I had just turned the corner onto my street when a tan Jeep Cherokee pulled up next to me. A blonde woman in black Wayfarers rolled down her window and leaned out. She was the substitute nurse who had been sent that day to take care of my mom. “Are you Sashka? Janet Rothchild’s daughter?” I nodded my head, almost reluctantly. “Oh, sweetie, you better run up to the house, your mom just died.” I adjusted my gaze up the winding road ahead of me as she pulled out onto the main street and on her way.
She had been sick 11 months. A tumor was discovered inside her brain stem when I was starting my senior year of high school. I graduated early and spent my time driving to and from chemo appointments, fielding phone calls—from friends, from doctors, from the hospice, so many phone calls. When she lost her ability to get around on her own, I bathed her and took her to the bathroom. Roles reversed; we learned how to talk about the things that scared us most. The radiation and steroids held her captive, distorting her once beautiful face and expanding her feminine silhouette. She was overtaken by cancer and left me, broken, two months after I turned 18.
For years, I felt like an astronaut, once safely tethered to her ship, now floating out in space, cord cut and no gravity to hold me anywhere for very long. I found myself wading, treading, drowning in a depth of sadness that affected every decision, swayed every thought. I wanted it to go away, but I didn’t want her memory to disappear with it. I wanted to do something she would be proud of, something that would ignite a positive beginning in the wake of her untimely end.
If nothing else, I have learned that life does not always hand you answers when you want them, or even when you need them. My mom died in 1999, and it wasn’t until 2011, while sitting at a bar in Soho, did an idea about how to create that new beginning reveal itself to me. Over the years I have shared my story of loss with many people, just as they have shared theirs with me. That day at that anonymous downtown bar was no different than any other, only now I realize the power of story, paying attention to the triggers of pain and memory and how each person has their own unique understanding, perspective, and resolve. I always knew I wanted to use my experience to help others, and now it was finally coming into focus.
My family and I were blessed to have comprehensive health insurance that covered most of my mom’s extraordinarily expensive treatment. Instead of having to worry about how we would pay for our rent, groceries, transportation costs, and her care, we could focus on her health and being together. But not every family is as lucky. One in two men, and one in three women are diagnosed with cancer, and a majority of them will endure some kind of financial devastation based on that diagnosis. It is a reality, as heartbreaking as it is unhinging.
Armed with my experience and my husband’s creative direction, we built Standbuy, a place for cancer patients and their families to connect with direct and immediate support. It’s a digital base camp where people can collect donations in real time and share their stories. Our immediate goal with Standbuy is to provide the cancer community with practical tools to facilitate all forms of healing—physical, emotional, and financial. Our long-term goal? To close up shop because we’ve come together as a global community to create cost-effective treatment plans for people living with cancer. I would be more than happy to move on to another way of supporting people through this process.
Today I find myself turning a new corner, onto a new street, one that is now filled with excitement, a sense of peace and endless possibility. I’ve adjusted my gaze once again, and the winding road up ahead doesn’t look too different from that one where I stood all those years ago. But this time, I know one thing for sure—we are all in this together, always.
--Sashka Rothchild. With a diverse professional background that includes culinary training at Tante Marie in San Francisco, restaurant and nightlife management, and production and multimedia experience at a top New York City media firm, Sashka Rothchild’s expertise crosses industries and platforms alike. After spending time in Asia working at the startup GoBedrock as part of their initial launch team and as an advisor to their board, Sashka developed the idea for Standbuy, a crowd-funding platform focused on easing the financial burden of cancer, with husband and Co-Founder Mark Kozlowski before returning to the states to see development through.