Friday, May 16, 2014

180 Degrees

You may or may not know this, but I have a career outside of being a cancer fighter. I started as an executive assistant and working my way up to being a project manager. The position sounds very impressive and important, and it is. And I gave it my all, and I was pretty good at it, but in my heart, no matter how hard I tried, and I tried, something was missing.

Over the years, I found all kinds of outlets - from my Mary Kay business to painting to sewing to DIY - you name it. But the reality is that my passion always lay in the creative realm, not the corporate realm.

Perhaps it is a closer-to-midlife-than-I'd-like-to-admit crisis, or a post-Cancer epiphany, but I decided after much debate to abandon my corporate life and go into a completely different direction.

I am a full-time student at the Paul Mitchell School of Danbury. I'm biting the bullet, getting my cosmetology license and seeing where I take it.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Aunt Carol

When one thinks of the typical family, and you begin to picture what an "aunt" looks like, one might picture floral couches, a female version of your father, with a similar lifestyle. Or a kooky, eccentric version of your parent. For my generation, your father's older sister might bring up images of a lady, wearing dresses, gardening, etc.

As a child, when I would talk with classmates about my visits to Aunt Carol's house, I'd describe the barbeque Uncle Elliot would make, how my parents would joke and tease that the meat was overcooked, though I liked it, playing with some of the other nieces and nephews in the backyard - wiffle ball was a favorite, with one of my golden retriever cousins chasing the ball, and Aunt Carol's strawberry rhubarb pies made with rhubarb grown in her own garden.

And then I would talk about the piece she had made that was a collage of homemade paper, string, rusty wires and her dog's tooth that looked like a shriveled human heart. Or the sky-high black paper sails she constructed made out of her homemade paper. Or the frustration my father felt when he learned she had cut apart original family photographs again for a collage. Or the trip to NYC to the art gallery to see her uncharacteristically sleek sculpture that looked like a pyramid with geometric shapes hollowed into it, but were really painted illusions.

My Aunt Carol was an artist. She was a contemporary artist. She was talented beyond description. She had an obsession with morbidity that I dug as early as I can remember. And my father was oblivious to said obsession until, not that long ago, I asked Aunt Carol why she was obsessed with death, and my dad said, "No, she's not," and Aunt Carol and I answered, "Yes, she (I) is (am)," in unison.

15 years ago or so, Aunt Carol survived breast cancer. I thought she was amazing.

Aunt Carol and Uncle Elliot didn't have any children of their own. Instead, they had golden retrievers. One at a time. They were my cousins. It isn't that they didn't like children - they did - from afar. But Aunt Carol seemed to dig me. I was a child just like any other, but being around her and Uncle Elliot, and around her work, I somehow instinctively connected and "knew my place." Immaturity was left at the end of the driveway after the long drive down to Califon. My parents never had to remind me to "be on my best behavior." I didn't have to be told.

"Colonial elegance" comes to mind when trying to describe their home. I imagine their home is what it would be like if an artist living in SoHo inherited their grandmother's fully-furnished farmhouse and decided to move in. From the exterior, it's a charming, red country home, with a stepped garden. And when you enter, at first, it looks like a dark, wooden framed farm home as one would expect to find in Califon. But as you venture further in, behind the quaint, cushy "aunt-like" sofa, hangs the earlier mentioned collage reminiscent of a human heart, with hairs woven into the paper cluster. In the dining room, with an innocently patterned wall paper, sits a bassinet, an antique bassinet that has an eerie look about it. It looks too antique to be "normal."

Climbing the staircase by the innocent yellow guest bathroom, you would expect to walk into a storage room. Instead, usually at the end of our visits, Aunt Carol would lead me and my father into her vast, white studio, to show us her latest pieces - finished and in process. Aunt Carol, for some time, would have to get regular tetanus shots, as her work led her to local dumpsites to retrieve the heaviest, rustiest, gnarliest pieces of wire and metal. She and Uncle Elliot had to have the side of her studio above the garage cut open, and have barn doors and a hoist installed because Aunt Carol's art drove her to construct work that was simply impossible to get out of the house without the need of serious equipment and being hauled out of the side of the house.

