Elena Baronoff, a prominent community leader from Sunny Isles Beach, has leukemia.
The 55-year-old learned her diagnosis while traveling on business in Istanbul in late August.
She was en route to Turkey on Aug. 27 when she began experiencing “excruciating” pain in her right hip and foot, she recounted by telephone phone from a hospital in Istanbul on Wednesday.
Baronoff serves as the International Ambassador for Sunny Isles Beach and is a realtor who was the exclusive sales agent at the Trump Grande.
On a stopover in London, she called her business partner in Istanbul. “Get me an ambulance when I land, something is wrong,” she said.
What Baronoff thought was sciatica — pain, weakeness, numbness in the leg —turned out to be leukemia.
“Cancer cells were spreading in my body by the hour, that’s what they told me,” said Baronoff, who is originally from Russia and has lived in the Miami area for the past 25 years, mostly in Sunny Isles Beach.
Sunny Isles Beach Mayor Norman Edelcup said Baronoff’s ambassador role is a volunteer position that the city created specifically for her to promote tourism and business between Sunny Isles Beach and places like Taormina, Sicily, a “sister city.”
“It’s a very important role for us in our city to have someone of her caliber to represent us,” he said.
“She just makes a terrific ambassador, representative of our city wherever she’s traveling,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her.”
She is now recovering after a week of chemotherapy. “It was an awful experience,” Baronoff said. “It’s like out of a movie and, unfortunately, you’re not the actor; it’s happening to you.”
“This definitely came as a complete and utter shock to us,” said her son, George Baronov, 31, who spells his last name differently.
But Baronov, who also lives in Sunny Isles Beach and manages the day-to-day operations of his mother’s real estate company, said “she’s a fighter.”
“Her will to live will push her through it, whatever it takes.”
Baronoff’s husband flew to Istanbul to be with her. She hopes to get clearance to return to South Florida sometime in the next couple of weeks.