* Editor’s Note *
Today we are so proud to present the story of Alexis Ritter Gubbay, as Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week is being marked for the first time in New Jersey this year (Oct 21 to Oct 27) — thanks to the efforts of Alexis and Cheri Ambrose. (Pennsylvania, Florida and Massachusetts also recognize MBC Awareness week.)
Alexis lost her beloved husband Judah to MBC in 2007, after his valiant 13 year fight against the disease. To honor her husband, and in the hopes of preventing other families from suffering similarly, Alexis and Cheri established The Blue Wave; a counterpart to the pink efforts established to fight breast cancer in women.
Alexis wants you to know; men get it, too. Early detection is the best weapon against MBC. After reading Alexix’ story, visit the The Blue Wave MBC Facebook Page page to learn more about this disease. Or, join Alexis and others this Sunday,Oct 21 in Parsipppany for the 1st Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week in NJ!
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AGE Somewhere in my 40’s
HOMETOWN / WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW? Somewhere in New Jersey
ON THE WEB
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Two
DAY JOB Home Design & Home Staging (and www.arghomedesigns.com)
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Widowed
HOW HAS BREAST CANCER IMPACTED YOUR LIFE, AND YOUR LIFE AS A PARENT?
Breast Cancer has metastasized into every area of my life.
As far as parenting goes, our plan was to have me stay at home with the kids and put my career on hold (a difficult choice for women these days). We both knew the value of a stay at home mom. But then my husband died.
90% of our lives changed and I became not a single parent but an ONLY parent and a working parent. My husband hadn’t left things in order which left us vulnerable to some people who took advantage of the situation. I had to downsize and change our lifestyle and go back to work. I’d been a working actress but now I needed to find something that was reliable and yet flexible so that I could be as available to my family as possible.
I miss having my parenting partner to care as deeply as I about a lost tooth, a recital, the first day of school. Furthermore, it has been left to me to continue my husbands’ heritage which I did not grow up with. These days, I pay someone to do my Honey Do List and… it’s my responsibility to take out the garbage!
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY?
I do the best I can. Any widow/er will tell you there is always a lot to do because there is only one of us doing a two person job. Some are lucky enough to have family close by. It’s one big juggling act and I’ve found it best to surrender and try not to do everything 100%.
That’s hard for a perfectionist.
With my kids I still try to be a perfectionist, though. Try, I say. It’s a work in progress—I change what doesn’t work and I keep what does work. Around 5pm you will find me making dinner, helping with homework, throwing a ball, organizing a drawer, answering a work call, etc. That being said, I aim at really being with the kids when I am with them—I try to put the phone/email/work aside.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
While it is a lot of work and a lot of “sacrifice” it is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done aside from being married. It makes life so rich. And you get to see the wonder of the world all over again through a child’s eyes. Sometimes, I feel so happy as a parent I could explode.
But parenting and cancer and death have all come at the same time.
It is hard to separate them out.
I think parenting has made me even more connected with the things that really matter in this life.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JUDAH…
My husband and I had one of those really great relationships, despite the many issues we had on our plate and despite coming from broken or essentially broken homes.
Originally, he kept asking why we needed kids. He thought we had it pretty good just the two of us. But the minute our daughter arrived he was hooked. And I wanted ten more. We were going to have two and then have a meeting.
Kids take up time, though, and we had less of it for each other. He was a very involved father and I loved that so I would keep him tuned into little daily events and developments. We had a great and bumpy life together.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
I have to admit, I am proud of my parenting skills. I have two adorable and well-adjusted children. They are full of love and giggles and the milk of human kindness. They can talk about their feelings and they are sensitive to the needs of others. When I see these things I know that much of it comes from what I give them.
I think a lot about how I parent and I am always revising and honing what I do. I watch what others do and take some and leave some. We communicate, they get lots of hugs, I teach by doing, not just saying, I make sure they are thankful for what they have. But bottom line: my kids know the depth of my love.
My weakness is that after watching my husband die I know the value of a day—the days that he didn’t get to live and continue doing the things he wanted to do.
So, aside from working now, I have started an advocacy campaign for male breast cancer (www.thebluewave.org); I’m writing a memoir on our journey together, I’m a class parent and, I’m on the Parent Advisory Committee at Good Grief (www.good-grief.org), a family bereavement group, among other things.
Knowing the value of a day has made me involved in a lot of things which eat into my time and energy but I have to do it. I am no longer “just” a parent. Another weakness: not doing enough things for myself. It’s a work in progress.
WHO ELSE PROVIDES CHILDCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN?
I wish we had more family nearby. For us the most economical and flexible option is an au pair (we use AuPairCare). I would rather look after my own kids, however, it gives me the peace of mind to know they have 1:1 care and are not vying for attention and love when I am not with them.
FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK?
That’s tough. I love children’s books (Ferdinand, The Old Lady Who Named Things, The Lupine Lady, Something for Christmas, Big Red Barn, The Beaver and The Echo are some favorites). I love books. Reading is incredibly important for so many reasons. My daughter has about 20 feet of books in her room. By the time she was two weeks old I was already reading to her. I held her close and let her hear the intonations of my voice. Showed her the pictures. We still read together though she is an avid reader herself. And we listen to books on tape when we are on road trips (The Happy Prince, The Railway Children, the Classical Kids music series).
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
After my husband died I was exhausted and very stressed. I raised my voice. Something that’s not in my nature. Or, being at the emergency room alone with my child. The same emergency room I took my husband to for the last time.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
Lots of them.
But here’s one: we use a lot of words from different languages in our family. Some languages have a better way of saying things than others, or there is a very specific word for something that other languages don’t really have. Sometimes my kids use a household word in public and people don’t understand. One of the things I have tried to impress upon my kids is to be good people and do good deeds—key values of my husband and myself.
When my daughter was 4 or 5 and she was using the word “mitzvah” (Hebrew for good deeds) as part of her language, I knew I was succeeding in my mission.
Watching my kids share an apple.