Outdoor portrait of an older white couple surrounded by family members

In Her Last Months, a Cancer Patient Survives COVID-19 and Makes a Plan to Help Others

By Maggie Callahan-Mabus
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Despite the fact that he laughed at how she bowled during their first date in 1975, Rosie Lucier married her high school sweetheart, Chris, in 1980. What followed was an adventurous military marriage that included 18 moves, four sons, and a tireless devotion to one another. Rosie was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2015, at which point the couple had relocated from Michigan to Delaware. By all accounts, her treatment journey went smoothly. However, only two years later, she developed lung issues that were revealed to be metastatic stage 4 breast cancer. “No one ever told us that one-third of patients with breast cancer later develop this treatable, but incurable, form of breast cancer,” says Chris. 

The Luciers were stunned to learn that only 2-5% of funds raised for breast cancer research support studies of metastasis, even though that stage of the illness is the most devastating. The median life expectancy once breast cancer becomes metastatic is 38 months; with that in mind, Rosie and Chris became deeply involved in various activism and fundraising efforts to help bring awareness about metastatic breast cancer into the public sphere.

They moved back to Michigan to be near their sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. When Rosie began receiving treatment at Michigan Medicine’s Brighton Center for Specialty Care,the Luciers were amazed. The care Rosie received at Michigan Medicine was much different than anywhere else they had been; her doctors focused not only on her cancer, but on her overall well-being. They were passionate about treating the disease, but also about maintaining Rosie’s quality of life so that the time she had left could be spent with those she loved. According to Chris, the “Michigan difference” was that Rosie was treated as a person, not just a cancer patient.

The Luciers recognized that universities are the research engines of our country. As they marveled at how well Rosie was responding, they began to make a plan.

Then, in late March 2020, things didn’t go according to their plan: both Chris and Rosie Lucier caught coronavirus. Rosie had just gone through seven weeks of radiation and a round of chemotherapy, and doctors did not think she was strong enough to last much longer.

In early April, she was back home after asking to leave the ICU. One by one, her sons came to the house to say goodbye. They sat on her porch and, through an open window, she and Chris visited with them. They dyed Easter eggs with her grandchildren and ate a socially distanced dinner. Her eldest son, who had been living on the West Coast until just six months prior, said he had to take the chance and hugged his mom while both wore their masks.

The day was filled with love and revived Rosie: she regained some of her strength and lived another six months with her family. Catherine Hall Van Poznak, M.D., a renowned breast cancer expert who became Rosie’s primary oncologist in Michigan, visited the family to offer support in August, during Rosie’s last days. “It was comforting to have someone I trusted in my corner,” says Chris.

The Breast Cancer, Bone, and Breast Cancer & Brain Fund has received dozens of gifts in memory of Rosie Lucier since her passing on August 30, 2020. The fund provides Van Poznak with support to follow science where it leads her. The family is confident that Van Poznak will honor Rosie’s memory with her research, and they are dedicated to continuing to raise funds for metastatic breast cancer research. When asked about the power of tribute giving, Chris Lucier said, “I don’t care if it’s $50 or $1,000. Dr. Van Poznak will maximize the value of every dollar. Hopefully, someone else’s daughter, wife, or mother will have a greater life expectancy because of Rosie’s memory.”

Photo of Chris and Rosie Lucier, surrounded by family. Courtesy of Chris Lucier.