Twenty-four years ago, my mom was about to celebrate her 52nd birthday. She spent the day, March 7, in a hospital room, surrounded by cards and flowers. She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the previous month and the prognosis wasn’t good. She was given about six months to live, but the cancer spread quickly and it was actually six weeks.
I lived in Los Angeles at the time and flew back and forth each weekend for those last few weeks. I remember stopping by her apartment and noticing that her calendar was still on February – she had gone into the hospital for a procedure that month and never returned home. She died on April 20, 1997.
This year, 2021, is the year I turn 52, an age that once seemed seemed so far off and shadowed by a dark cloud. The closer I got to that age, the more I realized how young it is and how much of life my mom missed out on.
Since my mom was young when she first became a mom – she was 24 when I was born – my sister and I were in our 20s when she died. She was the oldest of six children and often was required to care for them as she was growing up. Becoming a devoted mom so young, she didn’t have her 20s and 30s to explore her interests as many people do today. One of her passions was traveling and when we got a little older, she became a travel agent and was able to do more traveling.
When I was a teenager, we had tumultuous relationship and it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I felt like I was finally starting to understand her. We had just started strengthening our relationship right before we learned about her diagnosis (looking back, she was likely having symptoms of pancreatic for many weeks before she was diagnosed, as when she visited me in L.A. a few months earlier, my aunt noticed that her coloring was different and that she wasn’t eating much). I never really got to a chance to have conversations with her about what her dreams were and what she wanted to accomplish.
Instead of greeting my 52nd year with fear and dread, I decided to approach it in a positive way, full of gratitude for the encouragement that she always gave me in pursuing my dreams. In January, I started a 52 Weeks in 2021 project, where I take each of the 52 weeks of 2021 to share one of my original songs. (I’ve been sharing on my blog leisahsongs.com and on Instagram at @leisahsongs.)
But I wanted to do more so in her memory, so this week, to mark her birthday, I started a team for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s PurpleStride Phoenix 2021 on April 10. I hope that any funds my sister and I can raise for Team Norma (Norma Berkovitz) can help patients and their families who are going through similar experiences as our family went through 24 years ago. PanCAN offers free, one-on-one support and programs for pancreatic cancer patients and their families.
Like most else this year, the PurpleStride is virtual, which means anyone can participate wherever they are. (Ironically, my mom’s favorite color was purple.)
If you’d like to join Team Norma or make a donation in her memory, the team page is here. (If you knew my mom and have a favorite memory of her to share with me, that would be wonderful, too…)
In this coming weeks, I hope to also help raise awareness about pancreatic cancer, starting with this infographic below.