It was 13 months ago – July 7, my birthday, to be precise – that I got the call. I had had a nagging, persistent sore throat for some time. Since it was the middle of a pandemic, and I was already pretty anxious, I had no shortage of imaginary culprits. Despite my vivid imagination, tonsil cancer had not been on the list.
As a New Yorker, we were already floating in a surreal and uneasy time. By July, the morgue trucks had settled outside Lenox Hill Hospital and the hospital tent had been stationed in Central Park, outside Mount Sinai. Within my family circle, I was isolated, and with each passing day, more concerned about my son 3,000 miles away.
My diagnosis came at an unprecedented moment in my professional life, too. Until then Pollyanna’s projects were all in-person. But, in March, as our scheduled professional development and conferences were cancelled or postponed, I began to feel as though Pollyanna would join the list of organizations paused or ended by the Covid crisis.
Shortly thereafter, the senseless murder of George Floyd prompted a reckoning around the nation, world, and within independent school communities, most loudly echoed on Black@ social media accounts. And in this reckoning, schools recognized that significant work around diversity, equity and inclusion could not pause until the end of this pandemic. They accepted that even when not physically together, equity could not be presumed, and important steps toward cultural recompense could and must be taken.
For Pollyanna, not only did this feel like a moment of transformation; it felt like a moment to make tangible strides towards fulfilling our mission of developing stronger communities. In May and June, the phone began to ring again and we quickly pivoted to a robust calendar of virtual programs for school communities and businesses seeking to engage their communities in dialogue around DEI topics.
Then, July 7. After many doctor appointments, tests and scans, in August I began a difficult seven-week course of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. In a moment of great professional challenge, I was, on most days, too depleted to will myself out of bed.
And, yet another challenge...some opponents began pushing back against the racial-justice dialogue taking place in independent schools. And as I continued to recover, Pollyanna seemingly became a prominent target in these efforts.
In the media, my colleagues and I were battered with allegations and untruths: that we sought to indoctrinate students in a political philosophy; that I misrepresented my heritage as a white, Jewish woman; that I was an opportunist getting rich off racial justice. The online vitriol was harsh, and I felt at times unsafe in my own home and had to take appropriate measures.
In a period of unimaginable challenges, I drew enormous strength from my communities -- especially our amazing Pollyanna team, close friends and my son, who moved back to New York. It was tempting to withdraw -- from the work, the challenge, everything. But the convergence of Covid, cancer and conflict had one resounding takeaway for me: that we need to confront our fears and challenges, and that when we commit to the hard work, we discover strength and resilience we did not even know we had.
Today, my health has greatly improved, yet I do not feel entirely out of the woods on any of these fronts. At the same time, as I begin to put this convergence of challenges behind me, I feel stronger and even more steadfastly dedicated to Pollyanna’s mission.
This is the first time I am publicly sharing the personal and professional challenges I experienced during this past year. It feels important to reflect on this time and on the value of getting through adversity. We all become stronger when we confront what’s difficult. No doubt, we will continue all to face challenges in the year to come. I am deeply grateful for this community, for your partnership, for your support, and for your trust in our shared mission.