CERT training through Oct. 4; Westside Voices concert Aug. 29

BY GEOFF MALEMAN

Linda Rubin Shafritz, a longtime Westchester resident, community activist and author, passed away Aug. 10 after a 30-year battle with a rare form of cancer. She was 56.

“Linda was always an advocate for those unable to fight for themselves,” said her husband, Larry. “Linda inspired many people through her battle with her illness, and she gave hope to those who shared the effects of her disease. She will always be revered by her peers, doctors and loved ones as one of the strongest persons they have ever encountered.”

Shafritz’s illness started on her honeymoon. At age 26, she began to have strange cold-like symptoms and the right side of her nose was always stuffed. When she returned from her honeymoon, she visited doctor after doctor, each one with a different answer. One would diagnose sinusitis, while another would suggest allergies.

Some 18 frustrating months later, Shafritz finally got a definite diagnosis. She was suffering from a rare and aggressive form of cancer called esthesioneuroblastoma, which targets the sinuses and nasal passages. Still in her 20s, she had the tumor surgically removed and managed to live a normal, happy married life. She and her husband bought a home and had two little girls. Everything seemed fine.

Then, 10 years after her original diagnosis, her cancer returned. To treat her, doctors had to remove her right eye. The news was shocking, but Shafritz took it with a different perspective now that she was older.

“If losing an eye had been a consideration at the time of my first diagnosis, I am sure I would have been beyond consoling,” she said at the time. “With two little children at home, my priorities had changed. All I wanted was my life — to live to see my children grow into independent adults.”

Having an eye — or not — suddenly took on a different level of importance in the overall scheme of things for Shafritz.

Her surgery was successful, but it proved to be just part of her recovery. Survivors of head and neck cancer, like Shafritz, often have their faces dramatically altered by surgery. Features may be removed, or no longer be symmetrical. It can change the way the world perceives them, and treats them — even looks at them.

In her book, “Face Value: Coping with Facial Disfigurement,” Shafritz wrote: “I cannot hide my face under clothing, like a missing breast or surgical scar. Every time I pass a mirror, or observe myself on a home video or leaf through a photo album, I am abruptly reminded that my looks are forever changed. But it is also a reminder that I am a cancer survivor.”

Still, to be more presentable, Shafritz decided to get fitted for a prosthetic eye. While the prosthetic did allow her to have more normal facial expressions, it wasn’t perfect. She knew nothing ever would be.

“I walked out of the hospital satisfied that this [prosthetic eye] was the best device I could ever hope for,” she said. “But I was still sad. Despite all rationale, I wanted my real eye back.

“Difficult and challenging as it was, I propelled myself back into the life I loved.”

She plunged in full-force, with the added fortitude of a survivor.

It was that survivor instinct that helped Shafritz through her darkest moments and helped her write a book in which she shared some of the tips she found useful in handling her facial changes, and how she found the strength to step back into life again.

Shafritz was recognized by B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester for her service to her synagogue and was honored as a “Star of the Neighborhood” by the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa.

“Linda spent a lot of weekends visiting folks in nursing homes in local areas and also assisting in taking groups of school children to sing jazz songs for the older folks to enjoy,” said Mitchell Poris, who nominated her as the Star of the Neighborhood in 2004. “When she lost an eye to cancer, she worked hard to overcome this disability. Some of her doctors thought she had a lot to offer other patients and asked her to donate her time and speak to some of them. Linda would visit many patients’ homes and have them come to hers.

“The doctors were so impressed by her abilities to explain things and comfort other patients that they asked her to write a book for patients and health care professionals about the emotional factors of facial disfigurement.”

Shafritz was a loving and devoted wife for 32 years, and is survived by her husband, Larry, and two daughters.

FREE CERT TRAINING

Free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training has begun in Westchester. Classes are held at Los Angeles Fire Department Station No. 5, 8900 Emerson Ave. in Westchester. Classes meet in the community room on Monday nights from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. through Oct. 4.

Local government prepares for everyday emergencies. However, during a disaster, the number and scope of incidents may overwhelm conventional emergency services, and local residents may need to rely on themselves and their neighbors.

The CERT program is designed to equip citizens with basic training to effectively serve as first-responders to disaster or emergency situations. Taught by highly experienced Los Angeles city firefighters, CERT training includes earthquake preparedness, light firefighting, triage, first aid, light search and rescue, disaster psychology and team organization.

The Los Angeles Fire Department offers this valuable program free of charge.

To sign up, please call Cyndi Hench at (310) 779-6706, or learn more at www.cert-la.com/, or send an email to WPDRNW@yahoo.com/.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

The Westchester-based a-cappella group Westside Voices will sing a collection of old favorites along with some other tunes during a musical performance beginning at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29 in the Fellowship Hall of Westchester United Methodist Church, 8065 Emerson Ave.

Songs will include everything from “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Esto Les Digo,” and “The Long and Winding Road” to “Satin Doll,” “Steal Away,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

Westside Voices is a group comprised of top solo and choral singers from throughout the area. With a repertoire from jazz to classical, from Madrigals to world music, from Doo-Wop to folk music, Westside Voices performs a variety of songs in a new and imaginative way.

Admission is free, though a voluntary donation of $10 per person is suggested. A dessert reception follows, and reservations are required. To reserve your seats, please call Penny at (310) 670-3777.

For more information, www.westsidevoices.com/.

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