Melanie Perone, 38, organized group for people suffering from brain tumors

March 04, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Melanie Perone, a brain tumor patient who volunteered for clinical trials and founded a support group for others with the condition, died Thursday at her Mount Airy home. She was 38.

She suffered from glioblastoma multiforme, an incurable brain tumor that was diagnosed in April 1999.

When she discovered there was little social support for people with her disease, she founded Saturday Survivors, a brain tumor support group for 15 to 20 persons in the Mount Airy-Frederick area. The group met in a church basement and later moved to the Frederick Memorial Hospital Wellness Center.

Recalled as a candid, exuberant, caring woman with a huge laugh, she managed to keep her sense of humor -- even as she tried several experimental, sometimes painful treatments at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"She was one of a kind," said Michel Zeltzman, a nurse practitioner at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center. "She would keep you on your toes. She was demanding, but managed to lead a happy life even as she knew that she would never live to see the trees grow she planted."

She was the one of the first brain tumor patients in the country to try an experimental diet that eliminated copper from her body. She took a regimen of pills and gave up some of her favorite foods -- tomatoes, chocolate and shellfish -- that were rich in the mineral. When that failed, she participated in other experiments.

Throughout, she reached out to help other patients and their families. She puttered in her garden, took her dogs for walks and exercised as much as she could. Last fall, she and her husband, Jim Perone, an auto mechanic whom she married in 1996, traveled to the Grand Canyon.

After diagnosis of the disease two years ago, she bought equipment to give her access to the Internet and documents relating to her illness. Although she had never used a computer until this time, she sorted through numerous studies until stacks of paper filled her basement. She often worked until midnight and had to install a clock to remind her to go to bed.

"I was obsessed," she said in a 1999 article in The Sun. "I mean, how many rats died, how many lived?

"We're kind of lucky now," she said. "There's more magic bullets to look at. Maybe they'll find a cure tomorrow."

Born in Denver, Melanie O'Mailia was raised in Potomac in Montgomery County. She attended Wooton High School in Rockville and Montgomery Community College.

She had owned a home-cleaning service and had clients in Montgomery and Frederick counties.

A marriage to Sam Best ended in divorce.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Marvin Chapel United Methodist Church, 5101 Woodville Road, Mount Airy.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by two daughters, Rebecca Best of Frederick and Adrienne Best of Walnut Cove, N.C.; two stepdaughters, Jennifer and Caroline Perone of Mount Airy; her mother, Shirley Craig of Rockville; her stepfather, Robert Hunsberger of Rockville; and three sisters, Cindy Young of Martinsburg, W.Va., Kathy Brown of Woodbridge, Conn., and Valerie Brierley of San Bernardino, Calif.

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