September, 2004

By Martin DeAngelis

Before they were angels, The Girls were just friends. They started getting together in kindergarten, in Margate, picked up a few more friends through their grade-school years there, then some more when they got to Holy Spirit High School in Absecon. That was in 1976, which means that the newest friendships in the crowd are 28 years old – although that kindergarten crew has been together for more than 35 years. They've had some great times together, but one truly awful one: Christina Ruane Rush, who became one of them as a Holy Spirit freshman, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997 - when she was pregnant with her second child. After a long fight, she died from the disease in May of 2000, at age 38.

Somewhere in there is when The Girls became angels, as Chris took to calling them when they started a dinner-delivery service for her family, including husband Joe Rush III and their little daughters, Katie and Erin. The gang put together a schedule to put together meals for the Rushes, and they cooked so often, and with so much love, some of their husbands still joke that they never ate so well as they did when their wives were making food to share with their old friend. To show them how much she appreciated their help, and their friendship, Chris gave every one of The Girls - the simple name they've always called themselves - a little gift. It was an angel ornament, her way of reminding them what they'd been to her when she needed them most.

After Chris died, her friends wanted to do something to keep her memory, and her fighting spirit, alive. So Beth Ventola, Vanessa Reale-Jones, Janine Sooy-Sheridan, Leslie Fenton Patrizio, Lori Ranck, Missy Passmore and Jennifer McGrath started the Christina M. Rush Foundation. And in the spirit of their old days together, their first official action was to throw a party. But this one was a fund-raiser, a basic day of beef and beer at the Flying Cloud Café in Atlantic City. And even though that first event was just five days after the shock of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the foundation had decided to keep ticket prices to $10 apiece, they still managed to raise more than $20,000 for their chosen cause.

That cause is helping other women with cancer - and with less support than their friend had - to deal with the disease and the complications it causes. They help pay their rent if the patient can't afford it, or make a mortgage payment, or pay utility bills or give money for almost anything but medical expenses.

In the first three years of its life, the foundation - whose board of directors includes The Girls and Joe Rush - raised almost $100,000, mostly with these annual Angel Nights. Its expenses and administrative costs total up to nothing, they say, because they run the whole operation out of an office in Ventola's Egg Harbor Township home. That all-volunteer policy lets them give out everything they take in, and do it in the form of direct help to local women and their families.

The thank-you notes Ventola keeps in the group's files show how much those patients need what these old friends do. "On Friday, after chemo (therapy), I received two disconnect notices," one woman wrote to the group. "On Saturday, I received your package. ... I cannot thank the Christina Rush Foundation enough for helping me." Another woman credits the group for "help(ing) us stay together under this roof."

The foundation has helped more than 50 women so far. Some of them have contacted the group directly, others have found it - or been found – through local hospitals, social workers or other charitable agencies, especially the South Jersey Cancer Fund. The board of the Christina Rush Foundation looks into requests and, after it confirms the details, does what it can to help.

This year's Angel Night is Saturday, and the foundation hopes to beat last year's total of $35,000. Tickets still cost $10, and even though it always draws a good crowd to the Flying Cloud - almost 400 people last year – they raise more from auctions and silent auctions and other activities than they do from actual ticket sales. One of the board members' favorite fund-raisers is a small pin they sell, an original design updated every year by a local jeweler. They sell them for $10 apiece, and they like them because these angel pins are the perfect item for Angel Night.

The foundation's files show that Chris Rush isn't the only one who ever called her old friends angels. And they appreciate these new sentiments, just like they treasure that old one. But to each other, they're still just The Girls.

June 7, 2000


By Martin DeAngelis

I believe there was a column here a few weeks ago about why more people should check out an Atlantic City Surf game, why they should give the team and its Sandcastle stadium a chance.

But because that column was inspired by the fact that the team's attendance has been down this year, and it had the nerve to mention that fact, some Surf fans believe that column was a harsh and unfair attack on the team.

I know this because several of these people answered me with email messages like this one, which was waiting for me when I got back from vacation the other day:

0ur consensus of the neighborhood and fans of the Surf who seem to know a lot more than the writer (about) the Sandcastle is that The Press should stop finding fault with such a positive, entertaining venue...

"It is only a shame that naysayers like you don't appreciate something so great when it is here."

Then there was this, which came right after that column ran:

"You are part of the problem ... you promote the apathy that does exist in some locals..."

Speaking of problems, one I have with email is that lots of people don't sign their notes, as these two didn't But I still love how simple email is to answer, and my an­swer to one of these critics started with a simple question:

"Did you even read the column?"

I honestly wonder. But I have to admit that once I answered these writers, they came back with much more reasonable replies.

And a few people who obviously did read the original column gave me some very good answers. Like this one from Steve Dunn, a 1964 graduate of Atlantic City High School who lives and works in Philadelphia now:

"But I get to more Surf games than Phillies games," Dunn says.

Thanks to differences in traffic, he says it can be faster and easier for him to get to his seat in the Sandcastle than it is to get in and get seated at Veterans Stadium.

"The (Sandcastle) parking is great and the park is even better," Dunn says. "It is a very 'cheap date.' For people on the mainland to think the stadium is too far is unbelievable."

But even when you're arguing about it, baseball is still just a game. And today I'm sad to have to give you follow ups to two other columns, the ends of two stories you might remember.

