Life happens. That's not a cliche because whether you actually move yourself or stand still... There's nowhere to go but onward, into the future. I remember when I was a little girl, many "grown-ups" said it was rude to ask a woman her age yet my mother never hid hers. She was a young mom and has always looked even younger. I remember on one of my mom's birthdays, I wondered if she was afraid of getting "old" (she was probably all of 30...) and my mom declared, "well, it sure beats the alternative!". And that was that. My mom is a happy person, young in spirit, heart, and mind. I always knew that every year of life was something to be proud of and I will follow her and never hide my age. I hope to be a proud "old" woman someday!
I muse a lot about being happy and about living the choice of "just being happy". Happy about nothing. Happy about myself, about my life, my choices. Leading a happy life requires teetering on a fine line sometimes. I don't think it matters where you come from, how much money you have or how healthy you are, at any given stage or milestone in your life, you choose the path to the right or the path to the left. There's plenty to cry about and fair reason to be mad or upset and sometimes you really do need to cry it out or punch a pillow but the sadness (or anger) doesn't need to stick around. I was given this life which included a Cancer Detour. There was CANCER and then surgery and then there was chemotherapy. In truth, I didn't have a choice. I had to have chemotherapy. I had to go through that "yucky" time. I had control of fewer things than I was used to. I let go and let more people in than ever before and I found a lot of new friends and rediscovered old friends. I had to lose my hair. I lost a good part of a year of being healthy and in charge. That element of losing control leaves a mark and all of a sudden, the constant preoccupation with treatment and balancing killing-cancer with not-letting-the-treatment-kill-me is over. Time to move into the next stage which is, regrowth; the rediscovery of everything. Regaining control of my life.
Today, I did something so unrestrained and invigorating. For a while now the hair has been growing back like baby hair yet gray. I know it looks different. Even with my head covering, everyone I see remarks at the growth and it's a huge change from bald! My family and many of my women friends know that I had long, dark, thick hair, down to my waist, before I had it cut and donated it to Zichron Menachem. People who know about chemotherapy and the after effects tell me that my hair will grow back "better than ever" or "it'll grow back and be long as it was in no time". It's true, the body is a miraculous vessel that rejuvenates and rebuilds but maybe I've moved onwards and that fertile, breast feeding mother, with the Rapunzel hairdo doesn't exist anymore. She was alright. She was cool. She's in there somewhere... Just not exactly the same. Honestly, part of me is afraid to grow the Rapunzel-do only to (G-d forbid) relapse and need chemo again. I don't know if I could handle a second head-shaving party with the festivity that I did the first time. Let's not go there. My close friend, Efrat, introduced me to her hairdresser today. I could've let my hair grow. I could've waited around for it to change or not, or I could've tried to dye it back to my previous color. The whole hair thing is all somewhat superficial. Hair color. Hair style. I keep my hair covered most of the time anyways and it's always tucked away in public. With hair this short, some of it always peeps out as careful as I strive try to be to cover it up, it's out there making a statement. She recently finished chemotherapy or something happened to this woman in her thirties with the wispy gray hair. Perhaps the only statement is the one in my head? I dunno. I decided to do something completely uncharacteristic of me. Very bold, drastic, and yet so liberating and empowering! I decided to have my hair peroxided platinum blond and neatly trimmed. One year ago, there's no way I would've considered this look! No way! ...and now here I am. Just another choice, frivolous, yet something about it feels optimistic, hopeful, different, and happy.
Hair itself is nonessential and cosmetic, its not alive, it's symbolism is physical. Symbolically, hair represents the ideas and thoughts that are growing out from the psyche. Hair loss can symbolize abandoned ideas, loss of creativity, helplessness, loss of power or control, and loss of energy. Loss. Loss. Loss.
When you think of losing hair it's usually a manifestation of a very stressful situation... something that people say when they feel like they're losing their grip; "pulling hair out" or "losing hair" due to stress. Don't forget the story of Samson, who lost his strength and his life. Hair is so much more than dead cells sprouting from thousands of follicles all over the body. Women of various religions hide it. The loss of hair symbolizes loss of strength, illness, and old age as does graying of the hair. On the optimistic side of hair, in dreams, hair and hair changes hold powerful subconscious messages and imagery. If you dream that you make drastic changes to your hairstyle, according to the celestial "science" of dream interpretation, it means that you are taking a progressive, new approach to an issue in your waking life and what a fabulous idea that is! Why not? No better time than now to make a positive external change to mirror what I feel on the inside.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Give me a break. There's no such thing as a "Silent Killer"... Well, maybe in the movies or on TV or written into a riveting mystery novel but not in Real Life and certainly not of the cancer variety. Ovarian cancer is often referred to as a "silent killer" and since May 8th is the first World Ovarian Cancer Day, I'm dedicating this post to raising awareness about ovarian cancer, the gynecologic cancer with the lowest survival rate. On this day, ovarian cancer awareness organizations from across the world will aim to have a singular focus and message for ovarian cancer and its symptoms. Ovarian cancer is NOT a silent killer and many groups have taken to calling it "the disease that whispers".
