For recent University of Pittsburgh graduate Alexis Miller, the summer of 2014 was supposed to be fun. She had an internship lined up and plans made with her friends in her hometown of Chicago. She never expected that her mother, Blair would be diagnosed with breast cancer, and that her plans would have to take a backseat to helping her mom through one of the roughest times in both of their lives.
Unsure of how to cope with everything, Miller turned to her friends Jordyn Fishman and Moriah Berry, both soon to be graduates of the University of Illinois. "We all met through the Lewis Summer Internship Program, through the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago in the summer of 2013," said Miller. "We continued to stay friends after the program ended and would make a point to see each other during every holiday break while we were home from college."
In addition, both Berry and Fishman had moms who had beaten breast cancer. "They helped me through so much," said Miller, "and our moms became friends as a result!"
Miller, Berry and Fishman are the co-founders of Stay Strong and Mahj On, a fundraiser that developed out of their friendship and their moms' battles. "This tied us all together in a way of understanding and empathy," said Fishman. "It was just something we were all able to understand and felt comfortable talking about."
The event, a Mah Jongg tournament and luncheon, benefits the Cancer Wellness Center in Northbook, Illinois, a charitable cause close to all three young women's hearts.
"We chose the CWC because it is local and offers incredible services," said Miller. "My family has taken full advantage of everything they offer, from yoga classes and support groups to individual counseling." Added Fishman, "My mom also utilized their resources when she was going through recovery. They're great."
Miller, Fishman, and Berry have been working hard on the event since November, and everything is coming together. "We wanted to plan an event that incorporated some sort of activity, and all of our moms are avid Mah Jongg players," said Miller. "We came up with the concept one night at dinner, when we decided we wanted to give back to the community that has helped our mothers through so much."
The three young women certainly aren't alone in the breast cancer fight. According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, not only is breast cancer the second most commonly diagnosed overall, it accounts for one in four cases of cancer. Since 2008, the number of cases reported worldwide has increased by 20 percent. On the more positive side, there are 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, including Berry, Fishman, and Miller's moms, as well as number of other women (and men) still completing treatment or having just finished treatment.
The Cancer Wellness Center, the beneficiary of the event, offers services to cancer patients, survivors, and loved ones, including therapy sessions, lectures, and wellness activities such as acupuncture, yoga, and reflexology. Their goal, to promote wellness of the mind, body, and spirit, has helped numerous individuals cope with the disease in Northbrook, Grayslake, Park Ridge, and Libertyville, where they have various locations. Everything offered by the Cancer Wellness Center is free to registrants, made possible by generous donors around the Chicago area like Miller, Berry, and Fishman.
The young women, inspired by their mothers and the people involved at the Cancer Wellness Center, have high hopes for the event. "We are hoping to have between 100-150 guests. People can either register for Mah Jongg and lunch for $50, or they can order just lunch for $30," said Fishman. "We're really trying to incorporate everyone into this fundraiser!"
Blair Cohen Miller, Alexis Miller's mother, has watched her daughter grow and mature through the cancer battle, remission, and now the planning of this event. "I get teary-eyed just thinking about what these girls are doing and how successful they've been with this event," she said. "They all have such a strong sense of commitment and passion for this. As a parent, I'm overwhelmed and proud to see how they've pulled it together despite being full-time students and all living in different cities. I'm humbled by what they're doing and hope I can hold my emotions together the day of the event! "
Stay Strong and Mahj On will be held May 23, 2015 at Mission Hills Country Club in Northbrook. For more information, go here.