F*ck Cancer: Life Lessons From My Mother
By Guest Blogger Julie Greenbaum
It’s funny what you remember from your childhood. Our earliest memories of events, interactions and people can stay with us and resonate for the rest of our lives.
It’s also cool how at the moment of conception, thousands of generations that preceded us, come together at that magical moment, and give us all the qualities and challenges we will have as individuals– our strengths, our weaknesses and perhaps even more importantly, our temperament.
There are those, even as infants, who will go willingly to anyone that wants to hold them. These babies have no fear of the unknown or strangers, and they willingly use every day as an excuse to explore the world.
I was not cut from that fabric.
I was what you would politely call “timid” as a baby. I was told repeatedly that I would only let two people hold me: my mother and my bubby. Without attaching any normative value to either of these temperaments, I raise these issues, strictly, as an illustrative description of how we can be so different from one another, and how those differences can be so pronounced in our lives.
My first life lesson, perhaps the most important life lesson one can learn, was instilled in me by my mother when I was just a little girl in pre-school.
My introduction to kindergarten involved me sitting all day in my cubby, with my arms crossed and a pout on my face. There was no real reason for this– that was just how I was. The words my mother spoke to me as a little girl still resonate today– “We are going to play a game. I want you to go to school today and find ONE THING that you like, and come home and tell me about it.”
Interestingly, what I didn’t hear from my parents was: “What can we do to make your day better?” or “Would you prefer another class, teacher or school?” The powerful message was that people were not going to solve my issues for me. The responsibility for my happiness was entirely controlled by myself. In fact, I was told that I was the author of my life story, and how it turned out would be a direct result not only of the words I chose to write, but how I chose to react to different situations and challenges.
I will never forget my mother and father responding to the teacher’s question: “What can I do to make your daughter happy?” In unison, without flinching, they both responded: “It’s not your job to make our daughter happy, IT’S HERS.”
Seventeen years later, as an adult, I am now only starting to really appreciate the depth of that message and experience how strongly empowered we can feel when we incorporate this lesson into our own lives. While I didn’t know it at the time, the concept of playing the hand you were dealt in the most positive way possible, would be put to the test when I was 15.
I clearly remember when my mother and father sat my siblings and I down to share that my mother had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. There was fear, tears, shock, but most importantly, a road-map going forward embracing every step, and giving each stage both good and bad, the integrity it deserved. My mother pre-emptively shaved her head, looked beautiful with no hair, and sent the loudest message to each of us: we control our destiny regardless of our situation.
Watching my mother deal with her situation through the next three and a half years, refusing to be a victim and putting her best foot forward with the most positive attitude possible, has stayed with me and continues to inspire me close to four years after her death. You see, regardless of a lousy blood count, a five-hour debulking operation, or the loss of one’s hair, nothing can take away the power you have over your attitude. It is the one thing that can trump any obstacle life throws your way. This is why the memories of my mother are not of a cancer victim, they are not of a shaved head, or intravenous tubes, nor a frail body. They are her wonderful spirit, her brave beautiful smile, and a loving acceptance of life that was contagious to everyone she met.
My mother didn’t just talk the talk, she walked the walk. I am blessed to have had this message delivered to me and it is my hope, desire, and greatest challenge to share it with as many people as possible through our parties, charity movement and most importantly, at that very special time when I will become a mother myself.
It is no surprise that after having been exposed to the wonderful values she instilled in me, that part of my family’s healing process would also involve helping others.
Our first F Cancer party took place on Nov 2010. This was a short 10 months after my mother’s death. Some 350 young kids showed up, and the outpouring of emotion, connection and love was palpable. By reaching out to the younger generation, by empowering them so that they feel a sense of ownership for all the money raised, we were able to spearhead a movement that gained such speed and momentum, it was awe-inspiring.
I was incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity last year to join forces and merge with Yael Cohen Braun‘s charity. We decided to collaborate and work together to make the greatest impact we possibly can in the Cancer space. It was very clear after meeting that by collaborating instead of competing and using our complementary abilities we would be able to build a stronger charity. We have an incredible team and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work with and learn from such inspiring, hard working individuals. The merge led to the relaunch of Fuck Cancer, a 501 (c) 3 registered non-profit that’s dedicated to early detection, prevention and providing psychosocial support to our community. We are changing and impacting the cancer space by improving health outcomes through digital initiatives, programs, events and funding cutting edge research.
Another highlight was when I was nominated and chosen to attend an Evening with Oprah Winfrey. In fact, it was this surprising turn of events that inspired me to share my life lessons. Oprah is someone who understands life lessons more than most, and has used them in such a positive way. I walked away so inspired from that experience and continued our cause by reaching thousands of kids and raising money for cancer research.
One of the wonderful things about the cancer journey is that it becomes incorporated into your being… it sustains you and drives you. Mine has pushed me to focus on the positive. I don’t think my mother would be surprised at what we are doing. I think she would be overwhelmed with how successful this movement has become. Most importantly, I would want her to know that not a day goes by that she is not in my thoughts. Her daughter is happy, and the tears seem to roll off my face easier when I’m smiling.
I HAD A REALLY GOOD TEACHER.
About Julie Greenbaum
Julie Greenbaum is the Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of Fuck Cancer, a movement dedicated to the prevention, early detection and communication of cancer. Julie launched Fuck Cancer in 2009 to honor her mother’s legacy who lost her battle with ovarian cancer. Julie’s international efforts began in 2010, throwing events across Canada and The United States. In 2014, Julie merged with Yael Cohen Braun’s Fuck Cancer, creating one unified non-profit.
At just 19-years old, Julie created Fuck Cancer with the goal of creating an organization to unify a generation of young adults who have been affected by the disease and raise funds towards cancer research. Starting as a 350-person party in Montreal, Fuck Cancer events quickly tripled in size, eventually spiraling into numerous events across North America as outlet for young people to connect and unite in the fight against cancer. Since inception, Julie raised over $200,000 for cancer research facilities, including Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation, Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, UCLA Comprehensive Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering and the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
Now, at five years old, Fuck Cancer creates unique digital and on the ground tools and campaigns using technology, humor, and celebrities to enable their community to engage with cancer on a different level.
In her role as Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of Fuck Cancer, Julie oversees the charity’s fundraising efforts, expanding the events model allowing the charity to make a measurable impact in reducing cancer risk and improving early detection. Since 2009, Fuck Cancer has raised over $1.25 million collectively toward research and digital solutions to prevent cancer. Julie remains inspired and empowered by her mother’s ongoing legacy.
For more information please visit: LetsFCancer.com
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we highlighted Julie’s story on our blog to honor this important month. If this has inspired you in any way, please leave Julie a comment below. She will be reading.