Planning Ahead Provides Legacy of Hope for Years to Come
In high school, Cynthia Chaillie Marchant earned straight As, studied ballet, served as student body vice president, and was prom princess. Putting herself through college, she published national magazine articles, wrote speeches for CEOs, and graduated with honors.
Despite her accomplishments, the driven young woman suspected something was wrong but no one took her worries seriously.
Diagnosed in her early 20s with anorexia nervosa, Cynthia spent nearly a year in the hospital before she began to overcome the eating disorder that almost took her life. Thirty years later, she is a healthy and successful marketing director for UCLA who has dedicated her legacy to helping others battling the illness.
“There’s nothing I’ve ever done that’s harder than recovery, and the odds seem daunting that anyone can get past it,” says Cynthia, 54. “My heart goes out to those who don’t have the resources or support to even try to do the work.”
With no children of her own, Cynthia wanted to devote her estate plan to mental health services for underserved populations. She researched several organizations before deciding to designate a million dollars of her living trust to Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which provides low-income people with treatment for eating disorders, substance abuse, and other types of mental illness. The board of directors has recognized Cynthia as the fourth founding member of the Legacy Society.
“I know from my own experience that when people get help, it has to be good help,” says Cynthia, who lives in Hermosa Beach with her husband, Vince Marchant, who also supports Didi Hirsch. “I have the highest level of respect for Didi Hirsch because they do such life-changing work.”
Cynthia was 11 when she first exhibited signs of anorexia characterized by deliberate self-starvation. “It was my way of coping with childhood trauma. But back then, no one knew what anorexia was,” she says.
Knowledge about the illness has increased substantially in the decades since a physician told Cynthia she was “just an over-achiever.” Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Mental health experts believe stigma is why only one in 10 people with the illness are treated. About 8 million men and women in the United States – seven women for every man – are diagnosed with anorexia.
A UCLA Extension instructor and pro bono presenter on non-profit fundraising, Cynthia still finds it hard to talk about her illness. She says she decided to share her experiences to give others “a glimmer of hope.” “Part of my recovery involved having to let go of my perfectionism,” Cynthia says. “As soon as I stopped having to be perfect, I found that people related to me a lot better. You just have to be human.”