The North Florida Chapter was founded by Marie Mantanona-Milton. Marie practiced as a Registered Nurse (RN) for several years prior to the time her mother, Chong Dubler, was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer in 2007 at the age of 58. Marie went from being a nurse in the hospital and clinical setting to being a nurse for a cancer warrior at home. After Chong was given a 3-6 life expectancy with palliative care as the only option, Marie and her mother sought other medical opinions. It was then that they found more options at MD Anderson where Chong continued her treatments throughout her battle with cancer. Chong lived for several more years after starting treatment, beating the statistics, and was always astonishing her doctors and health care team on how tough she was and how much she overcame year after year.
While her mother underwent chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, and several clinical trials, Marie was her caregiver, supporting her mother’s will to beat this disease. It was during this time that Marie intimately learned how the role as a caregiver at home was completely different than what she experienced as a nurse in a variety of health care settings. She was shocked at how little stomach cancer research and treatment had advanced, and she personally experienced the dynamic challenges that cancer patients and caregivers endure when at home.
Marie wants to help support other patients and caregivers who are battling this disease. She experienced the gap-of-care for stomach cancer patients as she had to travel extensively during her mom’s treatment in order for her mother to receive accessible and affordable care. She learned about the huge challenges the stomach cancer community faced while navigating the health care system, seeking the best care for mother. She wants to improve this through support, awareness, and advocacy.
Chong was a very tenacious spirit who fought every step of the way, never giving up. Her mother was an inspiration to so many as her drive to continuously fight cancer never ceased. Unfortunately, after battling stomach cancer for 8 years, Marie lost her mother in October of 2015. Marie continues to honor her mother’s fight and wish that no one else has to suffer from this disease.
Marie first met with Debbie’s Dream during their 5th annual DDF Capitol Hill Stomach Cancer Advocacy Day in 2017 where she joined as an advocate. She is currently serving an internship in healthcare with Debbie’s Dream Foundation as she has been inspired to pursue public health advocacy and initiatives for stomach cancer patients and caregivers during and after graduate school.
She and her family reside in Ponte Vedra, Florida.
Marie aims to service this population, both patients and caregivers, until there is a cure.