Mom Has Cancer. Her Son Reacts.
Julie is eight years younger than me, so I assumed she would someday speak at my funeral. Especially once I received a diagnosis of stage III ovarian cancer in 2001. Julie came to my hospital room. She took me to chemo. She and her mother came to my house bearing brisket, fudgy peanut clusters and matzoh ball soup.
As a Jew, Julie had wonderful traditions. As white trash (OK "white nomad" if you want to be PC about it) I did not.
Julie had loving parents of high moral character. Me? Nope.
She had children. I did not. And that's how I came to meet Julie Levine. In 1990, she took out an ad in the neighborhood rag. She needed a babysitter for her 7-month-old firstborn, a boy named Adam, so she could go to exercise class.
After my hysterectomy in 1988, children were no longer an option. But one day it occurred to me: I can babysit. Up popped Julie. She needed a babysitter, and she lived just five minutes away from me.
Ever since, she's been like a sister. I came to the hospital after her next two kids were born. I went to Adam's bar mitzvah, Samantha's bat mitzvah, and the bar mitzvah of her youngest, Elliot.
The latter was a poignant affair. Due to her 2008 diagnosis of stage III breast cancer and, seven months later, a second primary of lung cancer, Julie wore a wig to Elliot's bar mitzvah. I saw a niece at the synagogue weaving a bit, and holding back tears. But Julie stood straight as a board. We were there to celebrate Elliot, and by god, that's what we were going to do.
Almost three years have passed, and since then Julie has endured a total of six surgeries. I wondered what Elliot thought now, looking back at the experience of watching his mother go through such a challenging ordeal.
So, a few days ago, I asked him. Here's what he wrote:
I think that overall, this experience has made everyone stronger. When my mom was going through all of her treatments and was thinking to herself if all of it is worth living through, I would tell her that its way better than being dead. Everything happens for a reason, and many times it starts out bad, but if you wait and let life take its time, then good things will come out of it. For example, most everybody thinks all of the little things in life are so bad and stressful and so on, but when someone goes through having two different types of cancer in a very short amount of time, it makes all of us realize how stupid we were when we worried about all of the small things in life. When I get sick or have a cold, I try not to complain because I think about my mom and her sickness and realize that she didn't complain at all. Overall it has made me and everyone else a better and stronger person, and it makes you really think about life in a very different way and convinces all of us to just live life and have fun with it because you can never know what will happen the next day.
Wow. Elliot is all of 15 years old.
What I didn't know then was that for three years Julie carried in her purse a note Elliot wrote to her on the evening of her initial diagnosis. Elliot was 13 years old.
Oyyyy, I really don't know where to start. You are an amazing person, not only in your young looks, but in your heart. I know you are going through some very rough times and they will get worse, but you are so brave in everything. I know you are going to fight this and give it your best because that is what you always do no matter what. Also I know you are so sad that there is a chance we might not be able to go to Israel this summer, and yes it makes me a little sad, but seriously, when I'm older people will ask if it was an amazing experience if we went this summer, and of course I will remember it for the rest of my life. That really means nothing compared to how much you mean to me, even better, when I'm older people will say "wow, what a nice guy" I wonder where learned everything from? Then I can say I learned it from my amazing mom who is wayyyyy more memorable than an old trip to a foreign country. I know you will get through this and you will be extra brave! I will always love you and remember you as being the most amazing women that a boy could possibly be raised by.
As I've said before in my position as contributor for Woman Up, I am not a religious person. I've been everything from a congregant at my mom's loosey-goosey Methodist church (in the 1960s, a Dallas haven for inter-racial couples and the LGBT crowd) to a "born again" Christian to an atheist. Today, I'm nothing at all. To paraphrase singer/songwriter Iris Dement: I'll let the mystery be.
But I do take note of blessings like Elliot. I draw no conclusions, but it's hard not to see some grace in a young man like that. And in the woman who raised him.
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