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Chick of the Month


Marlene's Story

My 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, Marlene Marks an author and a client. Part of what I am doing today with my work at Chemo Chicks is in tribute to Marlene.

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. 

It 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.

I 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.

Her 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 spirituality.

It 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 said so.  And then kept going.

Within 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.

Marlene 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.

The 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?”

I will never forget her response. She said, “Wow, you have already gone there.” 

In 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.

I 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.

With 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.

And of trusting that the answers will come. This belief has fueled me every day since.

Marlene 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.

What a gift she has given me! Now, I get to survive, and help others on the same journey.





Past Chick 
of the Months:

ROBIN FARBER - Little Chicks Give 'Locks of Love'


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