Ellen and Suzanne

June 10, 2012

It’s strange that two friends, colleagues, advocates and leaders of MBCN died within a week of each other. I want to read meaning into this coincidence, as if the universe had decided their fellowship and shared mission had linked their destinies. I’d like to think that dying within days of each other gave them some karmic connection and added comfort and peace at the end.

Ellen Moskowitz, former MBCN president, and Suzanne Hebert, former vice president, had each served the MBC community long and well.

Ellen, a strong personality and passionate leader, was involved in MBCN almost since its inception. She became president in 2006 and during her four years of service accomplished many things: the proclamation of October 13 as Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day by Congress; the presentation of four national conferences and two regional programs; the creation of a metastatic information kit and much more. She spoke out whenever possible to bring awareness to the public, the breast cancer community and medical professionals of the needs of those living with mbc.

Suzanne joined MBCN in  2007 and served in many roles, as treasurer, secretary and vice president. She was involved in every project and was a comforting voice to many newly diagnosed who sent emails or left phone messages, seeking help and guidance. Her compelling story generated many articles in the media, including my favorite the New York Times piece, A Pink Ribbon Race, Years Long, in 2011.

At conferences one of Ellen’s favorite exercises was to have all attendees stand and remain standing if they had been living with mbc for more than a year, for three years, for five years, for ten years or more than ten years. The number of women standing decreased as Ellen ticked off the years, but the audience was amazed that some were still standing at the end. They applauded loudly for those living longest, knowing now that it was possible, that others had done it and that they could dream of themselves in that number years down the line.

But seven years of living with metastatic disease for Suzanne and ten years for Ellen is still too short, still too soon. Both women hoped to see the day when mbc was truly a chronic disease like AIDS or diabetes, with the reality of living for 20 or even 30 years with a good quality of life.

I still believe in that promise, strive toward that goal and will continue the work that Ellen and Suzanne and so many others before them have started.

I’d like to end with their words, which were and always will be an inspiration:

Ellen on metastatic breast cancer and guilt:

“Metastatic breast cancer can happen to anyone. We did nothing wrong. Our medical team did nothing wrong. Metastatic breast cancer happens… at any time… regardless of your age, whether you did chemo, radiation, had a mastectomy, had a bilateral mastectomy, ate well, took vitamins, exercised regularly, prayed, had positive thoughts, had negative thoughts, got regular mammograms, did self exams religiously, had a tiny stage 1 primary tumor, or a stage 0 primary tumor, or a stage 3 primary tumor, or never even had primary breast cancer. It doesn’t matter.”


People like the pretty story with the happy ending. We don’t have the happy ending. You always hear stories about women who ‘battled it’ and ‘how courageous’ they were. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re courageous. It’s an injustice to all of us who have this. There are women who are no less strong and no less determined to be here, and they’ll be dead in two years.”

My condolences to their family and friends. They will be missed.

Ginny Knackmuhs

MBCN board member