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UT Pink Ribbon Speech

Monday, 23 October, 2017 - 2:14 pm

Corey Joskowitz and Jodi Joskowitz

Good Shabbos. Thank you Rabbi and Ariela for inviting me to share my story tonight. I am Jodi Joskowitz, Corey's mother. I'm not only a mom, I am a senior salesperson at a European investment bank. At the time of this story I was the only woman on the trading floor with 40 men. I was not overweight; I did a lot of yoga, took vitamins and slept 8 hours a night. I may have drank a little too much but I'm only human.

For several months I was feeling "something" on my chest wall. It was a habit to rub the spot when I was stressed at work. That was quite often. It was high up, not far from my collar bone. I thought nothing of it. I assumed it was a fatty deposit like old bald men get on their heads. On Friday the 6th of February I went to the doctor at the insistence of my husband Scot. He literally dragged me there. I only agreed to go because I was off of work that day - we had our first meeting with Corey's college counselor.

The doctor insisted I go for another mammogram (I had just had one on November) which led to an ultrasound and a biopsy. I truly thought nothing of it. The lump was high on the chest wall. Fast forward to Friday the 13th. We were heading out that night to Indiana University to visit my daughter Dylan who was a senior and Corey was taking his first college tour. I was at a lunch with colleagues when my gynecologist called with my results. Instead of meeting my husband and son at the airport I went home to devise a game plan. When Corey came home from school that day and saw me standing in the kitchen he was confused at first. Then he said "you have cancer".

We decided to go to Indiana and tell Dylan in person. Our flight was delayed and we were not seeing her until her alarm went off at 9am on Saturday. After a sleepless night, Scot and I parked outside her apartment at 7:30 and waited. How were we going to tell our daughter? It was her senior year of college and her mom had cancer.

If you can't imagine what that was like, I can tell you it was bad. Really bad. Hysterical is an understatement. The three of us cried for a long time and then went to get Corey so we could weep together as a family.

We refer to that weekend as the worst weekend of our lives. The only time I didn't cry was during our tour of IU. It was 17 degrees in Bloomington, Indiana and my eyeballs were frozen. Corey did not let go of my hand the entire walk. I assume the other students thought we were pretty weird or maybe he was homeschooled and nervous. There were a lot of tears and tremendous fear that weekend because we did not know what my future held. There were two positives. We saw an amazing basketball game where IU scored the most 3 point shots ever in a Big 10 basketball game. I did cry through it. And when we had to say our goodbyes, Dylan was on the sofa with her two best friends, her Aephi sisters, who swore they would take care of her. Dylan wasn't alone.

I went home to a lot of appointments and waiting for test results to come up with a treatment plan. Corey was my rock during this trying time. He never left my side. He was my protector. Corey spent 3 years wearing pink socks at his October football games. His senior year he would be wearing them for his mother. It was surreal. On the day of my surgery Corey didn't want to kiss me goodbye. He never saw me before school and he wanted to keep with the routine. He was superstitious. I insisted and received the biggest hug ever. As he walked out of the house I saw he was wearing the pink football socks under his khakis.

Fast forward to a lumpectomy and then 7 weeks of Monday through Friday radiation. I left for work at 6:15 each morning as a successful Wall Street salesperson and took a 1:30 bus home to head to the cancer center at the hospital for treatment. I was leading two lives.

The afternoon bus driver was excited to have a passenger who wasn't a construction worker on his bus. I smiled and gave him a big hello every day and then cried in my seat for the ride home. I saw the same women at treatment every day. I was the youngest one there. Some were much sicker than me.

During a weekly visit with my radiation oncologist I was crying. I felt ashamed. I was lucky. I didn't lose a breast. I didn't need chemotherapy and I wouldn't be losing my hair. Why was I feeling sorry for myself? The doctor said "you're not lucky Jodi. You're a 48 year old woman with breast cancer. Some woman may have it worse but most women don't have it at all."

Doctors and nurses encouraged me to get counseling. Living a dual life was hard and fighting cancer came with many struggles. Most women were taking time off during treatment. I did not. I was the only woman on my team at the bank and I’m a fighter. Nobody could understand how I did it. My secret.... I just did it. Living life is easier than thinking about living life. You do what you have to do when you don't have a choice.

A month after treatment ended, Scot and I were at a U2 concert when I started to cry. I cried the entire show. It hit me. I was damaged and I needed help. I fought cancer like a champ but now I needed to address my other wounds. The biggest issue was my feeling of being alone. Though I was surrounded by family, friends and colleagues from diagnosis to completion of treatment, I never felt more alone. I felt so alone on that bus every day. And I was truly alone when I was on the table in the radiation room. I never felt so vulnerable.

Day after day. It was me and my body. The body that had failed me even though I did everything right. An amazing therapist helped me heal.

Life is hard. No matter how hard we try, sometimes we lose control. Sometimes we don't like our options or choices. Sometimes we have to deal with unexpected surprises. And we deal with them. You just do it.

Vincent my bus driver saw a professional woman with a big smile. Inside I was a frightened women, wife, mother and daughter. I was wearing a facade that we often have to wear. So many people knew I was sick but so many didn't. I certainly didn't look like a cancer patient. And though I did an excellent job of doing what I had to do, I didn't realize I was vulnerable. And that's when my perspective changed. I saw kindness in a different way. Life is hard and you never know what someone is struggling with. Being sensitive, warm, polite and caring make a huge difference. Random acts of kindness are a real thing.

October has a very different meaning for me now. I always supported pink causes but now the pink everywhere is my own personal reminder of my 5 month battle with breast cancer. Please use it as a reminder to be mindful of your health. Use it as a reminder to be kind. You never know who is living with personal challenges. And remember we are stronger than we know we are. Have faith in yourself but don’t be afraid to get help when you need it.

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