Sunday, November 9, 2014

Good-bye Forever Denial

It cannot possibly be okay or right or acceptable to have to say good-bye forever.

Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur thrust me into thinking about morbidity and of course reflect on the unknowns of the future and my life. I'm miraculously in remission for the second time. MIRACLES. So why do I think about death? Why would I need to worry about that right now? Today, everything is fine, praise G-d. Yet, the decorations I never got around to taking down from the Sukkah are fading and winter is nearing and I'm wary of jumping too far forward and pushing the hope out of balance with a bit of unexpected bad news.

As Humans, we are born with the ability to deny. Our denial allows us to live and breathe and function as forever-creatures in a very temporary world. My first brush with mortality was at age three. My parents instilled a great love and respect of animal life in me from birth. We always had pets; cats, dogs, hamsters, gerbils, and even goats, sheep and other farm animals. I was entrusted with their care. I was reliable. At age three, I was gentle and took painstaking care of my pet gerbil until one fateful day. I was playing "house" and I was the mommy. It was bedtime for my baby (the gerbil). As a doting mother, I read my "baby" a bedtime story, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now, to be exact, and tucked baby gerbil into bed. Unfortunately for the gerbil, bed was between the pages of the Dr. Seuss classic; a bunk bed. I took the top bunk, which obviously didn't provide a happy ending for "baby". When nap time was over, I experienced death for the first time as I peeled my poor (flattened) pet gerbil from the pages of, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now. "It's NOT moving! My baby won't wake up!" I wailed and wailed. I've heard this story repeated so many times. It's a favorite in my family, a legend. That was the day I learned about death and saying goodbye forever. When I was 8, we left our Golden Retriever, Ruby, overnight in the care of our eccentric next-door-neighbors who buried her less than 12 hours before we returned, when she died suddenly while in their care. I've since had to say goodbye to countless pets because, for some reason, cats and dogs were given a fraction of the lifespan we, humans, were blessed with.

From birth, we know that the worst thing that could happen, in the whole wide world, is death. If someone died, that was the very worst thing. When I lost my Grandma Frances, that was the first time I felt the true searing pain of losing a loved one. When Grandma Frances died, I met death. I was very fearful of it. After that, I started sneaking into my twin baby brothers' room at night to place my hand lightly on their chests and make sure they were still breathing. If my dad was late coming home from work, I feared a car crash had taken him away forever. I didn't want my parents to get older. I considered myself lucky to have young parents and I never wanted to think about the worst thing in the world. At some point, my nightly fears and insomnia were again replaced with the delicious denial that allowed me to forget that my parents and all the people that I love would not live forever. Instead, every night I said prayers. I had a ritual in which I would list each member of my family and ask G-d to bless and protect them from danger, sickness, or death and I begged for long lives for each and every loved one. We are born with the gift of denial because how is it possible to survive the pain and anxiety that would accompany the truth of human fragility?

I made it through my army service in the Givati Brigades of the IDF and experienced Human fragility again and again; over the Lebanese border and on the southern front too. After a bus bombing, in Kfar HaDarom, we lost 7 of our own on one day and it was impossible to attend all of the funerals because there were too many. I came in contact and more comfortable with impending death during my university studies. For two years, I dissected human cadavers in my Human Anatomy course. I cared for hospitalized patients and experienced losses. We talk about "getting that call in the middle of the night" and we fear that "knock at the door" and then one day I got a call. It was my mom calling and my dad was very sick. But… he had just run a marathon! But… he was barely 50! But… my dad "suddenly" had stage four colon cancer and was dying. That magical denial gets broken and you run out of tools pretty much on the spot when you get that call. That's when faith is priceless. When doctors gave my dad little hope for survival, we had to cling to miracles and praise the L-rd we received them. My dad beat the odds and the statistics and is thankfully healthy and cancer free almost 10 years later.