According to, OvarianCancerDay.org, ovarian cancer is diagnosed annually in nearly a quarter of a million women globally, and is responsible for 140,000 deaths each year. Statistics show that just 45% of women with ovarian cancer are likely to survive for five years compared to up to 89% of women with breast cancer. Those are some pretty miserable statistics. And what's the deal with the silence and the whispering? As a woman, I can say proudly and with confidence that I'm on pretty good terms with myself. In tuned. In touch with my body. I know when I don't feel well and I definitely noticed when my ovaries started "whispering" to me. The only thing is, I couldn't quite pinpoint where the "whispering" was coming from and what it meant. As I've written about before, I knew something was wrong for many months and I visited many doctors. No one identified or connected all the "whispering" symptoms as any kind of imminent threat to my health let alone my life or cancer. So lets be clear about ovarian cancer, it's NOT a silent killer unless you ignore what your ovaries are trying to tell you. The signs and symptoms are subtle. Learn them. Maybe you will save someone's life, or your own. More importantly, take this moment to internalize this: be your own advocate. If something is wrong and you KNOW something is wrong, don't give up. Not everything shows up on a routine blood test. Listen to your body. Get it checked. If going to the gynecologist for your annual check-up gives you butterflies or having your breasts examined makes you squeamish or the thought of a camera snaking through your colon makes you put off sharing your symptoms with a doctor... imagine the regret you'll feel (G-d forbid) discovering advanced stage cancer has invaded your body.
So, what are the signs?
According to cancer.org, recent medical studies show symptoms often do exist for ovarian cancer, even in its early stages. The most common include:
pelvic or abdominal pain
trouble eating or feeling full quickly
urinary symptoms, such as the need to go urgently or frequently
fatigue that doesn't get better with rest
Trouble is, these symptoms are relatively common and associated with a number of different health problems, from irritable bowel syndrome to urinary tract infections. They are more likely to be due to other, less serious problems. But if you have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks, report them to your doctor right away. When ovarian cancer is found early, while it is still confined to the ovary, about 93% of patients live longer than 5 years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, only about 20% of ovarian cancers are found at this early stage.
See a doctor if you have persistent symptoms like the ones described above, and get regular women’s health exams. While most early ovarian tumors are difficult for even the most skilled doctor to feel during a pelvic exam, an exam may help identify other cancers or gynecologic conditions.
Get in touch with your family... know your history. World wide, 10-15% of ovarian cancer cases are caused by genetic mutations and in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, those numbers are astoundingly higher. Lifetime risk estimates for ovarian cancer for women in the general population are about 1.4% compared with 15% to 40% of women who have a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Genetic mutations that can cause breast, ovarian, and other cancers can be passed from mothers AND fathers to both daughters and sons. Women with a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have a lifetime risk of between 36% - 85% of developing breast cancer by age 70! The ethical debate over whether to-test-or-not-to-test are rampant. With the main preventative option for ovarian cancer being prophylactic risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of healthy fallopian tubes and ovaries), let's just say it's not a very appealing or attractive option. As of May 8th, 2013, doctors and scientists have yet to discover or develop viable tests, tools, or magic balls to adequately detect or screen for early stage ovarian cancer. Likewise, treatment options are limited. So, yes, if you want my personal opinion, I say wipe the sand out of your eyes and get genetic counseling. Get the guidance you want and need from an experienced and well-trained genetic counselor who can help you make your choice about genetic testing, surveillance, and prevention of genetic cancers.
