When Renee Heyman, founding mother of The Pink Tea Initiative at Temple Emanuel, invited Paula Krukin Levy to help her organize her first fundraiser in 2012, she had no way of knowing the event would outlive her.
A cancer survivor for 42 years, Heyman made a solemn vow to never let cancer get in the way of living her life.
“Renee was such a positive person,” says Joy Kaps, a member of the Pink Tea committee. “When life threw her a lemon, she just made lemonade and then invited the whole neighborhood over for a drink.”
Heyman credited her father, a radiologist, for saving her life. He advised they proceed with a treatment of combined chemotherapy and radiation to treat her massive tumor; a treatment unheard of in 1975.
In 1974, when Heyman was told she had breast cancer, a diagnosis of cancer was synonymous with a death sentence. But she was convinced that her life was just beginning.
“My mother—and my family—believe that her diagnosis happened for a reason,” says daughter Joanne Heyman. “My mother started going to breast cancer support meetings and championed many worthy cancer causes as a volunteer and event organizer.”
Heyman made it a priority to reach out to newly diagnosed breast cancer victims, overcome with fear, with her message of hope and personal empowerment.
According to friends, Heyman would caution the newly diagnosed that, “No one with cancer should ever be alone.” Her other motto, “Your good health is in your hands.” was a lesson she learned, in the School of Hard Knocks, after initially being misdiagnosed by a physician in a nearby town in New York.
Born in Lithuania, Heyman grew up in New York City. She earned her degree in early education from Hunter College and made it her life’s mission to educate cancer victims about their disease.
This year’s Pink Tea is on Sunday, May 7. The annual-fundraising event benefits the Beach Health Clinic (BHC) in Virginia Beach. For 31 years, BHC, a non-profit organization, has provided uninsured, working women in Tidewater (who fall below the 200% Federal poverty level) free, comprehensive health and dental care.
“Renee believed in our life-saving mission of helping uninsured women, who have no other opportunity to get mammograms,” says Susan Hellstrom, who volunteered at BHC for six years, prior to becoming its executive director. “Our budget is lean…just under $300,000,” she says. “But since we don’t pay any of our health care professionals, we are able to provide over $4.245 million in health care.” The upbeat Pink Tea was so close to Heyman’s heart that she would literally break into song. Her face would beam from the podium as she k’velled at the sweet sound of cancer victims, families, and friends celebrating life.
At this year’s 6th annual Pink Tea, congregant Leslie Siegel will again transform Temple Emanuel’s social hall into a magical oasis, and Sue Adler, Temple Emanuel’s “Chef de Cuisine,” will call upon her decades of culinary creativity, to deliver an English-style tea that even the Queen of England would envy. A minimum donation of $10 is requested.
– Devorah Ben-David Elstein