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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What If? And What Next?

Thanksgiving is tomorrow - in the United States. I was happy and feeling that I had something to look forward to; spending Thanksgiving with my American family, for the first time in over 25 years. Being away from my family in order to receive treatment at UCSanDiego was emotionally very difficult for me and I'm thankful to be back together with my husband and children even though it's not for very happy reasons. 

I'm not receiving cancer treatment now.

I can't be sure if my body held back until I was on home ground or if these things would have happened regardless... like the excruciating pain that got worse and worse until I found myself in emergency surgery again. For a normal person, abdominal surgery is a very big deal. I can't remember being in so much pain in a long time. The incision is about 3 inches and if I had to guess how many stitches... I'd say more than 15. I'm not a fan of painkillers or drugs however sometimes that's the only way to survive.

Days into my recovery, I began to look like I had an advanced pregnancy tummy. My abdomen was filling up with ascites, which is malignant fluid. The pain and pressure was unbearable. I found myself back in the hospital and after draining over 2.7 liters of fluid, I felt much better. Unfortunately that feeling of relief didn't last. Once again I found myself in the ER in terrible pain. Thankfully, it seems that the pain isn't unusual for abdominal surgery and having nearly 3 liters of fluid drained. Everything is a balance between heaven and earth.

Having so much malignant fluid building up is considered bleak for my prognosis. A couple of weeks ago, I had a liver biopsy taken from a new tumor that grew quickly. We're hoping that the genomic sequencing of the tumor will shed insight as to why the immunotherapy wasn't as successful as it appeared it should be. We're hopeful to have results from the DNA and RNA sequencing within a few weeks and possibly new miracles as far a treatment.

I'm thankful for my care and I feel safe in the hands of my oncologist here. I can't help but feel the terror of what if? and what next?

Please continue to pray for miracles....

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How do you like them apples?!

"Nobody knows when their time will come... look at you beating cancer! You're going to make it. You have the determination to kick Cancer's a$$!" and, "You know that there are people who just drop dead or are killed out of nowhere?!"

Yes, I know. 
I can step off of a curb and be hit by a bus.
I could be be struck by lightening. 
I might get shot in the back by a psychopath.
I could die from an endless exaggeration of the imagination. Nevertheless, the tragic deaths of others does NOT make me move my feet to some imaginary rhythm. Surprise! 
I'm very grateful that I have stage 4 ovarian cancer and I'm STILL alive after 5 years and telling me that other people died or were killed in tragic circumstances lends me zero comfort.

I'm very blessed to be able to fly across the world to receive exorbitantly expensive treatments unavailable to many women in my situation. The love and support that nurtures me is beyond sensational. I am profoundly grateful for each day that may lead me back to living with my husband and children; like the family we once were.

It's not death I fear. 
I tremble with terror - not every day of course - but there are plenty of occasions. My life involuntarily revolves around hospitals, surgeries, oncologists, bad news, good news, chemotherapy, pain, drug trials, nausea, old drugs, new drugs, biopsies, CT scans, PET scans, waiting for news, radiation.... Tumors grow and tumors shrink and sometimes tumors just appear out of nowhere. 

Cancer is as unpredictable as life.

I've been away for 4 months and returned to a thriving, fully functioning, burgeoning and peaceful family. I don't need to be reminded that I was missed and that I am loved. I know.

Praise God, my family is magnificent. My children are celestial in their strength, determination, and age appropriate normalcy. 
Yes, I'm saying this: they are fine without me. As a mother of five extraordinary children, I'm not distressed that my leaving them, in the most tragic of circumstances, will damage or scar them for life.

I mourn Bat Mitzvahs and graduations without me.
I'm brokenhearted thinking about who will take my place walking my children down the aisle.
I grieve over the grandchildren I may never know.
I envy the woman who may prepare my daughters for the magic of becoming mothers; instead of me.

I'm sick at heart knowing that each happy occasion together could be the last.  I haven't been hit by a bus nor struck by lightening and it is I who has lived so blessedly with appreciation and acceptance of my reality for more than 5 years. I concede to the reality of persistent aggressive cancer that loves me so. 

Lance Armstrong was once a beloved cancer survivor who was legendary on a bike, transcended cancer, and won 7 Tour de France Tours. His doping case was ablaze and coming to a verdict mere months after I was diagnosed, but I had already read his books. His determination and spirit had already touched me. He defied nature on a bike and albeit we all discovered why - before Lance Armstrong became a profanity; his words and his journey gave me tremendous hope. Lance was found guilty in his athletic superiority but his survivorship of cancer is nothing short of miraculous. 

