Local | Obituaries

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.