This post is decidedly different than our usual posts, much more personal, and a tribute to one of our dear friends and colleagues. This past week, Michelle Stravitz, one of our day-of coordinators beloved by brides, celebrated yet another important milestone in a long, complicated treatment regimen for breast cancer.
Michelle was diagnosed with Triple-Negative breast cancer last May, at the age of 48, and it’s been a rollercoaster for her and her family ever since. Sadly, this is not a new story. We all know of too many people who have or are battling cancer, sometimes ourselves, sometimes our loved ones, sometimes just someone we hear about on the news or through the community grapevine. My own mother struggled with bone marrow cancer for five + years, before it engulfed her heart and took her from us far too early.
But I want to say something about Michelle here, and the very, very important lessons she has taught all of us during her “breast cancer journey.” Michelle decided early on that she was going to not only face this enormous challenge head-on – researching, planning, self-advocating, coping, and recovering even as she continued to take care of her children and family – but that she was going to do so with a smile, and with gratitude. Wait, is that even possible? Face cancer with a smile? And gratitude? Hard to imagine the two in the same breath. But she did. Michelle embraced her diagnosis, honoring her own journey and that of other cancer patients by thinking pink (her head coverings were gorgeous, her “pink” messages to all of us incredibly warm and inspiring), and finding a reason for gratitude each and every day.
At the end of her first chemo regimen, she hosted a pink punch party in her home, and again at the end of the second regimen, a pink brunch for her “chemo partners.” She was so happy to just “feel normal” the day of the brunch and prepare most of the dishes herself. And, then, even when faced with a potential new detour after chemo and surgery, and near the end of a long cycle of daily radiation, she hosted everyone yet again for drinks and snacks to celebrate.
Signing off on her invitation to this last impromptu celebration, Michelle asked everyone, whether able to join her or not, to “please mark this milestone with me by:
(1) taking a moment to be grateful,
(2) raising a glass (or a coffee mug, or a water bottle) TO LIFE!, and
(3) hugging someone you love.”
What a beautiful message! And then, the following day, she announced to the world –
“Today I am a SURVIVOR. And I plan to be a SurTHRIVER. Shehechiyanu.”
Shehechiyanu is a beautiful Jewish prayer or blessing that thanks God for allowing us to reach a particular moment or milestone, and speaks to the value of life and gratitude. It is said on certain holidays and on other occasions as an expression of deep appreciation for even the smallest of God’s gifts.
Dearest Michelle, it is WE who are grateful for your presence among us, for your incredible exuberance and energy, and for reminding us all of the importance of finding joy in the moment. SurTHRIVERhood suits you perfectly. We know that you will conquer equally as well any further bumps in the road, and we would be honored to continue to be your partners in this journey. FLY forth!