Battling cancer: How near-death changed a woman’s life

Saamya Mungamuru

Annie Eissler, mother of sophomore Bridget Eissler, received a call from her doctor that changed her life in March of 2012.  

“I was actually in Costco when I got the call. [My doctor] was like, ‘Are you sure you want to talk right now, while you’re at Costco? Or do you want me to call you back? We could sit down and talk,’ and I said, ‘No, tell me now!’” Annie recalled.

The call was regarding the result of her biopsy. Earlier that year, a colonoscopy had revealed a tumor, and doctors wanted her to have it checked for malignancy.

The doctor had bad news. He revealed that the diagnosis was stage three colon cancer.

“I was pretty freaked out when I found out. The cancer was pretty big and I wanted it out right away,” Annie said.

The worst part of having cancer was the chemotherapy that she had to endure as part of the treatment, according to Annie.

“It really makes you feel sick. It got so bad that I couldn’t talk, couldn’t eat, and they ended up having to bring the dosage down because I couldn’t really function. It makes it hard to deal with everything,” Annie said.

At the time, Annie and her husband, Mark, who had been living in Washington, were running a marketing agency called Mixtur. When she got sick, they had to shut the business down because it wasn’t possible to run the business without her.

Although it was a trying time, the illness made her family closer, according to Annie.

“I have a big extended family, a lot of brothers and sisters. One of my brothers who was living in New Zealand at the time actually moved back to help out with Bridget. He would drive her to school and pick her up from school. He basically dropped everything in his life to come help out, which was pretty awesome,” Annie said.

Bridget was in sixth grade when her mother was diagnosed, but said that her mother’s cancer didn’t gravely affect her upbringing.  

“To an extent I understood what was happening; I knew that cancer was dangerous and that a lot of people died from it, but with my mother, it didn’t fully click in my mind,” Bridget said.

Annie Eissler connects with entrepreneurs in African countries via Skype to advise them in their business through an organization called the Grow Movement
Annie Eissler connects with entrepreneurs in African countries via Skype to advise them in their business through an organization called the Grow Movement.

Bridget said she had hope that her mother would be alright.

“I think a part of me knew that my mom was going to make it out okay and I knew she was a strong person,” Bridget said. “So I wasn’t really upset by it.”

Living in Washington at the time, Annie doesn’t think that she would have moved back to San Francisco, where she grew up, if she hadn’t fallen sick.

They had originally been thinking of moving to Seattle for work-related reasons.

“We thought if we were going to move anyway then [we] might as well try to move to San Francisco. Shutting the business down really helped our decision,” Annie said.

However, moving wasn’t the only decision on which her cancer had influence.

During her sickness, Annie realized how much she wanted to volunteer with something related to Africa, as she had done earlier in her life.

“When I first started my career, I used to do a lot of work in Africa. I ran projects both in the U.S. and Africa which focused on African development: working with women leaders, working on natural resource management projects, and micro-finance projects,” Annie said.

She restarted her volunteering efforts with a non-profit organization based in London called the Grow Movement, which pairs up volunteer consultants all over the world with entrepreneurs in Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda.

“What you do is you act as a coach and help them in their business. So, I became a volunteer consultant for them and I have been doing that since 2013,” Annie said.

She usually communicates with her paired entrepreneurs via Skype, Whatsapp and email. During her sessions, she gives advice and support to help them work out hurdles in their business.

“I really always loved that work, and I’m glad I started back up again,” Annie said.