Fighting cancer Esstman supports benefit event

Fighting cancer Esstman supports benefit event

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The ball started rolling when Suzy Esstman was invited to speak at the August 2006 Hadassah meeting along with a neuro-oncologist from Hadassah Hospital. “Suzy’s a very motivational speaker. She has a very unique perspective and outlook on life,” said Joan Denison, executive director of Hadassah. When a committee got together to discuss the program several of Esstman’s friends suggested a walk to help raise funds to benefit the Neuro Oncology unit at Hadassah Hospital.

Esstman’s ordeal began in the summer of 2003 as she was preparing for her son Andrew’s bar mitzvah. She couldn’t remember certain words. They seemed to be completely gone from her memory. She attributed the problem to being overwhelmed with the details of putting together a bar mitzvah. After the big event, one of her friends noticed she was still having problems recalling words. Said Esstman, “It was Debbie Sher. She’s the one who said something’s not right and told me to go to a doctor.”

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The doctor also thought the problem might have been Esstman being an “overworked housewife.” When her blood tests all came back normal, the doctor suggested having an MRI, just to be sure. Said Esstman, “I was in there forever. When I left I went to visit my parents, who didn’t know any of this was happening.”

When the doctor’s office called and asked her to come back to the office, Esstman went on her own and received the bad news. She immediately called her husband and parents and made arrangements to check into the hospital. Two weeks after a biopsy, Esstman learned she has an astrocytoma, an inoperable brain tumor covering four lobes of her brain, and had to start determining what to do about it. “Mostly I didn’t do anything. I was overwhelmed, overcome, overdone. My family, my husband, my two brothers, my mom and dad did everything,” Esstman said. Everyone started searching for answers on-line and sending Esstman’s slides to every hospital of any significance.

Most of the physicians suggested Esstman start radiation and chemotherapy. With each carrying its own side effects and dangers, and because the tumor was slow growing, Esstman decided to wait and watch. Later on, she decided to stop taking an anti-seizure medication since she had never had any seizures and doctors didn’t know for sure the tumor would cause seizures. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong decision. Esstman had a grand-mal seizure that left her hospitalized for five days and in need of rehabilitation for speech and walking. “It took a while to come back. It was another part of the process,” said Esstman. New MRIs over the last couple of weeks have shown the tumor has grown, and Esstman decided to pursue a homeopathic remedy called Ruta-6, developed by a doctor in India.

Lately Esstman has been focusing her energy on the walk, which has taken on a life of its own, according to committee chair Diane Maier. The flier announcing the walk was mailed out on May 1. By May 11 the organizers had already raised over $12,000. “I have never worked on a project where so much has come to me. It’s magnificent and overwhelming. Suzy has so many friends: sorority sisters, college friends, neighbors, high school friends, friends from various jobs she’s had — all these people are coming forward to be part of this event,” Maier said.

One of those friends is Linda Shaw who grew up with Esstman in St. Louis. They attended Ross Elementary School, East Middle School and North High School together. Shaw went to college at the University of Denver and stayed on in Colorado, but the two friends never lost touch. They also see each other once or twice a year when Shaw returns to St. Louis to visit family.

During Shaw’s visit last December five of the high school friends planned a get-together. “I wanted to make bracelets for each of us to wear and remember about our times together,” Shaw said. The bracelets have the letter “S” on them for Suzy and a heart in honor of their love for her. Other friends who visit Esstman’s website expressed the desire to wear the bracelets to show their support for her as well. “In the course of about a week and a half our Circle of Friendship has expanded from 20 people to well over 60 people. When people see the bracelets they ask about them. We are able to talk about Suzy and have more people praying for her and thinking good thoughts for her,” said Shaw. The big project right now is to make as many of the bracelets as possible in time for the June 4 walk.

The friends have also come together to raise money to support Esstman and her family during this time. “Some high school friends got together and went to Meal Makers and created 12 meals for their freezer,” said Shaw. The Esstman family has also received meals through the caring committee at Central Reform Congregation, where they are members.

Esstman is hoping the walk will bring out other people living with brain tumors as well as raising awareness about brain tumors and raising funds for the neuron-oncology unit at Hadassah Hospital. Said Esstman, “I want what they learn and do to come back to the United States, to St. Louis, to everyone in the world who needs it. I want everyone to be able to utilize what they have gained. That’s huge to me, we have to figure out whatever approach will help. It’s a horrible disease. It’s your brain; it’s everything you’ve got.”

“We have such a wonderful resource in Hadassah hospital. Israel has different regulations, so a lot of times they have things we don’t have here. They are so far more advanced than us in some things, like stem cell research,” said Denison.

She called Hadassah’s New York office and asked about assisting Esstman since she was not receiving as much help in the United States because her tumor is so unusual. “They connected with specialists at Hadassah hospital, and within 24 hours a physician called me from Israel with all his contact information to pass on to the Esstmans so they can send Suzy’s MRIs and other material for them to evaluate it.”

“There are a lot of people who live with brain tumors for many years. Every time I talk with Suzy, she’s talking about life. She fills every day of her life with living,” said Maier.

“My outlook is that I’m going to survive. And what I learn from it I am going to bring it to every person I can think of. It will not be something only I know — I will share it with the world,” Esstman said. One of the ways she faces each day is with the study of Kabbalah. The teachings have changed the way she approaches life. Said Esstman, “It makes me feel I can accomplish anything, that there is nothing I can’t do. My goal is whatever I gain, I am going to give it away.

“Every single thing I learn, I am going to give it away. Everyone will know every single thing I have learned and there will be nothing left.”

Walking on Sunshine, Stepping Closer to a Cure for Brain Tumors, will take place on Sunday, June 4 at Queeny Park, 550 Weidman Road. Registration begins at 9 a.m. with the walk beginning at 9:30. Participants are welcome to register the day of the walk: $40 per family or $20 per individual. Walkers are encouraged to bring their favorite foods for a picnic that will follow the one-mile walk in the park. Organizers are supplying the water. T-shirts and sponsorships are available.

For more information on Walking on Sunshine contact Hadassah at 314-991-0434 or visit www.hadassahstl.org. To follow Esstman’s progress visit: www.suzyesstman.com.