Written by Lyn Dobrin Thursday, 19 September 2013 00:00
When Narges Rothermel picks up the hotline phone at the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline where she is a volunteer, sometimes the person calling is newly diagnosed and frightened. “When I tell them I’m a 35 year survivor, they don’t hear me. I again say I had breast cancer 35 years ago. There is a pause. And then they say, ‘Really!?’ and I hear hope replacing the fear.”
Narges did not have a hotline to call when she was diagnosed in 1978 when she was 37 years old, with two young children. She says cancer was the last thing she expected. She wasn’t overweight; she wasn’t a smoker. My doctor and nurse and I thought maybe it was backed up milk after I stopped nursing my son. It was breast cancer. “Your life just stops,” she said. “There was a wall in front of me.”
Her four-year-old daughter Miriam and three-year-old son Peter became her focus. Not knowing if she would survive, she decided to write poems for them in English instead of her native Farsi, which was the language she had used for her writing previously. “I wanted them to know something about their mother.” Thirty-five years ago breast cancer was viewed as a death sentence. Her first book of poetry was published under the title Wild Flowers.
Although Narges was born in Iran, her father was Russian and her mother Turkish/Russian. She received a nursing degree in Tehran, became instructor in the same nursing school and traveled to city of Isfahan, first as staff nurse then as director of a two-year program to train Licensed Practical Nurses.
Narges came to the United States from Iran when she was 28. She was accepted as an Exchange Visiting Nurse to Overlook Hospital in Summit New Jersey. She was also eager to escape the suffocating political atmosphere of Iran. “If you talked about and against the shah, the next day you were marked. My generation wanted freedom of speech.” After completing the two year program, she obtained an RN degree. She returned to Iran and found it was even more stifling.
She returned to the US, deciding to make this country her home. She met her husband-to-be at the wedding of a friend where she was maid of honor and he was best man. That evening Gary Rothermel told her the next wedding would be theirs.
When Narges had a new cancer in right breast in 1997, she knew about the Adelphi Program (as a nurse she had been referring people there for help) and she joined a support group. She says she found the program helpful and beneficial and volunteered so she could help others.