Growing Old Is A Privilege Denied to Many
“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to, you would cry too if it happened to you."
I suspect very few reading this are old enough to recall this 1963 pop hit by Lesley Gore, rebooted in the 80s as Top of the Pops and number 1 in 1981 in the UK for four weeks with Barbara Gaskin and David Stewart.
It’s the singer’s birthday and her beau, Johnny, has taken off with her friend Judy at of all things her very own birthday party.
Today is my birthday. And while the visible signs of aging are becoming more and more impossible to ignore, I fully intend to celebrate another year around the sun while at the same mourning the loss, and celebrating the accomplishments of those who never reached this age, and those who will. Because they died from metastatic breast cancer.
Those who touched my life and the lives of thousands of others through their advocacy efforts, taking their disease from burden to a blessing.
When I was diagnosed in 2005, someone asked me how long I had been a Survivor. Still in active treatment, I was puzzled, I responded, “I am not a Survivor yet.”
“Oh but you are,” she said. “You are a survivor from the moment you are diagnosed until the day you die.”
I was troubled by this. I wanted a term that did not have an expiration date, a term that spoke to their remarkable lives. A term that would define them, long after death took them. I call them SurThrivors®.
So on this birthday I celebrate the all too short lives of four remarkable SurThrivors who left an imprint on my life.
I celebrate Jill Brezenski Conley, diagnosed in 2009, who was featured in an amazing documentary, The Light That Shines shot in Paris. With her husband Bart she founded, Jill’s Wish.
“I know I will eventually die of cancer, but knowing I did everything in my power to help change lives leaves me with such a fulfilled heart.” - Jill Brezenski Conley
Jill died of metastatic breast cancer on February 2, 2016, at age 38.
I celebrate Margaux Untracht. Diagnosed at age 30, she decided instead of feeling sorry for herself she would help others. Margaux raised more than $150,000 for Pink Fund and tens of thousands for research at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York.
"I am always trying to see the silver lining in everything. I coined the term “Gauxforward,” a spin on my name, meaning just keep looking ahead. I've learned to accept my past and have gained comfort in understanding there are certain things in life you can’t control. But what I can control is how I respond and act. I have decided to use my diagnoses as means to gauxforward and enjoy my life and do it with as much grace and ease as possible.” - Margaux Untracht
Instagram influencer and breast cancer previvor Lesley Murphy filmed a video of Margaux called Lessons from Margaux Untracht and remarked, “One of the last things I did in Bali was interview Margaux on camera. There are so many lessons from her in here that everyone - sick or not - needs to know.”
Margaux died of metastatic breast cancer on March 16, 2019 at the age of 33.
I celebrate Alison Hadden who was 38 when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
Due to the aggressiveness of her disease, Alison decided to live the rest of her life, like she had NO TIME TO WASTE, and waste she did not.
She launched the NO TIME TO WASTE podcast and was able to snag some amazing guests. From Oct. 5, 2020, to Dec. 6, 2021, she recorded 47 podcastswith Katie Couric, Matthew McConaughey, Lance Armstrong, Sheryl Sandberg, and other authors, actors, journalists, influencers, professors, doctors, and executives, about their experiences and views on grief, life, and death. I was blessed to be one of her early guests.
Alison died January 29, 2022, at age 41.
I celebrate Lara MacGregor who I first met in 2012 in NOLA at the Young Survival Coalition/Living Beyond Breast Cancer Summit.
Lara was exhibiting Hope Scarves, the charity she founded five years following her breast cancer diagnosis in 2007 at the age of 30 and pregnant, and again in January 2014 when we were named PINK POWER MOMS by Kids II Foundation.
Lara’s disease had progressed. She was metastatic. I remember at the gala, watching Lara twirl around the dance floor with her husband, her two young sons smiling and watching.
Over the next ten years, Lara fought cancer with every ounce of her being, holding HOPE and FEAR in the same hand. Her new diagnosis fueled her desire to fund research. She raised $1.85 million dollars for metastatic breast cancer research.
Lara died January 18, 2022, at the age of 45.
Each of these women became friends. Each of them is a SurThrivor, as are many more. Please feel free to name them and share their story in the comments.
At Pink Fund our Mary Herczog Fund provides financial assistance to women with metastatic breast cancer waiting on social security disability.
And while we cannot extend their lives, or cure their disease, we know our assistance provides HELP and HOPE.
Some years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Rana Awdish speak of her experiences when she became the patient. Her book is In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope is a page turner and must read.
This quote from the book resonates with me:
“We cannot define success as beating death because death cannot be beaten. The undeniable fact of death remains, imposing and impending regardless of our temporary victories. How we care for each other during life is the true restoration—the definition of agency. That is the win, the success we must look for and mark and define ourselves by. Our ability to be present with each other through our suffering is what we are meant to do. It is what feeds us when the darkness inevitably looms. We cannot avoid the darkness, just as we cannot evade suffering. Loving each other through the darkness is the thing to look for and to mark. It’s there, in the shadows, where we find meaning and purpose.” - Rana Awdish
On this birthday, I realize how privileged I am not only to celebrate another year around the sun, but through our work with Pink Fund, stand in the darkness and in the shadows, where I find deep meaning and purpose in our mission.