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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