My mom had a lot of friends. Friends she’d made when she first moved from Ohio to New York, friends she made working on various magazines, other fact checkers and copy editors at the New York Times where she spent most of her career. I met them when I visited her at the office, saw them when they came to our tree trimming party. They were sharp, funny, opinionated ladies who smoked, drank, and hated Richard Nixon.
At a certain point, my mom started visiting her friends in hospitals. I heard words like chemo and mastectomy when she talked with them on the phone. I sort of knew they were sick. But it didn’t touch me until one of my mother’s closest friends, a woman she loved so much she made her my godmother, got ill. Her name was Betty Seifert. In my mom’s scrapbook, my kindergarten class picture and a photograph of Betty, dark, elegant, and lovely, are on facing pages.
Betty didn’t have kids. As she was dying, she wanted to spend time with her goddaughter. So I went with my mom to visit her. I remember feeling very shy and useless. The last time I saw her, she was barely able to speak. I left her a note that said, “I know I don’t always show it, but I love you.” I still regret never saying the words out loud.
My mom lost Betty to breast cancer. Many others survived. They cut off parts of their bodies, they radiated themselves, they lost hair—and they are still here.
But not my mom. My mom died of breast cancer in 2005.
And now Judy Blume has breast cancer. I still remember the shock of reading Blubber, the knowledge that somebody got it how rotten kids could be—even those of us who tried to be nice. And when I read It’s Not the End of the World, I felt like someone was telling me it was okay to be angry. Kids had that right.
I have never met Judy Blume, although I’ve been at events with her and know people who know her very well. If will and guts matter in the battle with breast cancer, my money is on her.
But I’m pissed off that so many terrific women are still dealing with this disease. I’m pissed off my mom didn’t get another ten or fifteen years. I’m pissed off at how expensive mammograms and sonograms are. I can afford it. How many women can’t? How many women die because they can’t?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I think I’ll give early.