Mondays at Shaare Tzedek

It’s Monday, six days post RCHOP #5 and I’m alone in Dr. Ashkenazi’s office at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center. I’m exhausted and haven’t slept in six days. The neupogen shot coupled with the prednisone on Friday caused tremendous pain over Shabbat. So much so, that for the first time since I started treatment, I needed to take medication for the pain. I couldn’t walk or stand for Havdala on Saturday night and the kids were having meltdown after meltdown as I physically got worse and worse in front of their eyes.

Tuesdays are my Shaare Tzedek days but Dr. Ashkenazi has a conference so he moved my appointment up a day. Gaby wakes up sick on Monday morning and it’s too late to find someone else to take me to my appointment. He drops me off then goes home to sleep, eventually pack he’ll pack up and move in with his parents for a couple of days.

I walk tentatively from the car inside the new building and through the metal detectors.  The shoulder straps on my knapsack dig into my back and I wince in pain, keeping my head down as I focus on my feet. I hug the wall for balance, I feel lightheaded and spaced out and pray I don’t pass out. I’m thankful that I don’t have to wait long for the elevator and soon I arrive at the unit on the 6th floor. I press the button for my number and collapse into a chair, I close my eyes.

Mondays in the hematology-oncology day clinic is a different world. I’m disoriented by the drastic differences around me. I’m #152 today as I glance at my red bracelet after checking in, I find two empty seats in the crowded waiting room. I SMS Gaby to let him know I’m in the unit and to make sure he made it home okay, he is back in bed. I use my knapsack as a pillow and try to nap, alert for each number that’s called. Room #1 is the nurses station, room #2 to get your blood drawn. There’s a giant computer screen where we are all just numbers, little boxes stacked neatly in a row depending on the purpose of your visit. I noticed my number under room 1, room 2 and underneath Dr. Ashkenazi’s name. I’m too tired to alert the receptionists to the error. With a PICC line, I never need to go to room #2. My number is called and I take my bag with me through the doors where wilted streamers – survivors from Purim – hang weakly by a thread. I stop outside the nurses office and wait for the number before me to finish, an elderly Arab man who still needs to weigh himself before they order up his treatment IV.

My nurse for today waves me into the room and I hesitate for a minute. Usually I check in, get my temperature and blood pressure taken, talk for a few minutes about how I feel and get my bracelet put on me. Not today. The unit is too hectic for check in and my nurse needs to clean and sterilize my PICC line and take my blood ASAP. She is in a hurry and I start to take off my shirt but she stops me, no time for that today. She pulls up the sleeve so that my PICC line is exposed and then pulls the curtain around us for privacy. She asks me questions about how I’m doing and I try not to cry. I shrug because we need more help and I don’t know how to ask. I shrug because once again the children had a terrible Shabbat. I shrug because on Friday night my 9 year old daughter had a nightmare that I was a corpse.

“You’ve made it through 5 RCHOP’s!! That’s really, really amazing! When is your next one?”

She’s excited like I just completed majority of the course work for a degree. I’m confused by her cheerleading. Is this an accomplishment? What exactly is the accomplishment? That I’m still breathing?

“When’s your next round?” she asks.

The bed next to us is a mess of medical supplies, syringes and gauze pads. Each nurse has their own style when it comes to the PICC line. Today’s nurse is more like the absentminded professor. Realizing that she doesn’t have the vials of Heparin, she disappears and I sit and wait, my left arm resting at an awkward angle on the bed. After fifteen minutes, the nurse doing check in peeks behind the curtain and asks what I’m doing. With my PICC line exposed and the bed a war zone of supplies, I would think it were obvious but I know this nurse is young and stressed and so I tell her that my nurse went to get the Heparin. I’m getting cold and wish she’d hurry back so I can put my sweatshirt back on. Patients keep poking their head in to yell at the nurse; no one has patience today she responds back. They are all waiting for their treatment, which have been ordered from somewhere in the building but haven’t arrived yet in the unit. In my head, there are men and women in HAZMAT suits working in the basement, filling up orders of IV treatments like line cooks wiping down clear plastic bags of poison instead of plates of protein.

My nurse returns and sits opposite me on a chair. She needs to reorient herself and she swivels the cart with medical supplies. More alcohol gauze pads, new blue plugs for the PICC line, adhesive, syringe, saline get piled up on the bed. Finally, she puts on gloves and is ready to flush both lines and draw blood. I look away and she remembers her question.

“When is your next round?” she asks.

“Three days before Pesach,” I respond.

“I’m sorry, but you know you’re not going to have a good Pesach this year.”

I already know that Pesach is going to be hard, but it was refreshing to hear it from someone else. I alternate between zoning out and answering questions. It’s time to switch the bandage and, like every week, the threads of the stitches are stuck. She apologizes as she pulls, the stitches rip my skin and I gasp in pain. I resist telling her to use the tweezers in one of the kits to gingerly pull the threads from the bandage. It’s not her style, only one nurse even bothered to do it that way and I’ve had the PICC line since December. There’s no time to be careful, the ward is full and everyone needs something. Who cares that it hurts me? She tells me that I have the option to remove the PICC line whenever I want, that if it’s really bothering my life I don’t need it. I tell her that Dr. Ashkenazi wants it in there and so I’m just going to suffer through.

Finally, it’s over and I go back outside to the waiting room to wait for my appointment with Dr. Ashkenazi. It takes minimum one hour to get the blood test results so I settle in and try to sleep. The crowd has thinned and treatments inside have already begun. I sit and stare at the numbers on the screen and wait to be called.



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3:00 a.m.

3:00 a.m. – This is when it gets hard. When I wake up at 3:00 a.m. after a full day of prednisone speed like behavior and I can’t fall back asleep. I blame my bladder and the night sweats. For five days after Chemo, I have to make sure to go to the bathroom whenever I feel the urge. It’s dangerous to hold it in and so as soon as I feel the need, I run to the toilet. It’s exhausting and I feel like I’m pregnant all over again, waking up multiple times to go to the bathroom during the night. I crawl back into bed with my iPhone, checking in with my work Slack to see if I missed anything important. It’s mostly complaints about the snow in Philadelphia. I close the phone off and try to get back to sleep, my PICC line cover sliding off my arm to the wrist. I gently yank it back up and rest my arm on a pillow. I close my eyes. From the other room, I hear a shout and then the adrenaline jolt. Seconds later, Yarden is in the room. She runs to Gaby’s side of the bed but he’s sleeping so I tell her to come over to me and she tells me about her nightmare. A grasshopper jumping on her skin, trying to eat her. I hug and comfort her, smooth her hair and give her a kiss. I feel her heart beating fast in her chest. My own heart is racing as well but I pay no mind. We embrace for a few minutes and then she says she feels better and can go back to sleep. I watch her run on tiptoes back to her bed and minutes later, hear the soft breathing of sleep.

3:30 a.m. – My mouth is dry and I take a drink from the water bottle next to my bed. I’m nauseous but I don’t know if it’s from the chemo or the lack of sleep. I’m sweating so I pull off my pajama bottoms. I feel waves of sweat form on my head and my cheeks flush. I turn my phone back on and check my email. I send a message to my Rabbi about Pesach cleaning. Pesach doesn’t care that I have cancer, Pesach doesn’t care that I have R-CHOP three days before Seder night. I sing the “Pesach is coming song,” in my head and try not to panic. Yiheyeah Beseder (it will be okay).

