most recent close relationship with Cancer was with my friend,
Marlene Marks. She was a weekly columnist for the
Jewish Journal, ad
contributing columnist with the LA Times, an author and a client.
Part of what I am
doing today with my work at Chemo Chicks is in tribute to Marlene.
was one of my first interior design clients here in LA. I was
excited to work with her, as we were both artists with different
skills and ways of communicating our creativity. It was my job to
help her create a more colorful and conducive environment for her
work and her life in her Malibu, California home.
was about two months after we finished our work in her home that
Marlene got sick and her home became her place to recuperate. It
gave me a great feeling of joy to have accomplished what we had
together because I knew how much she was enjoying it, especially
while living with her Cancer.
say “living with cancer” because that is exactly what Marlene
did, until the very end. I saw her fairly often over the 2 years
that she was sick. She came to celebrate Jewish holidays with our
mutual friends, she had a big milestone birthday party and I
delivered chicken soup, Challah bread or a new home accessory
regularly. My time and my relationship with Marlene was always
stimulating. I felt somehow smarter, more talented and more
sophisticated in her presence.
Cancer was first found in her lungs and it was as sudden and out of
nowhere as my Ovarian cancer diagnosis was this past June. She
didn’t smoke, exercised avidly and had no specific habits that
would have made Lung Cancer likely. I could not believe she was
sick. It seemed completely unfair and unjust. Over the next two
years there were times that she was better and times that she was
clearly getting worse.
I was not one of the people she confided in with the full
details of her journey. I did however learn a great deal about her
life with cancer through her newspaper column. She had committed
herself to an ongoing open dialogue of what she was going through,
and how it was affecting her relationships with people, work and her
was through Marlene that I learned for the first time to be honest
and comfortable with someone whose situation scared me. We never
spoke about her being sick, yet we didn’t avoid it either. She
kept herself and her days so full and normal that whether or not she
was sick was just not a necessary conversation. She didn’t avoid
the truth either. If she didn’t feel well on a particular day, she
And then kept going.
days of my diagnosis the word got to Marlene and she left me a warm
phone message. I, needless to say, couldn’t help but reference in
my mind Marlene’s illness and compare the days ahead of me to what
she had gone through before my eyes. I was glad to know she was
thinking of me. I imagined that she would be like a “Cancer
Mentor.” I had watched her strength and courage and appreciated
her wit and natural wisdom. Qualities I am determined to emulate.
came to see me in the hospital after my first surgery. She had begun
to run around with her ¼” of hair, looking rather sporty and
energetic. She was the first person to whom I knew I could speak
completely freely, and not hunt for words that wouldn’t scare her,
as everyone around me was pretty concerned and a little
uncomfortable with my humor and candor.
first thing that I said to her was; “what does it all mean? What
is it that I am supposed to have accomplished and if I am not
finished (here on earth) will I know what I am supposed to do next?
And if I die, have I done enough?”
will never forget her response. She said, “Wow, you have already
her way, in one sentence, she made me realize that I had put my
finger on the real question. And she made me feel brilliant as usual
for having done so.
thought that Marlene had lived her life extraordinarily, having
dedicated herself to her writing, as both a creative expression and
as a way to give back to the community, to the world. I didn’t see
myself as having gotten there, yet.
the example that Marlene set for me I understood that the path ahead
of me is to live my life on the next level. It is a level of
intensity, of spirituality, of abundance, of love.
of trusting that the answers will come. This belief has fueled me
every day since.
is no longer with us. She died within two weeks of that visit. She
had to have known when she came to see me that she wasn’t going to
recover. In the end, Marlene drove herself to the hospital, checked
herself in and passed away several days later.
a gift she has given me! Now, I get to survive, and help others on
the same journey.