My tentative 7 year old daughter is hooked up to a harness at the Dino Park in Ashkelon. There is a crease in her denim skirt where the harness hooks together, and with tentative hands she caresses the ropes on either side. Her shoes and socks are off and with pink toenails, she gently bounces up and down on the trampoline.
“Fly for me,” I SMS to Gaby. “Tell her that I said she should fly for me!”
I’m not far away. I’m on a bed in a room with a view of rows of boats swaying ever so gently in the marina. The sky isn’t a brilliant, clean blue but ombre in color – white haze paints the sky ever so gently. Next to me, workers lift and lower a pulley system on the building they are working to complete. I’ve been hearing their music all day; Arabic words mixing with the Beatles soundtrack my in-laws left on before they went off on a tiyul with Gaby’s sister and her kids.
My numbers are low and so I’m indoors again today. I just took another neupogen shot and I’m waiting for the bone aches to begin. Over Chag, I craved pineapple. At 4:00 a.m., while wide awake from cancer insomnia, I learned that pineapple is full of magnesium which is needed for bone growth. I don’t know if that’s true, I read it on Buzzfeed, but it makes sense that my body is desperate for magnesium.
I have a cough that has kept me up for the past couple of days and my ribs hurt from the neupogen shots and the coughing. Still, my mood is much better than it was Erev Chag, and I’m slowly regaining my energy. Chemo has caused my throat and esophagus to swell so I’ve been eating mango ice pops and trying to drink water. My taste buds are gone so I don’t taste anything at all.
Yesterday, Gaby and I awoke at 6:30 a.m. and got into the car to head back to Jerusalem for the day. We arrived at my weekly appointment at Shaare Tzedek by 8:30 a.m. but the hematology-oncology day clinic was running on a skeletal crew. Dr. Ashkenazi is off on vacation and I wondered what he was eating that morning. Was he sitting with his family on a beach somewhere with a plate of Matza and an array of cheeses? I wonder if he is savoring the taste of food this Chag, if he is enjoying every bite while he relaxes in a world that’s far away from his cancer patients.
Tami, one of my favorite nurses, is working and so I wait for her on one of the chairs outside the nurses station. The unit is very quiet, I recognize only a handful of people. The emptiness is surreal; did cancer take a vacation over Pesach? Perhaps cancer is in Vallarta, Spain or Orlando, at one of the kosher hotels that I’ve been following on Instagram. On vacation cancer is enjoying BBQ dinner with well done french fries and sack lunches of cheese and smoked salmon, individual yogurts and platters of perfectly cut up fruits and vegetables.
I chat with Tami as she prepares to clean my PICC line. We’ve driven almost two hours for this procedure alone, Dr. Ashkenazi doesn’t leave any instructions for a blood count. There is no need, he has instructed me to take four neupogen shots this week. Please g-d, by our meeting next Tuesday, my numbers should be good enough to begin Phase II of treatment.
Tami is sterile and methodical in her PICC line cleaning, she is gentle when it comes to ripping the bandage off of the stitches that holds my PICC line in place. With gloved hands, she cleans the skin with alcohol and waits for it to dry. She places a new bandage over the PICC line to hold it securely in place. There are four syringes lined up like soldiers and I always wonder how they know which ones are the saline and which ones are the heparin. She opens the purple line and flushes it with first saline and then the heparin. She closes the line with a click and moves on to the white line, repeating the procedure. She sterilizes and cleans the blue plugs before telling me that I’m free to go.
I think about those words: “I’m free to go,” and ponder their meaning.
Before bed last night, I tell Gaby about my fantasy. About that moment when P”G Dr. Ashkenazi looks at me and tells me that this nightmare is finally over. I wonder how I will react. Will I scream with joy? Will I slowly absorb his words? When I leave Shaare Tzedek, will there be clouds in the sky? Who will be walking into the building as I am walking out? What will the air smell like?
Gaby laughs at me, at the level of detail and thought that I’ve placed into that moment. I smile wryly at him and shrug, “that is the goal I’m working towards, so I’m invested in that moment,” I explain.
Alone in my room, I follow Passover and Spring break through social media. Through Facebook and Instagram, I’ve watched the duck parade in South Africa, seen gorgeous gowns in Morocco, attended a basketball game in Brooklyn, climbed the snake path of Masada at dawn, splashed through a wadi up North, picked flowers in the South, packed vegetable boxes for the needy at Leket, made a door sign during a woodworking activity, tie-died shirts at Jerusalem’s first station, pushed a double stroller with bundled up children amidst brilliant swathes of white snow at the Bronx zoo, and gone on an Easter egg hunt in Utah.
Alone in my room, I scroll through photos of my children minutes away from me. I watch them cover each other in balls at the ball pit, cower together in fear while giggling as the T-Rex roars, and struggle to stay upright in an inflatable hamster wheel on water. I watch them push against the trampoline with hesitant toes as they struggle with their fear of heights, while knowing they are missing out on such incredible joy and sensation. The feeling of weightlessness, the rise and fall of their hair around their face, the dizzying drop in the stomach as they fall back down.
Alone in my room, I coach each one to push through their fear, to live in the moment, to fly.