3:45 a.m. – I scroll through unanswered WhatsApp messages. I respond to my friend Yael who has been selflessly coordinating meals for us since December. I message a new cancer friend who had her 5th R-CHOP the day before mine to see how she’s feeling. I message another cancer friend who just finished all of her treatments for DLBCL to ask how she manages to stay so positive when it’s late at night, and you’re alone with your thoughts, and you’re scared. I email the Mommy from Tani’s gan who cooked dinner for us on Tuesday night to thank her for the delicious food.

4:00 a.m. – My friend Jeorjie in the States is awake so we WhatsApp about her birthday weekend. I think about her birthday last year, it seems so close yet a lifetime away. I was a different Shira back then. I was Shira, today I’m Lior. We rang in her milestone birthday with her family, back on the Upper West Side, in my old stomping grounds. I had just gotten my hair highlighted and I walked more than 50 blocks to the neighborhood. I felt young, healthy and happy. I missed Gaby and the kids but it was such a great trip.

4:05 a.m. – I WhatsApp Mom and tell her how I’m feeling. I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it over there today. We were hoping to take a walk to Nisha and Barbara Shaw on Emek Refaim to look at some of the Pesach gifts. I need a hostess present for my Mother-in-law.

4:10 a.m. – Paranoia kicks in and I realize I haven’t spoken to my Mother-in-law since before my treatment. I wonder if she’s mad at me. I hope she’s not upset with me. Should I WhatsApp her? Call her? Leave her alone?

4:15 a.m. – I visit and read about my cancer. I read the statistics that I’m not supposed to read. I start to panic, my chest feels tight and heavy.

4:18 a.m. – I say Tehillim

4:30 a.m. – Mom is up and we WhatsApp. I tell her I’m not mentally in a good place and I need to get out of my head. I ask her to come over here this morning to help me. She tells me to make myself a tea and sit up in bed to help with the nausea. I’m counting down until I can take my Nexium. I sit back up in bed.

4:45 a.m. – I watch a couple of Tasty videos about the many ways you can make chicken nuggets. I scroll through my Facebook feed and see a link to Brian Blum’s latest article about his cancer diagnosis and treatment on The Jerusalem Post. I read it and relate.

5:00 a.m. – I close off my phone and give up trying to sleep. I put on my pants and a sweatshirt, the sweats have stopped and now I’m cold. I follow my Moms advice and go into the dark kitchen and press the button on our Tami 4 to heat up the water. Comfortable in the dark, I easily find my tea mug. I turn to the Ikea bookshelf that we turned into a kitchen pantry and find the bag with my Chai tea. I pull out a tea bag and put it into the mug. I add the hot water and walk to my chair in the living room. I settle in and boot up my computer and think about my new life. I think about my new life every day. All the things I want to change when cancer is over. Then my mind wanders to the dark place and I try to reign it back in and think about my new life. Learning how to ski next winter with the kids. Buying a new pair of running sneakers. Going to the beach this summer without a PICC line. My hair, eyebrows and eyelashes growing back. Eating healthier. Making the kids eat healthier. Being a more active family. Walking the kids to school every morning instead of driving.

5:10 a.m. –  I start writing this blog post and then think about how my new life seems so far away. I want to stop spending my life behind a computer. I want to be outside, talk to people, meet with people, go places, see new things. Breathe fresh air.

5:15 a.m. – I sigh and think about cancer costs and life costs and money. New Pesach dresses and outfits for the kids. Summer camp for three children, while not what it costs in America, is still a fortune here in Israel. I think about the person who anonymously left an envelope with a significant amount of money, with our names on it, at the Meuchedet on the Tayelet. Gaby and I cried when we opened the envelope, that someone could be so kind and generous. We want to pay it forward when treatment is all over. I think about where I want to give Tzedakah to next, I want it to be a food bank for Pesach.

5:30 a.m. – I hear noises from the kids bedroom and wonder who will be the first out of bed today. I need another 30 minutes to compose myself, to get out of the dark place, to be able to greet the children with a hug and a smile.

5:45 a.m. – Email ping from Dad. He says it’s 65 degrees and I might be overdressed. I smile and write back that it’s not that, it’s really the meds and that I’ve given up on sleeping. I consider opening the trissim but worry the noise will wake everyone up. 15 minutes until I can take my Nexium and my alarm goes off. I remember that I need to send Sivan with a signed permission slip for her Tiyul next week. I wonder if it’s too early to pack the candy bags I’m making for my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah next Shabbat. I won’t be able to attend but at least I can represent with awesome candy bags.

The light is filtering through the holes in my trissim and from my chair in the living room, I can see dawn breaking through my kitchen. I think about the fresh basil we got in our Hartman box yesterday, that Gaby’s cousin delivered. I’m going to make dairy and nut free pesto today.  Yesterday, I was sitting on the Mirpeset talking to my friend Shulamit, smelling the fresh mint that I planted from the Mishloach Manot we got from the Etzion shul. That reminds me that I need to email Tamar to thank her for delivering our box since we didn’t make it to Megillah. I loved the vegetable theme; they worked with Leket Israel. I read somewhere that if you surround yourself with greenery it gives you a sense of wellness. I breathed in the fresh mint and looked at my new Lemonquat tree. The fruit is coming in beautifully and I wonder when I’ll be able to eat them without getting sores in my mouth.

I remember my tea and take a sip. The cinnamon is strong yet soothing.

5:50 a.m. Ten minutes to stop the tears. Ten minutes left in the dark, with my thoughts and fears. Matchbox Twenty’s song 3:00 a.m. pops into my head…”Baby, it’s 3:00 am I must be lonely” then it changes to the brilliant guitar riff of Santana on Smooth and I think back to the late 1990’s when I lived in a closet in the Westmont with two roommates and barely any space to do Taebo at 6:00 a.m. before heading downtown to my first job in PR.

6:00 a.m. My alarm rings. I dry my face. It’s time to face a new day…with a smile. Tani is awake.



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Treatment #5

Thank g-d, we had a wonderful Purim this year. I started a Purim blog post but then decided to bake hamentaschen with the kids. I hope to finish it up a little bit later. Highlights included Sivan’s 7th birthday and the fact that I had the strength to bake her a cake. Tani was home sick with another strep infection, so I treated him to the beaters and bowl after making the frosting. Yarden was adorable in her panda costume and we were lucky that Tzipporah, a volunteer, came over to the apartment to read Megillah for all of us. For the most part, I stayed indoors since I can’t be in big crowds, but I did venture out really early to deliver Mishloach Manot to three friends in the neighborhood. My costume was a big hit and I was essentially hermetically sealed inside the giant T-Rex costume. But by Friday night, all of the hamentaschen baking, Shabbat cooking, Seuda making, Mishloach Manot organizing and packing, really just hit me and I was wiped. I passed out on the couch at 7:30 p.m. and Gaby waited up until 10:00 so he could wake me for my shot. I was back in bed and asleep by 10:30 and spent most of Shabbat just resting.

