It’s 4:00 a.m. and I’ve been awake for an hour in a pool of sweat, my cheeks red and flushed from the prednisone, my bald head dripping sweat onto clean, white sheets. My chest hurts and I’m coughing up mucous, I wonder where I’ve packed my thermometer. I think about Tehillim 130, the psalm I’ve known by heart since elementary school.
“A song of ascents. From the depths I have called You, O Lord.”
I latch on to the word “depths” for I am here, I am in the depths. It is both a place and an emotional state. It is misery, it is suffering, it is pain.
It is trying to bring in Passover two days after a sixth round of R-CHOP. I think back to Nurse Tzipi’s words weeks ago, as she drew my blood and cleaned my PICC line at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But you’re going to have a hard Passover.”
I was warned and yet, I was hopeful.
I can turn it around, I can do it. I coached myself. The power of positive thinking, right?
From the depths, I clean all the chametz (leavened) food out of the fridge, each movement agony. The chemo has settled into my upper back and thighs, I can no longer crouch to clear out the vegetable bin. I know once I get down, I probably won’t be able to get back up.
From the depths, I battle bouts of nausea as the kids fight in the backseat of the car. They talk over each other calling my name, wanting my attention, but I cannot answer. We don’t have a vomit bag and it’s a long ride. They need me, but I cannot be there for them.
From the depths, my husband and I debate a pit stop at the gas station at Shaare Hagai so I can use the bathroom. It’s two days after chemo and I can’t share a toilet, it’s too dangerous for healthy people. It’s also damaging for me to hold it in. I went twice to the bathroom before we left yet chemo makes me thirsty and steroids makes me pee. I don’t want to risk other people, so I decide to hold it in. It is a painful hour and a half drive in traffic to our destination.
From the depths, I stumble exhausted and in a haze from the restaurant back to my in-law’s apartment. Waffle Bar was a treat for the kids pre-Pesach but a poor choice for me. They were out of salmon and grilled vegetables. No soup or eggs. The chemo makes me nauseous, the prednisone makes me starving. It’s a terrible combination. I stop behind an electric box on the street and vomit.
From the depths, I wipe vomit on to my sweatshirt sleeve and shake off my husbands helping hand. I am humiliated.
My seven year old starts to complain that she needs to vomit too.
“Mommy, I also have to vomit,” she says. Over and over she repeats the refrain, her hand covering her mouth. She calls to me again and again and I try to focus all of my waning energy on my steps to get back up the hill to the apartment. She won’t stop calling my name. I snap. I yell at her that she can vomit as soon as we get back to the apartment; she bursts into tears. At the elevators, I gathered her to me and apologize. I tell her I’m sorry she isn’t feeling well and we both cry.
From the depths, I hunch over a plastic bag in the bed and continue to wretch up dinner while my husband alone struggles to put three exhausted children to bed. I’m humiliated that I can’t even get out of bed to use the toilet, I’m ashamed. I beg him to close the door to give me some dignity. In the other room, the children fight and complain.
From the depths, I plead for my husband to help me. I tell him that this is suffering, that I am suffering. He takes the piece of bread placed onto the end table for Bedikat Chametz out of the room so that I can have some privacy. Returning, he searches for a box of tissues and sits next to me on the bed as I try to stifle my wailing so as not to scare the children.
From the depths, I look down at my huge, swollen stomach and think about what I was supposed to look like this Passover. A month after gastric bypass surgery and I should have been 20 pounds lighter. The black lace dress I bought back in September for this Passover’s Seder night hangs in a closet miles away. I will be spending Seder in my pajamas in a bedroom, door tightly closed. I look down at my stomach, pinch a huge chunk of fat, and inject myself with my nightly dose of Clexane.
From the depths, I think about my maternal Grandmother, who lost her second battle with cancer over Chol Hamoed Passover. I was a year and a half when she passed; her yahrzeit merely days away. I wonder how she dealt with all of this, how she handled the depths. I think about the Passover plates my mother inherited from her; the dairy set with the stalks of wheat. In my childhood, I happily used them to eat plates full of Matzah and cream cheese, chunks of apple cake and bowls full of banana, strawberries and sour cream, my paternal Grandmother’s blintzes. I think about my own Correlle Passover dairy plates, with the similar design, gathering dust in a cupboard. They won’t be used this year.
From the depths, I cry while typing this post and wait for the dawn. To see the sun break over the ocean and hope the waves will carry me away from wishes of a different Pesach. I fight the depression, but it is hard. I wish the reason for my exhaustion was Passover related and not chemo and cancer.
From the depths, I accept my limitations for this holiday. I mourn never being able to have wine, let alone four cups, in my lifetime again. I try to make peace that I won’t be grating horseradish this year, or making special Haroset for my nut allergic daughters, or saying the special prayer our family says in memory of the Jews who fought during the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
From the depths, I think about Passover and redemption. Will I be able to break through the shackles of my illness?
Will freedom come for me this year?