As if in a contrived conspiracy, even the weather is grey and damp today. The streets are wet, and my windows are inside low-lying clouds leaving no view for anything but my imagination. A good day to write and dig into my statis. I think my place in this cancer journey is stable.
Although there is no cure or chance for remission, these experimental vascular pills seem to be doing their job. I am under control as they put it. It’s the best-case scenario for this stage 4 chromophobe that’s taken over so many parts of my body. Hopefully, I stay this way for a long, long time. As my cousin back east so eloquently put it, “It’s like having AIDS. You take a cocktail, and you can live forever.” From her mouth to G-d’s ears.
Though, there are problems. Like today-or the last few weeks on too many random occasions. I spend the day in gastric, digestive distress. Nothing-solid or liquid, wants to stay in me. My bathroom is the favored venue of the house. Ugh! And the lethargy. Then the burps and belches after I take even a sip of water. The blur as the minutes crawl into their hours and take my awareness along with them. Friends stop by or call but my voice is far too weak to be understood. It’s raspy-even oddly sexy: Whisper low. All I wish I had is a fountain that gurgled my mother’s chicken soup. I’m sure that’s the answer but I don’t have the strength to make it. I probably wouldn’t have enough strength to finish a bowl. But I’m sure it would help. And that it would taste right, warm, good, healing.
As for healing, having such friends seems to boost my healing. When they are here, I feel so much better. I’ve known these women for well over 30 years, through synagogue upheavals, family joys and troubles and tragedies, and now as Hadassah members. We function individually but with acceptance to new ideas, situations, and the coming and going of spouses as nature makes her mark. Interestingly, the birth of L’Dor V’Dor, our fledging Hadassah group, has only served to focus us and further our bond.
Still, I am here today and feeling my roiling stomach and its attendant misfunctions. I know this discomfort is random and might lift any minute. At least that has happened often enough to believe it’s a constant possibility. However, nights can be brutal. I’ve taken to not eating
after 4 pm. When Covid is fully controlled I will dash to stand on a line for the early bird special anywhere! Even if I can’t take more than two bites. Oh, by the way. I’ve lost tons of weight. I look terrific, no longer that extra wide “bubbe” body I’d been carrying for too many years. That cheers me up.
So now that I’m a bit cheerier I start thinking how incredibly lucky I am. I have wonderful, caring children who visit every weekend. They call throughout the week. I’ve been teaching the grand girls Mahjong. They love it. And for Mother’s Day I got the parents to sit and begin to learn. We had a blast. So much fun and laughs along with the resistance from the grown-ups that made the kids that much more into it-explaining each move. And they love to call out, “You’re dead!” Of course, we’re all learning so no one goes dead.
I hold on to all this and more whenever I get the sulks. And believe me, that’s an easy thing to get. Self-pity can take hold and make a bright day black. I hate knowing I’m mortal and on top of that, that my mortality depends on experimental drugs for an incurable and awfully rare strain of a scary debilitating disease. But, again, lucky me. Such a group of friends. That chicken soup shows up at my door. I sip it at the kitchen table while my friend, who happens to be a recently retired nurse and L’Dor V’Dor’s co-president, makes herself a sandwich. We are having lunch together. Indian food is delivered by another friend. I can only hope to eat that. Another friend has gone shopping for me, and later veggies and chicken and brownie mix and Smart water, which contains electrolytes, are delivered. That’s just today. Throughout the week this happens. I barely have to ask. They always offer. A group of us plays Mahjong at my house so I can excuse myself for a nap or bathroom call. We play with five so I can get lost for a period of time if I must. But I play. And they accommodate me with love and care.
These ‘sisters’ of mine have families, other friends, obligations of a full productive life. Yet for over thirty years, if any one of us needed anything, we’re there. The Dream Team. The Sisterhood that’s connected by a bond deeper than blood. We’re a small community inside a larger one, but in general we operate as a town inhabited by your favorite sisters and cousins. We are here for each other. This past week another friend had a tough time with her chronic digestive disorder. She couldn’t make it to Shabbat dinner. I made her chicken soup and another friend, our local Hadassah co-president, delivered it to her. And sure enough, that elixir raised the curtain of pain enough for her to function-as long as she didn’t laugh. She said that hurt. But I couldn’t help myself, I made sure she was smiling and laughing just a bit. All the difference in the world that makes.
My mind keeps returning to this dark and difficult year for our sisters. Several of our friends died of cancer. Lung cancer mostly-even though they never smoked. What a tricky disease.
It sneaks up on you and you don’t even know it. My neighbor lasted 3 years, another lasted about the same. She and I had a pact. She was in remission and we were promised to live on each other’s good news and strength. One day she just couldn’t breathe. She was taken to the hospital for drains. She never came home. In a few weeks she was gone. Set me back some. I can’t even think of it without tearing up. And next, a husband with an athlete’s physique went in for a little checkup. He had lung cancer that metastasized into brain cancer. Less than a year later this fine, strong man was gone, leaving his widow bewildered. She is one of us and has brought comfort to me. In addition, they were regular attendees at out monthly shabbat dinners. It’s some months later and she is now willing to go out and visit with friends. Yes, there’s the lesson: Life is for the living – tikkun olam.
Still, my mind keeps returning to this ungodly past year. Another good friend has been diagnosed with stage three uterine cancer. She has just begun chemo treatments and we are there for her now. Food, comfort, rides to the doctor’s, shopping, stopping by for a visit. Life affirming activities. Just sitting. Knitting, reading, having a bite to eat when she’s up to it. We will take care of her as we can. Her family is also there, but day to day it’s this society of sisters by bond.
We are all of an age, a 3–5-year span between us, all Jewish and members, originally of the local synagogue. These days we do much of our volunteering for Hadassah. It’s more pay -it -forward and many of us have board roles. We all grew up in similar circumstances with similar customs and lifestyles and diets. We are similarly educated. We have similar values and heart strings. We are deeper than friends. We are deeper than community. We are more preferred and handier than family. Sometimes you don’t want your children to feel the burden of this ambitious monster. We can help build a safe room for each other. We don’t lean – we lean in. Lean on me. Hadassah: The Power of Women to Heal the World.