Sunday and Monday were physically my best days and on Monday, I decided to take myself on a walk to the Super Market on Derech Beit Lechem. I promised everyone I would walk slow, be careful, and I wouldn’t buy too much. I left the apartment to beautiful sunny skies and walked down Efrata street, where I encountered a woman puking her guts out on one of the trees. I quickly jumped into the street to avoid her and whispered sorry to myself since I couldn’t help her and jogged a bit to get away from her. Poor woman! The walk to the Supermarket was pretty quick since it was downhill and I had decided to make the kids tacos for dinner. Unfortunately, Falcon (aka Super Deal) was out of taco shells so I decided to improvise and buy tortilla chips instead. I picked up some salsa, ground turkey meat, shredded lettuce and a block of cheddar cheese. Then I started the walk back home and boy was it harder than what I remember it to be. But, I managed, even if it wasn’t at the pace I once was able to do and I walked up Dostrovsky with a packed bag over my shoulder and made it home! To say that I felt like a champion is an understatement. I rested a bit and then got to work on dinner, putting the meat into the freezer for future use. I grated the block of cheddar, cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, rinsed and dried the lettuce, opened cans of beans and chick peas and made some guacamole. I think the kids loved it but I’m not sure, I went back to work and managed to put in an almost 10 hour work day.

I think it was the high of the holiday and Monday’s independence, that really helped me push through yesterday’s R-CHOP. It also helped that I brought headphones so I could block the noises in the unit and I was able to sleep from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. I slept through almost all of the Rituximab and most of the chemo. I developed a rash on the back of my head so Gaby closed the curtain around my bed and I was able to endure treatment without a head covering. When Dr. Ashkenazi came to see me, he was all smiles at my bald head and took a quick look at the rash. He agreed that I should try to air out my head as much as possible to keep the rashes at bay. We had a really nice meeting and by 4:00 p.m. I was discharged.

I’m pretty wiped so that’s all the energy I have for today. Thanks for all the wonderful and encouraging messages! Only one R-CHOP left please g-d in Phase I of my treatment, then after Pesach we start Phase II.

Please continue to keep me in your tefillot: Lior Shira Batya bat Chaya Yehudit


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Cancer and Taharat HaMishpacha (Jewish Family Purity Laws)

Its been almost two weeks since we got the wonderful news that thank g-d treatment is working. It took a long time for me to process that information. Primarily, because I’m still processing my diagnosis. There are days when I still just don’t believe that I have cancer, when I look at my new self in the mirror and wonder how I got here in the first place. I know I should be shouting from the rooftops but instead, I’ve been very depressed.

Menopause kicked in around the same time as the news that treatment is B”H working and I’ve been dealing with a lot of emotions and physical changes. I was warned that it would happen and yet, it totally took me by surprise. Sure, we weren’t actively looking to add to our beautiful family, but knowing that the option has been taken away from me because of cancer treatment has been a lot harder to handle. It’s funny, but I would joke that I couldn’t wait for menopause so I could be done with the monthly bloating and cravings, the surprise acne moments and the cramps, the days when you think you’re done so you don’t wear a pad or a panty liner and then you stand up suddenly and realize that yikes, you’re still not done. The monthly cost of tampons, pads for evening flow, pads for light flow, panty linters, etc. I thought I was ready to be done with all of that, but emotionally I’m just not there yet.

And then there’s the Mikvah. I thought I would feel so happy to be finished going to the Mikvah since I have never felt comfortable with that Mitzvah. I do not connect to Taharat HaMishpacha (Jewish family purity laws). I follow the rules because I’m a rule follower (for the most part) and Taharat HaMishpacha was something I had to follow once we got married. But I just never personally connected with it, no matter how many shiuring I listened to or lectures I attended. I remember my Kallah (bride) classes before our wedding. I did a three day intensive course with a Kallah teacher in Kew Gardens Hills and I told her that all I wanted to know were the Halachot (laws). She was frustrated with the request since she typically taught the laws over a six month period where she educated engaged women about the beauty of Taharat HaMishpacha, going beyond the actual laws. But, I had three days of limited time to spend on Taharat HaMishpacha and so I told her just tell me what I need to know, and leave out all of the emotional stuff.  Maybe that was a mistake, I’ll never know. But I’ve never been gung-ho about Taharat HaMishpacha and Mikvah was really just a culmination of something that I’ve personally never really liked to do.

So, the fact that I’m actually sad about having one more Mikvah session in my lifetime ahead of me is truly baffling. I thought I would be happy about the day where I’d finally unpack my Mikvah bag and use it as a beach bag. The Mikvah robe that I would use all year round, instead of once a month. The flip-flops and the bottle of Jo Malone body cream, the comb and the spray deoderant, the worn ziplock bag full of lip balm and dental floss, spare glasses and empty contact lense case, the tweezer and razor, and the white Siddur hidden in the inside zipper compartment of the bag.

I thought I would be happy about no longer counting days or needing Bedika clothes, of rearranging conference calls so I could fit in a dunk, of rushing and waiting impatiently depending on what chaos was happening back at home.

What I will not miss is the physical bodily inspection before the Mikvah, the strange hands picking stray hairs off of my back or examining my cuticles. The eagle-eyed woman watching as I immerse multiple times, holding towels or my robe over my head while I cross my hands over my naked body to say the bracha. I have had plenty of unfortunate moments with Balaniyot (the women volunteers at the Mikvah) and have had some nice ones as well. But for the most part, needing to immerse under the watchful eye of a stranger has always been very uncomfortable for me. Now, all I wonder is which Balanit will bear witness to my final immersion, and how will we both react. Unfortunately, timing my final Mikvah visit might take a while, so I have a few more weeks to mentally prepare for the finality of Mikvah.

Instead, I’ve been preoccupied with the physical changes that menopause brings, which has been added to the wonderful side effects of chemo. I’m talking about hot flashes and sweating. Remember that horrible scene from one of those Sex in the City movies where breast cancer survivor Samantha is giving a speech to a roomful of breast cancer survivors and she can’t stop sweating so she rips off her wig and starts to fan herself? Then all of the bald women in the room rip off their wigs in solidarity and you’re supposed to have a feel good moment? I’ve always hated that scene, I felt like it was such a cheap Hollywood moment in what could have been something a lot more meaningful and powerful. But now, I can understand that moment as I find myself searching for corners so I can pull off my hat and fan my sweaty, bald head. I try to make a joke out of it for the kids and ask them if they can see steam rising off of my head whenever it gets too hot and sweaty. They laugh at me but inspect my head for steam nonetheless. I spend hours putting on my hats and then, when the hot flashes hit, pulling them off. This is annoying during the day, but imagine how I’m sleeping when this happens throughout the night. It’s exhausting.

So here I am, soldiering through. I have two more RCHOP’s ahead of me, then two more R’s (Rituximab) following Pesach and then Phase II of treatment that’s still TBD. I have at least another PET CT in my near future, and possibly a couple of spinal tap chemo sessions as well. My Dr. is still trying to figure out Phase II so we are anxiously awaiting my future treatment plans.

In the meantime, I’m hoping Purim will lift my spirits and help me out of this menopause induced funk.

Send chocolate!

