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Margie Levine: she taught how to live with cancer

By Katie Curley, Globe Correspondent, March 7, 2004

Margie P. (Plotka) Levine of Chestnut Hill and Cape Cod was told she had only months to live after she was diagnosed with the deadliest form of lung cancer, malignant pleural mesothelioma, at the age of 43. Instead she lived another 14 years and published an influential book, "Surviving Cancer, One woman's story and her inspiring program for anyone facing a cancer diagnosis."

Mrs. Levine died yesterday at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She was 57.

After receiving treatment for the cancer in 1989, Mrs. Levine began speaking at hospitals such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, promoting a blend of conventional medicine and holistic therapies that included following a specific diet, meditating, and seeking joy. A health education teacher, social worker, and therapist, Mrs. Levine conducted mind-body seminars for cancer patients throughout the country. In 1999 she spoke Cancer Association, and after her book was published in 2001 she went on two national book tours.

"I vowed that if I lived, I would dedicate the rest of my life to empowering other cancer patients who feel desperate to harness their coping skills," Mrs. Levine said in a 1999 Globe article.

Born in Utica, N.Y., Mrs. Levine graduated from Rider College in New Jersey and earned a master's degree in education from Boston University. She taught sex education and worked as a social worker in Braintree public schools for 15 years.

After her diagnosis, she became a student of her disease, traveling from Boston to New York to consult with specialists. She worked with her surgeon, Dr. David Sugarbaker, and the medical team at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, to develop her own protocol.

She became the first in Boston to undergo an aggressive treatment that involved chemotherapy drugs being poured in her chest during surgery.

Her recovery continues to be influential in mesothelioma treatment. In the introduction to her book, Dr. Sugarbaker says, "every doctor wishes he had a Margie Levine as a patient." She was the longest survivor of the disease.

Mrs. Levine was dedicated to holistic medicine, and throughout her treatment she created own healing program.

"When you give, you get. And this girl gave," her husband, Ralph, said yesterday. "What she got back from patients was intangible. Even in her worst state, she would go up to a patient and ask them what they were eating."

In addition to counseling patients from around the world by phone, Mrs. Levine was the director of the Boston chapter of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, an organization that promotes the mind-body connection in medicine.

Mrs. Levine split her time between Chestnut Hill and Cape Cod.

"She was earthy and genuine." said her son, Daniel, of Colorado."

Her home was filled with flowers and often friends, who would drop by unannounced. Her passions were picnics in the backyard, and gourmet dinners on the beach with friends."

In the last months, Mrs. Levine and her family organized a fund in her name to buy her book from her publisher. The fund will publicize the book and work toward keeping it in bookstores and doctors' offices.

In addition to her husband and son, Mrs. Levine leaves another son, Randy, of Florida; and two grandchildren.