Lisa Haffner; nurse had blog about her cancer

It takes courage to stare down the disease that wants to kill you, and blog about it with humor and flair.

Such was the bravery of Lisa Joan Haffner, 41, known online as "Little Lisa Lollipop," who died Thursday, Dec. 15, after fighting multiple cancers.

Ms. Haffner was 10 when diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, and 19 when a second bone cancer necessitated the amputation of her left leg.

A 1992 graduate of Bensalem High School, she earned her nursing degree from West Chester University in 1997. The following year, she joined Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, working in the same oncology unit where she had been treated as a child.

She used forearm crutches to get around, and demonstrated she could fend for herself. Her survivor's story was an inspiration to families and coworkers, her colleagues said.

"Everybody knew Lisa. She had a presence," said Sue Ogle, director of oncology and subspecialty nursing. "Her cancer and its effects were visible, but she didn't want people to hold the door for her. Even carrying IV bags and all the equipment, she outran us. Nothing got in her way."

Near the start of her 18-year career, Ms. Haffner was the primary nurse for Alex Scott, whose death in 2004 launched the Alex's Lemonade Stand charity for pediatric cancer research. In 2013, Ms. Haffner received the group's Pitcher of Hope Award.

Wearing a cap to cover the hair loss from yet another treatment, she accepted with playful humor.

"I lost my leg when I was 10," she said, recounting her story. "I haven't found it since."

Continuing in a serious vein, she observed, "We know there are times where we cannot control the outcome but we can control the experience."

Then, even as she told the audience about her "most scary" diagnosis - metastatic adenocarcinoma - she couldn't resist a quip: "What can I say? Cancer loves me."

Liz Scott, Alex's mother and co-executive director of the charity, said Ms. Haffner was a "phenomenal caretaker" who always got her daughter to laugh.

"It wasn't that she would come in and share her personal story," Scott said. "It was the fact that she was there and so positive. You just knew she understood."

The middle child of five daughters, Ms. Haffner is remembered by her family as a free spirit who "was determined to show she was capable of anything," said her sister Marita.

During a service trip to an orphanage in Mexico, she met Juan Dorantes, who became her husband. After struggling with pregnancy issues related to her cancer treatments, Ms. Haffner lost her first-born son, Rylan, after one day of life in 2010. Four years later, her son Owen was born.

One of her favorite movies was The Shawshank Redemption, said her sister, and she liked to quote its line, "Either get busy living, or get busy dying."

Ms. Haffner began her blog, littlelisalillipop.blogspot.com, in 2013. She posted 74 entries that year, including many about her day-to-day life. In 2014, with the arrival of her son and a fresh cancer diagnosis, she cut back to 20 postings. In 2015, she posted three times.

There was one entry in 2016. Posted Monday by her family, "with utmost sorrow and grief," it announced her death.

In addition to her sister, Ms. Haffner is survived by her parents, Hermann and Eleanor, and sisters Andrea Lloyd, Karin Mascherino and Susan Haffner.

A viewing will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, at L.A. DiGiacomo Funeral Home, 1055 Southampton Rd. An additional viewing will be held Thursday, Dec. 22, after 9:30 a.m., followed by a Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. at St. Ephrem Church, 5400 Hulmeville Rd., Bensalem. Interment is at Resurrection Cemetery.

Contributions in Lisa's memory and for Owen's care and education may be made through her blog or the Lisa Joan Haffner Memorial Fund, 824 N. Pennock St., Philadelphia 19130.

mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541

@MichaelMatza1

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