Please continue to keep me in your prayers: Lior Shira Batya bat Chaya Yehudit


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The Pub

He walked belly first through the sliding glass doors, leather jacket unzipped and motorcycle helmet tucked underneath one arm. We were the only ones in the waiting room and he casually nodded in our direction. I didn’t recognize him so I just assumed he was one of the people behind the curtain, the guys in the booth watching to make sure that the test was conducted properly.

We were forty minutes early to my PET CT at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center and I already had the first appointment. We were so early that the receptionist wasn’t ready to check us in until 8:20 even though she was sitting at her desk with seemingly nothing much to do besides check her Facebook and Instagram.

Dr. Igor, who was just as rough and unpleasant as during my first PET CT, decided to place the hemlock into my right hand. Once again, he commented about my crappy veins as he slapped the needle repeatedly in my hand to get the blood draw for the glucose count. I winced each time he slapped my hand and he finally gave up, muttering under his breath about the need for a PICC line while preparing to prick my finger. He gave me no warning while he was doing any of this and so I gritted my teeth and looked away. I much preferred the finger prink to his slapping the needle in my hand. He wrote 90 on the tape on my hand and told me to sit in the waiting area.

A technician put me on the scale to weigh me and I sighed at the number. I told him clothing and sneakers adds at least two kilos and he laughed. Even in cancer, I’m concerned with the numbers on the scale.

I’m anxious for today. This is the day where we’ll see how my body is responding to treatment. I have been nervous and emotional for days leading up to the PET CT. I am hoping for the miracle, and trying not to think about anything beyond that hope.

The technician who weighs me tells me that my test will be delayed since the radioactive material isn’t in the building. I thank him for the update then notice the box of Captain Crunch underneath his arm. He enters the room marked for employees only and settles in for coffee and breakfast. I tell Gaby that I find it ironic, how a man who basically escorts people through a test that will primarily detect cancer in their bodies, is poisoning his own with loads of sugar each morning. I have become really judgmental with cancer, but will eat my first bite of sugar in three months two days later.

We sit in silence while I daven, Gaby playing some sort of sci-fi game on his iPhone. They roll the radioactive materials in minutes later and I flash back to that scene in Back to The Future, the first time I ever saw that symbol. Minutes later, that material will be coursing through my veins.

Mr. Motorcycle has replaced his leather jacket with a white lab coat and comes to get me, explaining that the test will take an hour and 15 minutes but Gaby is welcome to wait in the waiting area. I wave goodbye and follow him down the hall and into the room. I’ve been here before so I know the drill, I sit in the chair and place my hand with the hemlock on the tray. We don’t speak for a few seconds and he puts my weight into the machine. The coiled clear tube dangles next to me and I know it will be hooked up to my hemlock. I want to ask him his name but see the tag says Yair and so my curiosity is quashed as he starts to talk. He hooks me up to the machine and immediately my hand goes cold. It’s the saline flush to make sure it’s hooked up correctly. After the saline, they’ll inject the radioactive material while he exits the room. There’s a blue cinderblock propping the door open so it’s easy for him to make a quick exit. I wonder how safe it is for the other technician to be walking around in sandals.

Suddenly, the beginning strains of Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life filters through and I’m impressed. I want to meet the DJ behind the music pumped into the pre-PET CT room!

We get to the chorus before Yair pulls his cell phone from his lab coat and I burst out laughing. I tell him that I thought it was music they play in the room and he smiled, explaining that he often misses calls because he likes to hear more than just the beginning strains.

“It’s time for the radioactive material, are you ready?” he asks.

I shrug and he presses a button, wishes me good luck, and leaves the room.

The geiger counter starts going nuts, crackling and static noises fill the room as the machines whirs and my hand gets colder and colder. With a beep the machine starts to cycle down and Yair returns.

“Welcome to our pub, it’s an Irish pub!”

He opens a door to an empty room painted blue with three layz-boy leather chairs separated by short walls on both side for privacy.  There are three clocks on the wall and each area has a small white table. I smile at him as he grabs the clear container that reminds me of a bedpan, which is topped with a clear plastic cup.

“Here’s your beer.”

I like Yair, in a different life we could have been really good friends. Riding motorcycles and drinking beer at an Irish pub while listening to Evanescence. But instead, he’s setting me up for an hour in a room with lead walls with a bitter clear liquid that I need to drink by the cupful every 10 minutes until I can be placed into a machine that will capture whether or not RCHOP chemo has worked to eradicate my cancer.

He wishes me good luck again and disappears back into the radiation room to prepare the next patient. I settle into my leather chair and start rocking back and forth. I’ve brought my cell phone with me but Yair said I can’t use it for another 20 minutes. I drink the first of eight cups of bitter, disgusting liquid. I watch the clock and try not to panic. I realize that I’m sitting in the same chair as my first PET CT and consider moving. You know, Meshaneh Makom Meshaneh Mazal (change your location, change your fortune) but then realize that that thinking is just crazy so I keep rocking. With the toe of my shoe I gently push the little table. Yup, it still wobbles.

After twenty minutes, I’m able to pick up my phone. I sext Gaby a picture of an eggplant and start playing around with Snapchat. I send the picture at the top of this post to my Mom with “OMG, look what this radiation crap DID to me!!” She doesn’t know from Snapchat. She responds asking if I want salmon for lunch. Being radioactive means I can’t be near pregnant women, children and anyone with a compromised immune system for six hours, so I’m going to my parents house to ride out the radioactivity. I tell her not to worry about it, I’ll find something in her fridge.

The sandal wearing, Captain Crunch eating technician is back before I know it and tells me that I have ten more minutes. He’ll let me know when I need to go to the bathroom, which is mandatory before the test. I text Gaby to let him know I’m almost up and then go to pee.

It’s cold in the PET CT room but I’m allowed to wear my beret. I take off the kamayah (good luck charm) that’s been around my neck since shortly after my diagnoses and get on the table. I’m allowed to wear my clothing, even my bra with a metal underwire is okay. The machine is not completely enclosed so I don’t panic. He hooks me up to the dye and it burns like heck going in. I have to keep my hands over my head the entire test and my left arm with the PICC line begins to tremor. I will spend fifteen minutes trying desperately to keep that arm still.

The technician will wish me Good Luck more than ten times. I started counting after the fifth time. When the test is over, I go back to Gaby and observe the now packed waiting room. The staff works like a well oiled machine. As soon as I’m done, the next person is ushered into the exam room, and it will work that way until they close for the day. I sit next to Gaby and put on my sweatshirt. He gathers his stuff and leaves to go up to the sixth floor. The nurses asked that we let them know as soon as the test is done, so they can call down for the results. I observe the various age groups of the people in the room; most of the patients are more than 20 years my senior.

A technician escorts an elderly religious woman past me. She is crying and clutching the technician’s arm in fear, begging her not to use the needles. She is terrified of the test. I feel so badly for her that I say a quick prayer that her results are clear and that she doesn’t have cancer. I can’t imagine how she would handle treatment if she is petrified of the PET CT.