Then it was my turn. Stage 3 ovarian cancer at age 36. Recurrence and stage 4 less than a year later. There's no more denial. I have looked death straight in the face and I'm no longer afraid. I fear not death. Not at all. The tears of my young children put a chill in my bones and curdles my blood. "Mommy, PLEASE, don't ever leave us! Mommy, don't ever die!" My own daughter sobbed, just the other night. It was the first time that those words came out and it opened the flood gates. The magic denial, that lets children sleep at night, no longer dwells in the Lange house. My children have seen their mother go bald from chemotherapy and when the cancer went away, we celebrated and rejoiced. And the cancer came back. You can't fix the denial magic once it's broken into so many pieces, it's gone forever. The only thing we can do is acknowledge it and make it okay.

I've said good-bye to many friends. Friends who are my age and younger. As my circle of grief grows wider, it also makes me wiser. I'm crying for my friend who was snatched away by the gnarled claws of ovarian cancer, leaving a bereaved husband and four young children. I'm celebrating that she's no longer suffering and yet I want to put my fist through a wall and smash everything in sight. I want to scream... but what good will that do? She is gone forever. Good-bye forever.  I will pray for her family. I hope her husband finds new love someday... when his heart heals, when he is ready.

What does a mother say to her crying frightened children? I don't know what mothers say but I can tell you what I always try to do: tell the truth and speak from my heart. When God chose to make me your mother, He knew exactly what He was doing. God chooses the best possible parents for every child that He creates. My job, as a mother, is to love, nurture, teach, protect and discipline my children from pregnancy and birth and as long as is appropriate. I will always work towards that goal of preparing each of my children to survive and thrive, happily and fully, in the world. I hope to impart love and kindness, strength and courage, morals and goodness, and faith and more faith. I tell my children that I'm doing the very best job that I can to prepare them so that when they're ready to be grown-ups, they will have all the tools and all the skills to make their own decisions and build the lives that they desire. "But Mommy, if you're not here.... how can we go on?" and I have a response to that as well. I tell them, I'm here now. I'm in no danger of leaving you today or anytime soon but when that time comes (May it be in 100 years!) you will go on and you will make your life as happy and rich as you can. God willing, I will do my job well, and you will be ready and prepared to build your life exactly how you decide and I will be so proud that you are able to make your own choices. I will be happy, wherever I am, to know that each of my children is happy in the lives that they choose. There's a calm in our space when I say those words and I take the opportunity to insert an example. Some of the most accomplished and unique people had to go through terrible tests in their lives. A stark example, in our time, is the aftermath of the Holocaust. Thousands of survivors endured pain and suffering that is beyond the scope of imagination. Many of the survivors of the Shoa left Europe with little more than their skin and bones, yet they retained their dignity and most of all, their integrity and ability to not only survive but to thrive! They found love and meaning. They built families, homes, and communities. Not without pain and regret. They never forgot the loved souls that they lost. They glorified their memories by excelling and finding joy, love, and success.

I don't want to die.
I don't want to leave my babies behind.
I don't want to make people sad.

People die and the world keeps on spinning. It's the right thing to do. Bereaved spouses remarry. Children can and should feel free to connect with a new parent. I would want these things for my husband and my children. It's not okay to have to say goodbye forever but I know that it will be okay. I can make it okay. It HAS to be okay! It's not right or acceptable until it happens. If it happens, it needs to be okay.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Maybe You'll Be Old Someday

Almost everyday, I see or hear the words:
I'm so old!
I don't want to be old!
Oh no, 30 (or 40 or 50....) that's so old!
Blah blah... such 'n such... OMG we are getting SO old!

Really? Old? Is that a bad thing because I'm praying for my next birthday and the next.... I don't know if I'll see 40 but I'm sure excited about the opportunity and the same goes for 50 and 60 and 70....

I know it's just an affectation. What is "old" anyway? A number? Not a single person, on earth, has met a creature or a being that is immune to aging. There's no insurance policy, clause, or contract that will prevent the inevitable.

You are guaranteed of only one thing: one day you will die.
If you're very lucky, you will get old.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New Year - New Adventure

Happy New Year!
As many of you know, there's a new Blog in the Blogosphere called, Hevria. We launched right before the beginning of the new Jewish Year and I currently have 3 essays published there. We are an eclectic group of writers from both the USA and Israel. Hevria is a combination of the words "Hevreh" and "Bria" in Hebrew, which mean "group of friends" and "creation".

We are a group devoted to spreading the idea of positive creation in a spiritual context. We want to make this world beautiful. And we want you to join us.

