I'm afraid of ovarian cancer.
The non-specific symptoms. The sometimes too-lengthy diagnosis time.
The fact that it's called the silent killer.
I've known people who have battled it with all of their being and not succeeded. Good women. Mothers, daughters, sisters and friends who died too young.
Debra Kogan Lyda fought the disease for four years. And she fought it hard. With dignity. With grace. And with humor. She was 49 years old when she died in August.
Her sister, Karen Rosenzweig, is my childhood friend. She was with Debbie for every part of her fight: surgeries, doctor's visits, hospital stays, complications, chemotherapy. And, at the end, hospice. I don't think that Karen would have had it any other way. The two sisters were as close as close could be. Only a couple of years apart, they shared a room, and sometimes a bed, when they were growing up. They shared their dreams, their day-to-day triumphs, their problems -- and a wicked sense of humor.
Early on in Debbie's treatment, during a lengthy hospital stay, Karen picked up a fortune-telling playing card set and started reading the nurses' fortunes at night to help pass the time. When some of the cards had grim readings, the two sisters would try to put a positive spin on them by adding the words "That's all" to the end of the fortune. ("You are going to get into a car accident. That's all." "You have cancer. That's all.")
Karen told Debbie that she was going to start a greeting card company called "That's All" with cards that would have a blunt statement on the outside and always have a punch line inside that read "That's all."
It was one of those in-the-moment kind of statements like, "I'm going to write a novel," or "I'm going to buy some bees and learn how to make my own honey." It seems like a great idea and is a nice sentiment, but never actually comes to fruition.
Except that it did. All because Karen made it happen.
In the category of things-happen-for-a-reason, soon after that hospital stay, Karen, an attorney, was let go from the legal firm she worked for.
And "That's All Greetings" was born. Three months to the day after she left the office, the cards, 59 of them, were in stores.
Funny, irreverent, off-color cards. About relationships and families. Birthdays and life observations. Marriage and divorce. You name it. No subject is taboo. The cards are black and white with no pictures because Karen says she can't draw and that she's not creative.
Karen didn't know anything about the greeting card business when she started. I'm not sure how the hell she did it. Motivation. Ambition. A tremendous amount of dedication to a person she loved so deeply. And to a cause she felt so strongly about.
From day one, a portion of the proceeds from the company has gone to ovarian cancer research from each card that is sold. Even when the company was not yet making money, funds were donated from their own pockets. Since "That's All" was formed, the company has contributed thousands of dollars to the cause.
Today, 3 1/2 years later, there are 350 cards in the "That's All" line. And they can be found in 750 stores, throughout the world. And the company is still growing.
I am totally and completely in awe of my friend Karen and of the person she has become in our old(er) age. And I'm floored by what she has done in the last couple of years, from starting her company from scratch, in an industry that she knew nothing about, to growing the company to where it is today and making a difference by raising people's awareness of ovarian cancer and supporting the ovarian research cause.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with Karen about Debbie and the kind of person she was. The first thing she told me was that Debbie was an amazing mother. She was very close to her son, who is now a junior at the University of Alabama. (As luck would have it, Karen's oldest son just started there, so the cousins are together.)
She shared with me what Debbie was like when she was going through treatment. How she would cheer everybody up in the chemo room, welcoming them in to it like it was her home.
And she talked about Debbie's strength and courage, her infectious sense of humor and her positive attitude in the face of her illness.
I can't imagine the loss that Karen feels.
Karen's birthday was last month. In honor of her birthday, I made a donation to the same fund that "That's All" donates to. It's called the Debbie Kogan Lyda "Road to Recovery" Research Fund to benefit the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The funds go to support the research of Debbie's oncologist, Dr. Warner Huh. He and the staff at the UAB Cancer Center are leaders in the research being done to develop better ovarian cancer prevention and screening techniques as well as working on more effective treatments.
And hopefully, one day, they will be successful.
Debbie was a friend, a mother and a daughter.
And to my friend Karen, she was the best sister anyone could ever have.
Ovarian cancer sucks. That's All.