Tag Archives: #cancer

Friendships That Are Gifts

19 Oct

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Every now and then you are lucky enough to come across someone who will be your true friend. Someone who will understand the same jokes. Someone who you can laugh with until your stomach hurts and tears roll down your cheeks. Someone who will get you. Nearly 13 years ago, I was lucky enough to come across my beautiful friend, Beth.

Not long after that, when she was only 37, she called me to her home on a warm spring night. We sat on the porch and sipped iced tea and she told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the first step in a heartbreaking chapter of our friendship.

Beth, loved by innumerable people besides me, was strongly supported by our local community and her larger network of family and friends. I had never known a friend with cancer and I had no idea what to do for her first. I began by pouring my heart into cooking. Every Wednesday night, for as long as she was undergoing treatment (which, incidentally, was many months) I made dinner for Beth and her family. Throughout this time, I noticed her lose her hair, her eyebrows, her eyelashes. I listened to her talk of sores in her mouth as she sucked ice pops, and lament that she was forgetting things from all the chemotherapy. I saw her family rally around her. And I saw her rally around her family. And most important, I watched her fight each day, talk relentlessly about the future, and continue to live her life positively. She was simply incredible.

On her final week of treatment, and the last time I delivered dinner to her family, I brought her a bottle of wine. I worried that such an open display of revelry might superstitiously invite bad luck, but 5 years after Beth’s diagnosis, I was fortunate enough to bring her pink champagne to celebrate the important milestone she finally reached.

What once consumed Beth and her family (and a large part of my mind as well), has become merely a part of her past. She does not dwell on what happened to her. She looks forward. She is happy. She is loved. She continues to live her life positively. She is still simply incredible.

Several months ago, Beth asked me to join her on the Avon 2 day, 39 mile walk across New York City. Without even thinking about it, I said yes. First, I have a problem saying no, and second, I would do anything for Beth. And then I panicked. 39 miles is a major undertaking that required 12 weeks of training, 2 pairs of sneakers, 3 new apps, a minimum fundraising goal of $1800, a weekend away from my family, and countless blisters. What I received in return, however, cannot be itemized. Walking through the streets of the city in which I have grown up, in which my parents have grown up, in which my grandparents have grown up, was nothing short of momentous. I walked past the area where my great grandfather owned an antiques store on the Lower East Side, the theater where I saw my first James Taylor concert, the apartment building I lived in during law school, the library in which my husband and I met, the street where my mother and I picked out yarmulkes for my wedding, the hospital where I delivered my first baby, the spot we used to stroll him to for Sunday brunch, the courthouses in which I spent so much time litigating. I walked through my family history for the past four generations. I walked through my life.

And then I realized, maybe that’s the point. Maybe when you walk through your whole life, your whole life comes back to you. Washed amid a sea of pink, our team held hands and crossed the finish line. I took so many pictures throughout the two days but my favorite one, by far, was the one captured by my husband, solely because of the pure glee you can see in my friend Beth’s smile.

Beth’s whole life has returned to her. She is complete. At the end of the walk, I kissed her and said “your friendship is a gift.” Because it is. I should know. I have been treasuring it now for almost 13 years.

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More pictures from the walk:

lincolncenter brooklyn bridge lowermanhattan dumbo water randalls man chinatown baseball china radio horse flatiron  flatiron2esbfamteam3theend

My Mother, The Bell Ringer in Pink

3 Oct

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She said she would be there with bells on and she was.

When I was a high school senior, my beloved mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were unfortunately familiar with this because my mother’s mother and my mother’s mother’s sisters all had it too. A genuine hit in the gene lottery. I don’t recall my mother talking to me about this before she entered the hospital for her first mastectomy. All I remember is that for several weeks before I knew anything, I knew something was very wrong. She denied it, but I knew.

My mother checked herself out of the hospital, against her doctors’ advice, a day or two early so that she could see me off to the prom. This woman, with drains still attached, in serious pain, yet with a smile on her face, threw me and my friends and their families a small party. This is what keeps her going. This woman loves her family.

And we love her back.

That summer before college she lost all her hair. She lost her eyelashes, eyebrows and even arm hair. She lost her dignity. She sat with me in either a turban or a terrible wig and we played board games with my friend, Andrew. This was in between aggressive chemotherapy treatments where she would lay in bed and close the door to her room for several days until she felt well enough to emerge. We did not even cook dinners those days because the smell of the food would seep under her door and make its way to her nose and nauseate her. Every night when I thought my family was asleep, I would sneak outside and sit on my front step and cry.

At the end of August, my parents took me to Ann Arbor and helped me move into the dorm. I wanted to let everyone know that my mother was wearing a wig. That that horrible hair did not belong to her. That she had the most gorgeous hair I had ever seen, hopefully underneath her scalp, just waiting to grow back and make her whole again.

