“If I am going to die, it’s good to have a warning — and this might be a warning — but it would be helpful to live longer, because my kids are amazing, and my grandkids are young, and I am not done guiding them. I am not done being a mom or a bubbe,” said Sue Futeral-Myrowitz.
She and husband of 41 years, Allen “Capp” Myrowitz, are parents to Justin, Jason, and Michelle “Mindy;” and grandparents to Penny, 7; Shane, 5; Naava, 3; Reese, 2; and Aviva, 7 months.
Futeral-Myrowitz is a social worker, with a master’s and two Ph.D.s, and a member of Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim in Pikesville. She is a beloved congregation member, friend, co-worker, and neighbor. Until her diagnosis, Myrowitz worked as a social worker at Franklin High School.
She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or ALL, with a genetic mutation, this past December. The onset was sudden, and shocking, Futeral-Myrowitz said.
“I thought it was a torn shoulder rotator cuff,” she said. It all started with excruciating pain on her left shoulder, “on Oct. 16, 2019,” she added. The pain was unbearable, but Futeral-Myrowitz never imagined she had cancer.
After undergoing a battery of blood tests, MRIs, and CT scans, doctors ascertained that she had ALL. She had a tumor on her shoulder that had spread to the rest of her body and to her skull. “My brain is intact, though!” she said with a smile.
The only cure for ALL is a bone marrow transplant, and the most likely donor match is a sibling. Futeral-Myrowitz’s only sister died of cancer when she was 28 years old. She has no other siblings. But she is not alone, and she is not without hope.
To save Futeral-Myrowitz’s life, Akiva Kent, a member of Suburban Orthodox, moved swiftly to organize a bone marrow donor drive. The drive is scheduled for Feb. 23, from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., at the synagogue. Healthy adults between the ages of 18 to 55 are encouraged to register and be tested to see if they are a match. The test takes
minutes and involves a painless cheek swab.
Those who can’t attend Sunday’s event can register as a bone marrow donor online at DKMS.org.
“The Gemara tells us one who saves one life it’s as though they saved the entire world,” said Rabbi Shmuel Silber of the shul and the Institute for Jewish Continuity at Suburban Orthodox. “The notion that just by coming in for a little cheek swab we could potentially go ahead and save the life of an incredible woman, a mother, a grandmother, a pillar of chesed, is not only an incredible opportunity, but a distinct privilege for every one of the members of our community.”
Futeral-Myrowitz is undergoing intense chemotherapy treatments. In March, she will spend a week at University of Maryland Medical Center for chemotherapy in preparation for what she, her family, and the extended network of people whose lives she has touched, hope to be a transplant from a matching blood marrow donor.
According to DKMS, an international organization and the world’s largest bone marrow donor center, while 30% of all patients can find a matching donor in their families, approximately 70% of all patients must find a donor outside of their family. This is the case for Futeral-Myrowitz.
Justin Myrowitz, Futeral-Myrowitz’s middle child and father to three of her five grandchildren, shared his hopes for Sunday’s bone marrow drive. “We hope for a really big turn out,” he said. “We hope that people will be enthusiastic when they come. And while we hope it’s someone close — a family member or close friend — anyone in the entire world who is a match and can save her life would be really great.”
Justin Myrowitz organized a meal train after his mother’s diagnosis, an act that is not new to him or to Suburban Orthodox members. Volunteers can sign up for the meal train at mealtrain.com/trains/lm5316.
“We’ve done meal trains when people get sick or as they recover after having a baby. Once we knew that my mom’s activities were restricted because of chemo, and that she would be exhausted both, physically and mentally, people started asking what they could do to help, so we set up a link where people pick a day, and the meal they’ll bring,” Justin Myrowitz said.
Seeing the transformation of a woman who has been the epicenter of her family and communal life has been difficult, he remarked. “We are so used to seeing my mom so full of life and being active in everything. It’s been tough on everyone, and hardest on the grandchildren who are so used to having her in their daily lives, and now that has changed.”
“Suburban is truly like an extended mishpacha — we’re a family that truly cares for each neshama [soul] of our congregation,” Suburban Orthodox Executive Director Juliya Sheynman said. “We’re proud to see the outpouring of support for Sue, from the meals prepared for the family during some of her more difficult days, to the coordination of the drive by one of our members.”
Haydee M. Rodriguez is a freelance writer for the Baltimore Jewish Times.