Help me finish the fight: July 28th Cal Spirit Festival at the PDC
In 2011 shortly before Mother's Day, I wrote about the significance of mothers in all of our lives; my beautiful and valiant mother, Ellie, was fighting lung cancer at the time, but I chose not to mention her struggle. This Mother's Day as I wrote about my mother and the importance of all of our mothers once again, my mother had finally lost her valiant battle with cancer. The article was printed and so many women emailed me and called -- those I knew and many I did not, but they all identified with the sentiments and many told me their stories, needing to express themselves to console and be consoled. I had wanted to express and share my love and loss with others who had experienced the absence of their mom, or were confronted with the imminent departure of their mothers due to illness or age. Mom was courageously battling Stage IV lung cancer, and managed to survive for three and a half years, hovering in the seven percentile of people who live that long with advanced stage metastatic lung cancer.
September 29, 2012 at precisely 3 p.m. my mom passed away in her bed at home surrounded by her family. I am left with the legacy of a lifetime of memories and over 400 condolence letters and donations that I have read, but may never fully be able to approach and properly acknowledge. The funeral was stunning, befitting the queen of a mother, warrior and friend she was to so many. The video will hopefully connect my grandchildren, not yet conceived, to this remarkable woman. But mom is gone and what I long for the most-- her touch, a new memory and a new piece for my life puzzle with her cannot be created. Now I take solace in hearing stories about her, other people's experiences and memories with her, and it always brings a new piece to that puzzle legacy.
Fighting the inevitable of terminal cancer; some might say, "Why bother?" Why suffer through two painful lung operations, years of various chemotherapy; altering them as one type no longer holds back the onslaught of unwelcome killer cells. Why endure long hours of infusions of fluids, and transfusions of blood, and the accompanying nausea and bruising, exhaustion and the immune suppression that brought shingles and other debilitating infections? Mom's initial question to her lung surgeon Dr. McKenna -- "What if I don't have this operation?" -- brought a succinct response: "You'll be gone in a year." Thus began the journey to find more time, more hope.
There were the episodes when mom said, "Enough." It was her decision, and I would say nothing. However, she insisted that in my silence, she could hear me echoing in her heart crying, "Live, Live!" One day midway through her ordeal I was asking her to please try to eat more and I channeled the wacky Rob Schneider character from Adam Sandler's movie The Waterboy and danced about with his odd accent insisting "You Caaaan Doooo It!" Mom laughed heartily, a sound I had not heard in a long time, and this became our mantra through some of the most difficult of times.
Later into her sessions she told her beloved physician Dr. Philomena McAndrew at Tower Oncology that she had decided she truly had endured enough, and blurted out, "I don't want to live!" I sat quietly in the small exam room, my heart was heavy, but I was determined to allow my mother the dignity to decide her own destiny. Finally we were about leave and I casually remarked that I would pass by Spago and pick up some food for Dad. Mom became animated and asked, "And what about me? Do you think there are pork chops?" I looked at my mom, and over to Dr. McAndrew and I could not refrain from laughing, really letting go, laughter and relief poured out of me. "Mom, now you want to eat, you want to live, I thought you were giving it all up?" Mom did not even miss a beat, "Well, even people on Death Row get a last meal!" That night I sat on her bed and told her I was going to tell that story in a book one day, an entire chapter to be entitled "The Drop Dead Pork Chops." She feigned mortification, "You wouldn't!" I promised her I was quite serious! That exchange occurred a year and half prior to my Mom finally succumbing to the indignities of her cancer.
Why fight? Because although mom was diagnosed just shortly before my son Byron's Bar Mitzvah, one of her most joyous days, she was able to see him grow and excel at school and although she died one month short of his eighteenth birthday, and a few months short of his acceptance to Cornell, she was assured he was on his way to becoming a successful young gentlemen. Mom's determination to fight cancer allowed her to travel to Boston to see my older son Cameron, her eldest grandson, graduate from Tufts and learn he was accepted into a PhD program in Minnesota. The first grandchild holds a special place in a grandparent's heart -- it changes their life forever. She was so proud when my nephew Benjamin was accepted to college and although she passed away before knowing about his brother Timothy's acceptance this year, she always lit up hearing about all their stellar academic accolades and athletic achievements.
Why fight? Because life is a gift and there is always hope. My mother lived to see her children and grandchildren grow and thrive. I am grateful my mother was a warrior because we will always cherish the additional years and days that the new frontiers of science afforded us. It is why I work so hard with others to raise funds for cancer prevention and research.
Why fight? Because children should not be left without parents, and parents should not lose their children to this disease. Along with prevention, there have been significant strides in the cause, prevention and treatment of various cancers. New approaches, with fewer side-effects and better results are being tested all the time. Science is approaching a time when the diagnosis of cancer no longer carries with it the omen of suffering and demise. The advances in cancer research through better and broader screening, educational awareness, including prevention through diet and lifestyle and the breakthroughs in genetic connections have all converged to create a strategy to prevent, diagnose and treat the entire patient with dignity and greater comfort; because despite an increase in cancer rates in Western cultures, there has been a decrease of cancer deaths, generating "More Birthdays" for millions.
Let's continue to fight to create a cancer-free world. Join us July 28th for the Cal Spirit Gourmet Food and Wine Gala at the Pacific Design Center for another fabulous afternoon of talented chefs and vintners. It will be our 29th event for the American Cancer Society, "The Official Sponsor of More Birthdays." We are proud to have raised over $15 million for the cause! For tables, tickets and more, visit
Barbara Lazaroff, ASID
Designer, Restaurateur, Philanthropist,
Co-founder of the Cal Spirit Gourmet Gala
for the American Cancer Society