Read the article on Hevria

Read the article on Hevria

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pillow On My Head

I'm a firstborn and amongst other things, I am a very light sleeper. Every sound, movement, or sliver of light stand to endanger my sleep. It's not a frivolous worry. I'm easily roused, in the dark of the night, by a neighborhood dog barking, a car honking, or a water tap dripping. It's a curse that can only be broken with earplugs... or a pillow.

During the war, I stopped wearing earplugs. I needed to be alert in the event of a missile attack. The only warning was the sound of the air raid sirens and I needed to have all my senses available. We were awoken in the night a few times. It was during the war that I started covering my head with a pillow. Most nights,  I cover my whole head and leave only a tiny space open, for air. It would be a scary sight to happen upon, I admit, however it's the only way I can sleep. Now that the war is over, it's conceivably time to break out the earplugs once again.

During chemotherapy treatment, I rarely had trouble sleeping, in fact, it was difficult staying awake. One time, I went to bed on a Friday and only woke up on Sunday! Anxiety enjoys the cover of darkness and especially relishes the silence that a soft pillow provides. Sleep disruption is a disorder that plagues the healthiest of people and is probably the cause of most of the grouchiness on the planet. We all have reasons for worry, anxiety, and some sleepless nights here and there.  Humans are the only members of the animal kingdom that experience insomnia. It's a Human condition. I say this with the complete conviction of someone who has always shared my life with cats and dogs and other mammals. They never stay awake longer than a few hours. How do animals drift away anytime, anywhere? We have a lot to learn from them.

Every morning, I jump out of bed and when I'm especially tired, I promise myself that I will be back again, in bed, as soon as I drop each child off safely at school and kindergarten... but of course I never do. Daytime is for accomplishment. I fear what I would miss. And so, another day of tasks and chores, dates and appointments ensues. Let the countdown begin... my pillow awaits. Only 12 hours or more to go.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Swinging From The Wonderland Chandelier

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”  ― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Adrenalin is surging, the wind is drying my sweat, and my feet are a blur as they tap the blacktop of the road I'm blazing down. Aware of the drone camera, to the right, swinging my arms, picking up speed, whistle, whistle, beat, beat, smile at the camera on my left. Running like the wind. 1-2-3, 1-2-3 blink. 1-2-3, 1-2-3 blink. Whatever the song is, it's making me run faster. CUT! That's a wrap! I'm starring in my own music video - in my head.  Come on, you do this too, right? This is normal. Normal cool.

I must have mistakenly fallen down the Rabbit Hole and landed in Wonderland... Wait for me!  I'm back now. Babies that were just born are tumbling toddlers now. Why are all the pre-schoolers starting first grade? So many of the women are expecting their 4th, 5th or 6th child. When did I miss this joyful news? There are new faces. Old faces are missing. When did they move away? New families moved in. Israel has a new president. The war is over. I have a new name.  Don't you remember me? Alice? Alice? Who the &%$! is Alice???? No, it's, Ahava Emunah...... It's over, the Chemotherapy Saga Part II is done. I didn't have the time or space to dwell or ponder. I just had to suck it up and take it; head on. No questions. Taking a moment to pause for too long and my entire being would freeze, crumble, and blow away like powder. Chemo is over! Get over it! I just want to be normal. My normal.

"I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then."

“I'm afraid I can't explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?” 

People, all around me, are nodding their heads; up down, up down. I get so many warm hugs. There's so much love in every greeting! Yes, yes, so how's life? Kids back in school? Yes, yes, move along. Life is good. STOP that White Rabbit....?! Nobody knows what you're talking about, Alice.

“How puzzling all these changes are! I'm never sure what I'm going to be, from one minute to another.”

But... I just want to be  n o r m a l.



