The American Cancer Society visited the Community Cancer Center and participated in a round table discussion where Leslie Salem Mansour, cancer survivor and a volunteer at the Center, recounts, “We spoke in turns, sharing what motivates us to volunteer. One woman said that she believes in giving back to society. Another spoke of her mother’s death from the disease and how she wishes to help others. When it came to my turn, I told the truth. I said, ‘Nancy Sutton, one of the main founders of the Center, is my friend and she forces me to be a better person. I mean, she took this awesome idea of creating the Cancer Center and made it a reality; and there are no people in the world like the staff over there.”
When asked how often Nancy calls on her to help out, she quickly replied, “Every minute! She gets me in there.”
All kidding aside, Leslie is very appreciative of her involvement at the Center. “We are all so busy, but when I help others, I feel good,” Leslie says. “When you do something for someone else, you feel better about yourself. The Cancer Center helps both the people who come in for help and the volunteers.”
Leslie was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s in 2003. Immediately she called us, and they connected her with the right doctors. “It was very comforting to know that in an emergency there was someone outside of my family that could think clearly. It is a very, very important thing.”
Leslie volunteers her time at the Center in a variety of ways. She is a “Caring Connections” participant, which means that she serves as a mentor for cancer patients going through an experience similar to Leslie’s. Mentors are in charge of seeing to the client’s needs, whether it be for help with dinners, homework with their children, errands, or for accompaniment on doctor visits.
Leslie also shares her talent as a makeup artist at the Center’s beauty salon. One of her most gratifying moments was when she applied makeup for a very young client who was battling cancer. She wanted to look good for her friend’s wedding. “When I finished, she looked in the mirror and smiled from ear to ear. She said, ‘My G-d! I look like myself again!’ That day I really felt like I made a difference.” Leslie says.
“I have a funny memory too,” Leslie recounts. “Once after I made up one of the cancer patients, she said, ‘You made me look too good! No one is going to feel sorry for me now!”
The spirit of this story is quite reflective of Leslie’s general attitude. “In this situation, you have a choice. You can laugh or you can cry. A positive attitude keeps you going. You’ve gotta laugh.”
Leslie’s vibrant personality and her generous smile compete with her animated blue eyes. Her words spill out like an overflowing candy bowl; every word is colorful, sweet, and worthy of savoring.
“I used to keep everything in, but I learned that I have less stress when I let it out. Actually, my family wishes I’d put some back in!” she says.
Leslie tells of her first meeting with the doctor, “I was shocked to learn that I had cancer, because I was a vegan for ten years; I didn’t drink and I exercised daily. The doctor instantly said that I should have been having more fun! He asked me what my hobbies were and emphasized that going out with friends did not count as a hobby. I learned from that meeting, that good health is connected to effective stress release. He explained to me that you have to have time for yourself actually doing something you love.”
Leslie reflects on why Hashem gave her this challenge in life, “Sometimes I think that He wanted me to speak openly to others, because I can. I once had a conversation with a woman who did not tell anyone about her condition. Of course her husband and children knew, but because she did not want anyone to feel sorry for her, she kept her entire situation a secret. We ended up speaking for an hour and I know this was an enormous relief for her.”
Leslie firmly believes that cancer is like any other obstacle in life and that it is possible to go on and lead a healthy, productive life. She says, “It is just another bump in the road and just as with other things, hopefully you will move on and come out wiser.”
Another lesson Leslie tries to express to those battling cancer is that while others may be there to alleviate the difficulties, at the end of the day, each person is alone and has to get himself or herself better. She stresses that the attitude to take must not be: ‘I CAN get better’, but rather: ‘I WILL get better.’”
Leslie’s advice to those who want to help someone they know who is dealing with cancer is, “Don’t ask if there is anything you can do. Rather, call a close relative of the person and find out how to help in a meaningful way. You can also call the Cancer Center and see if you can add to their efforts. Also, sending a card or a text is a nice, non-invasive way to show someone that you care.”
When Leslie was sick, people made very special efforts for her. They even sent her gifts. She tells of a group of women that chipped in and bought her a strand of pearls; to this day, it is her most cherished piece of jewelry. She says, “I never heard or thought of doing something like that, but it really did cheer me up!”
Leslie is very appreciative of how special and supportive our community is. When her doctor expressed amazement at how quickly she recovered from her disease, she told him, “I’m not surprised. Do you know how many people are praying for me?”
Once she was in the supermarket and she saw an acquaintance coming toward her. As usual, they each had their shopping lists, shopping carts, and other things on their minds. Leslie recalls that she considered remaining in her own world and walking right by, but just as she was contemplating this, the other girls said, “Hi. How are you feeling? I want you to know that I pray for you every day, xxxxx bat xxxx . I’m so glad to see you looking so good!”
From that uplifting experience, Leslie says, “I learned that it is important to take the time to be a nice person and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to give back to a community I cherish.”