Photograph by Susan Woog Wagner
Carri Rubinstein remembers the day in 2010 that she stumbled upon her friend, a breast cancer patient, crying in the gym locker room. “She told me that she had just gotten her latest scan and that the doctor said there was nothing left they could do,” says the Scarsdale resident. “Then she said, ‘I just want to make a video for my daughter, but there is no one to help me do it.’”
At that moment, Rubinstein, herself a breast cancer survivor, conceived the idea for Thru My Eyes. Today, the nonprofit organization that she runs out of her home helps patients with life-threatening illnesses make videos, free of charge, to leave behind for their loved ones. When she first started, Rubinstein, a mom of two, visited many area hospitals, including Weill Cornell, NewYork-Presbyterian, White Plains, and Yale-New Haven. “Everyone loved the idea and realized that this was the piece that was missing in patient care,” she says.
These days, Rubinstein and videographer Robert Allen go to the homes or hospital rooms of their clients, who all have children under the age of 21, and film them discussing their lives; a trained therapist will also accompany them and interview the patient on camera. Still, getting patients to commit to making these videos was initially a struggle. But when Rubinstein explains that the video is like “taking out an insurance policy” — in other words, if they make their video as early in their diagnosis as possible, they’ll be looking and feeling healthier — it helps patients come forward.
To date, Thru My Eyes has produced more than 40 videos. Originally, Rubinstein serviced patients within a 50-mile radius of her Scarsdale home. But now, she also uses Skype to reach patients around the country.
On the organization’s website, a 30-year-old father talks about why he decided to make a video: “Picture them not having your voice or image — or anything — to pass down, other than people just saying, ‘You’re a lot like your father.’ You can now have footage to verify it.”
Rubinstein, a former teacher, says that she recently received some positive feedback. Just four months after a client died, the patient’s mother-in-law called Rubinstein to say that she had just sat down to watch the video with her grandchildren, ages 10, 11, and 14. “She said there were some tears at the beginning when their mom came back up on the screen. But then they started chiding each other and saying, ‘See, I was the better sleeper,’ and ‘Yeah, but Mom said I walked first.’ The woman told me, ‘You’ve given them such an incredible gift.’ It was nice to hear.”
Rubinstein ensures patients that making a video does not mean that the end is near. “Hopefully, there will be lots of new treatments coming out. So, they can put the video away and in five years we’ll come back and update it,” she says. “They don’t have to come to grips with the fact that they’re dying; they just have to come to grips with the fact that they have a life-threatening illness. And that’s just easier for people to swallow.”
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