I then thank G-d for my strength. For breaking my wrist and my heel, for the bronchitis when I was 8 and the pneumonia that made me miss a New Year’s Eve party when I was twenty. For the tonsilectomy when I was in first grade that led to my hospital trauma (one day, I might share) and to the three C-sections and one D&C. To the pseudotumor cerebri that I had to keep quiet from everyone except close friends and family because it would have hurt my shidduch opportunities, and for the botched spinal tap over Thanksgiving weekend. For that time I got stitches, and for getting all four wisdom teeth pulled before July 4th weekend.   And for the time I showed up at Camp Hillel on visiting day after being kicked out and learned a bunk mate had hepatitis and that I needed a shot in the ass.

I thanked G-d for all of those experiences, because it gave me the strength to deal with cancer.

Gaby returned from the sixth floor and I slung my heavy knapsack across my back and we walked out of the hospital. I kept my head down and my arms close to my body to avoid getting pushed by people and was so grateful for the fresh air. I was quiet walking to the car as Gaby explained why the nurses wanted to know about my PET CT. They plan on discussing my case on Tuesday morning during their weekly meeting. All the hematology-oncologists meet on Tuesdays to discuss cases, mine is apparently on the docket this week.

We decide to go to Emek Refaim so Gaby can get some lunch and he can pick up some whole wheat crackers. My Mom has eggs and veggies at home so I had a plan for breakfast. There was no warning though. Nothing in particular to trigger my meltdown. It wasn’t a song on the radio or the street we were driving down. It wasn’t a smell in the air or anything Gaby was saying. But mid-way down Tschernikovsky street, I just started crying and it took a really long time until I could stop.

We will P”G get the results of my PET CT on Tuesday, which is also round #4 of RCHOP. Please continue to pray for me: Lior Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit.


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40 Minutes

“The test will take 40 minutes today,” said the young, frum MRI technician as he pulled off the face mask and placed a pillow at the head of the machine.

“You’ll be much more comfortable this time,” he continued, smoothing down Shaare Tzedek logoed sheets over a triangle wedge pillow. “We’re doing the lower part of your spine. What type of music would you like to listen to today?”

Two MRI’s must make me an expert but I am shaky and having a rough day. Day six post R-CHOP tends to be the hardest and I feel like I’m going to collapse. My fear of enclosed spaces diminishes as I feel my knees buckle; I steady myself against the white, cold slab that will soon whisk me into the machine.

I notice the technicians gold marriage band as I gingerly lay down, he’s talking to me in Hebrew but I’m not really listening. He never touches me. I am wearing two gowns and a new pair of socks and the room is very cold. The technician lets me keep on my chemo cap, but I already know it’s too thin to really protect my bald head from the cold air blowing inside the machine. He hooks up the hemlock in my right arm to a long, thin tube where the dye will be injected mid-way through the test, and places a plastic emergency button that looks like the pump of a blood pressure cuff into my right hand.  My hand will quiver on this pump for forty minutes, but I will never press it.

“Enya,” I request, through parched and cracked lips. I’m dehydrated.

He talks about the soft music that’s already pumping through the headphones and I just nod. It doesn’t really matter what music he plays, I just need to close my eyes.

The door to the MRI room slams shut and the noises begin. Loud, clanking jackhammering over the blaring of a siren and the slab moves me deep into the machine. I  can’t hear the music over the noise from the machine but feel the rush of cold air on my face, permeating through my cap to coat my bare skull. I stare at the white walls of the machine inches from my nose and try to keep still.

I close my eyes.

I feel the warm, summer sun beating down on my skin. I’m standing outside our home up North and it’s early morning before the unbearable heat of the day. I’m wearing a pair of overalls and a floppy straw hat, my long grey hair is wrapped tightly in a bun at the base of my neck. I have a pair of gardening sheers in one gloved hand, with the other I’m shielding my eyes against the sun’s rays to survey my garden. Tidy rows of cucumbers and celery. Cherry tomatoes straining against the vine. Two types of basil flank parsley and coriander. Radish, dill, bok choy, carrots and sweet potato. Romaine lettuce and butter lettuce and mangold and beets. Beyond the vegetable patch are orange groves and lemon trees, a grapefruit and avocado trees sway in the distance, and on the mountain top miles from our home is an ancient olive tree I like to visit in September before Rosh Hashanah.

Gaby joins me in the garden and I put him to work, cutting ripe vegetables for dinner and adding fresh soil. We have a drip irrigation system that left the ground moist from the morning’s watering, and I massage my fingers into the pulsing earth. I breathe in the fresh, green smells of the garden and smile up at him as he collects my gardening tools and puts them into the shed that’s adorned with a sign one of the Grandkids made for me at gan. “Savta’s Garden” in blue and white mosaic tile against the brown plastic IKEA shed.

We link hands and start off on our hike, the dogs dance against each other and race ahead. My legs are tan, spotted and strong. Sweat starts to roll slowly down my back but moving feels so good.  We talk about the kids visiting that afternoon; I’m excited to see them. We’re going to Dag el HaDan in the afternoon to buy fresh fish for dinner, I’ll use herbs from the garden and organic olive oil to steam them in parchment paper.

My kitchen design is traditional farmhouse style, with a long wooden table and shabby chic chairs. It surprises me since my taste is so modern and my eyes linger over the rooster hand towels and baby blue accents. Next to the sinks with the doctors taps are cow and pig cookie jars. I love these cookie jars, they’re the focal point of my kitchen. I keep freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in the jars whenever we’re up North; my Aunt Irene’s recipe but using freshly squeezed oranges from our grove. I peek inside the pig and noticed we’re running low. I’ll make a fresh batch with the Grandkids when they wake up tomorrow morning, it will be a great activity and my kids can sleep in.

“Can you hear the music?” the technician’s voice breaks through my fantasy.

I realize he has put on Enya. Afraid to move, I grunt in appreciation. The banging of the machine roars louder in my ears.

“Seven more minutes,” he says.

It’s Friday night and I’ve spent half of the day vomiting. Gaby and the kids helped me to the kitchen to light candles but I’m in dirty pajamas and I didn’t manage to get a shower in before sunset. I’m in bed and the house is quiet, I’ve spent most of Friday night dinner in my chair in the living room so I can at least be near the family during the Shabbat meal. I’m overtired and drained. Gaby is in the bed next to me, his book open, pretending to read. My heart is beating slowly and I feel sluggish. In careful tones, I tell him my fantasy.

The pig and the cow, the rows of orange trees, the dogs, Savta’s garden, the cherry tomatoes bursting on the vine, holding hands, hiking, my strong legs, the scent of sweat and earth, Grandchildren, fresh fish cooked in parchment paper, his smile, the sun, the laugh lines in the corner of his eyes, heat and warmth and love.

He’s silent.

“You don’t have anything to say?” I’m annoyed. I’ve outlined in detail my fantasy, my hopes for our future. Gaby remains silent.

“I’m injecting the dye in now,” says the technician. I feel something cold against my hand. “Are you okay? 10 more minutes and then we’re done.”

“Beseder,” I whisper against the white walls.

It’s Friday night and we’re back in bed, Gaby’s book rests upright on his chest and I wait for him to speak. I study him intensely, carefully. I notice the new wisps of grey hair that have darkened his temple, the worry lines that crease his forehead. He has lost weight, his face thinned and angular. It was a hard week for him, an even harder two and a half months. I hate myself for doing this to him, I yearn to take care of him again.

