Two sisters. Two cancers. One mission.
March 9, 2012
© Jayne Wexler
I’ve alluded to the fact that I’ve had something big brewing for a while now and, well, that something is here. And it’s not just big, it’s huge. In honor of my 10-year cancerversary I’ve vowed to raise $100,000 for cancer research. Crazy? Perhaps. But I couldn’t be more excited about it.
Here’s the deal: I’ve been nominated for Woman of the Year for the New York City chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This honor comes with the task of raising as much money as humanly possible in a 10-week span. The Man & Woman of the Year Campaign is actually a fundraising competition and candidates compete for the title by raising funds for LLS in any way they can. The man and woman who’ve raised the most money by the end of the 10 weeks, win the title. I’ve set my goal at $100,000, which, honestly, is the least I can do. The LLS has played a huge role in my life over the past 10 years and I owe them! Fortunately, I have the most incredible team of family and friends helping me out—and we have amazing events planned—so I feel confident we will hit our goal. I also know this: Whoever wins, cancer loses.
As you guys know I was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia when I was 23. I’m alive today thanks to a miracle drug that was developed with funding from LLS. (Read more about my diagnosis and treatment.) What you may not know is that just a year after I was diagnosed, my sister, Melissa, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, another blood cancer. She was 27 and seven months pregnant at the time. She didn’t have a miracle drug to take so she endured grueling chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair, she couldn't eat, she couldn't work. Then nine months later, she relapsed. She had to leave her 18-month-old son at home and move into Sloan Kettering for a month to have a stem cell transplant. LLS was with us every step of the way, offering support and resources—and their always-smiling faces. It was such a crazy few years for my family, but we often forget how bad it was…
Last night was the kick-off celebration for the campaign, which runs March 8 through May 17. It was a fun, swanky night in NYC, but I’m kind of obsessing about something that happened. At one point each of the candidates got up on stage and said a quick line or two about why they were running. I totally botched it. I don’t usually do that. I’m a confident public speaker and I know my story inside and out. But all I said last night was basically: “Hi, I’m Erin, I had cancer, my sister had cancer, blah, blah, blah now we’re doing great and want to give back.” I completely glossed over the details that make our story so compelling—the fact that we were both diagnosed so young and went through so much, and that we’re now alive and well, that we have five healthy kids between us, kids who wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t been so lucky.
This shot was taken right after Melissa started chemo, about eight years ago.
For the rest of the night I obsessed over the fact that I didn’t do our story justice (some of my campaign team was there and had to listen to me whine—sorry, girls!). But then I realized that that’s a luxury I have—to gloss over the fact that I had cancer and that my sister did. Because we are doing so well. Because our lives our so full and so hectic and so rich and happy. Because we’re not just surviving, we’re thriving. (That’s for you, Sara!) It’s easy to forget what you went through when life is so good. But it’s important to remember.
The party was in Chelsea, which is where I lived when I was diagnosed. We were only blocks from my apartment and on the ride home Nick and I were remembering sitting in my bedroom while I gave myself shots of chemotherapy (for the first 18 months of my diagnosis I combined Gleevec with daily injections of a more standard chemo). And the 10 bone marrow biopsies I had in the first three years (picture a long, thick needle being cranked into the back of your hip bone and then marrow and a little piece of bone being sucked out). We also remembered when Melissa was going through treatment and would take the train into Sloan Kettering for radiation and then take the subway down to my apartment afterward. We’d go out to dinner (usually to a place called Sette that is sadly no longer there), then she’d come back to my apartment and we’d watch Friends and she’d sleep over. It probably looked like a normal girls’ night from the outside. Except on the inside we were both fighting life-threatening cancers. And Melissa’s long red hair was actually a wig.
To be back in the same neighborhood last night as long-time survivors—both with our own hair—embarking on this crazy fundraising journey was almost too much. We feel so lucky. We are so lucky. We all know that not everyone gets to celebrate their 10-year cancerversary. In the past 10 years, I have met way too many newly-diagnosed patients and family and friends who’ve lost loved ones to these diseases. And that’s why we couldn’t be more excited to be raising this money for such a worthy cause. LLS funds research for groundbreaking cancer drugs (like the one I still take every day), but they also take care of patients and their families with their incredible support services. Melissa and I have benefitted tremendously from LLS’s work and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate our cancerversaries than giving back to an organization that has given us so much.
Over the next 10 weeks you will be hearing a lot more about this campaign—and some fun ways you guys can get involved—but I wanted to give you a little snippet of how I’m feeling today. Because it’s officially on and I’m officially pumped. If you want to learn more about the campaign and the awesome events, promotions and plans we have in store, visit erinzammettruddy.com.