head & Neck / Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery.