By Jeanette Friedman | Published 03/9/2006
Three years ago, vivacious 24-year-old Jamie Finkelstein walked into Jenna Mate’s house in Oradell and told Jenna’s mom Paula she thought she was going blind. Jenna has been Jamie’s best friend since fifth grade, the year Jamie’s mother died of cancer. Her father died a few years later from heart disease, but long before that, Jamie had become an ad hoc member of the Mate household. Emotionally adrift after her mother’s death, Jamie found refuge and unconditional love with the Mates.
The Mates rushed her to the hospital and all were devastated to learn the independent young woman was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She went through a three-year course of treatment that ended in December, but it didn’t stop her from getting her degree as a pastry chef from The French Culinary Institute in New York.
Then a month ago, a pain in her leg signaled the return of the leukemia. Now a bone marrow transplant is required and the Mates are asking everyone to pitch in and help — most significantly by joining the bone marrow transplant registration drive they are organizing on Sunday, March 12, at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus. Jamie’s only hope for a long, cancer-free life is the blessing of a successful bone marrow or stem cell transplant and the miracle of a cure.
Paula Mate describes Jamie as a sometimes-angry teen who marched to her own drummer while growing up. “When she learned she was sick, she began to change and heal her soul. Her emotional growth has been amazing, her stamina incredible. We love her, she is a part of our lives, part of our family, and in a sense, she has ‘polished’ our souls and made us better people.”
Putting the wished-for-miracle into perspective, Mate said, “Some people think an immediate cure or fix is evidence of a miracle, so when they look at the odds on a bone marrow transplant being successful they shrug. They believe the miracle is accomplished only if ‘goals’ are met. But the miracle is when the community comes together to do something good.”
Jamie’s friends, who come from all walks of life, have been extremely supportive, Mate said. So have family friends. “Nina Glaser, my neighbor, heard about it and made the JCCP available for the drive…. It’s ironic, but that’s where Jamie was a bat mitzvah 15 years ago. Rabbi Neal Borovitz at our Temple Sholom [in River Edge] agreed to co-sponsor the event.”
Asked why her family has expended so much energy on Jamie’s behalf, Mate thought a moment and said: “We live in the worlds we create for ourselves. I want to live in a world where, if one of my kids needed help, people would reach out and help. It’s not all or nothing — sometimes we can’t do it all ourselves.
“Perhaps this is the Divine’s mysterious way of shaping community, of making us form alliances, making us re-examine our priorities. It’s a chance for humanity to come together for something other than material acquisition or war. We all have responsibilities, problems — just so much energy. But if each family picked out just one or two people challenged by illness, age, loneliness — some adversity — and shared just part of the journey those people face, think how much more joy there would be in the world!
“That’s the world I want to live in. When communities join forces, they have amazing power to put goodness into the world.”
How to help
The bone marrow drive will be held Sunday, March 12, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, 304 E. Midland Ave. Potential bone marrow donors must be in good health and can choose to become a member of the national marrow donor registry or a private donor for Jamie Finkelstein. Those who are under 18 years old and would like to be tested must have signed parental consent. Financial contributions are greatly appreciated, said Paula Mate, who is organizing the drive.
For more information, call Mate at (201) 261-8092 or e-mail [email protected]