Cancer, Covid & Country-Wide Chaos – Wisdom From My Mom

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. Much like the rest of the world, I’ve been processing MANY fluctuating emotions, changes, personal and professional evolutions and uncertainties. Besides being in the process of creating the fourth annual Diabetes Empowerment Summit online event, diabetes has not been on my mind much at all.

I sent this email to my beloved email community of over 10K human beings a couple weeks back that caused some to leave, and some to stand even stronger in our community led by love, empathy, compassion, inclusivity, and equality for all. Feel free to read it HERE if you haven’t already.

One thing that has remained constant for me throughout the upheavals of life as of late is the love, respect, honor and reverence I have for my perfect-for-me mom. She is 69 years old, has lived through A LOT, and somehow always maintains a deep level of calm and centeredness, so I wanted to share her latest writing here for anyone who might need some “mom” wisdom.

The below was written by my mom, Gayle Shapiro, a few weeks back, and it is worth a read:

2020 has brought overwhelming circumstances to all of us. For me, it’s been represented by several “c” words – cancer, covid, and most recently, countrywide chaos resulting from the tragically disturbing murder of George Floyd.

The visual of that horror seen by everyone was the tipping point – for people who have always cared about social justice and racism, as well as many others who might not have realized or understood or lived in denial of the tremendous unfair treatment of people of color that has been pervasive in our society for so long.

One factor that made this incident so alarming is the fact that the three other officers did not do anything to intervene to stop George Floyd from being murdered by their fellow officer. The scenes of the violent rioting this week brought back memories for me of the race riots which took place in Philadelphia in 1964.

What really surprised me is the fact that I witnessed first-hand that violent action on the street where I lived at that time, and somehow my brain repressed most of the memory of it. I hadn’t thought about it in many years; I had a vague recollection that it happened, but the details were blocked out.

I was 13 years old living on a busy commercial street in North Philadelphia. All of the properties on my block were stores owned by white merchants, and people of many races and nationalities lived in the neighborhood. My father had a shoe repair business, and we lived in the same building upstairs from the shop. When I think back on this, I think at the age of 13 I should have been aware of the social and racial disparities, but I really don’t have any memory of that. I guess things are so different today because at that time, as young kids we did not really get involved in the news of the day, news was not a 24/7 flow, and of course, social media did not exist to constantly bombard us with images and information about what was going on.

It was a hot day in late August and my parents had taken me for a day trip to Atlantic City. When we approached our street returning home that night, we saw the rioting happening on our block. Large noisy crowds were smashing windows of most of the shops and we could not go to our home. I do recall that at that moment, I was probably more afraid than at any other time in my life, and I assume my brain just blocked out the rest because the trauma was too scary to face. We drove to my married sister’s house a few blocks away from the chaotic activity and spent the night there.

This week I got an email from an old friend who lived on that street; we were best friends from age 4. She lives in Florida now and we stay in touch  occasionally. She wrote to me to share her memories of that time, and to my surprise she reminded me that she was with me and my parents that day, and I didn’t even remember that she was with us! She filled in some of the details that she remembered, including the fact that she had been so afraid for her father who had stayed there to defend his furniture store, and had terrible nightmares for a long time afterwards. When we returned home the next day, we found that both my father’s and her father’s store windows had been the only ones on the block that were not damaged.

We moved out of that neighborhood shortly after that although my father kept the store open for a good while longer, until one day someone came in with a knife and tried to rob him. Somehow, he struggled and got the knife away from the guy who then fled. That was the end of the business on Lehigh Avenue. I still have that knife to this day.

Seeing this all happening now, almost 60 years later, is extremely distressing. Still the same inequality, prejudice, and discrimination exist and are even more prevalent today. My sincere desire is that the overwhelming reaction and protests of so many people across the entire nation and around the world is a sign of hope that things can and will change.

In keeping with my usual mindset of positivity, which seems to get harder and harder to maintain, I’ll share my belief that the large crowds of protesters that are gathering in so many places will provide valuable information to the ongoing research into covid-19. Social distancing has not been observed, and many of the participants in these demonstrations are not wearing masks. It will be of great interest to learn whether these mass gatherings will result in outbreaks of the virus in those groups. This could be an important guidance to those studying the evolution and spread of the virus and to the continuation of strategies and plans to develop some sense of a more settled way of life going forward.

Finally, I’ve decided to concentrate on some other positive “c” words that help me to stay optimistic.

  • First is confidence – confidence that my strength and attitude (and chemotherapy!) will continue to heal my body, and I have had the results so far to keep me enthusiastically expecting more of the same.
  • Next is calm curiosity about the covid crisis. I do all that I can to stay safe as a member of the highest risk group, but I regard the situation as a learning experience and ongoing science experiment that affects the entire world. No amount of worrying on my part will do anything about it, so I’ll quote the great Deepak Chopra who says “acceptance leads to insight and peace”. So I will follow that wise advice and accept with grace that which I can’t control.

Regarding the ongoing civil unrest, I can only depend on human compassion and concern to address the issues that need to be resolved. Those sensitivities, when motivated by passion and empathy, and advanced and organized by masses, lead to progress. It’s going to be a long and uncomfortable process; the systemic injustice and brutality that has been in place for hundreds of years will not change overnight, or within weeks or months.

I’m encouraged by witnessing the outpouring of outrage and involvement by young people. They are the true hope for a future that consists of equality, inclusivity, respect, and love for all human beings by all human beings.

Quite a lofty goal, and the fact that so many people deny or can’t even comprehend the existence of white privilege is a major obstacle in reaching that goal.

Also, all of us have implicit bias, even though we may not realize it or even understand what it is. Let’s all take action to be a part of manifesting the changes that are so desperately needed. In the interest of that objective, I have listed below some resources that will educate as well as provide opportunities for direct personal engagement with organizations that are working towards a better future for all of us. Some of the things we can all do:

  • SPEAK UP! Talk to people about the issues There are so many that are related – racism, police brutality and corruption, health care and education inequality, employment discrimination, and more. Endure the discomfort and hear – really listen with an open mind – other people’s stories. Especially communicate with your children about treating people with compassion and fairness.
  • Contact your elected officials! Communicate your desire/demand for change in policies.
  • LEARN & SHARE! Many of the resources listed below provide pertinent educational materials for both adults and children – check out article, blogs,
    videos, and movies.
  • Donate, volunteer, share resources with others. Volunteer with an organization that feeds people. People shouldn’t be suffering from hunger in our country, our communities. HELP THEM!
  • VOTE! Learn what candidates really stand for and vote accordingly in all elections, not just the major ones! The change must be at all levels.

Resource Links:

White Privilege Explained

Understanding Implicit Bias

Books, films, podcasts


  1. John Rodriguez says

    Like you, we are about the same age.

    Like you, I am encouraged that younger people will fix this wrong that has gone on for far too long. We had our chance but failed.

  2. I truly agreed it’s worth reading. The most helpful and motivated for me was the quote, Deepak Chopra says “acceptance leads to insight and peace”. The mentioned resources “that will educate as well as provide opportunities for direct personal engagement with organizations that are working towards a better future”, no doubt at all, even internationally people can do them. Thank you for sharing.

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