Monday, May 30, 2016

The Reason

One of the touchiest subjects for a person facing challenge is, why? 

If G-d is loving why do good people suffer? Or worsely for some; why do bad people prosper while good people suffer? How is the Universe right to let innocent babies suffer and young people die of cancer?

I'm very careful around the subject of, Why?, and I mostly don't feel the need to justify G-d's tests and decisions. I have very strong faith and I've dissected these troubling issues at length with my soul on long runs outdoors and in the wee hours of the morning as I try to sleep.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. This is a belief that makes many people very mad.

I'm not asking for the dreaded, "you're so strong and G-d will only give you what you can handle...." line. No. No person facing a duel for their life wants to hear that. I can't always handle this! I'm tired of being the smiling, glowing example of a stage 4 cancer girl, and yet I know that I have no choice. The Higher Being Above decided that my family and I would suffer with a life threatening beast and I have faced 3 grueling and painful surgeries, 2 rounds of chemotherapy, and now again, I am in the midst of a third round. 

For the most part, I succeed at putting on a bright face. You don't see me at home writhing in pain as I recover from emergency abdominal surgery. You don't see my young children entertaining themselves without a mother - but with a mother upstairs in bed. Those are the private scenes and some of the most painful ones to have to live through.

So, if I have so much faith, what's the answer? Right? You want to know why I think bad things like this happen to good people. Why does cancer even exist if G-d is so great? Why would G-d hurt some of the best souls ever to grace this earth?

When I was out on my last run, weeks ago, before my surgery, when I came to the end there was a phenomenal and extraordinary sunset overhead. The colors looked as though they had been painted with bright pinks and fluorescent orange with accents of blue and purple. I stopped and took a few photos. Later I saw that friends from all different places and cities in Israel had posted similar photos from different perspectives on social media. It made me think. Across Israel, millions of us were witnessing the same beautiful canvas painted in the sky! In my mind, an act of G-d for all of us to enjoy for whatever reason. A gift from Above. I loved seeing each friend's reaction to the beautiful sunset and I felt connected to them by having witnessed it myself. I thanked G-d and said a prayer in light of His greatness in giving us such miracles to enjoy. This phenomenal sky came to be as I jogged through a nearby village.

As I trudged through the village, my belly was heavy. Something was wrong and I would soon find out that some 3-4 tumors and parts of my intestine had become strangulated in an incisional hernia that I've suffered from for a coulple of years. Half way through my run, I looked up at the sky and actually began to cry. I had already begun chemotherapy for the THIRD time. Would it work? What if I die sooner than could be planned for or even imagined?! I immediately wiped my eyes and swallowed the lump in my throat. G-d, PLEASE! Help me get through this! I felt a surge of warmth and I thought of the friends I have lost to cancer. So many young and vibrant souls taken up to Heaven before their time. I don't want that to be my legacy! 

When I gather my thoughts and think rationally, I come to many conclusions. I feel that G-d loves me. Entire communities of people have rallied around me and my family to uplift us, provide support and meals for us in our need. My family remains staunchly at my side from Israel to America and Australia. I've been dealt hard times and I have had to miss out on precious moments with my children. Yes, I have suffered. I have also chosen not to suffer. I've taken this horrible hand I've been dealt and used it to speak and write and reach out to others. 

I believe that this world isn't so great. We have pain and suffering from sea to sea. We have wars and strife and hatred galore. Why? This great planet of ours is a temporary place for us to be. Each of us has a soul. We are here to practice and prepare for the next world - call it Heaven or whatever you please. The next stage of life will be after death and it will be better! 

The Next World will be best for those who lived well in this world. For the humble and the kind souls who cultivated watermelons and not raisins.... the Next World will be a wonderland!!!

We all have choices. NOT what hand we are dealt, but what we do with that hand. Who knows why I am the recipient of kindness and not the main giver? Who knows why I must suffer in order for others to shower me with kindness? This is the greatest secret of life. Perhaps we will all find out when we make it to the Other Side.

A Day In The Life: Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy - part 2

As I write I'm sitting in what I refer to as the "chemo lounge". It's a large room with recliner chairs filling every bit of space around the four walls. You hear the conversations of all the other patients in every language; mostly Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and a bit of English. Israelis, bless them, have no problem using their cellphones with full ringtone volume - including playing games with the volume on. Volunteers go around with tempting carts of treats, cakes, drinks... Most importantly many blessings, kind words, and smiles.