Back to that, "Silent Killer", the one with the gun and the silencer... you know you're going to lock your windows and doors tonight before you go to bed. Forget the killer... surely you have homeowners insurance? Car insurance? Health insurance? The best locks and coverage you're ever going to get is taking your health into your own hands. Listen to your body and trust your inner voice. Eat healthy, exercise, stay proactive about your own health, and don't put off those not-so-fun recommended medical check-ups... oh, and choose happiness. The rest is all in G-d's hands.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Everywhere I go, people kindly ask me how I'm feeling. The further I get from finishing chemo, the more I realize that this cancer journey isn't over so quickly for most people. There's not a "cure" for cancer. There are some amazing miracle stories out there and you have to cling to them and believe that a miracle can be your own. I'm very good at doing that and I do have a lot of faith. Mostly.
I've made a lot of new friends on this journey. Some of them had cancer and are Survivors. Some are Previvors. Many of my new friends are still unsure. After completing treatment and entering Remission, you have the ability and the freedom to do anything. I guess people can use the term, "cured", in retrospect... when they're G-d willing 80-something and it's been decades since they entered Remission... but as my Grandpa Ben, of blessed memory who lived to the magnificent age of 97, used to say, "Nobody knows". Cancer is still a mystery like the mystery of fertility or the After Life. Anyone who solves this mystery and discovers the magic ball that will predict the outcome is either G-d or the future's most brilliant scientist!
I have some awesome days! ...And sometimes I feel sick. It's not an emotional-kind-of-sick. There's a bit of a racket surrounding cancer. It's messy. Abdominal surgery messes up your insides. There can be scarring, adhesions. Not to mention the jumble left after certain organs are removed. Something has to fill the void. Hormonal imbalances. Chemotherapy messes with your brain. It erases certain things. Chemo Brain is a real thing. So, it's not surprising that even after you graduate from cancer treatment that the whole cancer journey doesn't just end even if you're in Remission and hopeful to leave cancer in the dust. Cancer is lunacy. With the constant looming threat of Cancer hovering in my space, I could almost go insane on a bad day. I'm pretty responsible and I'm taking care of business. Following up after all the annoying signs and symptoms. Some require tests and action and others require patience and maybe even some alternative healing. I'm extremely grateful to my oncologist, who makes himself available and hears me. His concern is genuine. One of the things I'm forced to tolerate are the loving, well-meaning people, who think that they're gifted with the ability to predict the future. I will never tell someone who has/had cancer that I "know" they're fine or that I'm sure those painful symptoms that they're experiencing are "normal" or "just in their head" or "to be expected" or WHATEVER. It seems to be that there's some kind of auto-response that has to be given and You know I'm going to "fight it" or "beat it". You might hope or pray but that's no guarantee. We don't have all the answers and I know that's difficult and makes us feel powerless. We are all powerless but that's Life. I have to live with that powerlessness every single day. We all do.
Sadly, there are people who never completely "beat" cancer and it's not because they didn't pray and "fight" and try hard enough! Sometimes cancer doesn't go away. This is my blog so I'm only speaking for me when I say this and this is how I cope. I need to be okay with the worst case scenario. That's how I lower my own anxiety. This is something my dad taught me when I was freaking out in my first year of university. What if I fail?!! I managed to get myself into such a state just at the horrific thought of flunking... that my blood pressure skyrocketed and I was so physically ill, it was a bit ridiculous. My dad helped me through by helping me envision the worst case scenario and planning out how I would overcome and come out on top. What would happen if I failed? I'd have to find something else to do... would I drop dead? Would my life be over? Heck no! And that's how I learned to control my own blood pressure and I never suffered such intense anxiety again. There's always a way out. No matter how "awful" or "horrible" the situation may seem, there's something else beyond it. Even cancer. Even a relapse or a recurrence. Even death. AND I'm not a quitter or a loser or being a negative "stinkin' thinkin'"gal because I cope this way. Actually, I'm happy to say that I think I cope pretty darn indubitably well.
It's not only about Cancer. That's just life. Some brilliant "poet" said, "Life's no picnic.". Obviously they were right, not to say that we can't stop and have a few picnics on the way to wherever we're going. YES! It's all going to be okay. NO! I don't know what's going to be. I just know that I need to believe that it's all going to be okay. Even if it doesn't go my way every time.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
I'm exactly 3 months off of chemotherapy and feeling like a different person. My hair is beyond sprouting, it's coming in thick and healthy and grey! My eyelashes and eyebrows came back and I've finally shaken the chemo-patient pallor that earned me many a pity-stare over the past several months. I have more energy. I still get exhausted much quicker than I used to and my short-term memory is nonexistent so I rely on the calendar and alarms programed into my phone. In many ways, I quickly re-adapted and easily shed that cancer persona. BUT in the dark and early hours, I often toss and turn. Somehow late nights and early hours are the times when doubt and fear come to whisper and jeer. Those moments bring back physical pain and worries that are intense enough to convince me that the cancer is back to finish off what it started. So many events along the way have alerted me to the importance of listening to my inner voice - because when I feared the very worst, my fears were true, and the many doctors who tried to persuade me that all was well were all wrong.
