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 Lymphoma.org 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.