Rabbi Andy Bachman Remembers His Mother’s Breast Cancer
By Rabbi Andy Bachman
Jewish Community Project of Downtown (JCP New York)
My mother died of breast cancer in 2012. It was a particularly virulent strain of the disease that remained under moderate control for five years and the re-appeared, aggressively attacking her lungs and brain. In the span of a year she was gone, too young, at the age of 79.
Mom was a strong and independent woman. She was raised by a single mom, because in 1939 her father was murdered, and she grew up with a work ethic and sense of family that she passed on seamlessly to her children. She was a lifelong Democrat and a believer in the underdog. She knew America had yet to see its full realization of the ideals set forth by those who founded this country. She deplored bigotry, pretentious people and adored her home teams. She taught other cancer victims how to knit at Gilda’s Club; volunteered at her local polling place and public library; and loved a glass of wine or two and a good laugh at the end of the day.
I remember when Mom’s breast cancer moved to her lungs. I remember when the doctors, standing over her and us in a shady beige hospital room in Milwaukee said the word “inoperable.” I remember looking at my sisters’ and brother’s faces and I remember imagining that at that moment a clock began, like at the start of a road race. Digital tenths of seconds melding into minutes, hours and days of running away from and running toward a finish line no one wanted to cross. I remember going for a walk down the hospital hallway and running into a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in thirty years, taking care of her mother, dying of cancer. The initiation ceremony was brief and wordless. But the vows last forever: “They raised us up and we lay them down. That’s the order of things.” Where did those words even come from? How do we know how to do that? Like a parent protects its young, the children rise up to lead their parents to the other side. One of evolution’s tricks, I guess.
Not long after Mom died I learned I was a bone marrow match through the Gift of Life Marrow Registry. I spent a day in the hospital hooked up to a transfusion machine surrounded by other patients doing infusions for one reason or another. I was determined to “pay it forward” as they say; to try to save the life I could, because, as the Talmud teaches, to save a life is to save the entire world.
This year, please join myself and team Jewish Community Project Downtown (JCP) as we schlep as a community to eradicate breast, ovarian and prostate cancer at the American Friends of Rabin Medical Center Cheryl Diamond NYC 5K Schlep Run/Walk on Sunday, June 2, 2019 at 9AM, Battery Park, NYC. Register or show your support; www.5kschlep.org.