First I get a small IV of anti-nausea medication, then the first chemotherapy drug, Doxil*, and then Carboplatin**.  This is all part of the chemo experience and I try to take it in stride. I'm the youngest patient in the room amongst 60's and 70's mostly. I feel the others' eyes on me - maybe with a twinge of pity for me? I'm not sure. I'm mostly on my iPhone trying to pass the time on social media and reading articles that pop up on Facebook. There's wifi here however it's slow and I prefer my 4G.

This is the life of a cancer patient.... In the past I came weekly and now my treatments are monthly. I'm praying that I go into remission SOON so that I can get an oral maintenance treatment called: PARPS inhibitors. I'm hoping!

This usually takes the entire day..... So I try to stay cheery. I know I'm acting silly and cancer isn't a joke. The chemotherapy  makes me feel terrible physically - I'm hoping that if I focus on happiness and positivity I can strengthen my immune system. So far it's working - my blood counts usually plummet, which requires me to take daily injections. This time my blood counts have remained stable and that is miraculous!

We all have a choice in how we take our lumps; our peckles.
This is mine....

Chemotherapy - Doxil AKA "The Red Devil"

There are so many side effects that may occur... I have experienced some and not others. Chemotherapy is definitely a toxic treatment, which happens to save lives too. It's a balance between life and death.

*Doxil: side effects
  • Serious and possibly permanent heart-related side effects that may lead to congestive heart failure
  • Some side effects during IV include: flushing, shortness of breath, facial swelling, headaches, chills, back pain, tightness in the chest or throat, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Stomatitis (painful redness, swelling, or sores in the mouth)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hand-foot syndrome: tingling or burning, redness,flaking, bothersome swelling, small blisters, or small sores on palms of hands or soles of feet. In certain cases, this reaction can be more severe leading to serious infections, interfering with walking and other daily activities.
  • Rash
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Low platelet count
  • Anemia
  • Cases of oral cancer have been reported in people who had taken DOXIL® for more than one year. The oral cancer was diagnosed during treatment and up to 6 years after the last dose. 
  • DOXIL® may turn urine and other bodily fluids a reddish-orange color (hence the nickname, Red Devil). This is due to the color of DOXIL® and will go away as the drug leaves the body.

**Carboplatin: side effects
  • Nausea and vomiting usually occurring within 24 hours of treatment 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Severe abdominal pain 
  • Lip or mouth sores: redness, swelling, ulcers
  • Extreme fatigue: inability to carry on self-care activities
  • Muscle cramps or twitching 
  • Change in hearing 
  • Dizziness, confusion or visual changes
  • Taste changes
  • Hair loss
  • Weakness
  • Blood test abnormalities: Abnormal magnesium level 
  • Burning sensation at the injection site 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Constipation 
  • Mouth sores 
  • Infection 
  • Peripheral neuropathy: decreased sensation, numbness, and tingling of the extremities. 
  • Sensory loss
  • Central neurotoxicity including dizziness, confusion, visual changes, ringing in the ears. 
  • Nephrotoxicity AKA kidney problems
  • Hearing loss 
  • Abnormal blood electrolyte levels (sodium, potassium, calcium).  
  • Abnormal blood liver enzymes
  • Heart failure, blood clots and strokes have been reported with Carboplatin use.  
  • Allergic reaction during transfusion: itching, rash, shortness of breath or dizziness 
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising 
  • Black stools, or blood in stools or urine 

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Sun Will Come Out...

How does one count down to something that they know is going to bring great pain? I can tell you how… It's called the chemo countdown. On one hand I know that I will probably be suffering for a few difficult weeks after chemotherapy. I also know that after chemotherapy hopefully the cancer cells are being zapped into oblivion! 

Sometimes, in the dark of the night when I am tossing and turning, and trying to fall asleep, I have awake-mares. Nightmares that taunt me about the chemotherapy not working and that's a terrifying reality that I try not to consider. One way that I encourage myself that the chemotherapy is doing its job is by watching the clumps of hair fall out onto my comb each day.

I'm 3 weeks out of an emergency surgery to repair an incisional hernia, which had 3 or 4 sacs of strangulated tumors mixed with incarcerated small intestine entrapped in each sac. Each day I feel better however I'm still wearing a brace and feeling the dull aches and pains from the surgery. Each day is better than the last.

Focusing on each day being better than the last is the way that I make it through each day. I distract myself from negativity by doing positive things. From the cuddles with my kids in my bed to the wonderful outings with girlfriends to the beach.... These precious life moments get me through the pain.

Lately I've been hearing Annie singing in my head, The Sun Will Come Out Tommorrow! I haven't returned to my exercise routine yet, of course, but I've started taking 5KM walks with my beloved husband. I'm so thankful that I'm able to walk and enjoy the evening breeze and sun setting as we walk hand in hand around the nearby village of Yishi together.

