Broadway in Tucson

Anna Greenberg, ‘valiant warrior,’ loses battle with cancer

Anna Greenberg at her brother Isaac's wedding in February 2012.

Anna Greenberg at her brother Isaac’s wedding in February 2012.

Anna Cela Greenberg, 28, lost her courageous battle with cancer on Tuesday, May 28, 2013.

She died as she had lived – surrounded by the love and support of her family and innumerable friends. In the last few days before her death, friends who visited her at Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital were posting photos with a smiling Anna on Facebook, and in the hours since, hundreds more have posted messages of love and remembrance. Anna herself was a frequent poster, sharing her news as well as upbeat daily health tips. Her positive attitude was so inspiring, friends coined a new word to describe it: “Anna-tude.”

“She died while we were [reciting] the Shema,” the prayer that proclaims “God is One,” her father, Bruce Greenberg, told the AJP on Wednesday. In her last few days, “She just kept wanting to do the Shema with us,” he says. “She was so spiritual.”

Anna was diagnosed with cancer in October 2011, two years after she’d begun a weight loss journey in which she lost a remarkable 90 pounds, and just days after she completed her first half-marathon. She and her fitness trainer noticed that her right leg was about two inches larger than her left. Doctors diagnosed her with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare malignant tumor. Since the diagnosis she endured numerous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but the cancer kept spreading – first to her lungs, and then to her brain, pelvis and beyond.

Anna had begun working at the American Cancer Society as a community relationship manager in July 2009.  Previously she had worked at the March of Dimes. After she learned she had cancer, “she became a major spokesperson for what it’s like to be diagnosed. She really used her cancer as a platform to help younger people understand that it can impact anyone at any age,” Denis Cournoyer, executive director of the Cancer Society in Tucson, told the Arizona Daily Star.

One of Anna’s recent goals was to stay alive to meet her newest niece, Emilie Rose, who was born on May 14, to Jodie and Benjamin Greenberg, one of Anna’s brothers. The baby naming was held in Anna’s hospital room. Anna chose the baby’s name through guided imagery, says her mother, Alayne, and the two share a Hebrew name, Hinda Tzerel.

“She said, ‘I give you my Hebrew name and I give you my legacy,’” says Rabbi Arthur R. Oleisky, who officiated. “It was one of the most inspirational and sad events.”

Anna “exemplified the best of the human condition,” says Oleisky. She was also “gutsy,” he says, recalling a phone conversation with her a while back, one evening before she was scheduled for surgery, when she told him that since the operation wasn’t until 1 p.m. the next day, she was going to a Wildcats basketball game.

Throughout her life, but especially since her diagnosis, Anna set an example of living life to the fullest, says Alayne. One of Anna’s dreams was to meet her celebrity idol, Bette Midler. In December, she attended the premier of Midler’s movie, “Parental Guidance” and met the star. Three days before Anna died, Midler called her and sang “The Wind Beneath My Wings” from the movie “Beaches” to her – a dream fulfilled, captured in a video on Anna’s Facebook page.

“I’m 62 years old and she taught me so much over the last 20 months. It’s never too late to learn,” says her father. “Parents are supposed to teach their children … but the child overwhelms the parents.”

Anna “was always fun to be around. She just made life so much more meaningful,” says Alayne, who notes that many people, when death is near, cry out for their mothers. “No one ever wants to lose a child,” she says, but she was glad to be able to provide that comfort for Anna. “I was able to hold her hand all the way.”

The night before she died, says Bruce, Anna asked for her bed to be rolled to the window so she could watch the sunset with her parents, knowing that her father loves sunsets. It wasn’t a particularly impressive sunset, he says, and he promised her they’d watch again the next day – but she died at 5 p.m. They moved her bed to the window anyway and watched the sunset. “She died with her eyes open and at the end of the sunset, she closed her eyes,” he says.

Anna attended Congregation Anshei Israel preschool, Tucson Hebrew Academy, Sahuaro High School and Menlo College, where she started the first Jewish student club. She was a member of United Synagogue Youth and was active with the Young Women’s Cabinet of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. In December, hundreds attended a healing service for her organized by friends and family and held at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

“She was a valiant warrior and a shining star to anybody who knew her,” longtime family friend, Rosie Eilat-Kahn, told the AJP.

In addition to Anna’s parents, survivors include her brothers, Aaron (Jennifer) Greenberg, Isaac (Felicia) Greenberg, Benjamin (Jodie) Greenberg, Tzadik Rosenberg-Greenberg and Anthony (Cindy) Lehn; six nieces and nephews; and boyfriend, Scott Rosen.