“The details in your future are lovely,” he finally says. “But for me, there’s only one thing that I need in my future. And that is you.”

The machine shudders a final time and hums to a stop. And with that final thought, the slab moves me out of the machine and back to my life.






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Happy Erev Shabbat from my bed in Jerusalem! I’m home, thank g-d, after spending two days post round three of RCHOP resting at my parents apartment. It was an unexpected couple of days out of the house that was difficult on Gaby and the kids but unfortunately necessary to protect my weakened immune system.

I was very anxious going into treatment on Tuesday and even more nervous when we woke up and discovered that Gaby was under the weather. Fortunately, my mother-in-law was able to take me to Shaare Tzedek and my parents came really early to take the kids to school. Before I headed out to the hospital, I packed a “go” bag just in case Gaby felt worse and I couldn’t come back home. I was so hurried to pack and make it in time for my appointment that I forgot to pack another pair of pants, but did manage to pack enough meds and shots to get me through a couple of days!

My mother-in-law got me to the hospital on time and I was able to grab a bed this time, instead of one of the Lazy-Boy chairs set up in the treatment room. Since they give me a big dose of anti-histamines before starting the Rituximab, I usually fall asleep and figured being in a bed would be most comfortable. Nurit, the amazing head nurse in the hematology-oncology unit, drew my blood and then cleaned and steralized my PICC line. I went back to my bed, waited for the blood test results, and tried to hydrate as much as possible.

It takes about an hour for the results to come back so I davened and chatted with my mother-in-law and did a lot of deep breathing. Tuesdays on the ward are very busy and the beds started filling up really quickly. I was happy I grabbed the one all the way against the wall, next to a tiny window where I can spy on all of the hospital workers grabbing coffee and cigarette breaks while sitting at the tables set up right outside. Since I’m on the 6th floor, but facing the back of the hospital, I’m actually on ground level. I know, seems odd, but Shaare Tzedek is built into a mountain and there’s actually a ground level entrance behind the building to the 6th floor where you can access the beautiful new Children’s hospital.

There are a lot of volunteers who circle the floor and this week, a lovely reflexologist was going from bed to bed offering up foot rubs. At first, I thought to decline, but then I decided why not? And it was the most relaxing 15 minutes I’ve had in a long, long time. I hope she comes back for my next treatment!

I know my numbers are good for chemo when I hear them wheel in the IV pole while calling out my name. I’ll be honest, I let out a huge sigh of relief when Nurit showed up with the first part of treatment. She gave me some pills, hooked me up to the anti-histamines, and 25 minutes later I was out for the count.

It took seven hours to get all of the meds into me and I was at Shaare Tzedek from 8:00 am – 4:30 p.m. I woke up for good around 1:00ish when they switched my IV pole to the CHOP part of my treatment. A couple of minutes later, Dr. Ashkenazi came by to see me, which was really nice. I try to push my IV pole down the hall to his office but I was so wiped, I wasn’t able to get out of bed this week. During our consult, I mentioned that there was a lot of illness back at home and he recommended that I try to find someplace else to sleep until the family could get healthy.

So, off to my parents house I went for what extended into a two day stay while Gaby got some R&R back at home. It was hard to be away from everyone but it was also so helpful to have my parents take care of me while I rested.

I woke up at 3:00 a.m. Wednesday morning in a lot of pain; my stomach was hurting me and so were my fingers. The prednisone caused my fingers to swell and my rings were cutting off my circulation. I started to panic because I couldn’t take my anniversary band off my ring finger and it was red and throbbing. Fortunately, my parents were both already awake, and my Mom used good ol’ Palmolive and a lot of cold water to slowly pry my rings off my fingers. We put all my rings into a ziplock bag and then I just massaged my fingers until the redness went away. I had on and off stomach pains for the rest of Wednedsay but it was manageable, I just stuck to a really bland diet and drank a lot of water.

Thank g-d, by Thursday, I was already starting to feel much better. Mom took me out to run some errands on Derech Beit Lechem so I could get in a walk and some fresh air. I went to Gil, my favorite fruit and vegetable store, and bought some produce for the week. We went to Anise so I could pick up some more Matcha green tea for this Matcha Latte recipe I found online; I make it using homemade cashew milk since I’m allergic to almonds and I put in a tsp of honey since I’m off of sugar. It’s not bad and it makes me feel like I’m doing something nutritionally to fight the cancer!

When Gaby came to pick me up to bring me back home, it was wonderful. The kids were so happy to see me and it was great to be back in my bed and surrounded by my family. They give me the strength to keep on fighting.  I’m looking forward to P”G a restful Shabbat.

Thank you all for your tefillot and acts of chesed, your hafrashot challot and your delicious meals that continue to flow in to our home and are beyond appreciated.  May you all merit a long and healthy life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Lior Shira Batya bat Chaya Yehudit



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Cancer and Cannabis


Happy Tuesday! I was finished by Noon at Shaare Tzedek today, so I thought I would take advantage of the time and update my blog. Thank g-d, I am feeling physically good and I’m in really good spirits.  We had a really nice Shabbat in Ashkelon and the change of scenery plus the warmer weather really just made a huge difference. We were sad when Shabbat ended because it meant leaving our little 25 hour escape from reality.

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to respond to every message and WhatsApp lately, I’ve been working a lot and with whatever energy I have left, trying to spend it on Gaby and the kids.

Physically, I’m thank g-d doing okay this week. I’ve been taking the Neupogen shots which are thank g-d working! Today my white blood cell count was up to 10,000 which is great and I have to do two more shots before my third round of R-CHOP next Tuesday. I made the mistake of drinking freshly squeezed OJ over shabbat and my gums got really swollen and I got sores in my mouth. Fortunately, my gums have gone back to normal by this morning and I made a mental note to avoid freshly squeezed OJ until chemo is finished. Aside from the pains I get from the Neupogen shots, and needing a lot more sleep than normal, I am B”H having a good week.

Mentally, well, that’s a different story.

Look, I’m fighting. I am, I’m fighting hard over here. But I haven’t had sugar since November 19, 2017. I’m also off of chocolate, dairy, white flour, alcohol, fried foods, spicy foods, and certain fruits and vegetables. I don’t hug my husband because I’m still in niddah and I basically don’t hug my kids because one of them is either coughing or complaining about something hurting them. I don’t touch anyone else because there’s always a risk of catching something.

There are days when I have to give myself two shots in the stomach, which is not pleasant. The Clexane burns like heck when it’s injected and because of the construction of the needle on the Neupogen, it’s really hard to get it to penetrate the skin below my belly button. I say a perek of tehilim every time I need to do a shot but it doesn’t always help. I have a PICC line that makes sleeping on my left side impossible and I’m afraid to lift any weights because the PICC line is jutting out of my left bicep. When the nurse (who is lovely and amazing and so, so nice) cleaned my PICC line this morning, she accidentally pulled on it and I’ve been in pain ever since.

This is what I look like in the morning when I need to wake up to make Aruchat Esser and breakfast. Gloves on my hands are not shown, but since Tani has been coughing, I’ve been wearing masks and gloves around him.

IMG_4692I’m not allowed to go into crowded spaces because of risk of infection, which means I haven’t been to a movie in two months. I need someone to come with me on a walk around my neighborhood since I can’t be alone, and I’ve gone from someone who hasn’t really thought much about being regular to obsessing about poop.