At the end of 2001, Lance said, "Without cancer, I never would have won a single Tour de France. Cancer taught me a plan for more purposeful living, and that in turn taught me how to train and to win more purposefully. It taught me that pain has a reason, and that sometimes the experience of losing things - whether health or a car or an old sense of self - has its own value in the scheme of life. Pain and loss are great enhancers."

There's one line that Lance Armstrong wrote, that often reverberates in my head. Just 8 kilometers before he won his first Tour de France in 1999, he yelled triumphantly:

How do you like them apples?!

I know he wasn't the first to say it but I felt his glory and it changed me. Someday in the future, I yearn to cheer those words with emotion and triumph that "incurable" Cancer Survivor and elite athlete Lance Armstrong did. 

I still have hope and I'm still terrified.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NOT Giving Up Is Painful Too...

It's been FIVE years and 3 months.

My eldest is now 16.
My youngest is now 7.

Our 5 children were aged 11, 9, 6, 4 and 2 when they received my diagnosis in 2012.  MY cancer is their cancer. My kids hardly remember anything different - it's "just normal" in our house.

I don't think my husband has had a restful night of sleep since July 22, 2012. I can only imagine what my cancer has done to my parents and siblings....

I'm disappointed about how my case ended up in Israel; hopeless. Everyone was ready to just give up on my life and let's just put it out there - it's infuriating that my life wasn't worth saving. It's painful to realize that I had to abandon my entire family and my life in order to try to survive.

Everyone gave up on me.

I had to scour the earth to find the ONE team that believed in my survival and still believes.

Some days are lonely. Sick. Nauseating.
Some days are happy. Celebratory. Special.

NOT giving up is also painful. It's expensive. It's terrifying. It has to be a burden to everyone involved. It just is. Sick people and people with cancer - we're not exactly pretty. Cancer is a constant reminder of death and destruction. 

Holding a true space for what it MEANS to BE the one with cancer is many things. It's oppressive and mortifying to be The One with cancer.

It's been 5 years and 3 months and I'm in treatment and there's more to come; maybe a simple CT guided needle biopsy suddenly isn't looking so simple. Will I have major surgery for a 10-20% chance?

Roll the dice.
I'm tired.
Time for bed.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Never Too Late For A Clean Slate! (retro post)

