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Tributes

Hanna Green: a lingering light and legacy

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When 18-year-old Hanna Green delivered the keynote address at cancer-support organisation the DL Link’s fundraising dinner three weeks ago, she held the attention of everyone in the room. Graceful, eloquent, witty and humble, she epitomised the promise of youth.

But the next day, she was rushed to hospital, part of a relentless two-year journey with cancer. And just three weeks later, she was gone, cut done by a heartless disease that extinguished the brightest of lights too soon. She was laid to rest on 31 May 2022.

“Hanna was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma on her mom’s birthday, 4 December 2020. At the time, she was in Grade 11 at King David Linksfield,” says Terri Friedland of the DL Link. An only child with loving parents and grandparents, “she went into remission in July 2021. In between, she had chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. She was in her matric year, and I’ll never forget that she would have the most hectic treatment and then go home and study. She got As for every prelim she did.”

It was that drive, ambition, and talent that made Green stand out. “She was an all-rounder and could have done anything”, says Friedland. At the DL Link dinner, Green shared that she wanted to study medicine, quipping, “Yes, I’m yet another wannabe doctor.” But that dream wasn’t to be.

“She was re-diagnosed in September 2021,” says Friedland. “The cancer came back with a vengeance. She was still okay, and was able to go to her matric dance. But she wasn’t able to write her final matric exams. She was supposed to write them now. She was receiving treatment the whole time. When she spoke at the dinner, I never imagined in a million years that she would be gone so soon.”

In her speech, Green said, “The DL Link saved not only me, but my family. A cancer diagnosis is isolating and lonely. Not because you lack a support system, but because of the simple difference that this is happening to you, in your body, under your own skin. Possibly the most heart wrenching discovery was that it wasn’t just me hit by this disease, but also my family. Their lives were also flipped upside down. My boyfriend, my parents, and my grandparents – who in their old age had to watch their little ‘mamela’ miss out on the simchas they waited their whole lives to see.” It was upon realising this that she and her family decided to reach out to the DL Link for support.

She described how she went from being a stoic and strong child to being vulnerable and needing care – a tough transition. When the DL Link reached out in support, “I couldn’t conceptualise why they were so eager to get me anything my heart desired. These weren’t people I had known my whole life or watched me grow up. Terri said simply, ‘It’s because you deserve it.’ That’s what the DL Link stands for. It’s a family, riding on your journey with you.

“It’s small treats on yomtavim, and the innocent excitement when the doorbell rings, knowing it’s something just for me. It’s knowing that there’s always someone thinking of me. It’s Shabbat meals when my family is too tired to cook after caring for me during chemo sessions. It’s rehab after treatments. All of it is an opportunity to escape this nightmare, and a sense of community and asylum from this disease that causes so many to lose so much. No one is unaffected by cancer. The DL Link allows us to break the chain of hopelessness and struggle to find light, community, and shared strength.”

Likewise, the DL Link was there for Green over the past few weeks, getting her a tablet to keep boredom at bay while she was in hospital and so that she could study and watch Netflix. It was there for the entire rollercoaster ride, even during the moments when no one wanted to look down.

“Hanna wasn’t just a spark. She was a flame,” says Friedland. “She had such knowledge and wisdom, way beyond her years. Even when she couldn’t write her own matric exams, she would tutor others. She had such a fierce, strong attitude. But it was her time – there was nothing anyone could have done.”

At her funeral, Rabbi Yehuda Stern said her Hebrew name was Chaya, which means “life” and “18”. “Even with such ambition, she completed what she needed to do in 18 years,” says Friedland. “All day, all over the world, people said tehillim for her on a group created by the DL Link. It gave her wings, and allowed her to go up peacefully. She passed away in her sleep.”

Now, Green’s family and friends are left behind to pick up the pieces. “Her mom was her biggest supporter. They were the absolute best of friends. She had an incredible support system and cheerleaders at every angle,” says Friedland.

“We helped organise Hanna’s matric dance experience, including her make-up, her dress, a Bentley and Rolls Royce, and a family photo shoot.” In her speech, Green said, “It was a dream I never thought was possible. Just forgetting about the world and being a queen for the day, quite literally.”

Her make-up artist for the day, Chanel Michaeli says, “Hanna’s beauty shone through. It was an honour to be part of her journey and help create special memories.”

The DL Link’s founder, Michelle Goodman, says, “My own daughter, Devorah Leah, lost her life at 33, but she won the battle for so many others. We’ve now helped more than 850 warriors and their families. And anyone can be part of that. For example, generous donors provided Hanna’s matric dance transport and hotel stay. A simple phone call can make a dream come true and provide hope and beauty for those who need it.” She says Friedland became Green’s “closest buddy”, which was “beautiful to see, especially because so many of Hanna’s friends are away in Israel”.

With all her positivity, Goodman says, “This work is hard. I was a wreck [after Hanna passed]. But I realised that what we can control is our assistance. We do what we can to make a difference. The rest is up to Hashem.”

Though other cancer warriors may feel despondent, Friedland says “we can strengthen each other. Part of our work is linking people to each other. Often we find courage and strength in one another.”

To the community, she says, “Chaya means life. We need to be grateful for what we have. You never know when it’s your time. In down moments, find the fire within you.”

Finally, she says, “At the dinner, none of the 400 guests [besides her parents] knew Hanna. By the end of her speech, she had everyone on their feet, applauding. That was Hanna. She deserved to be known.”

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