They aren't happy ends, either they were both on the obituary page of one day's paper when I got home.

The first obit was for 101 year old Barney Josephs of Ventnor, "Pop" to his family. I told you about him last year after he went out with his old girlfriend 75 years after the couple's last date.

The two had broken up and married other people. But years after Barney's wife died, he looked up this old flame and called her. She was widowed too, so she met him and they became good friends again. She was even his date again at his 100th birthday party.

And Barney was a nice old guy, but the second obit was in a whole different league of sadness for me.

Because it was for someone I just wrote about last month the 38 year old mother of two little girls.

Chris Ruane Rush of Atlantic City was one subject of my Mother's Day column. The other was Chris' mother, Mary, because they had each been fighting cancer for several years, the way they did most things together.

Chris' friends and family know she finally lost her fight to ovarian cancer May 28. But for everyone else who read her story, and cared about it, I thought it was only fair to let you know how it ended.

Even if how it ended was so sadly, tragically unfair.

May 14, 2000


By Martin DeAngelis

It’s only fitting to start this Mother’s Day story with a baby being born.

The baby’s name is Katie Rush. She and most of her family live in Atlantic City. And she was welcomed into this world on May 8,1996 – just four days short of Mother’s Day - by several happy relatives, including her father, Joe Rush III, and her mother, Chris Ruane Rush.

But Chris’ mother, Mary Ruane, surprised her family by not being at the hospital to greet Katie. She couldn’t be, because on the day Jim and Mary Ruane’s oldest child gave birth to their first grandchild, Mary was stuck at home, recovering from a biopsy - and from finding out that she had advanced-stage breast cancer.

She had known something was wrong. But with her own mother’s 1994 death still too fresh in her mind and Chris so close to having her baby, Mary put off getting checked for as long as she could - and much longer than she should have.

She told her other four children right away, but Mary didn’t want to upset the new mother, so she never talked to Chris about the cancer until a month or so after Katie was born.

Of course, Chris was upset. Everyone was, but Mary went for a long year of radiation and chemotherapy, and the treatment seemed to be working. So things were getting back to normal for the family until October 1997, when Chris was pregnant again.

She was having prenatal tests done when her doctors found a cyst on one of her ovaries. And after a delayed operation and a biopsy, it was the daughter’s turn to give her mom some sad news: Now Chris had cancer too. It was ovarian cancer, a particularly dangerous form of the disease. And Chris’ treatment was complicated by the fact that she was still pregnant and set on having the baby.

“The doctors had suggested an abortion,” Mary says, “but she wouldn’t hear of it.”

The pregnancy already had forced Chris to wait for that operation and biopsy. Then she had to wait longer, to give the baby time to develop, before she could start chemotherapy.

But she did well enough that on May 21, 1998, she gave birth to a healthy Erin Mary Rush, just three weeks before her due date - and 11 days after Mother’s Day,

Chris finished her treatments a few months later. But she and her mom still were doing regular follow-up visits with their doctors, and in March of 1999, Chris got more bad news:

Her cancer was back.

‘‘When she heard,” Joe Rush says, “(Mary) said, ‘Why can’t it be me instead of you?’”

At that point, Mary still felt OK. But two months later, she learned she was something of a prophet - an unlucky one:

Her cancer also had returned - and it had spread into her bone marrow.

Chris’ answer to that was a question:

“She said, ‘Why you?’” as her mom recalls it.

“So I said, ‘Why you?’” Mary continues.

“She said, ‘But you’re my mother!’”

“And I said. ‘Well, you’re my daughter!’ And then we both laughed.”

Yes, there have been laughs through all this. There was a mother-daughter shopping trip-for wigs. By the end, each one had talked the other into becoming a temporary redhead.

“And when we both found out (about cancer) the second time, Chris said. ‘Mom I believe in closeness, but this is going too far,’” Mary says.

But Chris, 38, hasn’t done as well in treatment as her 64-year-old mother has. There were blood clots that swelled up Chris’ legs so badly, she couldn’t walk. “And a clot passed through her heart and into her lungs,” Joe Rush says. “She came close to dying.” There was more bad news this month - doctors found a “very small spot” of cancer on Chris’ brain, in her mom’s words.

While no one is guaranteed a tomorrow, Joe knows it’s a real possibility that this Mother’s Day could be his wife’s last. But Mary has “no doubt that Chrissy is going to be fine. She’s a fighter, and she will not give up that easily.”

Mary also has no doubts about whose cancer has been harder for her to deal with.

“For me the emotional pain has been worse than the physical pain,” she says. “It’s the emotional pain of knowing the physical pain Chrissy is going through.”

But as a mother, Mary knows her daughter thinks exactly the same way.

“Chris always worries about the other person,” her mom says.

Both patients do whatever they can to help each other, Mary watches the girls when Chris goes for treatments, And Chris has been her mom’s nurse, learning to give her shots of the same drug that Joe had to learn to give Chris.

“Chris takes very good care of me,” Mary says.

Yes, with all these maternal instincts running so wild, today is a very big day in this family.

“It’s a special day,” Mary says. “We’re all looking for a good Mother’s Day with Chrissy. And many more to come.”

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For more information please contact:
Christina M. Rush Foundation, Inc.

P.O. Box 3266

Margate, New Jersey 08402