'Until 120," we wish each other on birthdays. But add the ages of Diane Lieder Taragin and Mindy Schachter Greenberg together, and you only get 92.
That's what I keep thinking so sadly on a sunny Friday as my husband and I join the other 1,500 marchers on the four-kilometer trek around the beautiful grounds and lake in Ra'anana Park. The walk has been organized in memory of these two young and beloved Ra'anana women. Both died in the prime of life from breast cancer. Greenberg died four years ago, at 42, Taragin last Hanukka, at 50.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual international health campaign to increase awareness of the disease women fear most. It's a season of fund-raising to seek the cause, prevention and cure of breast cancer and to remind us to keep checking ourselves.
You can't miss this initiative in the US, where pink T-shirts at the New Balance sneaker outlet, pink-packaged yogurts at the dairy counter, pink guitars at the music stores are all for sale. The White House is decorated with pink ribbons, firefighters fight blazes in pink shirts and NFL linebackers sport pink bracelets. In Israel, pinkness is less conspicuous, notwithstanding the pink lights on Sderot Rothschild in Tel Aviv. Here is one international trend we should embrace, no matter our ethnic, religious or political views.
THE RA'ANANA walkathon is a call to action, and it honors Diane and Mindy, both immigrants from the US, both impressive women I've had the privilege of meeting. Members of their families have flown in from abroad. Says Diane's younger sister Annette Lieder Kaufman, "If by participating in this walkathon I help bring awareness to one mother and daughter walking together to get themselves checked regularly, I may save a life. I may have been part of that mother being able to walk down her daughter's aisle. Then my sister would not have died in vain. Then the fact that she couldn't walk down her own daughter's aisle, three months after she passed away, will not seem quite as painful and sad."
There are 4,000 new cases of breast cancer here
each year. Beside me, women and girls are walking and talking,
pushing strollers, helping grandmas. I know that if nothing changes, one in eight of us will get this dreadful disease. Younger women are more vulnerable than ever before, as the average age of new cancer victims keeps dropping.
When someone dies young, we're always looking for what
could have, would have, should have been done to prevent this death. But Mindy Greenberg and Diane Taragin did everything right for so-called breast health. They were slim, ate low fat diets, exercised, had regular medical checkups, breast-fed their babies. When diagnosed, they sought and received world-class medical care, both traditional and alternative. They were surrounded by loving families and friends. But not all the medical care, the devoted support, the prayer halted the lethal incursion, a grim reminder of how far we have yet to go to prevent and cure breast cancer.
Among the march sponsors is the Tishkofet organization, which helps the sick and their families face terminal disease. Despite the progress, only 20 percent of women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
That scary statistic is quoted by Rivka Matitya, whose poignant blog provides us with an intimate view of what living with cancer means. Before October is over, make sure you log onto her blog, coffeeandchemo. blogspot.com, updated frequently by this courageous Jerusalem mother of three. Matitya was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer at 39, in 2005. Two years later cancer had metastasized to her bones, liver and lungs. Three months ago it was discovered inside her brain. In this very week's opening blog "Death Be Not Proud" she describes what being in the "cancer world" is like:
"Even taking chemo in pills (at home), I still have to go to the hospital several times a month - for doctor's visits and blood tests (every three weeks) and my bone treatments (once a month). But that is not all. No, no, that is not all. I also have to go to the hospital for regular CTs, MRIs, bone scans, echocardiograms, ultrasounds and whatever other tests or procedures are deemed necessary by my team of medical caregivers. Everywhere I go, I meet other cancer patients.
"Over time, many of the cancer patients get better and 'disappear' back to their 'old life,' the life without cancer. But not everybody.
"Some people, like me, are not going to get better. We meet
regularly, week by week, month by month. We get to know
each other. We get connected.
"Many are like me. They are good. They are living with their cancer, and they are really living. Struggling, like me, but living. Even, I would say, living a good life.
"But not everybody. Not all the time.
"Sometimes people disappear and I do not know why. Have they simply switched treatment days or...? I am afraid to ask. Afraid to know.
"It is hard. Hard to keep hearing about people dying of cancer."
Matitya's blog somehow manages to be unbearably sad and inspiring. She always ends with a simple request for our prayers, for Rivka, daughter of Teirtzel.
DIANE TARAGIN was a prize-winning teacher. Two years ago, her sister started a program in Woodmere, New York called "I Shine" in the HAFTR children's day school to provide hot meals, homework assistance and birthday parties for the children or siblings of those with cancer or other serious diseases. A branch will soon open in Ra'anana. A series on parenting adolescents in Diane's memory has begun in Kfar Saba. In Ra'anana, Matan Hasharon - The Mindy Greenberg Women's Institute for Torah Studies offers religious enrichment in Mindy's memory. A session at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Association Conference in New York also bears her name.
So much good is growing from the lives and memories of these beautiful, intelligent, modest women, yet this isn't consolation enough for their premature death, or for their husbands, their 12 children, their children-in-law, parents, siblings, parents-in-law and the friends who created the grassroots movement that called out to the walk.
The walkathon in Ra'anana was an expression of love, but also a cry of frustration - tza'aka in Hebrew - to humankind to use more resources for research and treatment, to pool international brainpower and ignore politics in medicine. We simply have to do better. It's also a cry of protest to heaven above. Hear our cry! We want the cure now!