Fighting Cancer & Inspiring Strength with a “Pop of Color”

About Eleni

about_eleni

July 3, 2014 – Newsday

Eleni Vavas, cardiologist and self-described “cancer fighter,” died Tuesday at home in Manhasset after a nearly two-year fight with the disease. She was 37.

Even as she fought a rare stomach cancer, she raised money for cancer research, leading a team of riders with her husband that raised more than $69,000 at an indoor cycling fundraising event in Roslyn in March.

“When you face mortality, fear nothing, be fearless,” she told Newsday at the event run by Cycle for Survival, a nonprofit affiliated with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She hoped her 3-year-old son, Zachary, would grow up in a world where rare cancers could be cured.

Born Eleni Doufekias, she left her hometown of upstate Marlboro to attend Cornell University, graduating in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science degree and then attending SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse in 2003. As a three-year resident in internal medicine at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, she met John Vavas on a Greek online dating site in 2006.

The man who would become her husband was at a law firm and also working long days. He said they spoke for hours on the phone before meeting. “I knew on our first date that I was going to marry her; she said it took her a few more to know I was the one,” he said. “She had this innocence and just warmness about her when you spoke to her.”

They wed in 2008. After completing a cardiology fellowship at New York University Medical Center, she went to work in 2009 at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where she was an assistant professor and director of echocardiography.

“She sparkled with life and was loved by everybody,” said Stanley Katz, who hired her and is executive director of cardiovascular services at North Shore LIJ Health System, the hospital’s parent organization. “She had an incredibly positive attitude about life.”

After being diagnosed with cancer in 2012, Vavas took a medical leave. She returned to run the echocardiography lab until the cancer returned about six months ago.

She loved treating patients and saving lives, but even more, she loved raising their son, her husband said. “It was the thing she was most proud of, being a mother,” he said.