I must cherish each day... Not knowing what tomorrow will bring is my reality and the truth is - it's everyone's reality. 

Take it all in. Take a deep breath.... The only way to move is forward or not at all. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Random (and not so random) Acts Of Kindness

Melabev Bat Mitzvah girls baking challahs in my honor and holding up signs that say, "AHAVA EMUNAH" in Hebrew

This is another piece about.... me. About cancer.

I am happy - you knew that, and I prefer to drink my coffee from a heart-shaped mug. I prefer everything heartshaped, marked with "LOVE", pink, rainbows.... you name it.

When I think about my journey, what comes up so many times - in my soul - are the acts of kindness that I constantly experience.

I have friends and neighbors who bake or bring small tokens of their "thinking about you...." gifts. I receive acts of kindness from around the world and in my community.  I receive letters from strangers and aquaintences via Facebook or e mail, and even from celebrities in the form of video clips!

There is an extra special group of girls, in a Bat Mitzvah preparation program, who have been adorable! They baked challahs in my honor for a refuah shleimah (speedy recovery). I had the merit of speaking to them a few months ago about kindness towards the sick.

 I was so impressed by the sensitivity of the questions asked. I'm hopeful for our future, knowing that such thoughtful and special young women are already on the path of good deeds.

The other day, I received a CD of beautiful and calming piano music from a musician I just met! He must've gone through the trouble of aquiring my mailing address to send me the professionally made CD of his piano talent!

The point is not how lucky I am, but how hopeful these acts of kindness make me about my inner circle and the entire world in general. I don't live in a hole... I know there's immense pressure and strife from sea to sea. Here, in my tiny bubble, I live amongst the beauty of rainbows and unicorns. sometimes I'm openminded enough to see it. It's so precious; I must share it with the world!

Pass it on.... random and directed acts of kindness will save the world! Curing the world with kindness, one act at a time... We may all be like tiny pixels or minute grains of sand. We each have the ability to sparkle and uplift our own souls. By making our own souls "juicy", we heal the world.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Back To Black

over 2 liters of relief from my abdomen (actual photo)

I loved her raspy voice from smoking too many cigarettes, and probably doing too much blow. I loved her music before she hit the mainstream radio circuit. She was a seemingly smart girl who could sing the life into a dead tree trunk. Her songs were sometimes dirty and dusty - too old for her youth. Her cancer was addiction and I take one of her hits and make it my own; I keep going back to black. Her back to black was bad and so is mine. Of course, she was Amy Winehouse and I'm me - night vs day. One difference is my black has the ability to kill me into living again. If my poisonous black works, it could possibly give me a year or even two.... time to stall and wait for the next nasty bet.

I've had no time for regret, sore lips licked wet
This is the same old nasty bet 
Me and my head high, and my tears dry 
Get on with my life I try
Chemo takes me back to what we know, so far removed

From all the living I will have to throw

And I tread a troubled track, my life is stalled
I'll go back to bald
I don't want to say goodbye with words
I know I'll die a hundred times 
 It's the same old nasty bet

And I go back to, I go back to sick and bald
I love life so much, it's not enough
Cancer loves death and I love the shore
And life is like a dream
And I'm a tiny pebble rolling against the stream
I never want to say goodbye with words
I will die a hundred times
Life will go on without me 
And I go back to...
We only said goodbye with a glance
I died a hundred times

Life will go on without me
And I go back to...Black, black, black, black,black, black, black,
I go back toI go back to...We only said goodbye with a glance
I died a hundred times
Life will go on without me
And I go back to
We only said goodbye with a glanceI died a hundred times
Life will go on without me
And I go back to bald.... and black

My black isn't a hole - it's mixed with hope. This black is my THIRD time doing chemotherapy. I don't know anyone like me. I've never met a gal who has/d ovarian cancer, that started in her thirties like mine did and is still alive after not one recurrence, but TWO in less than 4 years. She doesn't exist - except for me that I know of. I'm her. It's lonely going back to sick and bald... and black

A few days ago, I had well over 2 bursting liters of malignant fluid drained from my abdomen. On the scale, the next day, I was 12 pounds lighter! It's not the weight (fluid) I lost but the life I gained! I'm like a new person - I can move and I can breathe again!

I'm scared of going back to that horrible place. Chemotherapy. For years people have told me about this chemo drug that they refer to as, The Red Devil. They ask me with a suspended voice, "Did you ever have to DO the Red Devil?!". I thankfully say NO. But now the time has come and I'm doing Carboplatinum along with the famous Devil.... The Red Devil. I'm terrified yet I have hope. 

