When she was about to begin her two-year presidency of the Jewish Center in Princeton in 2005, Linda Grenis got some great advice from a staff member of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
When she told him she didn’t know anything about being president of a congregation, he told her, “Just be a role model — that doesn’t add to your ‘to do’ list.”
Grenis, 55, told NJJN, “I called to order my own conscience, values, and morals; I would just be attentive to those.”
This strategy — casting herself as a role model — is helping Grenis deal with her latest challenge, a diagnosis of breast cancer that has required a mastectomy followed by heavy chemotherapy.
“I am going to be a warrior — a role model who shows I can handle this and do it with grace and accept whatever life hands me,” said Grenis, who is director of community outreach at Greenwood House senior facility in Ewing. “The control we all think we have is an illusion; this is my life and I’m going to ride it and make the best of it and learn from it and grow from it.”
She decided to embrace this approach in a different manner, not necessarily accepting any of the standard advice or responding in the “expected” ways.
When her doctor told her that her hair was going to fall out on the 14th day of chemotherapy, he said that “lots of people don’t like that and they shave it.” A wig maker told her, “We will make it a smooth transition; I will shave your head and will cut the wig to look like your hair, and no one will ever know.”
Although he was presumably trying to be sensitive to her feelings, Grenis said she was “incensed.” She said, “He was concerned about me looking so perfect that no one would have known.” Grenis remembered that TV host Joan Lunden “came out on the cover of People magazine, and she modeled bald.”
“Bald is natural,” said Grenis. “I don’t need to totally pretend this isn’t happening and go into this guy’s room and shave my head. No, it’s okay; I want to be a role model to not be scared.”
So she invited about 35 friends on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend to a head-shaving party at Theo’s Salon on Nassau Street in Princeton. Refreshments were pink cupcakes and pink champagne. Everyone cut a little of her hair, then she had a Mohawk fashioned, and finally her head was shaved.
Grenis said the Jewish community has been there for her from the start.
Andrea Gaynor, whom Grenis met when she was president and Gaynor was treasurer of the Jewish Center’s sisterhood, spearheaded a site on Lotsa Helping Hands where people can sign up to help the Grenises with meals and driving.
The rabbis in the community have also reached out. The Jewish Center’s Rabbi Adam Feldman brought her a pair of boxing gloves — in pink — with a note that said, “We’re fighting for you; we’re in your corner.” The gloves have become something of a theme for Grenis’s fight against cancer, and she’s takes a picture of herself with them before each chemo treatment.
Greenwood House has accommodated her treatment schedule and sent dinners and gifts to help the family. People are also giving money to Greenwood House in Grenis’s name. “I feel good that people are making donations, which touches me but really helps the community,” she said.
Her name is not only on the Misheberach [blessing for healing] list at the Jewish Center, but people are reciting the blessing for her in other synagogues and leaving notes in the Western Wall for her when they travel to Israel. Grenis said, “The more prayers out there for me, the better.”
Anticipating a chemo regimen that will go for 88 weeks, Grenis said that she and her husband, orthopedic surgeon Michael Grenis, “could not have borne this alone. It is so unbelievable to have the support and love and friendship of our community, friends, our family, everybody. Amid all the chaos, there are many blessings — it’s just a matter of recognizing them.”
The couple has three children, Ricky, 26, Billy, 23, and Caroline, 20.