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Love, poetry, community: a family’s unique response to cancer

Siblings Sara and Josh Hurand in Tucson in fall 2017

Sara Hurand says she’s never known anyone like her brother, Josh Hurand, a psychotherapist in Tucson who has a gift for connecting people.

“He makes business connections, creative connections, light and fun connections, and deep and enduring connections. He is meaningfully close with family members both near and far, calling on them regularly to maintain authentically deep connections,” she says.
Last spring, at age 46, Josh received a terminal prostate cancer diagnosis.

Although Sara, two years Josh’s junior, has yet to come to grips with this news, she began musing about how the family might honor Josh at some point in the future. Then she realized, “This is a project that Josh would love to be involved with. Why not start something together now, that he can be part of shaping?”

Their project, the Hurand Connection Fund, began coming together at Josh’s first chemotherapy session last month in Cleveland, where he has a primary oncologist in addition to one in Tucson. While his wife, Ashley, stayed here with their two young children, Sara, who now lives in Tel Aviv and previously lived in Cleveland, flew in to keep Josh company. They read poems together.

“After, he looked at me with a smile and said, ‘This was fun, right? We got to hang out and read poems.’ He meant it sincerely. When else did we find the time to sit together and read poems out loud? They say that the big ‘C’ doesn’t have to mean cancer, it can also mean change. Josh has consistently lit up the bright spots, helping me and my parents find our way along this dark path,” she says.

Sara got in touch with Tyler Meier, executive director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center, where Josh serves on the development council, and Graham Hoffman, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, another organization where Josh serves on the board. Sara and Josh’s parents, along with Sara and her husband, put up the seed money for the donor-advised fund, held at the Foundation.

“Josh squirmed a little to name it after himself specifically. He felt more connected to our family legacy of involvement, so we settled on Hurand Connection Fund,” says Sara.

The fund’s vision statement is, “To start with one voice and gather many different voices through art and creative programming that makes connections between people and groups to inspire cultural healing.”

“Part of how I’ve been managing this whole thing is through writing my own poetry,” Josh says, explaining that the fund will bring renowned poets to Tucson.

“Josh is special and unique,” says Hoffman. Faced with this diagnosis, “rather than turning inward and focusing all his energy on himself, his first motivation was to do something for everyone else, for the community,” connecting many of the organizations that have been meaningful to him in Tucson. Instead of withdrawing from his community commitments, Hoffman adds, Josh has redoubled his efforts.

Ashley echoes this sentiment. “Josh has described himself as being ‘unleashed’ in recent months … [He’s] had the time and space to put energy toward the things he has always wanted, including starting a private practice, focusing on writing about his life, and establishing a philanthropic legacy. Deciding to start the Hurand Connection Fund creates a more formal framework for the work he has been doing informally for his entire life.

“When faced with a life-altering illness, people may react in any number of ways. Josh has chosen to face his diagnosis head-on and not let it slow him down for a second. After losing my mother to metastatic breast cancer 10 years ago, I know how important it is to savor the moments we have together. With that in mind, I sometimes wish Josh would slow down just a bit but then I remind myself that just isn’t who he is. At the end of the day, none of us know what lies ahead and I want to support Josh in achieving all of his goals,” she says.

Ashley “has been incredibly strong,” says Josh, noting that she is a much-needed counterweight to his expansive personality, which he says can make him “tough to manage.”

Married five years, the pair have two children, a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. “That’s the hardest part,” Josh says.

Since the diagnosis of stage IV metastatic cancer, which has spread to his bones, Josh has undergone a radical prostatectomy, radiation treatments, and hormone therapy in addition to starting chemotherapy. Besides Cleveland, he’s traveled to Los Angeles for some treatment and consulted with a doctor in Manhattan.

Josh, who worked at the Veterans Administration for the past 10 years, five as a case manager and five as a couples’ therapist, recently retired from the VA — an option he was fortunate to have, he acknowledges. His new practice, Strategic Healing, offers individual and couples’ therapy for adults.

He sees the Hurand Connection Fund as “a more macro expression of my healing process.”

He hopes the fund will model new ways of giving, as well as providing space for dialogue. “I think it’s extremely timely in this period of our history, when we’re so divided as a country,” he says.

The theme of the fund’s first program, planned for June, is “Roots,” inspired by a favorite poem by Eleanor Wilner, “For the Lone Pine to Bless.” It will feature poet Javier Zamora, a Salvadoran who explores his experience crossing the U.S. border alone at age 9 in the collection “Unaccompanied” (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), and Francisco Cantú, a former border patrol agent who wrote a memoir called “The Line Becomes a River” (Riverhead Books, 2018). The two have become friends, and even visited the border together, seeking the spot where Zamora crossed.

The program will be held at the Jewish History Museum, playing into the theme of its contemporary human rights exhibit in the Holocaust History Center, “Asylum/Asilo.” Bryan Davis, JHM executive director, will facilitate the discussion.

“The Hurand fund has been established to make connections between Jewish culture and other communities. Forging these same connections is central to the work of the Jewish History Museum and that is one of the reasons we are thrilled to partner in the launch of this important project,” says Davis.

“There’s a lot of generous thinking” around the Hurand Connection Fund project, says Meier. “It’s been a lot of great people around the table.”

The fund also will sponsor a reading in October with Tracy K. Smith, U.S. poet laureate from 2017-2019.

The June roots theme also honors the Hurand family’s legacy in Flint, Michigan, Josh says. His great-grandfather emigrated from the Russian-Polish border early in the 20th century, and started a bakery with his wife. “They were involved in creating Jewish community,” helping other entrepreneurs in Flint and raising money for Israel, he says. His late grandparents and parents continued the tradition of involvement in the local Jewish and broader communities, supporting programs such as the Flint Jewish Federation and The Community Foundation of Greater Flint.

Although Josh has a natural disposition toward optimism, and the family is excited about the opportunity to give back to the Tucson community where he has flourished, the reality of his diagnosis is hard, says Sara. “We cry a lot.”

Josh “is facing it. He’s grieving. And then he’s reorienting his perspective,” she says. “One of the things he can control is his attitude.”

“I feel pretty good overall,” says Josh. “It’s opened my life up, my soul up to a lot of things. And hopefully it’s just beginning.”