It feels like yesterday, but also a lifetime ago. I was at Sesame Place with my two little boys and my friend Rochie and her two little boys. She was telling me that she had gone to the doctor for a lump she found in her breast, but wasn’t worried because she had found things before and they turned out to be nothing.
A few days later, five or six of her friends were summoned to her house with an early morning phone call. I knew in the pit of my stomach what it was about. She handed each of us a key to her house and said, “These are because I am going to need all of you to help me over the next few months.” She told us about her diagnosis, treatment options, and surgery, and then she asked, “Do any of you know any other young women with breast cancer that I could speak to?”
None of us did. Her chemotherapy was supposed to begin on September 11, 2001. I still remember her telling me that she was on the phone with the hospital saying, “I know the world is falling apart, but I need to live for my boys, so I need to come in as soon as possible.”
My friend Rochie, known to the world as Rochelle Shoretz, was the founder of Sharsheret, an organization totally dedicated to helping young Jewish women with breast cancer. I remember when she came up with the name, which is Hebrew for “chain,” and explained how there would be links in the chain of helping other women who felt they had no one to talk to.
Anyone who met her felt her magic, but it was all about her boys. She wanted to take a family photo before her hair fell out and asked me to go to the Gap to get matching white shirts for everyone. I just remember crying to the salesperson, “You have to find these sizes, my friend has cancer.” The woman looked at me like I was crazy. Feels like yesterday, but also a lifetime ago.
Rochie passed away in May 2015. Honestly, I never thought she would die. If anyone was going to beat breast cancer, it was going to be her. I thought she would live to see more graduations, to see weddings, to see grandchildren. I still cry when I think about how I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her. How proud she would have been to see how her boys, who are now young men, handled the funeral and shiva, making each and every person feel special like she did. Each and every person. That is a gift. She was a gift.
Tomorrow is Sharsheret’s Pink Day—a day when schools around the country pay homage to the fight against breast cancer; to celebrate survivors and to mourn those we have lost; to educate and to give awareness to this never ending battle.
Rochie’s younger son goes to my boys’ high school—an all boys’ school where almost every boy will be wearing pink tomorrow. Pink Day was started by a Torah Academy of Bergen County student about eight years ago. It was originally known as the Real Men Wear Pink event for Sharsheret. In 2010, when this same student was in Israel for the year, Pink Day was established around the world.
I chuckle because Rochie never liked pink. Every year after Pink Day I would send her a message about that and she would respond in kind. Her son will be speaking at school tomorrow to introduce Pink Day and talk about his amazing mom. And a school full of boys will gain further sensitivity.
Elana Silber, the executive director of Sharsheret, had this to say about tomorrow’s event:
“The reality today is that almost every teenager and young adult has been directly affected by breast cancer or knows someone who has. They are seeking ways in which they can make a difference in their communities. Pink Day is an opportunity for students across the country to take action and raise critical awareness amongst their peers and families. At Sharsheret, we are truly inspired by the continued dedication and efforts of the next generation. Together we will improve the lives of thousands of women facing breast cancer nationwide.”
Tomorrow I will not be able to message my friend about the color pink. But I will be thinking about her.