I’m bald.

On the nights when I’m able to fall asleep, I have nightmares that jolt me awake and leave me drenched in sweat. My anxiety levels are through the roof and I’m scared all the time. The first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning is that I have cancer, and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep at night is that I have cancer.

I’m still fighting. I’m still trying. I’m staying as positive as I possibly can be.

But lord, I just need SOMETHING to help me take the edge off.

I want some pot. I do. I want some medical marijuana to help me relax. I want some cannabis to help me with my cancer fears.

I want to laugh again. I want to hug my kids again and not be scared that I’ll catch something that will make me really sick. I want to go to a supermarket again and not have anxiety over touching a shopping cart or handing over my credit card at the register.

But, my amazing, incredible doctor doesn’t believe in medical marijuana. And I love and 100% trust my doctor. I believe he has his eye on the prize, and the prize is curing me of this horrible disease.  During today’s meeting, I mentioned that I had gone to see another doctor for a license for medical marijuana. Not to go into the whole story, although it really is quite the story, I didn’t end up with the license but I did end up with a third opinion. My amazing, incredible doctor listened to the whole story and then basically asked me to reconsider medical marijuana. He basically said that I really got this, that I can do this, and I can trust that I’m in the best hands possible.

He told me that when I walk out of my Tuesday appointments, I should basically try to forget that I have Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. I should go out. I should go dancing! I should go to work (I’m still working BTW), cook for my kids, and just get on with my life. I should find a support group or talk to other people who have cancer or are cancer survivors.

I so, so want to be this person he thinks I am! I want to be the person who walks out of a Tuesday appointment and forgets that I have cancer. I would love to hire a babysitter and go out to the movies! I haven’t been dancing in years but it would be nice to maybe go to a museum.

But if I can’t have cake or cookies. If I can’t have Crave or Ben & Jerry’s. If I can’t cuddle with my kids or my spouse. If I can’t run my fingers through my hair. If I can’t go to the movies or order an extra dirty Ketel-One martini at my favorite bar. If I can’t lift weights or work out. If I can’t put on mascara for fear that the weight of the make up will pull out my few remaining eye lashes.

If I can’t live life the way I used to live it, then I want a little bit of Mary Jane to make me not care about all the can’t.

And hopefully help me focus on all of the can’s and the blessings that I really do have in my life.

Please continue to daven for me: Lior Shira Batya bat Chaya Yehudit.

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Dostrovsky street is my Everest. It’s a very steep hill that connects Efrata street with Shalom Yehuda in my quaint little Jerusalem neighborhood, and named after award-winning scientist Israel Dostrovsky. Before we had a second car, and I used to pick the kids up and walk them home from school in Baka, I would always opt to walk up Ein Gedi street and make a right on to Efrata so I would avoid Dostrovsky.  My Dad dubbed it “cardiac hill” since your heart is pounding by the time you make it to the top.

On Monday this week, I didn’t have my follow up appointment with my bariatric surgeon. But it was a date that I had been looking forward to for months. We were supposed to review all of my pre-op tests and set a date for bariatric surgery, which I was expecting to take place some time in February. It was a hard appointment for me to give up, especially since I wanted to thank the surgeon for agreeing to do the surgery in the first place. So many people tried to convince me not to have the surgery, but I had said that if the top bariatric surgeon in Israel was willing to do it, I was going to go ahead. Thank g-d he agreed to do the surgery. If he hasn’t agreed to the surgery, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Tuesday was my weekly appointment with Dr. Ashkenazi at Shaare Tzedek. I got my PICC line cleaned and my numbers drawn. My WBC’s were low, as expected, so I started again on the Neupogen shots. I still marvel at the science behind these shots. Literally, a syringe full of medicine makes my bones squeeze out white blood cells. I feel it working, as I woke up this morning with pain in my arms and just generally feeling unwell.

I’m also amazed by how physically weak I have grown since I started R-CHOP. I went from feeling like a strong person, to having difficulty walking from room to room. Seriously, walking from my bed to my chair in the living room leaves me winded. Before my cancer diagnosis, I was working out with heavy weights, using my TRX and thinking about working out with a trainer. Gaby and I ran/walked the Maccabiah Games 5K this summer and I got such a high from it, that I hired someone to teach me how to run. I told Gaby that I want to be a runner. My health and fitness goals included having surgery to lose weight, and with all the excess weight off of my knees, start a running program.

This is still my ultimate goal, I’m just taking a different route to get there.

So now, I have to figure out how to stay active even though it’s difficult. I’ve recruited friends and family to take me out for a walk at least once a day. And I make myself walk up Dostrovsky street, even though it’s really hard. I told myself that if I can manage to walk up Dostrovsky once a day, then I’ll be okay. I’ll physically make it through all the chemo and the cancer and anything else that this illness will throw at me. I just need to put one foot in front of the other and make it up this street.

Yesterday, my friend Tami came to take me out for my walk and I was feeling so great that we walked up Dostrovsky twice! We sat on a bench in the sun and caught up afterwards since twice up Dostrovsky is really my limit, and it was just so nice to sit and breathe. To not think about work deadlines or the pile of laundry that needs folding or the sink full of dishes that needed washing. It is so rare in my daily life to just sit on a bench from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. and talk to a friend. I think we all need to figure out how to get these moments into our daily lives, because that social interaction literally carried me through the rest of my day.

This morning I was feeling run down from the shot, but the kids were up at 5:30 so I pulled myself out of bed. I made them Aruchat Esser, some morning shoko and warmed up cheese bourekas for breakfast. I was thankful they didn’t ask for eggs because I had no energy to start cooking. I was supposed to have acupuncture at 9:30 but my whole body ached so we rescheduled and I went back to bed. I slept until 12:30 and then my Dad came over to take me out for a walk. We decided to go to Beit Hanatziv since I wanted to buy some fresh spelt bread and fresh cashews so I can make cashew milk. I haven’t been to a store in a really long time and I felt a bit anxious walking in to the Roladin. There was a rack of breads but nothing to grab them – no tongs, no gloves, nothing. I have to be really careful about germs and handling food, so my Dad grabbed me a napkin and I put a loaf of bread into a bag. When I went up to the cashier to pay, I asked him if he could slice it but to put on gloves when he handled my bread. He laughed at me and I could tell he wanted to give me a hard time, but he did as requested. He must have thought that I was another crazy American who is annoying about germs.

We then went to the nut store which is literally my favorite store in this complex. I haven’t been in there in three months but it’s a very narrow store so I was really anxious. My Dad kinda gave me a little nudge and I walked in and asked the owner if he wouldn’t mind giving me fresh unsalted cashews from the box. I can’t eat from display cases that are out in the open. As he went to the back to get the cashews, the woman in front of me who had just finished paying and was distracted while walking out of the store, slammed into me on her way out. It wouldn’t have been a big deal except that she slammed right into my PICC line and she literally pushed me back. My Dad caught me so I didn’t fall over, but I let out a loud gasp. Interestingly enough, the woman actually came back into the store to see what happened. She asked me if she bumped into me and I was just so shocked. I responded “didn’t you feel it?” because she had hit me with such force! She said “no, she didn’t feel anything” and then she left. No apology. Nothing.

