Friday, July 20, 2012

finding hope beyond the pink ribbons

My friend Sean Moore, Orit's husband, posted the following note on FB. I reprint it here with his permission:

An enormous number of people have asked about donations in Orit’s name over the past 2 weeks. As many of you know, Orit was very academically minded and spent considerable time reading the medical literature and evaluating charities. We found that most cancer research charities had very high administration fees and poor impact factors. We came across some specific research, which has very good promise in helping find a cure. The Ottawa Hospital Foundation has set up a fund, which will be used 100% to go directly to this work. The discovery is very novel and was published in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal in June of this year. I will include a link to their latest publication and an easy to understand explanation:

Here is a link to an easy to understand summary of the research:

Donations in Orit’s name can be made online by using the following link:

The first page will capture the information regarding the person making the donation. Under “Donation Information”, please choose “Other” in the drop down menu and specify “As requested by family” in the space provided. Once the donation portion is completed, you’ll be directed to a page to indicate that the donation is being made in memory of Orit and to indicate if an acknowledgement should be sent. Tax receipts are immediately available after donation is done.

Donations can be sent by mail (indicate in memory of Orit Fruchtman) to
The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, 737 Parkdale Ave, 1st Floor, Ottawa, ON K1Y1J8.

Donations can also be taken by phone by calling (613) 761-4295.

1 in 8 women will get breast cancer. Research is the only path to finding better treatments and a cure to this disease, which has devastated our family and so many others across the world.

Love, Sean

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
  Nelson Henderson
This message had a very strong impact on me. Orit was a very smart woman. Sean is a doctor. I trust their judgement. And I agree with their priorities. 

Let's do something great to honour a wonderful woman. Let's help fund research that will effect real change. I donated. Will you?

Friday, July 13, 2012

for Orit

photo: Andrea Ross/Mark Blevis

As of Saturday, June 30th, I have been in remission for five years. This is a huge milestone and I'm very fortunate to have the chance to mark it.

But I really didn't feel like celebrating.

Just a couple of days before, my beautiful friend Orit passed away, leaving three young kids, a loving spouse and a large group of family and friends in deep mourning. I spoke to her husband Sean early on the day she died and afterwards posted on Facebook what was for me an unusually vague status update:

"Warning: This would not be a good day to tell me that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes wrong stuff just happens. And sometimes life is terribly unfair."

So much about cancer is a crap shoot. Some get cancer, some don't. Some walk away, others live with the illness forever. Some live for a long time and some die way before they are ready to go.

Orit had strength and determination and a great love for her family and community. She had access to the best health care and, prior to being diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, was healthy and fit. She never stopped fighting to live and she most definitely did not lose a battle.

Despite the fact that we lived in the same neighbourhood, I met Orit less than a year ago, not long after her cancer diagnosis. Our illness brought us together but we soon found that we had so much more than than cancer in common. We both found humour in the world around us, sought to nurture our creative selves and wore our hearts on our sleeves when it came to those around us. I had the privilege of watching her face light up when her husband got home and the clear eyed love she had for each of her kids. We had the chance to talk about being in cross-cultural relationships and about the values we hoped to share with our kids. We talked about petty grievances and big ideas. And we shared our fears, hopes, sorrow and anger at facing the scourge that is cancer.

One evening, as we were yarn bombing our local community centre, Orit and I sat on the pavement sewing a 6 foot tube of yarn onto a bike rack. As we took turns holding the piece in place and passing the needle, she suddenly said. "I really wish that we had the chance to know each other before. We would have been such good friends."

I felt my heart break as I struggled to find an appropriate and truthful answer. But I knew it would be wrong to say "We will get to be friends for a long time" or even "It's going to be OK." Instead, I said swallowing the lump in my throat, "I agree. I wish I'd met you sooner as well."

The last time I saw Orit, we had tea on her front porch while she knit. She had been in the hospital the night before because of unmanageable pain. That morning she seemed fine, if weak. She talked about convincing her oncologist to try one last course of treatment and her profound grief at the thought of leaving her children. We both cried.

And then I left for a yoga class, borrowing a t-shirt before I left. It didn't occur to me that I would not see her again.

A few days later, she was hospitalized. And a few days after that, she died.

I wish I had told her how amazing I thought she was. That I thought she was a great mother, an interesting person and inspiring in a way that transcended her illness. I wish I'd said how beautiful she was.

I've struggled for two weeks to write this blog post. Orit's family have been so kind, loving and generous to me but I can't help thinking how grossly unfairly life has treated them.

Which is why I haven't felt like celebrating.

I am very lucky to be alive and I hope to be around writing blog posts in another 5 years. None of us knows when our time will come. We need to live bravely, love fiercely and hold on to the things that matter. We need to tell those we care for how much they mean to us and to do those things we always wanted to do. No matter how long we have on this earth, we need to truly live.

I, for one, plan on doing a little more yarn bombing. I have Orit's last piece of knitting so a little bit of her will be there as well.

Care to join us?

video: Mark Blevis

you must watch this

Update: You can now buy or rent your very own copy of Pink Ribbons Inc.! 

You can download it.

You can rent a digital version.

You can pre-order the DVD by calling 1-800-267-7710.

I wish I could give a copy of Pink Ribbons Inc to anyone who has ever asked me why I'm down on the pink ribbon industry. The documentary summarizes all that is wrong with pinkwashing, in the most powerful terms possible: through interviews, images, facts and with women telling their own stories.

My 13 year old son and my mother in law saw Pink Ribbons Inc when it opened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. They were both blown away. My son is a film buff and he declared this one to be one of the best documentaries he'd every seen. Last week, I was invited to an advance screening of the film and - although I was already sympatico with the message - I was riveted, moved and angered. It's incredibly well done.

The movie is based on the book by Dr. Samantha King (the author is featured in the movie) and could be separated into three threads (each of which could make it's own documentary):

The truth about cause marketing and the pink ribbons industry.

The lack of discussion and resources going into determining the environmental causes of breast cancer (or any cancer). 

How traumatic and alienating the pink ribbon industry and talk of "survivorship" is to women who live with metastasis.

It's all extremely powerful and persuasive.

My one quibble with the film is the depiction of those who participate in runs/walks for the cure as naive dupes. While there is no doubt that many of us have been led to believe that we are effecting real change when we fundraise and walk, our reasons for doing so may be more complex than the movie allows.

Taking part in these walks can be fun - a celebration of life and community. Even with all my objections and analysis, I have felt myself swept up in the fun and emotion of the Run for the Cure - all the while wearing my No Pink for Profit t-shirt. And what's more not all the money raised at every walk goes to undefined research. I know that the Week end to end Women's Cancers in Montreal (a walk featured in the documentary) built a survivorship centre from funds raised that's of concrete use to all women with breast cancer.

But the quibble is a minor one and the movie is terrific. You should see it. In Ottawa, the movie will be at the Mayfair Orleans from February 3 to 9 and the ByTowne from February 17 to 23. Check your local listings often and go! Documentaries don't stay in the theatres for very long.