Friends used to tease Lynn Oxenberg that the best way to spot her in a crowd was to look for her hair. Her red tresses — thick, silky and straight — often prompted compliments from strangers during her two-hour train ride from her home in the Philadelphia suburbs to her job in New York City. Lynn’s husband, Larry, described her hair as the perfect accessory to her fiery personality.
Lynn’s positive, outgoing nature faced its biggest challenge, when she developed a headache that lasted for an entire month. Then, she had a seizure and went straight to the hospital, where she had surgery and was diagnosed with glioblastoma.
Her doctor encouraged her to stay positive, but that was difficult at first. Uncertainty kept Lynn awake at night, and she struggled to maintain her usually optimistic outlook.
“In the beginning, if somebody invited me to a wedding and it was nine months away, I’d say, ‘Well, I can’t answer you now, I don’t know where I’m going to be in nine months,’” Lynn said. Over time, she started looking further into the future.
She resumed her work as a controller and human resources professional for a newspaper company, this time from home. But four months in, she reconsidered.
“I started thinking, ‘Is this is what I want to do for the rest of my life?’” she said. “If my life is going to be cut short, I don’t think working is what I want to do.”
After retiring, she started using her energetic personality to help others with GBM. And although Lynn had to shave her signature red hair as part of her cancer treatment, she still makes a big impression on others with her zest for life.
Lynn and her 50-person team, “Bald Bubby,” — taken from her grandchildren’s name for her — have raised more than $80,000 for the National Brain Tumor Society. She walks each year in the organization’s Race for Hope and is part of the Pennsylvania race planning committee.
Lynn’s husband, Larry, sees the same qualities in her teammates that he does in his wife of nearly 50 years — positivity and a desire to give back.
“If you’re helping other people, that means you’re understanding what other people are going through, which lets you know that you’re not alone,” Larry said.
Lynn also helps in other ways, like using her human resources expertise to assist others with cancer navigate the process of applying for disability.
For Lynn, life retains its same busy pace, minus the weekday commute to the Big Apple she did for two decades.
Now, Lynn fills her days with family time and activities that nourish her soul. She continues her 28-year streak of playing mahjong weekly with friends, and she’s a regular each Monday with her Israeli folk dancing group.
“The music is beautiful. It’s like my meditation,” she said. A few of her fellow dancers have also had cancer over the years, and they support each other during difficult times. “As long as we come to dancing, we know we’re OK, and we talk about it,” she said.
Lynn also started writing poetry about her experience with GBM. After working in the business side of the newspaper industry, she is enjoying her turn as a writer. She even attends a weekly memoir-writing class with a few other women, where they share their stories — the good and the bad.
“It’s been pretty therapeutic, I think, for all of us,” she said.
Whether she’s making chicken noodle soup with Larry or selecting scarves and earrings to help her stand out in a crowd, Lynn is still living life with an enthusiasm that’s hard to hide — much like that red hair she used to obsess over.
“She always thought her hair was her identity, but it really wasn’t. Her identity was her,” Larry said.
The health status of patients featured reflects their condition at the time the story was written and photographs were taken and may have changed over time.