I think that’s the last time I go into a narrow store. Now these store owners know me well, I am a pretty good patron, so they had no problem asking me why I needed the nuts from the back. I told them that I have cancer and he looked so shocked! But he understood and assured me that if I ever wanted nuts or fruit, he would make sure to give me from the packages and not from the bins.

I was tired on the walk back home but it was important for me to get up Dostrovsky, and even though I had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, I made it to the top.

No matter what your Everest is, I hope you make it to the top, no matter how long, or slow, or hard it might be to get there.  Just put one foot in front of the other, and you’ll make it.

Please continue to daven for me: Lior Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit





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It was Midnight the first time I came face to face with my new shadow. I had just finished working and was making my way to the light switch in the living room, when I noticed my shadow above our alarm box. It was jarring to see, a reflection of myself that I didn’t recognize. The round, nakedness of my bald head. The sudden protrusion of my ears. My hand lingered on the light switch and I moved my head slowly, from side to side, trying to understand this darker reflection of my new self. But the shadow doesn’t reveal the high cheekbones or the darker eyes, the paler skin or the prominent strawberry marks sprinkled across my hair line. It doesn’t reveal the ski line of shaved hair that remains, criss-crossed haphazardly across my skull, nor does it differentiate between skin that was once kissed by the sun from the alabaster skin covered by hair since birth. All I see on the wall is the proof of my illness.

I sighed and picked up my hoodie, shrouding my head in a semi-recognizable form, and switched off the light.

Before I write an update from last week, I wanted to write an update on my last blog post about Jewish Law and Cancer. The amazing Dr. Shana Strauch Schick , an incredible halachic resource and wonderful friend, has been helping us since my post went live and we have been making some much needed progress. I thank friends like Pesha Fischer, Chaya Bina-Katz, Yael Bitton and so many other women who reached out to me almost immediately with contacts and recommendations of incredibly learned women to speak to who can help us deal with this important challenge with Taharat Hamishpacha.

Thank g-d, Gaby is now able to help me with all physical tasks without it being an issue of Hilchot Niddah. We have the mekorot and I’m happy to share if anyone wants to see how we received that psak and the steps we have been taking to comply. We are still working out issues of Mikvah and emotional touching, but I’m really confident that we will get there. We have been in touch with Dr. Naomi Marmon Grumet from The Eden Center  and they are in the process of publishing an essential guide called ‘Toward Hope and Healing — A Guide to Breast Cancer and Mikveh.” I will be writing another blog post just about this project as I believe the information in this booklet – written in both Hebrew and English – should be in every single Mikvah throughout the World.  I believe all women touched by cancer – not just breast cancer – will find the information within extremely healing, informational and valuable. In the meantime, if you would like additional information about this project or to donate to help make the publication and dissemination a reality, please visit this link.

Tuesday was my second treatment at Shaare Tzedek and this time, I came better prepared. I made sure to eat very light that morning, sticking to lots of water and some plain eggs and whole grain bread. I skipped all fruits and vegetables. They start my treatment with two acamoli’s (tylenol) and a dose of anti-histamines and since I didn’t sleep much the night before, I basically passed out for the first couple of hours of treatment. I go through about 5 bags of medication in one treatment – the complete R-CHOP. It took an entire day and fortunately for me, I was asleep for majority of the treatment. I woke up when the Red Devil drip started and had one rice cake, just to have something in my stomach, and then dosed while Gaby kept me company and the once packed treatment room began to thin out. I will be writing a post just about the people I’ve met going through treatments because this journey has brought me in touch with some incredible people.

Thank g-d, I was put on a much stronger anti-nausea med and so there was no post-treatment vomiting. I was very pale and weak after treatment but was able to walk all the way to the car by myself and when I got home, I just popped into bed and rested. I was still really tired by Wednesday so no morning shift for me, but I spent a lot of time sleeping and resting and by Thursday morning, I was able to wake up with the kids.

I can’t even explain how essential it is for our kids to see me do mornings. Even if it means that I’m wearing gloves to pack their lunches, make them breakfast, do their hair, put on their shoes. If I’m in the kitchen at 6:00 a.m. to get Sivan ready to get on her van in the morning, and they see that I’m in charge just like I was two months ago before my diagnosis, the whole house just runs smoother.

Part of my post-chemo regiment is four days of Prednisone (steroids) and I have to say, they make me crazy. I hate steroids, they put me in a foul mood, they make me angry and depressed and miserable. By the fourth day on the drug, I’m really just totally unhappy and counting down the minutes until I can stop taking them. Unfortunately, since Tuesday is my treatment day, that means I’m really miserable on Shabbat. This Shabbat was even worse since Tani came home on Friday with strep. Which meant that I had to spend most of Shabbat in isolation because I am particularly vulnerable to illness and infection.

Shabbat spent isolated from your family is horrible. It’s just not pleasant and no one is happy when Mommy is stuck in her bedroom. As a Mother, I couldn’t even comfort my child when he was burning up with fever and crying out for me to give him a hug. That was very hard. The burden of running the family on Shabbat fell heavily on Gaby’s shoulders, and so he got very little rest. Thank g-d we had four amazing families bring us food for Shabbat (Adar, Herman, Benovitz and Sterngold) because there was just no way I would have been able to cook Shabbat this week.

At some point yesterday afternoon, while listening to the bickering and misery of my family in the living room, I decided I had enough! I opened the door and asked Yarden to dance for me in the hallway so I can watch her. She was so excited to dance and sing for me! She moved the laundry baskets in the bathroom and put on a show. It was 30 minutes of pure happiness. Sivan came to watch and I let her sit at the foot of my bed, while we let Tani bring a small chair to sit in all the way in the doorway and far away from me. Gaby joined a little while later and the mood started to pick up. The kids took turns putting on a little show for me in my bed and I enjoyed every. single.minute of it.

That’s when I realized that I’m going to have to use some out of the box thinking to push past the miserable moment, and make some precious memories.

I didn’t get much sleep last night but was able to get up at 6:00 a.m. to do mornings today. It was really wonderful for me to be back in charge and in the kitchen and even though I was tired, the hour I spend alone with Sivan in the morning is just so important. I love how I make their Aruchat Esser and lunches, I love thinking through what each child would like to eat, and try to put as much love into their little lunchboxes. I pack their book bags and fill water bottles, remember to put a fruit for the fruit bowl and sign any homework pages or permission slips. Unfortunately, once I’m done making everyone breakfast and getting them packed, I’m pretty tired and need to head back to bed. That means that Yarden and Tani don’t really get to see me in the drivers seat so I’m going to work on that a bit more. Even if that means that I curl up on the couch and keep them company until they walk out the door, I’m going to try to do that.

I’ve also noticed that I just don’t have the same stamina I had two months ago. Washing breakfast and lunch dishes, moving the wash into the dryer, and then hanging the wet wash to dry really takes a lot out of me these days. Three months ago, I was able to do that, run all my errands, workout for 30 minutes, put in a 10 hour work day, cook an entire meal, fold laundry, and then some!

But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this cancer is that I just need to take things day by day.

Please continue to keep me in your Tefilot: Lior Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit



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