At approximately 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, January 24, Anny and Robyn Safier will cross the finish line. This finish line is in Miami, Florida, and it will mark the end of a marathon. The two, along with Arielle Shachter, make up Team Anny and will be running as part of Team Lifeline.
For Anny and Robyn, the marathon is a celebration of sorts and a way to give back to Chai Lifeline. While they are only going to be completing 13.2 miles, their journey stretches back to Shavuot of 2011. That was when the Safier family learned of Anny’s diagnosis of cancer. Anny, who is legally blind, was 11 years old and in 5th grade at the time. On the first day of Shavuot, Anny underwent her second cancer-related surgery. It was at that moment that Chai Lifeline entered the Safier’s family.
The day before the surgery, a case manager from Chai Lifeline came to visit Anny in the hospital. At the time, Anny was sleeping. The case manager promised to return and left a blanket. Robyn was grateful. However, she had a request—don’t identify yourself as Chai Lifeline. “My kids were always fundraising for Chai Lifeline for school, and they knew the organization helped children with cancer.” Robyn and her husband, Jeff, had yet to give Anny the details behind her hospital stay. The case manager understood and noted that Chai Lifeline visits all children in the hospital. Upon awakening and being presented the blanket, Anny asked where it came from. Robyn told her it was from Chai Lifeline but that all kids get one. Anny was reluctant to accept the blanket.
Later on, the case manager returned. She asked Anny if she needed anything. The young girl said she was sad that she was going to miss the annual Shavuot ice cream party. So, Robyn asked if they could bring her a scoop of ice cream. The next day, the case manager came with a tub of ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. “There was so much there! Anny wanted to share with the other kids, but they couldn’t have it, so she shared with the doctors,” said Robyn. And so began the relationship with Chai Lifeline.
When asked to describe how Chai Lifeline has helped in her fight against cancer, Anny is ebullient. “Chai Lifeline shows you a fun way to hate the disease. Instead of being miserable, you fight fire with fun.” Anny was particularly enthusiastic about Camp Simcha, Chai Lifeline’s summer camp. “They have so many activities in the camp. They know what you want.” Beyond the activities, it was the counselors and the comfort that Anny most appreciated. They’re there, and they can talk to you. They always have something to comfort you.” The support doesn’t end at the camp. Anny noted a time she came from school feeling miserable and overwhelmed from all she had to do. Two counselors surprised Anny—“They met me at the bus and took me out to dinner.”
The support from Chai Lifeline has been for the entire family and not just Anny. Robyn noted they have a number of events. She said, “They have moms’ retreats, which are two days of incredible spoiling of moms.” While Chai Lifeline has been “offering and offering from the very beginning,” it is the emotional support that Robyn particularly appreciated. When a second friend of Anny’s passed away in 2013, Anny said to her mother, “Why do my friends die before their bat mitzvahs?” As you can imagine, Robyn didn’t know how to answer that. There was a Chai Lifeline friends’ Shabbaton that weekend. Robyn called the counselor and asked for them to “please help me through this.” Robyn said, “By the end of the weekend they had helped her find a way to deal with it.” The weekend the family learned that the tumors were growing again and Anny needed more chemo coincided with the Miami Marathon. “We debated about when to tell her but decided to do so immediately. Since it was a Chai Lifeline weekend, there would be people there to help Anny deal with it.”
In February of 2015, Anny completed her chemo. She has returned to her regular pediatrician and is a freshman at Frisch. Life moves on. However, the Safiers remain involved with Chai Lifeline and are eager to support an organization that did so much for them. So, they formed Team Anny and will participate in the Miami Marathon. Robyn said, “This is a celebration year and a way to express thanks to all the people from Chai Lifeline and Camp Simcha who supported Anny when she most needed it.” Arielle Schacter, the third member of Team Anny, is a friend of the Safier family. She said, “They’ve dealt with so many problems. I felt joining Team Anny was a way for me to offer them support.”
Robyn and Anny have participated in Chai Lifeline marathons in the past. However, this is the first marathon they will be doing together. “I’m doing this with her—side by side, just like we were in doctors’ offices and hospital rooms,” said Robyn. “I’m so excited to be crossing the finish line with my hero.”
Visit Team Anny’s page at www.teamlifeline.org/my/61116.
Larry and his family are residents of Bergen County. Larry is a tutor and a freelance writer for hire. To find out more about him or to read his blog, visit his website at larrydbernstein.com.
By Larry Bernstein