Parents to honor daughter's memory with Bette Midler

2013-06-22T00:00:00Z 2014-07-30T17:16:20Z Parents to honor daughter's memory with Bette MidlerStephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The parents of a young Tucson woman who recently died of a rare cancer will honor their 28-year-old daughter's memory with Bette Midler next week.

Bruce and Alayne Greenberg will attend a Broadway play starring Midler at the Booth Theatre. The actress and singer invited the Greenbergs to New York City after learning about their heartbreak.

Anna Greenberg died last month less than two years after her cancer diagnosis. With the help of one of her brothers who used to work in Los Angeles, Anna had met Midler - her longtime idol - in December.

Then, days before Anna died, Midler phoned her and called her a "wonderful soul." At Anna's request, Midler sang "Wind Beneath My Wings" during the call. It was Anna's favorite song.

Anna had been excited about Midler's starring role, "I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers," a play abut a legendary 1970s Hollywood agent, her father said Friday. He said Anna also really wanted to go to New York City to see it, but was too ill to make the trip.

Midler's invitation came Thursday.

"In hard times Jews stick together," Bruce Greenberg said of Midler's kindness. "She is giving our family a big hug."

Thousands of people have contacted the Greenberg family since Anna's death. The 2003 Sahuaro High School graduate became an outspoken advocate for young cancer patients. She was very open in discussing her treatments, and posted regular updates on her Facebook page. When the Jewish community held a prayer service for her in December, more than 300 people attended.

The service following her death attracted about 1,000 people and at least 100 more watched via livestream.

Even before her diagnosis, Anna had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. She worked for the local American Cancer Society as a community relationship manager, never imagining she would soon be a cancer patient herself. Prior to that job she worked for the March of Dimes.

She'd also lost 90 pounds and completed a half marathon. It was the day after the October 2011 "A" Mountain Half Marathon that Anna was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer tumor that occurs in the muscles attached to the bones. It's most often found in children, and there is no explanation why it struck Anna.

During an interview with the Star in December, Anna said she did not have time for "why me." Rather, she wanted to focus on what she called "Anna-tude" - being optimistic and looking ahead.

The Tucson Hebrew Academy, which Anna attended, plans to honor her by incorporating "Anna-tude" into its curriculum, head of school Arthur Yavelberg said.

"It's still in the exploratory stages but adolescence is a particularly difficult time and 'Anna-tude' is kind of a catch phrase for fostering better relationships," Yavelberg said. "Anna's friends were very important to her."

Yavelberg said the school is also looking into creating a piece of artwork in Anna's memory.

And Anna's family is continuing a project of planting trees that began while she was still alive. Groves of trees are planned at Congregation Chofetz Chayim in central Tucson, and at Carondelet St. Joseph's Hospital on the east side, where Anna spent her final days. Other tree planting projects are also planned in places that were meaningful to Anna, including her alma mater, Menlo College in California.

The family is trying to keep the trees in multiples of 18, which in Hebrew tradition means life, said Tzadik Rosenberg-Greenberg, who is one of Anna's five older brothers.

Before she died, Anna told her family that butterflies and sunflowers would be signs that she is with them. So the family is hoping to help create a healing garden that will incorporate metalwork images of butterflies and sunflowers.

Rosenberg-Greenberg said he'd like to find a way to use some of his sister's "health tips of the day" that she routinely posted on her Facebook page. Even when she was losing her vision and feeling weak, she continued posting positive pieces of advice like, "motivate others to be better than they were yesterday," and, "remember the 'grey people'. Grey people are the people that don't normally get recognized. The bus driver, the cashier, the girl that brings patients food at the hospital."

"Those were very moving and we want to create spaces of healing that will hold her energy," her brother said.

Contact Star medical reporter Stephanie Innes at sinnes@azstarnet.com or 573-4134.

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