Of course, she and my father were Jewish, and I recall them coming to a seder once, but she and Uncle Elliot weren't "overtly" Jewish in their presentation. I honestly don't know what their worship or observance was like, and while they had travelled all over the world, it wasn't until after I'd visited Israel for the last time that they went to Israel. This surprised me, as my father, mother and I had gone multiple times. But I would tell Aunt Carol all the time to go. When she surprised me with sending spending money while I was there, I wrote her letters and postcards about what she was missing.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that her last major collection, which started several years ago, was centered around the Holocaust. She began with collages, which led into collections of poetry and her pieces and she created art books - some of which are now housed at the world's most renowned Holocaust museums, including Yad VaShem. Those pieces then led to stone engravings, where she had to engage tombstone makers to be able to etch her work into the stone.

I facepalmed myself when I heard she decided to bring one of the artbooks and lecture at Oberlin College - after I'd graduated, and after the fact! I called her and said, "Aunt Carol! Why didn't you tell me! I'd have visited campus!" and she replied, "It wasn't that big a deal. No biggie."

But that was typical of Aunt Carol. Nothing ever seemed to phase her. She had a reserve about her. She wasn't uptight in the least- she was very relaxed. You knew you were speaking to a lady, so she wasn't crass, but she was relaxed. Aunt Carol had a lovely laugh and sweet voice, when you were blessed to see that break in her usual friendly, but poised conversation.

My dad brought that out in her the most. Dad could bring that childlike twinkle to her eye. He could make her giggle. I don't even know if he meant to do that. Being her younger brother, it was natural. Underneath the grey-speckled bangs, was the face of a 12-year old observing her goofy, baby brother. I even witnessed the occasional eyeroll as she would say, "Oh, Richard."

I loved my Aunt Carol. Seeing her was such a treat. She was so uber cool. I remember, when I was more actively studying art in high school, she kept pestering Dad to take me to the Guggenheim. My dad isn't exactly a big modern art buff, a trait she couldn't tolerate. We'd go to see her joint exhibits, and we spent half the time teasing the work of her peers (quietly, of course. I thought it was for my benefit, but looking back, it was likely to ensure Aunt Carol didn't scold him later). Finally, Dad gave in, and we went to the Guggenheim. In retrospect, we probably should have looked up who the featured artist was, because, let me tell you, it was an exhibit that embodied everything he and I loathed about contemporary art. Just approaching the Guggenheim, the taxidermied reptile and neon lights sketching out the Fibonacci series along the side of the building prompted us to stop, stare blankly, look at each other, and bust out laughing. Aunt Carol would have been utterly horrified and beside herself had she been a fly on the wall as my father and I cracked jokes about how stupid the stuffed desert critters with florescent numbers shooting out of their butts were, with the crowning jewels of the exhibit being a faucet stuck into a wall called "Mother" and a room full of huge wire igloo-domes made out of what looked like sheets of earwax and dripping snot.

While my father and I probably never laughed so hard for so long, my Aunt Carol was not amused when we recounted the day over the phone. I know I heard her yell, "Richard!" a few times over the phone while she gave my dad an earful. Hence, when I got the phone, I feigned interest and waxed philosophical with her, impressing her with my maturity, while I stuck my tongue out at my dad.

I suspect that's why Aunt Carol seemed to like me, even though I was a kid. I knew how not to act like one around her - sometimes, even at my father's expense.

There is nothing twinkling, or charming about today, though. Early this morning, around 6:15, I had a sinking feeling in my heart. I posted on Facebook for friends to pray for Aunt Carol, as last night I learned she only had days left in her battle against pancreatic cancer. I was just about to start baking cookies and cakes for her (if she could eat - which she couldn't on Sunday when my parents went to visit), my Uncle Elliot, and my parents. The phone rang, just as my daughter went to catch her bus. I knew. I knew that I wasn't going to Califon today. And, just hearing my father's voice, he didn't have to say a thing. I knew.

