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My Friend Susan Pollack

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This week I called my friend, Susan Pollack, only to learn she died a few days earlier. Her husband was audibly grief-stricken. Stunned, and not wanting to invade this private time, I simply told him I loved her. He said, “I loved her, too. She was everything.”

I am devastated, like everyone is who loved and knew Susan Pollack far better than I did. Susan made it easy for you to forget she was living with metastatic breast cancer, that she’d taken chemo for 14 years, repeatedly responding to new chemos when the old ones stopped working. “As long as my doctor’s not worried, I’m not worried,” she would say. The last time we spoke, she was doing well. What I didn’t tell her husband was that I feel guilty, not knowing she was so close to the end; that I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye, or that for the last two weeks my “little voice” has been telling me to call her, but I didn’t. Not until now. Not until it was too late.

Susan and I met two years ago when she volunteered for a BreastCancerSisterhood.com makeover at Lancôme’s Upper West Side boutique in New York City. From the moment we began talking, I knew she was an extraordinary woman, and from that day on, Susan Pollack and I were friends. After her makeover, Susan and I began to email, and then call one another every few months. Susan was first diagnosed with breast cancer 25 years ago, and her only goal was to see her daughter, Jane, grownup, and she did that and more.

For 12 years, Susan was cancer free, but when given the news breast cancer had returned, she persevered with grace and lived life with kindness and a smile and never once asked, “Why me?” She played bridge and sometimes volunteered at SHARE, a survivors’ resource in New York City that counsels and supports breast and ovarian cancer survivors. She gave hope and inspiration to all who knew her. Words like that are usually said at funerals, tossed about freely like excess crumbs to a flock of hungry birds, but every syllable was true about Susan Pollack. She personified the qualities that make us pleasing in God’s eyes.

Today, one of Susan’s cousins sent me an email. She wrote:

“…The feelings you’re having happen so often when someone we love dies. I feel them about Susan. I, too, feel heartsick. I spoke to her about a week before she died. She was very weak, but her voice had the old Sue timber—rich and vibrant. She was plucky as always. She never complained, never even thought of complaining. She spent the last two months mentally going over in her mind how thankful she was to all the people who had given to her in her life. When told she would die, very soon, she was worried, but not for herself; she was worried for all the things she hadn’t gotten done, including knowing how the Yankees would do! As my mother said, she had greatness in the way she died. Since she lived her life the same way. She was incredibly generous and giving, loving and warm. She was a lovely, lovely human being.”

The day we filmed her makeover at Lancôme was special for all of us. When Susan saw herself in the mirror and, for the first time in 14 years, gave a nod of recognition to the woman she remembered who had hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and a cancer free sparkle in her eyes, everyone, including the cameramen, welled up with tears. Susan beamed from the inside out. Sandy Linter, the iconic and beautiful makeup artist, used to working with A-list top models, photographers and Hollywood stars, asked Susan to get up, turn around and “walk down the runway.” “You’re beautiful,” Sandy told her, and Susan was. Looking back, we should have had a limousine pick her up and whisk her through traffic, stopping along the way to show her new look to the women at SHARE, and then join them all for lunch at some chi-chi New York eatery.

Sue Pollack was a brave, gracious and precious friend. The ultimate role model for how to be a SURVIVOR. That first day we met, I asked her how she dealt with Stage IV breast cancer for so many years, dealing with lymphedema everyday, infections and hospitalizations. She responded, matter of factly, like it was no big deal. “I chose to live a life.” But it was a big deal. Could I do that? Could you? Are you?

Why didn’t I listen to my little voice? How long would a phone call have taken? It’s not like I wouldn’t have known what to say to her. Susan and I always ended each conversation with “I love you,” but somehow, that doesn’t seem enough now, but I do, you know… I love you, Susan.

To read more about Susan Pollack and “We Are Cancer Survivors, Not Cancer Victims.” To see some of Susan Pollack & Sandy Linter’s makeover videos go to “SURVIVORS” and “SELF-IMAGE” on BreastCancerSisterhood.com’ HOME PAGE or visit BreastCancerSisterhood’s YouTube page.