“Cancer is lousy,” states Harry M. Schwartz as he recalls his late wife, Iris, and her heroic battle with the disease. “No one should have to go through what Iris went through. But unfortunately, many, many people do, and my family just wants to do what we can to help make things easier for patients and their families.”
The Iris Lee Schwartz Cancer Fund was established by Schwartz after Iris’ passing in 1993 from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The physicians, nurses, and staff at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia joined Iris in her valiant fight against the disease, but in the end the cancer proved too strong.
“My mother had everything to live for,” recalls her oldest son, Brett, who was 15 at the time of her passing. “She had my father, me, and my brother, Ian. She and her doctors did everything they could. I remember her as vibrant, loving, and caring with a spirit that never gave up.”
To celebrate Iris, Harry and his boys wanted to do something to help support the caregivers and patients at Einstein. “Everyone was so good to her,” remembers Harry. “People went out of their way to provide care and comfort. We wanted to do something that would help.”
So, in 1994, a few months after Iris’ passing, the family initiated what is lovingly referred to as The Iris Fund. Reflected by her courage, zest for life, and dedication to family and friends, The Iris Fund provides support for the Cancer Center at Einstein Philadelphia.
“Initially, we started out doing things like providing comfort items for patients and specialized training for nurses,” explains Harry. “The fund has also supported environmental enhancements to help patients, like purchasing a huge fish tank for the waiting area. What’s more relaxing than watching fish swim around?”
Today, the fund provides support needed to enhance the Cancer Center’s healing environment and to support therapeutic programs offered to patients, their families, and loved ones. Brett states, “We just want to do anything to help make the lives of cancer patients and their families easier.”
Recently, both Brett and his brother have become involved with Einstein Philadelphia’s Cancer Survivors Day celebration, now named in honor of Iris. Held every June, the gathering celebrates the tenacity, strength, and spirit of those who have fought or continue to fight cancer with the support of Einstein professionals.
“I love being part of the celebration,” says Brett. “There are so many incredibly courageous people. Survivor is a good word, but ‘fighter’ is even better.”
For Brett, it was especially meaningful to meet Mareshah Brown, a young mother who is fighting cancer. He identifies with her and her young daughter, as he recalls what it was like when his mother was fighting her own battle when he was a young boy.
“Mareshah is a really good person and this hit her out of nowhere. I am so happy things are going well for her,” he says. “We are so fortunate medicine has progressed and the treatment options are varied and so effective. I look forward to growing this event and its support so we can touch more lives the way my mother did. My mother was not average or ordinary, and I know she would want us to support all those who are in the fight of their lives.”