Aunt Carol ran out of time today.

There will never be a slice of her rhubarb pies anymore. I'll never hear stories about what my father was like as a kid, and the trouble he'd get into with his Aunt Bettina. I'll never have the chance to collaborate on a piece with her, and my daughter. My daughter, who only met her once this past year, who fell in love with her, will never develop the relationship she wanted with my aunt. She'll never have the chance to share artwork she did based on photographs Aunt Carol sent her with her mentor. I'll never be able to ask her why she was so obsessed with death, and how she made her paper. She'll never smile when I present her with another candy mold to add to her collection.

And I'll never see the twinkle in her eye, and her smile again.

But now, I have to see my father, who lost his big sister. Whose only blood relatives, other than me and the kids, are now gone. I'll have to see a man who turned into a boy whenever he was in her presence, and I'm terrified of seeing the loss in his eyes. I fear the twinkle that they both shared will be dimmer now. My heart aches for a man that I love so much and I cannot imagine what he's feeling right now.

And then I think about my Uncle Elliot. He's alone in that house that he built with Aunt Carol with my latest golden retriever cousin. He had to watch her fade. He's so far away, we can't just stop in and bring him muffins, or check in, or spend time with him with ease. He spent so many years with her - how is he going to be?

My only consolation is that I know the past few weeks were so unpleasant for her. At last, she's at peace.

Pray that the rest of us can find peace in her passing, now. Pray for my father. For my Uncle Elliot.

Gosh, I'll miss her strawberry rhubarb pie.




---
To view her work, please go to http://carolrosen.net/

Monday, March 24, 2014

That which won't kill me can only make me STRONGER...

Ugh. Kanye West. What a loathsome individual. G-d complex. Caused a Kardashian (and not the uber-cool Khloe) to reproduce. Vile geopolitical opinions.

But... If the man has one salvageable action in his life, it's releasing the song, "Stronger." 

Monday morning. Stuck behind cars, rushing to get to the YMCA in New Canaan, I revel in the fact that I found my Sony Walkman (thank you, Klout) - already loaded with workout music I hand picked from my Riding playlist with some new additions (thanks to a binge in Israeli, Mizrachit and Ladino dock), ready to attack my LIVESTRONG at the Y programs and, mindful of traffic law, pop it onto one ear and start playing. And what's the first song to play? "Stronger," by (stupid) Kanye West. And I start to feel pumped. I start to not only emotionally, but physically, get excited and revved. My mind focuses from hating the cars and buses in front of me to the anticipated rush and burn. My shoulder muscles, usually tense with stress, begin to feel looser, my face begins to warm, and I'm nearly drooling to sweat.

I park, jump out of my car, throw my cardigan in the drawstring bag, flash my badge, and run (yes, run) up the stairs - something I haven't been able to do in years. I'm a couple of minutes late, so the trainer tells me to do 10 minutes of cardio. No problem.

You would think I'd leap at the bikes, but if you've been following my blog for any time frame, you'd know that I can't just do 10 minutes on a bike - indoors or out. No, I'll save that for a spin class I hope to take, or, dare I say it, a ride in the next week or two. I hop on the treadmill, repeating "Stronger," and start out. I'm going to make the most of my 10 minutes. I start my pace at 3.5, and amp the resistance. And I pound out a fast walk. I was in "the zone" the minute my feet hit the driveway thanks to that song. My heart rate leaps up to 160. Time to rev up the speed. 3.8. Next song up. Ramp it up to 4.0 with Duran Duran's "Planet Earth." I'm feeling such a rush, I'm about to crank it up to a jog.

Crap. Stupid endorphins brainwashing me into thinking I can run. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Newly-found moderating brain cells remind me of the hell that 5k LIVESTRONG Challege did to me - and though I'd started treatment by then, I was still in better shape than now. Ok. Back to walk. My trainer must have noticed the idiotic move I was on the verge of making, tapped the machine, and asked how I was doing. I smiled and said fine. In my head, I was grinding the treadmill to shreds with my prowess. I was making it my bitch. Good thing 10 minutes just wound down - treadmill lives another day.