As the pages thin, on last year’s Book of Life, it’s time for introspection and self examination of our souls and our purpose on this earth. I always loved High Holiday season in the Holyland, more than Passover, Purim, and even Channukah. It’s my favorite time of year. The supermarket checkouts are landlocked with hurried shoppers, planning extravagant menus. Clothing and shoe stores compete for holiday sales with deals and reduced prices. The constant frenzy of festivity, in the still very hot summer air, can be felt from Eilat to The Golan. Just over eight days ago, Jews around the world lit candles and welcomed Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. We greeted each other with, L’shana Tova, Ketivah vi-chatima Tova, which means, For a good year, you should be written and sealed in the Book of Life. We prayed for forgiveness and we begged G-d to write us into The Book of Life for the coming New Year. On Yom Kippur, G‑d mercifully erases all the sins we committed against G-d. For on this day [Yom Kippur] He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you. Before G‑d, you shall be cleansed from all your sins – Leviticus 16:30. Additionally, we specifically ask and (hopefully) receive forgiveness from anyone we may have hurt, insulted, or wronged during the previous year.
Many Jewish communities share the custom of  performing Kapparot before Yom Kippur. The ritual involves waving a chicken over your head three times while reciting a passage. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated or its monetary worth is given to the poor. Perhaps if we show exceptional mercy on G-d’s creatures during Kapparot, G-d will show His mercy on us too. Watching from afar, I’ve seen my share of chicken-waving. Feathers flying is a sure symbol that Yom Kippur is coming. As someone who grew up with the feathered creatures as pets, I’ll stick to the alternate ritual of swinging coins over my head.
After my life-threatening diagnosis, The Book of Life, took on a new meaning for me. The timing of my diagnosis and beginning of my cancer journey was remarkable. Fighting for my life, not figuratively, is spiritually awakening. I decided that I want to be a kinder person and share and reflect the kindness that has been and is being shown to me. As Yom Kippur approaches, this Shabbat, The Book is forever closing on last year. We are handed a clean slate. What will be written on that slate is still open for discussion. That’s the situation for everyone; healthy or sick, each of us is given a fresh start. When I close my eyes and let my soul open to the rush of emotions, what emanates and emerges is love, faith, and forgiveness. In the past, during the process of asking for forgiveness, I might have found myself remembering moments when I felt hurt, cheated, or ignored. Old wounds from past relationships inevitably reopened; weepy and bloody. As an observant Jew, I know that we are commanded, by G-d, to forgive. In Leviticus 19:18, the holy Torah explicitly forbids us from taking revenge or bearing grudges. It also commands us, Do not hate your brother in your heart – Leviticus 19:17. In the past, pain from old or current relationships held me back. Did need forgiveness from those who had hurt me? I’ve definitely caught myself holding onto negative emotions about myself and others and it can be extremely challenging to let go. Those left over negative influences were felt each time my fist beat against my chest, and I could feel them, physically and spiritually, reminders that my slate wasn’t completely clean. Possibly the greatest gift that cancer gave me was a renewed desire and ability for forgiveness. The unequivocal act of faith and love is being able to forgive myself and the other souls in my life regardless of who was at fault.
Most of our interactions are with people whose pain is private and hidden from us. I learned invaluable lessons during my weekly visits to the hospital. Week after week, forcing myself to show up for chemotherapy treatments, I had quiet access to raw life and death suffering. There are many ways that different people choose to behave and express their challenges along life’s journey. We notice the spirited and loud ones and sometimes ignore those who suffer in silence. So much pain and insight can lurk behind both smiling and scowling facades. Back in 2014, I remember feeling especially sad and low on yet another miserable morning of waiting for blood tests and results before chemo. My husband and I had I secured the loneliest bed in the corner of the most distant room because I didn’t want to make small talk and I wanted to curl up into a ball and stop the world from spinning out of control… for just a few moments. We turned off the lights and enjoyed the silence. Mere moments after settling down in my peaceful corner, a very loud crowd joined me in my private room. A bald and strained woman took a bed, subsequently, her family went about turning on all the lights, speaking loudly on their cellphones and eating pungent aromatic food that left every one of my senses assaulted. What I felt in my heart was rage and self pity yet I gently asked them to turn off some of the lights, and make less noise. The lady reacted very angrily to me. She yelled at me and accused me of being an “elite Ashkenazi” and shamed me for thinking I had “protektzia” to take over the whole room! Verging on tears, I got up from my bed, walked right up to the miserable woman, grabbed her hand and I looked right into her watery eyes. Gazing at her face, I saw such wretched anguish and despair, my heart crumpled, and my rage left me. She squealed, “Aiy! Your hands are so cold! Just like mine!” I hugged the woman and told her that we both are having chemo and we’re both feeling the same pain and fear. I acknowledged her discomfort and her illness. Suddenly, her anger changed and she began blessing me and wishing me a full recovery! I felt relieved that the energy in the room had changed to peaceful!  In that moment, I vowed never to react to a stranger with anger again. This complete stranger, who had moments ago cursed and offended me was now immediately forgiven and a painful weight was lifted from my shoulders.
Every New Year, well meaning people make resolutions about their health; exercise more, quit smoking, lose weight, eat healthier, whatever! Without health we have nothing. Good health includes the body however, without a healthy mind and soul, there is no foundation for the vessel which G-d gave us. Without grievances, we would never know what we truly want, or want to make better. Even negative emotions are an essential part of life. Pain, skepticism, sadness, and anger are priceless reminders and guidelines for deciding what we desire for ourselves and, in relationships with others. Our heart, mind, and body feel incredible stress when we carry grudges. Avoiding someone in the supermarket or screening phone calls adds to life’s daily stresses. Resisting or prolonging the process of forgiveness also perpetuates sadness and a stressful state which is detrimental to physical and spiritual health. I finally realized that holding on to anger or grudges, no matter how justifiable, keeps me from learning and growing beyond whatever it was that made me feel uncomfortable to begin with.
My prayer, for Yom Kippur, is partly and greatly focused on you forgiving yourself! Completely and fully forgive yourself for the mistakes you made and acknowledge that, in being unkind, you were experiencing slivers of your soul that need healing. These forgivable chunks of yourself do not define who you are. The negative result of betrayal, sadness, and perhaps anger, was because someone else was incapable of meeting you where you needed them. They failed your expectations. The memory of betrayal is replayed in your heart, over and over again, until it generates a life of it’s own, growing out of control like a monster of childhood nightmares. Such intense pain makes forgiveness gargantuan and seemingly impossible. When I’m faced with that seeming nightmare of betrayal or pain, I identify what I want for myself and focus on it with all my might but as long as I repeatedly replay visions of emotional pain, and seek validation for how awful it was, I’m paralyzed. Moving forward is a choice. When resistance to forgive consequently ripens the fruit of forgiveness, it’s courageous and delectable! Forgiveness is the tiny miracle that makes it happen. That is one of the greatest gifts that G-d gave to humans; the ability to forgive just as He forgives us. I no longer wait for Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. I try to forgive every single day. Each day that I forgive myself, it gives me such relief to embrace the feelings that brings me a peaceful mind, heart, and body. I give myself the gift of forgiveness every morning and evening and I hope that gift will be reciprocated by those who love me.
I would like to bless all of my readers, friends, and family with the gift of forgiveness and I wish every reader, every friend, every family member the gift of a clean slate filled with good health for the coming year! L’Refuah Shleimah l’kol Cholei Yisroel!
Shanah tova u’metuka! A good and sweet year to all!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Precious Moments Like These...

