“Anna-tude” – it’s a new word in the Tucson lexicon to describe the shining spirit of Anna Greenberg, 27, who has been fighting cancer with enormous courage and a wry sense of humor for more than a year.
Anna was diagnosed with cancer in October 2011 after her dramatic weight loss journey revealed a tumor on her thigh (see http://azjewishpost.com/2012/jfsa-women-dedicate-event-to-friend%E2%80%99s-fight-against-cancer/). She has since had six surgeries to remove the tumor on her leg, one in her lung and several in her brain, as well as undergoing numerous radiation and chemotherapy treatments. She recently learned the cancer had spread to her liver and pelvis, and more radiation and chemotherapy are planned.
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, one week after her most recent surgery, more than 300 Tucsonans, family and friends, gathered for a service of healing in Anna’s honor at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
Anna sat between her parents, Alayne and Bruce, with two of her four brothers, Aaron and Tzadik, also in attendance. Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon facilitated the service, with the participation of Rabbis Arthur R. Oleisky, Robert Eisen and Billy Lewkowicz as well as friends and family members. Sam Golden accompanied many of the musical selections on guitar and cantorial soloist Bryce Megdal lent her voice to the prayers, which included the Mi Sheberakh, the traditional prayer for healing.
“I have been a Tucsonan since 1961. I always boast how Tucson was a great place to grow up and even a better place to raise our children,” Bruce Greenberg commented after the service. “The prayer session in Anna’s behalf reemphasized the theme of Tucson being a community — a community of heart and soul. Tucsonans continue to step up and play an active role in Anna’s journey over the past 15 months. On behalf of our family, todah rabah (thank you very much).”
Alayne Greenberg is also grateful for the support of the community. “On one hand,” she says, “it has been an extremely difficult 15 months while on the other hand, it has been time well spent connecting with others and HaShem.”
Recalling Anna even as an infant with a smile on her face and arms outstretched to give hugs, Alayne notes, “Anna is so about love! There was so much love at the healing prayer service.”
She adds that “maintaining a balance between being realistic and being hopeful is key whether one is the survivor or the caregiver,” but “surrounding oneself with caring and loving people, near and far” helps in finding “peace and comfort when dealing with the challenges that lie ahead.” Alayne offered special thanks to Michelle Kusman, who led the group of friends that organized the service.
As for Anna, “I was in awe of how many people were there, just all the love and support. I’m very grateful. That’s a huge part of my success in getting through my cancer, keeping positive,” she told the AJP.
Anna also finds inspiration in people she’s met who have rare cancers “that are 40 years out and are living a great life.” They give her hope she can move from the acute stage of her cancer to a chronic stage, “and continue fighting until they find a cure for me.”
Although she’s had to adapt to a reduced field of vision and learn to take things a bit slower, “I don’t feel sick,” says Anna. “The hardest thing is to hear is that you’re dying when you don’t feel like you’re dying. It’s hard to take in, it’s hard to tell people, but you have to be truthful to yourself. According to the doctors I’m dying, but according to me, I feel like I still have another 60 years ahead of me where I can keep fighting on and fight forward.”
Along with the prayers at the healing service, Burney Starks, a longtime family friend, sang “What a Wonderful World,” echoing Anna’s unflagging optimism.
The prayer service fell on the fifth night of Chanukah, and Anna had the honor of lighting the menorah. Discussing the significance of the holiday, Eisen said the real hero is the person who hid the single cruse of oil in the Temple in the time of the Maccabees, because he or she “had faith that there will be a tomorrow.”
Cohon introduced the most difficult part of the evening, the reciting of the Kaddish, by remarking that even in the presence of prayers for healing, we acknowledge the possibility of death. “It’s painful to talk about, but Jews don’t hide from anything,” he said, adding that Kaddish means “holiness,” and that the prayer, which praises God, says nothing about death. “We pray for healing so we may live,” he said, “and we remember the dead so they may continue to live.”
Anna’s brothers also contributed to the evening, with Aaron announcing that their brother Benjamin had arranged for Anna to meet her childhood idol, Bette Midler, over the upcoming weekend at the Hollywood premiere of Midler’s movie, “Parental Guidance.” Aaron played Midler’s hit song “Wind Beneath My Wings” on his cell phone, noting that he and Anna had danced to the “Beaches” theme at countless simchot.
Anna’s new Facebook profile photo, with Anna and her friend Scott Rosen flanking Midler, attests to the success of that visit. “It was really neat, because I spent 15 minutes with just her. She wanted to do nothing but speak about me and life and really focus just on me. She’s a very motherly type,” Anna said last week, adding, “It was amazing. I never thought that meeting her would happen in my life.”
At the service, Anna’s brother Tzadik spoke to the crowd about the family’s decision to plant trees in Anna’s honor at four places special to her. Eighteen trees, symbolic of the Hebrew word for life, “chai,” which has the numerical value of 18, will be planted at three locations: Tucson Hebrew Academy, Menlo College and St. Joseph’s Hospital, where most of Anna’s cancer battle has been fought. Thirty-six trees will be planted at Congregation Chofetz Chayim. The evening ended with participants crowding around a table to pledge donations for the tree planting.
And, continuing the symbolism of the number 18 representing life, as Anna’s brother Isaac noted on Facebook, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild proclaimed Dec. 18 “Positive Anna-tude Day.”