We get to work on our big muscle circuit before venturing to The Zone, a new set up. I hit the circuit. First, leg presses. I start where I left off - 2 sets of 12 at 140. The machine flies and I feel zero resistance. After one set of 12, I bump it up to 165. That's better. Not painful, but resistant. 2 more sets of 12.

I move onto the next leg machines - and I can do 3 sets of 12 with no pain - compared to the 2 sets of 12 last week. Legs are feeling like my own, again. Stronger.

Onto the pectoral fly machine. My arch nemesis of the gym. You see, it always was, but when you have your chest sliced and diced, expanding water balloons forced under your pectoral muscles, and then lumps of silicone permanently put into place where squishy, attached and organic breasts used to be, any activity that uses those now overly stretched-out pectoral muscles feels... WEIRD. There really isn't another word to use. It's just weird. You can't control the fact that your pseudo-boobs pop up and down, almost waving at the crowd, with every fly motion. They flap in the wind like two tops of tea kettles when you push down on huge button to pour out the water. Only with perma-perked nipples on top. Aside from the physical weirdness, there is an emotional sadness and moderate humiliation. But by now, Eminem is rightly advising me to lose myself in the music, and that's what I do. I lose myself, in the music, the moment, I own it, and I can't let go - I have to push through every rep. Failure is not an option - not now. I have to push through to move on. And just like that, I'm done. Moving on. 

Next thing I know, I'm on more upper body machines, but this time, I'm upping the weight a notch. I'm starting to do 3 sets of 12 reps on some, not all, but some. And then I'm done. I did it. And I can still walk. My back hasn't buckled. My shoulder bursitis is less painful than it was while I tried to sleep.

Dare I say it? Week #3 and I'm finally feeling... STRONGER.



Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2 down, 3 to go...


March 5, 2011, I was preparing for my 2nd Rock the Ride & Run benefiting LIVESTRONG. I was unwittingly incubating two cancers in my right breast.

March 5, 2012. My friend, Mary, and I got the news that, so far, our chemotherapy and her radiation worked - we were now N.E.D. - No Evidence of Disease.

March 5, 2013. It was less than a month after Mary's funeral. I was declared one year N.E.D.
Today. It's been less than a month since Suzy ran out of time against breast cancer. I'm out of full-time work, currently back to teaching Hebrew School again, and midwifing a stray mother cat, Ahavah, as she labors to deliver her kittens today. And I celebrate 2 years N.E.D.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Starting from ground zero...

After long last, the universe is finally letting me start to rebuild my body again - not with silicone implants or skin grafts, but with muscle, strength, power and flexibility. My back injuries that flared up due to atrophy have eased just in time for me to start a new LIVESTRONG at the Y program at the New Canaan YMCA. Last Wednesday, we had a group orientation. Monday was our evaluation. Today was our first introduction to the machines.

On Monday, I left feeling pretty good about myself. I did my 6 minute walk with ease. My flexibility was great (though I was surprised at how different my right and left arms were!). I could let press 265 with ease. My arm strength was 3x better than I'd anticipated. I went into today's session excited.

Of course, when asked if I wanted to go on the treadmill vs a bike, I chose the bike. The trainer wanted me to try a recumbent, but it didn't feel right, so we went to the spin bike. Ah! Cleat friendly pedals! A saddle! Home!

I jumped in and adjusted the seat height like an old pro. I picked the 3 mile coastal ride - they said to keep it easy and quick. No problem!

I start off, and I'm passing the other digital riders. I'm spinning at 75 rpm and 15-17 mph. While I miss the wind on my face, I'm feeling comfortable. I'm shifting gears. I'm rolling. I'm catching up to the pace setter. I start chatting with the trainer. But, soon, the hills hit. A bit of strain. A bit out of breath. A little burn. Finally, a challenge.

