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Debbie Maloney

To learn of Debbie Maloney’s morning routine is to get a glimpse into how she has faced  adversity—and embraces each day.  A cancer survivor who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 17, a busy professional, and mother of a daughter about to turn six years old, Debbie rises at 5:30 a.m. each day to begin her workouts on the elliptical machine. 

Sometimes her daughter wakes with her and sits nearby, busily involved in craftwork.  Recently, Debbie’s daughter asked her mother’s age.  The answer generated a classic, out-of-the-mouths-of-babes response: “Wow. Do you think you’ll still be alive when I’m in high school?” 

“On dark mornings when getting out of bed to exercise seems like pure folly, I think of my daughter’s answer, chuckle and put on my sneakers,” says Debbie. “The gauntlet has been thrown!  I have many reasons to eat well, exercise and take care of my health.  I plan to remind my daughter of that story at my grandchildren’s graduations.” 

Debbie’s odyssey to health and to Joslin is a story with many plot twists and heroic characters, most notably, her husband Neil, her physicians and loving friends. 

Debbie Maloney first came to Joslin almost 20 years ago seeking a better level of care for her diabetes.  Glucometers back then had just come on the market and were about the size of a paperback book, she recalls.  An accounting major with a love of all things culinary, she decided to take a year off to pursue a degree in the culinary arts, “to maximize flavor and pleasure in eating well and make the most of my suggested eating plan.” 

Her then boyfriend Neil supported her while she was in school.  Not long after she completed her degree, Neil entered law school and she returned the favor.  They soon became engaged, “scraped together $2,000 for a party” and were married.  Anticipating long nights at the law library, the newlyweds moved to New Hampshire and Debbie began commuting to her job in Boston.

Six months later, she noticed a swollen node in her neck.  “I thought I was getting a cold,” she remembers.   Coincidentally, Debbie had an appointment that week to see her Joslin endocrinologist, Dr. Elizabeth Bashoff.  Dr. Bashoff scheduled some tests and referred Debbie to an oncologist, Dr. James Levine, at the then Deaconess Hospital. The diagnosis was stage 3A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which would mean six months of chemotherapy and possible radiation therapy.  

“I was carrying our health insurance and wasn’t certain how I would be able to commute, work and deal with chemotherapy and diabetes.  With the empathy of some of his professors, my husband was able to coordinate his schedule and classes around my treatments.” Initially, Debbie was able to return to work within 48 hours after chemotherapy, but as the course of treatment wore on, the 90-minute commute each way became too exhausting. 
The treatment was not only physically challenging, but quickly became financially burdensome for the couple.  “We had no assets and the bills were staggering. It wasn’t unusual to open a bill that totaled $500, $2,000, $8,000 for one type of treatment or visit.  My doctors assured me that as long as I came in for necessary treatments they would figure out a way to make it work with the billing offices.  I was a jaded New Englander who was amazed that any institution truly cared that much about a patient who couldn’t pay their bills—I was humbled, grateful and motivated to continue with my appointments,” noted Debbie.  

“By the end of my chemotherapy treatments, I didn’t need radiation and managing diabetes seemed like an easier task.  My hair grew back, my husband graduated and we moved to San Francisco for him to begin his work.”

Fast forward nearly five years and Debbie and Neil have returned to their New Hampshire roots.  Making the change from food writer to manager of accounting and human resources in Neil’s quickly growing law firm has been professionally satisfying and enjoyable, says Debbie.  

“Neil’s firm is a sponsor of the Joslin High Hopes Gala and we look forward to it every year.  Joslin helped me when I needed it and we always vowed that if we could ever give back in a meaningful way – we would.  That goal has been reached and we’ve enjoyed every minute of every Gala, taking friends and business associates along with us for the ride.  We hope some of the fundraising goes to help those who need care at Joslin and who may not be able to afford it.  Everyone with diabetes should have the opportunity to receive the same level of care that I have received at Joslin.”


Page last updated: December 22, 2016