Breast Cancer Patient Skates Past Cancer

Have you ever wanted to ice skate at Rockefeller Center? If so, you’re not alone. But what if balance and coordination escape you the moment you step on the ice? You may need the help of two-time breast cancer survivor Margaret Simonovich.

Simonovich, a 76-year-old former professional figure skater originally from Scotland, was first bit by the skating bug as a young girl.

“I feel free out there with the ice just sliding around my feet,” explains Simonovich. “There’s something about it that’s exciting.”

That search for adventure is why, in 1961, a then-18-year-old Simonovich left Scotland to become a governess—or private household teacher—for a family in Maplewood, New Jersey. After fulfilling her one-year contract, she spent a year touring the country with the group Holiday on Ice, the predecessor to Disney on Ice, before returning to New Jersey to resume her governess duties for the same host family as before. Soon after, she got married and started a family of her own.

As a part of a touring ice show, Simonovich understood the value of teamwork and perseverance—attributes that would benefit her when she was twice diagnosed with breast cancer, first in 1994 and again in 2014.

“In 1994, I was shocked,” recalls Simonovich. “Out of eight kids in my family, I’m the only one who was diagnosed with cancer. When it happened again in 2014, I was ready for it. I told myself, ‘Here we go again.’

Her second diagnosis brought her to Dana-Farber, where she first met Beth Overmoyer, MD, FACP, director of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers. Just as she had done with her host family when she first arrived in the U.S., Simonovich made an instant impression on Overmoyer. “Margaret is such a positive person, a strong woman, and a great team player,” Overmoyer says. “When treating breast cancer, we are a team.”

While Simonovich was just being herself, Overmoyer noticed her natural ability to teach by example and inspire those around. “She wants to know the data, what she needs to do, and what the side effects are, and then she’ll do it,” says Overmoyer. “It’s this attitude that makes her a motivation to both physicians and patients.”

Now that she is cancer free, Simonovich is able to continue to do what she loves: teaching others how to skate. In the winter months, you will find her at Roosevelt Park in Edison, New Jersey, coaching both children and adults.

If her students ask her about being a two-time cancer survivor, Simonovich doesn’t shy away from the question. Instead, she wants them to learn from her experience. “You have to keep fighting. Feeling sorry for yourself is the worst thing you can ever do. Instead, you have to deal with it and make the best of it.”

For Simonovich, that means continuing to follow adventure wherever it takes her. Recently, she went ziplining while on a cruise with friends. It’s all part of her plan to live her life, one exciting trip at a time.

Austin Fontanella
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Communications