But then, though I'm passing other digital riders, the phantom pace setter is pulling farther ahead. I push harder  I'm on a downhill and I try coasting to let the burn ease off. What!?! No coasting on a spin bike? Ugh. Fine. I keep churning, but even though I'm going I downhill, I'm burning. I'm slowing. The pace setter is getting away. I'm starting to sweat. I figure I've got to be near the end of the 3 mike mark. 

Then my heart sank. I was at 1.3 miles with 1.7 to go. And I'd already hit the wall. The trainer approached to tell me it was time to move onto the weight machines. Saved by the bell.

I think she could sense my disappointment as she reminded me, "Baby steps. You're doing great."

I kept telling myself that was true. That it was a spin bike. That there was no wind. But it still hurt to the core.

The rest of the workout was uneventful - I felt good about the weight levels, the pace, etc. Stretches were a surprise, though - pangs on the back and knees hit so I have to rely on alternates for now. But that will come in time.

I guess that's the hardest lesson of all to learn - it will come in time. I'm not used to that mantra.

But I'm relearning my body, my strength, and eventually my power.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

People are Stupid

Yes, yesterday was one of those days.

I got a call from a recruiter - not a recruiter with whom I've ever done business - who found my resume somewhere online. She wanted to get some more information about me about a possible job in an area to which, out of desperation, I'd travel, but I wasn't thrilled. So, as we were reviewing my resume, she had a few questions.

She said I had excellent credentials, and then she asked me why I was not PMP certified. I explained that the jobs that I had simply didn't allow the extra time to study and take the test. As we were talking, we discussed my last full-time, permanent position. I was telling her about the ups and downs experienced, how there were periods where we weren't getting paid, and how I was being scrutinized, even though I was a full-time, salaried employee, over hours I had worked at home and things just degenerated from there. She asked why I had been working from home. I explained that I had breast cancer, and some of that time was between when I was laid off and rehired, so I got some procedures done as part of my cancer treatment.

At that point she said, "Well, why didn't you take advantage of your time 'time off' and go get your certification since you weren't doing anything?"

Since this was over the phone, I couldn't simply reach across the table and smack her upside the head. Nor could she glean from my eyeroll that she asked an utterly stupid, obnoxious and foul question.

Golly, lady, it might have been that I was too busy having my breasts lopped off, poison injected into my body every couple of weeks for a few months straight, and then having all kinds of infections, skin grafts and other organs removed on a whim.

So, I grit my teeth, smiled, and explained that I think she needs further sensitivity training.

She asked, "Why?"

Really? I explained that her response was callous, ignorant, more than likely illegal, surely a form of harassment and discrimination. She said I was overreacting. I asked her if she would like to find out when I contacted LIVESTRONG for their best legal referral, and the lawyer and I would file to sue her ass.

She told me she couldn't represent me because I was too unprofessional. I told her she was damned right she couldn't represent me - she was clearly too incompetent.

Then I called her boss.

I haven't heard back from her boss, or from whomever she directed my call (it could have been to the janitor, for all I know). I kind of wish that I did, so I could let him know that he hired a complete moron, and even though I don't have formal recruiting experience, I, or my cat, Samson, could do a better job than this woman, and I certainly know what is an appropriate response to a candidate explaining that they were getting cancer treatment and working from home during their "time off" and what isn't. I'd love to tell him a few other things while I was at it, as well.

Sadly, it appears all I can do is vent here on the blog.

So there it is.


What frightens me, though, is how many recruiters from the past couple of years have been equally as ignorant? How many, in discussing my resume, credentials, survivorship, etc, or even Google searches, actually think what this woman was thinking?

How many hiring managers learn about my cancer and think that I could have been more "productive?"

How many are apprehensive because they wonder if I'll need treatment again? How many somehow think that the cancer is contagious, or was brought on by something I did? Are recruiters and hiring managers still that backwards in their thinking that I'm a pariah? Really?