At some point you need to find a balance and I haven't yet. Is that a "normal" pain or is cancer rearing its ugly head again? If I can run 18 kilometers I must be healthy, right? And if all my blood work is "good" I should rest easy, no? Yet (not) funnily enough, my blood was healthy when I had a gut full of cancer... and I recall rooting for my dad as he ran a full marathon right before he was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. Beyond faith there is no cure for worry and fear and beyond countless (unnecessary) scans and tests there's no proof. Constant worry is unavoidable. I try to occupy my time with meaningful projects. I'll need to find the balance and start swinging with it. That's my goal but I'm not there yet.
Monday, March 25, 2013
In a matter of hours, Jewish People around the world will sit down and break matzah. I have the great honor and pleasure of hosting my entire immediate family including my husband and five children, my parents, four of my five brothers (my youngest brother has to stay on his base in the army) and their wives and children. Tonight, as we tell the story of our ancestors' slavery and release form Egypt, and celebrate the transition from slavery to freedom... I am especially moved by the contrast of feelings I experienced last holiday.
Last year, at this time, I felt a shadow of my current strength and self. The thought of preparing for the holiday was enough to keep me in bed with the covers pulled tight. Exhaustion and a general feeling of discomfort and lack of luster plagued me. Signs that I will never overlook again; feeling full without eating much, abdominal pain and nausea, but mostly immense unexplained exhaustion, were the whispering signs of ovarian cancer rapidly growing in my body. While I suffered along for quite some months, the final sign that something was wrong, for me, was blood. That final sign delivered me onto the doorstep of medicine, diagnosis, and treatment. Blood has obvious associations with slavery, and I cringe at the thought of what our ancestors went through as they endured beatings and they bled. I cannot overlook the symbolism that blood holds... of freedom. On the night before the Jewish People left Egypt, they were commanded to slaughter a sheep or a goat and to smear its blood on every door post of Jewish homes. This was to be a sign that the plague of the death of all the first-born sons of the Egyptians would not affect any of the Israelite homes. Shortly after that, our ancestors left Egypt.
In no way do I claim to be great or worthy of such a wondrous journey as prolific and meaningful as the greatest story in Jewish history; the Exodus! I believe that every person lives their own personal Testament, their own Torah. This is mine and I feel great in publicizing the miracles that G-d has given me today, in this world. Tonight, as I sit down with my People to drink the red wine, the symbol of our blood and our freedom, each and every symbolic food on the Seder plate will come alive. The power of the symbolism that each of the foods displayed will not be lost on me. The bitter herbs and the charoset, the egg and the bone... all symbols with dual meanings that embody both slavery and deliverance to freedom! The whole point of the Seder meal is, as the wise scholars have told us for generations, that we should tell the story of leaving Egypt to the point where we actually see and feel ourselves personally leaving Egypt! Egypt symbolizes slavery on every level; spiritual and physical, material, and psychological so eventually and climactically, we strive to break out of all of them.
It's clear beyond doubt what my personal Egypt was this past year. I feel so blessed to have been carried out of Egypt feeling more alive and strong than ever. What better way to come up close and personal with the story of Exodus and my ancient roots? There are many symbols in life that we can embody and LIVE through modern day deliverance from slavery to freedom. These symbols, whatever they might be, can be an inspiration. This year, I will raise my glass and unchain myself from my own personal Egypt. May we all be blessed with inspiration from whatever symbols move us to release from our own personal slavery and deliver us to freedom in this world and the World to Come.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
|my bro, Levi, carried me thru|
|Joules & me at the finish line|
My running pace has never been very fast. I'm in it to win it... not for the speed but for the distance. If I can keep going that's all I need to make it worth it. While the race was joyful and fun, I admit, it was a relief to make it to the final kilometer and cross the finish line with my friend, Joules, who came all the way from Ohio, to run in the half marathon in my honor. Melanie Lidman, of the Jerusalem Post, wrote an article featuring us in last week's Friday JPost "In Jerusalem" section which can be viewed online here. I'd also like to thank Jeremy Wimpfheimer, of DJW Consulting, for his exceptional PR work for the Jerusalem Marathon.
|DH, 4 of my bros & me|