I was nine-years-old.
It was a pretty ordinary day. My mom came and got me from school, we walked in the door, I took off my backpack, and washed my hands. For some reason, my dad was home. And he was anxious. My mom said we were going to have a family meeting and she ushered me to the couch. I had barely sat down when my dad, in a serious and shaky voice, said he had an announcement.
I sat as close as I could to my mom, and looked at my dad with anticipation. He was pale, his skin sallow, his mouth dry. He took a deep breath, looked into my eyes and said, "Honey, I have cancer."
Everything stopped. Or, more accurately, everything slowed down, I felt as if someone poured molasses over my brain and I was now being forced to muddle through the mess. Only one thought emerged from the wreckage: not again.
Because it wasn't the first time.
When I was nine-months-old, my mother was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive reproductive cancer. She was a new mother, and terrified. And while it is the cancer I remember least, it is also the one that most shaped my life, and my family. I grew up an only child because that cancer took my mother's womb, and with it, the potential for a sibling. And at the age of thirty-one, she was too young to face her mortality, and to become barren.
Still, she was lucky. Her surgery was successful, and she survived.
I was six, and in second grade, when my father fell to the ground with a crippling, massive grand mal seizure. He was rushed to the emergency room, and days later, without a definitive diagnosis, underwent a ten hour MRI-assisted brain surgery while my mom waited with family and friends to hear the outcome. He had a brain tumor. The days that followed were dark and frightening, until at last, the pathology came back: benign.
We got lucky. Again.
And now, here I was. On the couch, my mother's arms wrapped around me, two words echoing over and over: not again.
Those are not words that any child should have to think. No child should know her own parents' mortality, have her innocence, her childhood, ripped from her not once, not twice, but three times in nine years because her parents have cancer.
I am now seventeen. Thanks to a drug created by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, my dad is alive and healthy today. Now it's my turn to pay it forward, and help find a cure.
Ten years ago, the average time to relapse for my dad's type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was 13 months. Thanks in large part to research funded by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, today, it is measured in years, perhaps even decades.
My goal is to raise $250,000 in ten weeks, as a candidate in the Man/Woman of the Year campaign. I want to be part of a story where no child has to hear those words ever again, unless they are followed by these: "Don't worry, honey. There's a cure."
My father is a great man. He means something to most of you who will read and know him, or to those who know someone like him. Maybe he is your rabbi, he officiated at your wedding, he named your child, he helped you say goodbye to someone you love, or he gave a sermon that changed you for the better. If he or someone like him has touched your life in any way, please make a donation, help save a life, and find a cure.
He is a great rabbi, but far more important to me, he is a great dad.
So please, help me. Help me find a cure. We can do this, together.
You can learn how here: http://www.mwoy.org/pages/calso/los14/treeoflife