Person of the Week: Alicia Parlette

June 10, 2005 — -- As a copy editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, Alicia Parlette's job is to edit the work of other writers. But this week, Parlette is the writer. She has a unique and very personal seven-part series running in the newspaper -- all on the front page.

Three months ago, Parlette's doctor told her she had a very rare form of cancer, which was very difficult to treat. Her mother died of breast cancer just three years ago.

"I was on overload," Parlette said. "I just had so many thoughts and fears. I thought about my mom, I thought about my family, and I thought about all the tests that I had had done. And I was just in disbelief -- that there's no way I can have cancer. I'm 23. So it was a rough day."

The following week, Parlette found out that the cancer had spread to her hip, her breasts and her lungs. The doctors said there wasn't much they could do for her.

"The sarcoma is not curable right now," she said. "And I am on interferon, which is kind of an immune system booster to stabilize the cancer. You could look at it as sad and stark, but it's a journey that I'm on, and we'll see where it takes me."

In the face of the overwhelming news, Parlette did what she knows best. She began to write about the confusing rounds of doctors appointments, about the scans and tests, and about the seemingly endless barrage of needles.

Robert Rosenthal, the managing editor of the Chronicle, was impressed enough to publish it.

"I said, 'My God, this girl can write.' I told her if she really wanted to do it -- and she did -- it could be a really positive thing for her, an outlet for her emotionally and spiritually," Rosenthal said.

"I was really, really excited," Parlette said. "It was the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me."

"I told her I'd be very gentle with her, but I'd also be very tough," Rosenthal said. "I wanted it to have a lot of integrity."

The writing has given Parlette the chance face her own problems and share them with others. The response from the paper's readers has been amazing.

"I've gotten so many e-mails saying people are praying for me, that reading my article helped them with a death of a friend or family member -- that they have cancer and they are glad to know what the tests are like," she said. "My favorite e-mail -- a reader from the Bay Area said he's pulling for me harder than the [Oakland] A's or the [San Francisco] Giants."

Finding Comfort in Writing, Faith

Parlette says writing is a comfort and so is her faith.

"It's the number one thing that's keeping me strong," she said. "I wouldn't be able to get through this without God. I'm so lucky to have so many religious and spiritual people around me, reminding me that I'm not alone in this."

Parlette grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. Her dad says she wanted to write for a newspaper since she was a small child. Her favorite writers are Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain. She loves to dance and says that her life these days isn't always about being a cancer patient.

"Every now and then I do something with friends -- I watch a movie, I go out dancing -- where, for a little bit, I forget that this is going on," she said. "Those moments are very precious when I can feel like me, not me the cancer patient."

The prognosis for Parlette is not encouraging, but she is seizing the moment and living out a dream.

"If I get through this," she said, "this story will help me remember the important moments along the way -- the details, the dizzying emotions. And, in the worst of all circumstances, if I go through this life-changing ordeal and my body just wears out and I die, I will die a writer. The one thing I've always wanted to be."

ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas filed this report for "World News Tonight."

Click here to read Alicia Parlette's journal.