Today I had my 2nd SBRT radiation treatment at Moores. The 1st treatment left me vomiting my guts out and fearing I would be too weak and tired to enjoy the remainder of my stay in spectacular La Jolla. I refuse to allow physical vulnerability to downgrade my gratitude or exhilaration which may seem to come from the skies  but it's my mindset. My journey continues - thankfully - with meaningful experiences that I may have never had the opportunity to have had my path in life been different.

This Life is is so complicated and wrought with pain, suffering, and insecurity. yet time and time again I'm blessed with precious moments that remind me why my life is meaningful.

After Rosh HaShana, I was asked to give a talk to 7th graders preparing for bar/t mitzvah. I hesitated for a few seconds... just wondering if I had the inspiration to do it well enough to bring a message that could speak to such a young group of youth at a significant crossroads in their lives.

I said yes.

The honor was all mine.

After their prayer service and celebratory breakfast - I was their guest speaker. The audience was made up of girls and boys in 7th grade, their parents, and teachers. The sanctuary was silent and my voice boomed and reverberated in that beautiful space with giant windows. The trees outside were beautifully swaying and the natural light shinned in - bringing the power of nature into our space.

It ended up being a delightful and momentous morning for me... and a cross-section of our present and our future. These are our children now who will lead us into tomorrow.

Precious moments like these make (my) life meaningful... I hope so too for the treasured souls that I had the honor of connecting with.

On the eve of our Jewish Day Of Atonement - Yom Kippur - we reflect on the past year. Did we appreciate all of the gifts that God blessed us with? Did we have gratitude for each day? Were we kind? Were we generous with our time and did we give of our souls? Did our challenges bring us closer to God... did we forgive? Did we forgive God for our moments of distrust and suspicion - were we forgiven? Did we forgive ourselves? 

G'mar chatimah tovah! May you be inscribed in The Book Of Life for good! 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Radiation Day 1 - Graditude & My Happy Place

This is another first.
Today  I am scheduled to have my first  round of SBRT radiation treatment at UCSD. 
 Here is a scholarly article written by my rockstar dream team doctors Andrew Sharabi and Sandip Patel. The scholarly article describes more or less the type of treatment that I am undergoing right now. 


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Happiness Guaranteed: The Recipe

All soft mattresses have long been stowed away. The most perilous event is in action.

The arms are below - braced to catch me - in perfect form but nothing is promised. There are no promises in Life and more mysteries are in medicine.

In slow motion with sound siphoned into a motionless vacuum, for this millisecond I'm frozen in time.
I am a woman suspended midair.
Perfectly aligned.
Heartbeat: regular.
Blood pressure: low.
Secured in place with hope, love, and faith.

An invigorated monster calculates my trajectory and prepares for my landing. 

A beast in my liver is aggressive and growing with vengeance. The treatments prove to be working lest that beast outruns me to my prepared landing.

That beast is the darkness that remains - the most vicious one I've ever been faced with.
Plan Be.

I look into the arms that I pray will catch me with ease. 
I see so much "cancer".
Each with your own pittance or portion. 

I know what the answer is: it's not to fight and slay "cancer". Happiness awaits each and every one of us through sickness and health, through crisis and tragedy.
Virtue, kindness, righteousness, generosity and love is the recipe for happiness. The guarantee of true happiness is always protected by fortitude, morality, and excellence.
Stop pursuing happiness - pursue meaning.
Meaningfulness will unavoidably shower you with fulfillment and joy.

This millisecond will continue for as long as it will.... 
I attempt to stay upright in the sky - in the air - hoping and believing that those arms below will catch me again.