A Pittsburgher pays it forward
OpinionGuest Columnist

A Pittsburgher pays it forward

"There is simply no ask. People just do. It is possibly the best part of Pittsburgh."

(Photo by Taylor Cohen)
(Photo by Taylor Cohen)

Being from Pittsburgh, I have a lot of models for strength and resilience. We have sports teams that always fight their way back against all odds. We have industries and communities that transform and survive difficult obstacles. We even stood strong when faced with the most violent antisemitic attack in U.S. history. As I was growing up, though, my biggest challenges were Allderdice basketball foes, navigating my social life and deciding which fun summer activities I would engage in.

This charmed path continued when I went off to college in Washington, D.C. and later became a teacher, first in Chicago and then in New York City. All along the way, my friends from home were central to my life and shared every step with me.

This past February when I was shockingly diagnosed with lymphoma, I had no idea how critical these friends would be to me.

Instantly and without asking, a team of people surrounded me to support me in every way. I have seen this phenomenon in Squirrel Hill play out with my parents and their friend group. There is simply no ask. People just do. It is possibly the best part of Pittsburgh. The comment I hear most after new friends visit for the first time is, “Pittsburgh people are so nice.” Well, they have no idea of the limitless scope of kindness, but I do.

Acts of kindness come in so many forms. Prantl’s tortes and Aiello’s pizzas have been showing up at my apartment regularly. I have not had a moment to sit in despair. I have crafting friends, walking friends, cooking friends, cleaning friends, eating friends, movie friends, quiet friends. Hats off (literally) to those who come for scans and chemo, to head-shaving and wig fittings. There are friends who send ice cream and cozy outfits, those who send me readings or positive messages. Each and every gesture, big and small, reminds me of the force of goodness.

At the onset of my cancer journey, my Jewish oncologist asked me if I preferred to schedule my treatments to avoid Shabbat or Jewish holidays. I’m not sure why I found such comfort in that. Maybe he understands me and my family just a little bit more. Or maybe I just feel some connection to him. Whatever it is, I am grateful for the care and the medicines that can save my life.

Having cancer definitely gives you way too much time for reflection and perspective that you never wanted or needed, especially not at 26 years old. Now that I am forced into this arena, I decided to see the good. I will never be able to repay all of the kindness that I am receiving so my only option is to pay it forward.

Gali Isaacson (Photo by Taylor Cohen)
A few of my friends designed hats in honor of my battle. Quickly, we decided to sell the hats and have the proceeds benefit my school’s tuition assistance fund. Alexander Robertson School in New York instills kindness, empathy, thoughtfulness and courtesy in the youngest of students as part of its core mission. This campaign will enable some deserving young students to flourish armed with the qualities that will make the world a better place. We designed a site to sell the hats and for donations with some information about my journey and are highlighting acts of goodness and kindness along the way.

Within a day or two, the campaign had reached thousands of people. I am overwhelmed by the response and so excited for my school and my students. I miss them all beyond words. This project is giving me purpose and pleasure.

Maybe it is my Pittsburgh roots, but I am facing forward, seeing the good and ready for the fight. Mostly, I am grateful for the kindness that is surrounding me. PJC

Gali Isaacson is from Pittsburgh and teaches in New York.

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