I think one would be living under a rock not to know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I know of far too many people who have found their lives upended with such a diagnosis. People in my family; people I love and have loved with all I’ve got. Friends who are inextricably connected to me through shared history, experience or circumstance. And to deny the insidious, silent way that one’s body can morph from one moment to the next is just folly. It happens all the time.
As it did to my friend Jill Foer Hirsch. Jill is a breast cancer survivor, writer and humorist (I would put the emphasis on humorist, for there is little that Jill can’t find the humor in). She recently published a book When Good Boobs Turn Bad – A Mammoir. When Jill received her diagnosis, there was certainly fear, shock, disbelief. There were tears. And then Jill returned to form – “I have good news and bad news; the bad news is that I have breast cancer. The good news is I’m seeing a hot plastic surgeon who keeps telling me to take my shirt off.”
And so she shares her journey with total candor and gentle humor. It’s how she managed to endure surgeries and chemo, the vulnerability of returning to work and the tenuous re-immersion into her life. I’m not going to speak about Jill’s courage – that’s not her thing (though she is one remarkably strong and accomplished woman). She doesn’t see herself that way. She would prefer to make an acceptance speech, receive an award for her light touch and flair for the comedic. And in my eyes, she deserves all that and more.
I was honored to review her book. I am more honored to know her, to be able to laugh with her and celebrate life at the local diner where we both indulge in grilled cheese sandwiches and fries (before you tell me how unhealthy it is – I know that. But it’s diner fare, and we don’t get together all that often). She and her husband recently celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary surrounded by friends and family. I won’t even tell you how irreverent their new vows were to each other (suffice it to say that Jill felt that since their first wedding ceremony was in Hebrew and neither of them understood what they were committing to, it was time to define the parameters on their own terms).
Breast cancer isn’t funny. Jill was diligent in ensuring that her medical care was excellent, followed her protocols seriously, and would occasionally wear animal hats to her appointments. We all do what we have to do to get through. Jill relied on humor. Finding moments that could engage her funny bone. To lose her ability to laugh would have been a concession that she was not prepared to make. Her outlook is inspiring – and may be a balm for anyone who is navigating the challenging path of fighting such a formidable foe. I am one of her biggest fans – and have been since we met years ago. The greatest takeaway from her book is the grace that is evident when taking circumstances seriously, but ourselves lightly. I am proud of her for sharing her story; I am proud to be her friend. And though this is a shameless plug for her book, it is representative of a perspective that I respect and applaud. She is healthy and she is well – and we laugh. Oh, how we laugh. Congratulations my dear friend – I am hopeful this book will be a welcome respite for anyone who may be on this challenging path.