There’s something special about Trader Joe’s that you won’t find anywhere else, really. There’s an effervescence from the people there that you can feel simply by pulling into the parking lot. And somehow, it never comes across as anything but sincere.
And at the Trader Joe’s of Wayne, that is personified in one very special, remarkable human being named Lynette Parks. She’s everything that TJ founder Joe Coulombe would’ve designed in some employee lab somewhere. In another life, she must’ve been a Boy Scout, because she upholds every facet of the Scout Law to a T: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. Quirky should be in there somewhere, too, but that’s just a bonus.
What Lynette really is is a force of nature. In addition to essentially working full-time at Trader Joe’s, she also teaches music to preschool kids at 4 different schools during the school year.
She’s indomitable. Indefatigable. Unstoppable.
Even as she’s facing cancer. For the second time.
The first time, she found out something was wrong during a weekend family vacation with her kids shortly after her divorce. She thought she simply had a bite of some kind, but when she showed it to her daughter, Bridget, she knew at once what it was and made every appointment for her. She credits what she’d seen on Grey’s Anatomy for saving her mother’s life. She recognized it as inflammatory breast cancer that’s very aggressive. She was right. Bridget showed up at the preschool in Ridgewood where Lynette was teaching to go over all of her plans she’d made.
The diagnosis of breast cancer wasn’t going to stop Lynette, though. She describes it as a “trust fall” with God and she literally said, “It’s OK, we’ve got this.” She went through everything just before Covid locked everything down.
Since it was before the lockdown, all of her kids - Bridget, Amanda, and Tyler - would join her in her room, having “chemo parties” with dancing and celebrating. Despite the high risk of cancer’s return, the treatments were successful. No doubt the dancing helped.
But just before the holidays this year, she found that she was having problems playing certain chords that she’d never struggled with before. Little other neurological disturbances would pop up from time to time, people would see it in her eyes. She’d just say, “I’m fine, I just need to walk it off.” Then some balance issues came up. Her left hand would stop cooperating with her brain.
Her friend Angela Filato at Trader Joe’s took the reins this time. “Ang said she’d seen enough and that if she comes in on Monday without checking this out, I’m calling 911, and I’m not kidding.” Like Bridget, Ang isn’t someone to ignore.
When the techs came in to share the news, stage 4 brain cancer, Lynette’s first response was “you mean that the hormone blockers I’ve been taking to prevent this haven’t been working so I can stop taking them? OK, now what’s next?” They were somewhat taken aback by her pragmatic response. For some, it would be a gut punch. But that’s Lynette, always fixated upon the positive. This time, it was her daughter Amanda who stepped up with her pitbull-like persistence and would help manage her care. Next would be the trauma of brain surgery.
The innovative new chemo treatment she’s on now is called “Sassy.” A rather fitting option, this one.
On top of it all, Lynette recently fought off Covid, finally.
Despite it all, she believes that she’s been blessed with “such an army to pull her through.” Between her family, Trader Joe’s, Westside Nursery School (where she’s been for over 25 years), her new schools like the B4 Learning Center in Fair Lawn, Young World which started a Gofundme for her as Westside had done the first time — so much support, she was almost embarrassed. She’s used to being the giver, not the receiver.
And let’s face it, working at Trader Joe’s isn’t exactly a sedentary desk job. It’s long nights and physically demanding, regardless of how spiritually uplifting it might be. However, it’s part of Lynette’s salvation.
She’s still working 70 hours a week throughout her treatment — her concession was cutting it down from 80. She says that it keeps her mentally busy, and a way to keep from falling apart. “God gave me the energy to work, so I work,” says Lynette. It’s empowering.
The one thing that Lynette wants is a home of her own for herself and her three grown kids. She’s not in the place she’d like to be right now, but having her family around so that they all could heal together would be the biggest blessing she could ask for. She’s still working towards that, digging out of a financial hole, but it’s a goal she’s relentlessly pursuing, nonetheless.
Her music career is the third part of what’s gotten her through. It’s her passion, her creative outlet. She’s written songs for her preschool theater arts group, and her kids have told her that this is the year she’s going to record them and monetize them towards that house and past the debt.
“They say that you’re only as good as your most miserable child,” she explains. “So if I can through this help teach them that strength comes from within and comes from the Lord, I’ve done my job.” All three of her kids suffer from severe anxiety about things – “It’s a beast you’re going to have to conquer,” she tells them – but Lynette is anything but, despite it all. The word negative doesn’t exist in her world, on any level.
Her coworkers at Trader Joe’s deify her, with good reason. While we spoke about Lynette, Ang shared that “I’m honored to know her. I think that’s why God put me here.” And she’s not the only one who feels that way. Sarah Alshuraidah shares her sentiment. “She’s just about the best person I’ve ever met,” she tells me. And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who enters the store who doesn’t greet Lynette with a hug, coworker, or customer. To her, and to her coworkers, it’s a family. And if you shop there, you know that’s not hyperbole. The world-class benefits offered by Trader Joe’s are enhanced by the people benefits. And inarguably, Lynette is their brightest star.
“Every day is a gift,” Lynette tells me. “Take it, run with it, love it, embrace it, and keep moving and going. I don’t allow cancer to define me in any way, shape, or form. I am so fortunate. I am not in pain. My oldest daughter once said that, ‘You’re going to keep going until one day, you don’t.’ And I told her, ‘Yes, and that’s the way to be.’”
She’s positively a force of nature.
“Every day is a gift. Take it, run with it, love it, embrace it, and keep moving and going."