Tribute in Memory of: Brenda Caplan
The Brenda L. Caplan Memorial Scholarship Fund was endowed by Brenda’s husband, Myron, in conjunction with the Butterfly Project created by Brenda’s granddaughter, Molly.
So many times, a memorial fund, can feel sad. After all, the word “memorial” means that a very beloved person is no longer here. But one look at Brenda’s picture above will tell you that Brenda Caplan was never about sadness. She was a woman of joy and action. Behind that smile was a keenly intelligent and compassionate person—an advocate for everyone with whom she came in contact.
Like so many who visit this website, our family’s lives have been irretrievably affected by hereditary cancer. While never tested, Brenda had both breast and ovarian cancer. Her half-sister died young of breast cancer. Brenda’s mother had bilateral breast cancer, and Brenda’s daughter, Dara, a previvor, is BRCA-1 positive. While generations have been impacted, the choices available to each generation are exponentially better. The key to improving outcomes, however, hinges on education.
Brenda was first diagnosed with pre-menopausal breast cancer in 1992 at age 47. Having already had a hysterectomy at 34, Brenda could have easily had her ovaries prophylactically removed, but genetic testing was never mentioned to her. Seven years later at age 55 she was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer. Brenda passed away at age 59.
In 2009, a woman like Brenda would most probably have been offered genetic testing. But once you receive those results, then what? What is going to be right for you? For Dara, receiving those results unleashed a confusing and overwhelming period of her life. So many different doctors, all with varying information on procedures, surveillance, reconstruction and surgical options, not to mention the research studies—or lack thereof—for the BRCA population. It was not until Dara found FORCE that she found a sense of belonging and peace. The ability to attend the FORCE conference was life-altering. To have every current bit of research at her fingertips, to see up-close and personal what different reconstruction options looked like, and to meet with doctors dedicated to performing the very best surgeries---the Conference, for Dara, finally focused her blurry picture.
Brenda was a teacher and later, school counselor, by profession. She firmly believed in the power of education to make a difference and change the direction of a person’s life. The cost of a flight to Florida, a hotel room and the Conference fee is not inexpensive even though in many respects, the experience is priceless. It is our hope that in Brenda’s name, we can alleviate the financial concern, so that people like Dara, who need support, guidance, and information, can attend the Conference and move forward with their lives.
We are deeply grateful for your support of this endeavor.
Lessons from Brenda
As a eulogy to her Mom, Dara shared the lessons she learned from her Mom that she will carry with her through life. As Dara says, "In a nutshell, I think they are lessons on how to be a good, happy human being." We agree and wanted to share them with all of you. .
LBrenda and Myronesson #1: Fall in Love.
On days like today, love—and the vulnerability that goes with it—seems highly overrated. But in my mom’s life, love turned all of the cogs in the machine. My mom found a soul mate in my father. My mom and dad met when she was15. They married when she was almost 20, and have been together through every stage of life. As I watched over the years, the tenderness, caring and obvious joy they took in each other, I learned how important it was to allow oneself to be truly, deeply in love with another person. She never took my dad for granted, nor did he take her. Theirs was a love founded on respect, honesty, trust and admiration. The lesson I took from her marriage to my dad was that it is important to feel the happiness and security that true love gives us.
Lesson #2: Care about other people.
Nana and Molly at the PianoMy mom held many titles in her life: wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, and counselor. Without fail, in each relationship, my mom took the time to give of herself and make the other person feel special. Caring was the common thread that bound all of her relationships. Certainly, there could be no finer mother than my mom. She saw her role as a parent to teach me what I needed to grow up into an independent individual that thought of and cared about others. From a very young age, my mom tried to instill the concept of thinking outside of my needs and myself. She taught me that it was important to befriend the less popular person. She showed me through her actions that every person is entitled to dignity, respect, kindness and compassion. Whether it is lending an ear to a friend in need, being a great parent or just giving someone a smile, my mom showed me that life is much fuller when you care deeply about the people and the world around you.
Lesson #3: Do your best.
This is perhaps the best lesson my mom ever shared with me. With every task you are faced with, simply do the best you can do. When people find out the whole story of my mom’s battles with breast and ovarian cancer and the enormous battle she faced to regain her life in 2000, they often don’t understand how she endured what she did. The truth is that my mom was just doing her best, giving it her best fight.
The beauty of doing your best is that it doesn’t require perfection, it usually has good results, and at the end of the day, you never have regrets. When, a few days ago, it became apparent that my mom would lose this battle with cancer, she said to me, “Dara, I tried my best.” I told her that was all anyone could ever ask for and all she could ask of herself. In the end, she could be at peace with dying because she did all that she could do to fight this while alive.
Lesson #4: Challenge your mind and live to your full potential.Graduation time with Dara and her Mom
Brenda Caplan was a great believer in the power of education. She taught me that it was my duty to be an educated individual who, if needed, could both support myself and contribute to society. One of the most difficult and powerful choices my mom made was to return to school to get her Master’s Degree after I left for college. I came to appreciate that this was no easy feat after being decades out of school. But she persevered. She was loved by her classmates and professors alike and was eventually selected as the Outstanding Graduate from her class. She adored helping people sort out their problems so their lives would be easier. Her logical, clear-headed approach to complex situations without fail helped others get to a better place. Moreover, that Master’s Degree gave my mom a sense of personal accomplishment that together with her roles as wife and mother, rounded her out as a person.
Lesson #5: Make the best of your situation.
Sometimes I ask myself, “Why was my mother stricken with cancer three times over 12 years?” “Why did she have so much physical suffering?” And then I think about all of the lives of cancer patients that she touched. My mom was not a paid counselor, but she had her “patients” that she took care of and counseled through their illnesses. Her surgeon, Dr. Gardner, and her oncologist, Dr. Allen, would make “referrals” to her. Generally, these were women whose mental attitude compromised the efficacy of their physical treatment. In every case, my mom helped these women survive and flourish despite this disease. Was my mom stricken with cancer to help others? Of course, not! But, what she did was to make the best of her situation. She chose to use her experience to help others. The lesson I take from this is to not just accept what life gives you, but to mold your life into a positive experience.
Lesson #6: Just Do It.
Remember the Nike ad? My mom had a sign on her desk that read, “Just Do It.” She used to tell this to the students she counseled. And she told it to herself. This was her way of saying not to make excuses. Go for things in life you want. Set a goal, and go after it. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be afraid to do the right thing. I think that it is still her message to me, and to each of you here today. Go out, take charge of your life, and make it the best you can.
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