Yesterday, I dropped my youngest daughter off at her kindergarten and the teacher's assistant asked me why I didn't attend the asifat horim (parent meeting) last night? What parent meeting? She then handed me a form to fill out but I couldn't remember my daughter's birth date. I remembered the month, January, but for the life of me, I couldn't come up with the day or the year. The assistant watched me struggle to remember my own child's birth date. Surely I seemed like a mad woman to this lady who just met me.  Whoooooo arrrrrre youuuuuuuu? I'm Alice. I'm NOT mad. I'm just a bit lost.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”
 Finally, I decided to share that I just completed chemotherapy treatments and my mind fogs up sometimes. Ohhhhhhhhh. Relief spread across the assistant's face and she patted my back, "Refuah shleimah," she blessed me with a full recovery, "May you be blessed with good health". Thank you. Amen. I walked out and slapped myself on the forehead. Shivers, I feel like an imbecile.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.” 

Outside, in the heat, in the sun and the air, that's where I'm most alive. Heart pounding, sweat rolling, and feet moving equals life! If I can move and breathe, I'm normal. I'm fine. With my music pumped up and the breeze on my face, suddenly Alice is back in Wonderland, breaking a world record. The cameras are rolling and the world is watching me on Mtv.... no, YouTube! Smile for the cameras! Thumbs up! My thick, naturally pink hair is blown back. I'm 5'10. I'm the first human to be given a lifetime warranty; Certified Cured of Cancer. I'm 36 again because the clocks got turned back. I'm starring in my life music video and everything is perfect, I mean, normal.

“Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked.
'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat.
'I don't know,' Alice answered.
'Then,' said the Cat, 'it doesn't matter.” 

What song is my music video? It might be, Happy by Pharrell Williams, or Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen because those are my power songs that make my feet fly when I'm out there. Being honest with myself, Chandelier by Sia, minus the 1-2-3 drink, better describes my current mania.

          Party girls don't get hurt
Can't feel anything, when will I learn?
I push it down, push it down

I'm the one "for a good time call"
Phone's blowin' up, ringin' my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink

Throw 'em back 'til I lose count

I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist
Like it doesn't exist
I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

But I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down, won't open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, 'cause I'm just holding on for tonight
Help me, I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down, won't open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, 'cause I'm just holding on for tonight
On for tonight

Sun is up, I'm a mess
Gotta get out now, gotta run from this
Here comes the shame, here comes the shame

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink

Throw 'em back 'til I lose count

I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist
Like it doesn't exist
I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

But I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down, won't open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, 'cause I'm just holding on for tonight
Help me, I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down, won't open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, 'cause I'm just holding on for tonight
On for tonight

On for tonight
'Cause I'm just holding on for tonight
Oh, I'm just holding on for tonight
On for tonight
On for tonight
'Cause I'm just holding on for tonight
'Cause I'm just holding on for tonight
Oh, I'm just holding on for tonight
On for tonight
On for tonight

In my "reality", I'm swinging from a chandelier. I'm a (happy) mess and I'm holding on for dear life. I've got to run from this. I'm living like tomorrow doesn't exist. Holding on. Holding on. Holding on.
This is my normal.

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Crossroads. Again.

It's really difficult to write an update about myself in the middle of a war. It feels self centered or selfish or just wrong. The war raged on. There was a ceasefire. Now, it's apparent that the ceasefire ended with missiles and rockets being launched in every direction, including a few at my neighborhood last night.

There are few things more despicable than cancer. One of them is terrorism. Living under constant threat of death and destruction and at the complete mercy of God and the Israeli Army and the Iron Dome is very stressful. It's not completely different from my own personal cancer journey. My friends, in Israel, will understand me when I describe that moment when the air raid siren goes off. Is that the air raid siren?! Everybody freezes in their tracks. Within seconds, adrenalin surges through your veins. You grab your children and you move as quickly as you safely can to that bomb shelter. You don't think! You just move! Once you're safely in the bomb shelter, you might have a moment to let out a sigh of relief, a nervous smile to reassure the kids, yourself, the dog. For me, my heart pounding uncontrollably, is the next experience, sometimes accompanied by shaking.  The siren ends and then we wait. Sometimes we hear and feel explosions. My body shakes. My heart pounds. After a few minutes, it's safe to leave the bomb shelter. When will the next air raid siren ring? We just don't know. That complete randomness, absolute uncertainty... well not so absolute. We kind of have a feeling that there will be more missiles aimed at us but we just don't know when.

I made it this far. Again.

