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Miss America, My Feminist Friend and Mentor

Bess_Myerson_1957Bess Myerson, crowned Miss America in 1945, was the first and only Jewish Miss America. And she became my heroine and close friend despite our 20-year age difference.

I knew her when she was no longer in the limelight. Because both of us were cancer survivors and advocates, a mutual friend introduced us, in the mid-90s. While Bess never went into detail about her fall from stardom, she understood her celebrity, and once said, “I am more infamous these days than I am famous, but, if I can bring attention to the causes I care about, then, that’s OK.”

She did just that as a philanthropist, fundraiser and volunteer. My causes became hers, and I will be forever grateful.

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, I became active with SHARE, a self-help group for women with breast cancer in NYC, as a facilitator, advocate and board member. This work required compassion, an indomitable spirit and a financial commitment. I had the empathy, along with a wobbly sense of self. But despite the fact that I was a fundraiser who respected the impact a gift of money could have, I usually stopped short of being a donor, thinking that being a volunteer was good enough.