I don't hide my cancer past - I wear it as a badge of honor. I'm not going to hide it. It doesn't own me, It's not who I am. It's not my work history or my capabilities. I still worked daily in my hospital room, from my bedroom, my loft office, and even my office office, when I had work that required my attendance in-person. And it was 2 years ago.

So who cares? What's the problem? Why make me feel "less than" because I fought a disease and came out the other side, stronger, more intent on working a job for which I'm passionate?

Funny, I thought those were good things to have. Bottom line, to all recruiters and hiring managers that have a problem with the fact that I'd had some sick leave, took some time off a couple of years ago, and used my time between gigs to address some of my health issues...



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Jewish Guilt is bad enough... but Jewish Survivor's Guilt? Fuggadaboudit

Imagine you're in a car. Someone else is driving. You and your friends are all in backseats. There is absolutely no difference between how you are sitting or they are. You all have your seatbelts on. You're all doing what you're supposed to do. Hell, we'll even throw on helmets, knee pads and shoulder pads for extra protection. And the driver suits you all up with bubblewrap suits. You're all equally taking the same exact precautions.

Now, cars hit your car simultaneously - you and your friends are struck with the same amount of force, and the car rolls. By the time it is all over, the car settles. You open your eyes, and no one else but you and the driver make it out alive.

Why?

And, just to make it worse, as you sit in your hospital bed for mere observation while your friends funerals are being planned, you see on your social media feed that several other friends, who were also in cars, with the same gear you had on, and the same impact, didn't survive. And your friend's wife. And another friend's wife. All of whom you've spoken to about all the precautions you were taking in the car.

Why?

That's pretty much how this week has been. Past month. Past year. Cancer fighters in my life, LIVESTRONG related and not, that I was surrounded by in one way or another, that shared breast cancer specifically, have been dropping like flies. And I'm starting to feel like last man standing. And I don't like it.

My friend, and fellow LIVESTRONG Leader's wife, Judy, broke my heart. Scott is a cancer survivor himself, and his wife was diagnosed and taken within what seemed to be a breath. Ashleigh Moore, an amazing man, cancer survivor, and fighter, and an International LIVESTRONG Leader who accomplished more than any leader I know has for the cause, was taken from us last week.

Those losses are difficult to bear, as it just seemed some of the most amazing people run out of time. And seeing your friend is pain, losing a colleague, sucks. But their cancer was very different from mine.

But Suzy's loss...

Suzy Zeffren Rauch was a firecracker. She was full of life and ruach (spirit) going back to when I first got to know her in Young Judaea. I admired her from afar, as to me, she was like the sun - as much as I wanted to be her, not like her, but be her, I feared that if I got close, I couldn't withstand the amazingness of Suzy. She was popular (far more than I), she was talented in voice and ability, she was charismatic, she had a way of capturing attention from everyone in a room and making them smile and feel good about themselves. She was a leader. She was an example. She was clearly an amazing friend to everyone around her. She intimidated the bejeezus out of me because I so wanted to be like Suzy when I grew up within the movement. She was the embodiment of what I thought female Judaeans should be.

Fast forward several years, and I have just gone through diagnosis and my double mastectomy. I get an encouraging post from... SUZY ZEFFREN RAUCH! I had friended her, because I loved her so much back in the day, and I was sure she'd accepted my friend request on Facebook out of courtesy. But she was posting to me. And then I got a private message from her (I have to paraphrase, as Facebook seems to have obliterated some of my conversation history, but... ):
Rica, I was wondering if I could ask you a question?
Of course, Suzy, what is it?
I've been following your journey on Facebook and your blog. I just found out that I also have breast cancer. What do I do?
After the initial shock of seeing that Suzy Zeffren Rauch followed my story and my blog - she liked me! She really liked me! - the fury of knowing that someone as amazing as Suzy was being touched by this evil disease made my blood boil. And then, I knew I could finally do something that I'd wanted to do years ago - be Suzy's friend.

From that point on, we weren't Judaeans anymore. We weren't just people with lots of mutual friends. We became members of a secret sisterhood. We shared anxiety and tips and support when hair was lost and came back. Ironically, my hair has grown in just like Suzy's - from very loose waves and/or pin straight to dark blonde, rich ringlets.