I recently internalized that hope doesn't mean false expectations for something nobody can promise me. Hope can be any pathway to a better place. A positive place. Hey, I can probably teach a seminar on what hope is! This is a new revelation for me. I once thought that remission meant I was clear of cancer and that was a mistake I won't make again. I will never be clear and clean of the beast that is deathly and nasty enough to take the life-breath out of a human being. I can make each day worth living and I can hope for a better tomorrow.

So, yes, it's back to black.... I'm scheduled to start chemotherapy May 1st.... May Day! May Day! Hope. Love. Faith.

Please keep me in your prayers: Ahava Emunah bat Chava Ehta

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Am I On Or Off?

Haha... time to get back up on the spinning horse

It's been 2 years since I have been on, in, under chemotherapy. Chemo is one of the worst things I've had to go through; twice. I went so far as to swear I'd never do it again. I swore. When will this damned ride stop spinning? I want off.... Ha! That's a defeatist attitude if I ever saw one!

I have cancer. It's the bad kind; the one that usually kills people and not just people - women only. It's name is, Stage IV, Persistent, Recurrent, Metastatic Ovarian Cancer. It's the cancer that's given me a voice that people listen to. 

Remember that blonde character from my favorite children's story? Why do I love her so? She came out with things like: 
“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” 

“Curiouser and curiouser!”...  

Alice got to live even though she almost died a few times, ate some funky shrooms, shrunk, and grew, and got past the Jabberwocky and the Chesire Cat without a flinch.

It's Redline time again. Time to decide which poison to take to try to shrink the cancer. This time accompanied by a tummy full of what's called, ascites (ass-I-tease). Ascites is malignant fluid and I have a belly full of it which has probably been the true reason for the growing "alien" belly I've been blaming on an inscisional hernia, which irks me to no end.

I haven't written in ages because what have I to add? In December, I spontaneously fractured my 3rd rib on the right side - it just snapped for it's own reason. It resnapped in February and has been the cause of a deep hibernation, hospitalization, and just a very low period for me requiring heavy pain med.s and a messed up daily schedule of mostly sleeping.

Now the cancer is spreading and rearing it's ugly monsterhead. I'm imagining something like the ugly Jabberwock... more commonly known as The Jabberwocky.

Chemotherapy or not? I'm supposed to start ASAP and no, I don't want to. I also don't want to die.

I can't feel right. Am I on or off the carousel? Is my head spinning or is it my whole world that's spinning out of control....?!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Speaking Up

Hear I am speaking in English - at a special evening sharing "approach to life" (Gisha L'Chaim) at the health clinic, led by Dr Karen Lewis, Meuhedet. 

Food for thought and new tools on "How to talk with people dealing with a life threatening disease". 

This is the 2nd part of a lecture - after Neuropsychologist, Dr. Judy Gedaliah, of Shaare Zedek Hospital. Subjects and concerns in a unique combination of knowledge, humor and experiences...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Can I Still Fly?

I get it. There's no "over and out". 

There are nightmares and pleasant dreams but at the end of night when the sun has risen, I must get up and remember my own mantra

Life is a Journey. 
I'm here for a reason: to make my soul juicy.
This world is only the beginning.
Love + Faith (and hope) = Joy

Those who know me know that I'm no warrior. 
I'm not a soldier.
I'm not a fighter.
Cancer isn't a battle to win or lose.
Cancer is a life threatening illness that often ends in death.

My Life Journey sometimes feels like a dream and sometimes it's truly a nightmare. I'm already an expert at talking myself down from metaphorical cliffs. I'm an expert at avoiding the most terrible of beasts. 

The ground rumbles and shakes beneath me as It draws closer. Again.
I detect a whiff of It's rancid smelling jaws. 
I've avoided It's razor sharp claws - twice.
I've succeeded at outsmarting It once, twice....
Now it's the third time. 
It sure is tiring living with that beastly stench and hot moist breath just a few paces behind me.

It's the third time.

I still love. I still have faith. 
I hear the crunching of hope, like glass, beneath the claws of the beast. 

I've found myself at the edge of the cliff again, for the third time.
I look down and I can see the bottom.
I look up and I see an endless sky.
I'm tired, so I sit down to rest with my feet dangling over the edge of the cliff. 

That beast is coming, I smell it, I feel it, I know it. 
I know I have to stand up. Again.

Would I dare let myself slip over the edge? 
The bottom is not where I want to end up.
I'm calcified and stuck in this position. 
Petrified, restless, and thirsty, yet I sit here. 

The beast is determined and relentless, and here.
Can I still fly?