Being A Caregiver From Across the Country

Being A Caregiver From Across the Country

Sarah Blitzstein

I was sitting in the hallway of a hotel somewhere in Pennsylvania. I was a sophomore in college, a counselor on a youth group retreat. It was 2003. Pre-family what’s app and  group texting and social media. My mom called me on Saturday night. “I had a doctor’s appointment a few weeks ago and got some results from a test that I wanted to tell you about”. I remember being caught off guard. What doctor’s appointment? Should I not be in this hotel, eating snacks right now? She went on to tell me that she had found a lump in her breast, they biopsied it and she had breast cancer. I am sure she went on to tell me that they were going to start treatment, chemo therapy and radiation. She told me about a few women from our shul who were also recently diagnosed and that she’d spoken to someone from a new organization, Sharsheret. But all I remember was being in the hallway of the hotel and not knowing what to do next. I asked if I should come home. She told me no, of course not, why would I come home? But I was on the East Coast and my family was in Los Angeles. I was 19, maybe 20. I didn’t know much about breast cancer, except that my dad’s mom had died from breast cancer when I was very young.

A few days later I went back to start the next semester of college. I told my close friends, my roommates. My parents would call to give me updates on what was happening in LA; Dad is taking mom to her appointment, yes of course Bubbe is worried a lot and calls more often than usual, Mom is going to start losing her hair so she’s going to get it cut short, those types of things. It was hard caring for someone 3,000 miles away. Trying to care and give and be a caregiver who couldn’t do anything. I felt helpless.

And then I broke down. I think I stayed home from school for a day or two. My friends called my parents and said they should bring me home for Shabbat. Even though I kept hearing that my mom was ok, I needed to see it for myself (remember this was long before iphones and facetime and skype). So, I went home for a long weekend. My mom had just cut her hair short. I went with her to a chemo treatment. I could see for myself that things were “ok”. And a few days later I got back on a plane and went back to NY and still had a hard time being so far away, but I had a different picture of what our new reality was. My mom, who had breast cancer, and our family, who were all caring for her and ourselves, from around the corner and across the country.

Now, more than 15 years later, my mom is thank G-d doing amazingly well. Our family has lost my dad’s sister to breast cancer though, and we know the fight for a cure continues. The organization I didn’t know anything about, that my mom connected with when she was first diagnosed, Sharsheret, is now a major part of my life. I am proud to be on the CA advisory board and passionate about connecting the Jewish community to resources and support. As a social worker and young Jewish woman, I have seen first hand how hard it is to advocate for yourself, your family members and loved ones.