We seemed on parallel paths at one point in our chats, and then the chats stopped. I wasn't seeing her in my newsfeed as often. Correspondence came to a trickle.

I, honestly, had assumed that she'd fallen into the same communication rut that I had post-treatment - when you come out the other end, you have to suddenly play catch up with reality.

Then, on 2/5/14, I saw an earth-shattering post from my friend pop up that Suzy was going into hospice. (Any children reading this, cover your ears.) What the fuck?! Hospice?!? It has to be for a longer-term recovery from a procedure - they almost put me into hospice after I'd been in the hospital for 4 weeks with the infection because I was taking up a bed in the hospital and required longer-term care vs. hospital care, but once my condition turned around, I was able to just go home.

I messaged our mutual friend, Benji Lovitt, to find out what was happening. He responded very simply, "She just went on hospice care. I think people are now fearing the worst. Hope you're well." (Kids, you'd better still be covering your ears.) Holy shit! Yes, Benji, I'm fine, thanks for asking, but HOLY SHIT! What in the hell?!?

I went to her page to make sure I was reading Benji's message right, and sure enough, we were being asked to post photos and stories about Suzy for her. Her timeline, and her husband's, was ticking nearly every other second with a new photo, and a new story being posted as I was reading. Dozens, and dozens, and dozens were coming out of nowhere with an outpouring of memories and encouragement.

I messaged her, simply, "Sending you LOVE!" praying to get a response. But none came.

Just a week after I sent her that message, on February 12, Suzy was gone.

I haven't been the same since. I'm going to address her loss momentarily, but allow me to reflect here a moment. Aside from the grief associated with her loss, there is an overwhelming guilt that hits me every time I learn a friend or loved one has died of cancer. That, "Why me?" but worse - "Can't you take me instead?" I know I have many more people out there who would be happy if I were, and even benefit in my death. But no one "wins" with Suzy's death. No one benefits. It rips people apart. She was so much more than I ever was. And, it's ok, that many of our mutual friends think the same thing - I get it. And I'm not writing this to have a flurry of, "Don't say that! You're special, etc." I know the reality. I'm half the woman, mother, leader, educator and friend that Suzy was on a bad day. She has a husband who adores her. She has two, young daughters that benefit far more than my son, for example, whom I've failed time and time again. At least if it were me, my son might not remember everything that he hates about me, but remember the good. I have no husband to widow. Of course, I know I have my daughter, and family and others that would be hurt, but I'm seeing those same people devastated by Suzy's death.

Don't read into this as a suicide note - that's not what it is, either. But I can't bare the idea of walking into a room with some of our mutual friends, and Ron, now, having survived the same disease that killed his wife, our friend, and look anyone in the eyes. I'm marked with shame and guilt that I lived and Suzy died.

Oh, and Suzy's voice. In my mind's ear, I remember how beautiful her voice was. I would listen intently as she, and Kera Rennert, could weave harmonies at camp. I would mimic and memorize their melodies, not daring to upstage them, but to learn from their knack for finding the angelic sound in the gaps, so I could do the same when they weren't at camp anymore. Suzy's voice. Wow.

I was just getting reacquainted with her, this time as equals, and I'd begun to fall in love with her as a younger sister does an older sister, all over again. And then it stopped. Short.

I hate this disease. And, in many ways, I hate surviving it. I hate outliving people like Suzy.

I look to Suzy to remind me to be thankful. Bless whoever it was that posted this amazing version of Modeh Ani sung by Suzy.

As a tribute, expect to hear my daughter and me singing this at her Bat Mitzvah.

This is the voice of an angel.


A fund has been set up in her memory at the camp that she loved, and where she was wed:
http://cyjtexas.org/suzy

By Ilana Zeffren:

Read more about Suzy here:
http://thelilmamas.com/in-loving-memory-of-suzy-rauch/
http://motherblogga.com/just-between-us/2014/2/14/for-suzy.html