Why I Unmasque

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This is the third in a series of posts from those involved with the 2nd Annual Unmasque Cancer.  Committee members, volunteers, and Samfund alumni are sharing their personal stories of how cancer has affected them and their loved ones, and reminding us of how important it is to support each other and celebrate community. We have a strong and active committee of Samfund volunteers, Sambassadors and others who are helping us put together what we know will be a fantastic night. We hope you’ll join us on April 29th at The Mark, located right in the heart of Los Angeles. All proceeds from the event will benefit The Samfund, a unique nonprofit dedicated to helping young adults recover financially from cancer.

Want to get involved?  Leave us a note in the comments or send an email to caitlyn AT thesamfund.org!


By Shana Schwarz

I had already started writing this blog and was close to completing it when I received news that made me scrap the first draft. It was a semi-uplifting piece about how people I have known and loved with cancer have made me a better person and I Unmasque in their memory.

That will not be the tone of this second draft.

I received news tonight that a beloved uncle of mine has pancreatic cancer. You know how they always say cliché things like, “why do bad things happen to good people?” This is more like, “why does this super terrible awful thing have to happen to literally one of the BEST people?” Dean is kind and warm, unfailingly so. He is the husband of my husband’s aunt, barely related to me if you’re the kind of person who measures family by blood. And yet, he has always welcomed me with the love and warmth of a niece whom he’d known her whole life instead of one who came into his life as a teenager.

And thus, I write this tonight with tears in my eyes and anger burning a hole in my heart.shana

I first learned about the reality of cancer when I met Asher Lev Sirkin in my freshman year of high school. He was weird and delightful and we were fast friends. We bonded in theater class and as munchkins in our school production of The Wizard of Oz. It wasn’t until the end of that school year that I noticed scars on his legs and asked what had happened.  “I had cancer,” he said, shrugging it off as if it were no big deal.

But it was a big f-ing deal and it would change both of our lives, then end his.

The next year, I learned that cancer isn’t just something that leaves scars on your legs. Asher’s beautiful friend Sara had battled the disease with him, but didn’t recover like he did. She died on my 16th birthday. As we were all still reeling from that loss and trying to bring Asher out of his depression, his cancer came back. And he beat it again. And it came back. It kept moving around to different places in body until it eventually could do no more. He died on November 18, 2005 at the age of 23. I had moved away from home four months prior and didn’t make it back in time to say goodbye.

But this is all just how other people’s battles have affected me. What I also know, but can’t fully understand, is how it affects those who actually have cancer. I remember the stress that Asher’s disease put on his family and how he was always worried that his Dad was working too much so that his Mom could be with him in the hospital. His only worry should have been getting better. Period. And that’s why I Unmasque.

I am angry that we even have to have fundraisers to help with the financial burden that cancer puts on families and I’m angry that so many people whom I love have had to even deal with it in the first place. I am sad and scared for my Uncle Dean and my Aunt Ann as they begin the process of doing whatever they can to beat this terrible disease.

I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of people I know and care about to whom I am dedicating this blog post. But for Dean, Asher, Ray, Reena, Jessica, Lea, Gloria, Cindy, Joyce, Dave, Bradley and Sara, I am hoping you all will join me as we Unmasque and show the world the face of cancer.

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