I'm in remission. The tumors have shrunk or are undetectable. It's a miracle that the chemotherapy worked quickly and efficiently. I'm very very lucky. I have been at this crossroads before and nobody thought that the cancer would come back so quickly. I've reached the boundaries of medical intervention. Just in time for me to enjoy the good news, there were also plenty of snags along the way. A possible brain bleed that ended up being nothing more than an apparent stroke that left a little hole in my brain. A hospital stay, in isolation, when my blood levels completely crashed as a direct result of toxicity from the chemotherapy. A glowing, on the PET CT, in my stomach, that required invasive tests with inconclusive results. An ache here and a pain there that I'm reluctant to pay attention to. Okay, SHH! Enough! I arrived at this crossroads with plenty of reminders that it can and will be pulled out from under me at any moment - without notice. The powers of Oncology can promise me that we have done everything possible to give me the best chance possible. I'm cautious and I'm optimistic. The only option, right now, is to live. Live life like there's no tomorrow because who knows what will happen next?

New drugs are being developed, PARP inhibitors. Around the time of my original diagnosis, in 2012, advanced studies were just taking off. Now, a phase 3 drug trial with a powerful PARP inhibitor is well underway and I'm a participant. Only time will tell how lucky a participant I am as 2/3 of the women receive the active drug and 1/3 of the participants receive a placebo; sugar pills.

Am I cured? No. There's no cure. Treatment may cure some women with ovarian cancer that is advanced when it is first diagnosed. For most women with advanced ovarian cancer, or cancer that has come back after treatment, it is not possible to cure it. I'm a positive and optimistic person who needs to live in reality and be prepared for whatever life may bring so I'm very comfortable sharing this information.

We are at war. Nobody knows when the terrorists will strike but we won't give up! We don't stop living. The stress and anxiety might make us want to sit in the bomb shelter but that's not much of a life, is it? The terrorists will never win. Neither will cancer. It's a done deal. There might not be a cure but there's always a crossroads and there's always a choice.

Here I am again, Crossroads, you missed me and I'm back.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pray for Peace - Prepare for War

Life in Israel isn't peaceful and carefree. The mood, on the street, is worry and sadness. While we are strong and have faith in our strength, the constant threat of rocket fire, air raid sirens going off at any moment, and the loss of precious human life is in the air. Today is the 9th of Av. This very date, on the Hebrew calender, Tisha b'Av, marks a list of catastrophes so horrific, for the Jewish People, it's clearly a day that is cursed by God.

It all began when the Jewish People were wandering in the desert. We had just left Egypt and experienced the miracles of the Exodus. We were just about to enter the Holy Land, Israel, however on the 9th of Av, we cried that we wanted to go back to being slaves in Egypt because our own spies reported that Israel was uninhabitable. That was back in 1313 BCE. Both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on the same day, the 9th of Av, in 587 BCE and in 70 CE. The Roman massacre of over 100,000 Jews at Betar also occured on the 9th of Av back in 132 CE. The Jewish People were expelled from England on the 9th of Av, 1290 CE, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492. The three weeks leading up to 9 B'Av are weeks of mourning and we also commemorate the loss of 6 million Jewish People who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II which, came to be after The Final Solution was approved, during the mourning period of Av, in 1941.

Today, is a National Jewish day of mourning and fasting and prayer.

Today, the People of Israel, the Jewish People, are experiencing a modern day awakening of what our ancestors in the desert, our ancestors in England, France, and Spain, and let's face it, all of Europe, most certainly realized. The world is not a welcoming place for a Jew. What is the difference today? The Jewish State of Israel and the IDF. What's the same? Everything else and God.

I know that there is one place, on the entire earth, where I belong, in a total area of 8,630 square miles, 290 miles in length and about 85 miles across at the widest point. Surrounded  by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan to the east, Egypt to the southwest and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, my only home, so small it could comfortably rest inside of Lake Michigan and is often compared to the state of New Jersey. I'm not here to discuss politics and I leave the judgments up to God. I embrace my smallness, as a grain of sand, on God's vast and wonderful beach. I know of good and I know of evil. I know of love and faith and happiness and.... I know of pain and suffering and sadness. I know of war and I know of peace. I know where I'm wanted and where I'm not. I pray for peace yet I'm prepared for war.