The second time she was diagnosed I was a newly married, young lawyer. It was exactly 9 years and 10 months after her first mastectomy. My mother was frightened and devastated and, again, a warrior. She had a second mastectomy and thankfully, due to a very early diagnosis, no treatment.

The third time was in 2007 and that was a horror show because she had no breasts left to remove. It was a mere six months after her beautiful sister, my incredible aunt, died. I think my mother’s heart literally broke from the loss because that was the neighborhood in which her cancer returned. My mother underwent major surgery and a severely complicated post-operative extended recovery period, and never once looked back. In the recovery room, she was awoken and told of the lengths they had to take in the operating room. Sedated, she responded, “I don’t care what I look like. I just want to live.”

And she did and she does.

We often “forget” that my mother had breast cancer because she has never dwelt on it. She never let it define her or become her life. It only became part of our conversations when she was living it or, more typically, when she was celebrating her survival.

And that she does as well. And often.

Early this week, my mother was contacted by a producer from The Today Show, inviting her to attend their kick off of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She asked her friend, Lydia, another survivor, and some other friends and family to join her. She made signs. She brought 6 pink sweaters for me to choose from because we had to dress in pink. My mother does everything big. And thank G-d, because she does life big too.

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At 6 am we were funneled into a VIP line full of survivors and their families. Many of the women were bald. All of them were smiling. My mother, with her beautiful, long, blonde hair, gratefully accepted a “GOD IS BIG ENOUGH” pink bracelet from the hairless woman in front of her. I started to feel badly about my mom’s hair, which she has grown out so she can donate it to Locks of Love, and how it might make these women feel. Then I thought, not only has she earned it, but she is an inspiration to these women who are currently fighting so hard for their lives. My pretty mama and her Rapunzel-like hair were a gift to these women who must see her and hope that they could one day be just like her: a mother; a sister; a daughter; a friend; a grandmother; an aunt; a survivor.

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My mother told the producer that she would attend this event “with bells on” and she literally did. She bought breast cancer awareness ribbons and bells and made all of us necklaces to wear.

She rang the loudest.

And she always does.

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Born Good

4 Jun

Sometimes, people are just born good.

Last week, my 14 year old son came to me:

“Mom, I finally figured out what I want to do with my March Madness winnings. I want to give it to Relay for Life.”

“That’s the fundraiser at your school for The American Cancer Society, right?”

“Right.”

And then my heart caught. My mother is a three time survivor of  breast cancer. She is the most beautiful warrior I have ever seen. She is also the inspiration for this sudden largesse. That and the fact that donations are tied to chances to watch a certain teacher go down in the dunk tank at the school carnival. I told him I loved him. I told him I was proud of him. I told him to sleep on it before he does anything.

My son loves sneakers. LOVES them. He loves a lot of things he could buy himself with his money. He also understands the value of a dollar because he babysits his little brothers and earns every last cent we pay him. But there is a certain depth to him. He gets things. He is understanding. He is a thinker. He is connected.

A few days later, my son found me in the kitchen.

“Mom, I’ve thought about it and I’m going to give the money to charity.”

He showed me a Ziploc full of $125 cash. He was unaware of the grand gesture he was making. It was just an easy decision that made sense.

Later that morning I received a phone call from the school, the caller ID for which always elicits  panic. After the assistant principal told me there was nothing to be alarmed about, I realized why he was calling. He told me that he nearly cried when he discovered my son wanted to give all his money to charity and it was an emotional conversation to say the least. I hung up the phone and wept.

I have been really riding my son all year about his school work. My concern is that it doesn’t matter to him; that he’s not as motivated as he should be; that he’s not competitive enough with himself to do the best he possibly can; that it doesn’t matter. I have been remiss. There are more important things in life. And I was just reminded of that by my son.

When my son came home from school that day, he was excited, he was animated, he was maybe even a little bit proud. He didn’t seem to recognize the grandeur of his action until he told me that for 20 minutes, the teachers (who originally didn’t think they could even accept that high a donation) crowded around him and told him what a wonderful thing he was doing. The superintendent and the principal also spoke to my son about his generosity. And more important, he seemed poised to manipulate the dunk contest results so that one teacher in particular was a goner.

“Did you do this for Nanny?”

“Yes. And Aunt Sandy.”

My beloved aunt who died from lung cancer when my son was only 6. There’s that depth again.

I am so proud of this boy. And I am so disappointed in myself for all those times I pushed him while not focusing on what is really important: he is. And he is not just a grade point average or an extra-curricular activity or some dumb random honor. He is not a high school transcript or a standardized test or an assigned generic task. He is so much more. He is everything.

I can teach him all I want. I can help him with his homework (not math!) and how to organize an essay and how to make a good omelet and how to make his bed and how to do the laundry and how to moonwalk. I cannot teach him to be a good — a really good — person.

Thankfully, he already is.