Services will be held at Congregation Anshei Israel on Thursday, May 30 at 11 a.m., followed by a graveside service at Evergreen Cemetery. Rabbis Robert Eisen, Ben Herman and Emeritus Rabbi Arthur R. Oleisky of Anshei Israel and Rabbi Israel Becker of Congregation Chofetz Chayim will officiate. The family will return to Anshei Israel for the meal of condolence; the Ma’ariv service will be held at 5:30 p.m. The family will also be joining the minyan at 7:30 a.m. on Friday and will remain at the chapel after the service for those who wish to visit. On Sunday, June 2, Monday, June 3 and Tuesday, June 4, the family will sit shiva at Anna’s house at 7643 E. Desert Overlook Drive from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. with a minyan at 7 p.m. each day.


15 Responses to “Anna Greenberg, ‘valiant warrior,’ loses battle with cancer”

  1. Anne Heaton Dunlap says:

    I wore my Menlo College Jewish Club t-shirt in honor of Anna today. I will miss her terribly. My thoughts are wiht Bruce and the whole family.


  2. Ami Weiss says:

    You would have NEVER know what a battle she had been fighting…so silent… so brave…a true inspiration…and I had only met her ONCE!!

  3. Bennett Burke says:

    My prayers for Anna, her family, and all who loved her. Rest in the eternal grant unto Anna, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon her.

  4. Mary Barreras says:

    Anna’s love for life and what she did for others leaves an indelible imprint in our memories. We find comfort in knowing that many, many lives have been enriched by Anna’s “Annatude”. We pray the love of G-d enfolds you during your journey through grief. Your family is in our prayers.
    Pastors Dennis & Mary Barreras

  5. Mercy and Sergio dueñas says:

    Our thoughts and prayers from Mexico to our friend Bruce and all his family that God brings you peace in this difficult time. She was a remarkable woman.

  6. Natalie & Larry clapick says:

    Dear Alayne and Bruce

    We are so sorry to hear that Anna lost her battle with cancer. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and the family.

  7. Anna Cahan says:

    Dear Greenberg Family,

    I have shared your happy times, your difficult times and many of your sad times. I wish that I could be with you now but know that my thoughts and prayers are with you as you live through this time of grief. Anna enriched so many lives with her fantastic “annatude” and her gift to us all on how to really live life to its fullest. I love you all and Anna will be sorely missed by us all. May she be blessed in memory for I know that I will never forget her.

  8. Barry and Madeline Friedman says:

    Dear Greenberg Family,
    It has been a delight and honor to know Anna. We know it is the gift of her strength and Annatude that will help heal from this tragic loss in the days to come. She was one of kind, and a light to so many! Sorry we could not be with you in person, with love,
    Madeline and Barry (on a journey in Canada)

  9. Kimberly says:

    I was so touched to see the video and read about this wonderful young woman. I am sure she was as wonderful as can be. Big Hugs to those who knew her and loved her.

  10. Chie says:

    I saw the video too and I even just from that, I can say that she’s an angel, even when she was still alive. God bless Greenberg family. May God give you the strength you need.

  11. Destiny Guerra says:

    After watching the video on YouTube I needed to know more and can see after reading just a few snippets about her life on this page that she was a beautiful, courageous, and loving young woman. It’s incredible to realize that the life and strength of someone I’ve never met, has now truly inspired me to wholly embrace my life, my family, and the world around me. Anna was a blessing and will never be forgotten. You will be in my thoughts and I wish you all peace in this difficult time.

  12. Marc Berner says:

    God bless you, dear Anna. May your spirit soar on love’s Divine wings!

  13. Christina says:

    Such a beautiful person and such a great loss. I didn’t know Anna and yet she has touched my heart. She is truly an Angel in heaven. My prayers for her and to the family. R.I.P. Anna

  14. Caitlin Collier says:

    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Greenberg:

    I knew Anna when I was the Head Women’s Basketball Coach and Athletic Director at Menlo College. She was spunky, always supporting the athletic programs, was a leader and had an awesome/amazing personality. What a go getter with an excellent sense of humor! I am really glad to have known her and she still sticks out in my mind. I am so incredibly heart broken to hear of your loss. She is a shining star and always will be. My condolences.


    Caitlin Collier
    Associate Head Women’s Basketball Coach

  15. Roseanna Bolla says:

    It’s truly the most difficult thing to do, watch someone you love slip away. I read a little about her and am positive that although she had a short life, she fulfilled her purpose. She seemed to touch people with her kindness and I am sure they will never, never forget her. She was indeed an angel walking on earth.

    God bless Bette for making her happy. To her family, you were blessed to share her love and spirit. I would wager that she would want you to celebrate her love of life. I went to Utube to find Wind Beneath My Wings for a post for my husband. I also found Anna. I will never forget her story.I am not Jewish, but let me close by saying, Rest easy, Anna, in God’s loving light. Know that anytime your family’s faces are warmed by the sun, they will feel the warmth of your love.

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