Jewish law and cancer

When Aunt Flow knocked at my door this week, I’ll be honest I let out a gasp.

“No, no,” I said. “You’re not supposed to be coming anymore. I’m sorry, but I said goodbye to you last month.”

But Aunt Flow laughed and forced her way through, sat down on the couch and settled in for her monthly 5-7 day stay.

“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “But, I’m expecting Mrs. Menopause. In fact, I’m prepared for Mrs. Menopause. You are no longer welcome here!”

Aunt Flow ignored me and flipped her long, red hair. She was heavier than usual and angrier. She expects copious amounts of ice cream and Netflix rom-coms. Instead, she’s getting insomnia and cooked vegetables.

This brings me to the significant issue of Niddah, which I was not anticipating having during my cancer treatment. Having a PICC line permanently sewed into my arm that cannot be submerged makes a Mikvah visit impossible. Also, with a compromised immune system, the Mikvah is not the cleanest place for me to visit.  Besides the Mikvah, there’s even the bigger issue of being able to touch my husband.

Let’s put aside the emotional support that we both need from being able to hug. But, beyond that, I need physical help with some of my daily tasks.

Like showering, for example. Our amazing friends (the Baraks) bought me a PICC line cover that I can use in the shower. It has literally changed my life as I’m able to submerge with it on my arm and my PICC line stays dry. We got it on Thursday and I spent like 30 minutes in the shower on Friday. It literally gave me back some much needed independence and dignity. But I need Gaby to help me put it on; I’m not capable of doing it myself.

Next, I have to do a daily shot of Clexane (blood thinner) into my love handles. But being blessed a full-figured gal and having nursed three children plus gravity, well, let’s just say that in order for me to even see the area where I need to use the injection, my husband has to get to second base. There’s no other way, we have attempted during my pregnancies to rig up a couple of bras and it don’t work.

So, with those significant issues in mind, we turned to the Rabbis. We were then referred to a Rabbi (who shall remain nameless) who is known to be an authority on medical Halacha (Jewish law).

He had hours on Friday and so I sat in my bedroom with my cell phone and just hit redial. At the 45th call, it rang, and the Rabbi answered. I explained the entire situation: my cancer diagnosis, being in Niddah, my PICC line, the Mikvah, touching, etc.

The answer, in a nutshell, was as follows:

You’re shit outta luck.

Seriously, there is no way for me to go to the Mikvah with a PICC line. It’s impossible to submerge with it in my arm. The PICC line cover is a chatziza and cannot be used. However, if they do decide to switch out the PICC line and I am able to time it with a possible next cycle, then I can try to get to the Mikvah before a new PICC line is put in.

I’m pretty sure that’s not gonna happen. If they need to switch out the PICC line, they’re not going to let me go home first to dunk in the Mikvah and then come back for them to finish the procedure.

Plus, he agreed that the Mikvah is not a safe place for someone with a compromised immune system, and so I would need to time the Mikvah visit for when I’m not neutropenic.

OK, so now I not only need to time this Mikvah visit for when they might be switching out the PICC line and the next possible cycle, but also I have to make sure it’s during a time period in my treatment where I’m also not immunocompromised.

At this point, I started to plead my case regarding just general touching. What about emotional support? What about all the physical help I need? Like, we both need to be able to touch each other right now and for the next 4-6 months left of treatment.

Who’s gonna hold my BOOB?? I wanted to scream at the Rabbi.

Should I wake my 9 year old up at 9:30 p.m. and ask her to help me with my shots? Do you think their little fingers will be able to help put on the PICC line cover? Should I take my 4 year old along to my hospital appointments and have him hold me up after hours of chemo?

Well, to say I was disappointed with his response is an understatement. But, with doctors as with Rabbis, we are going to get a second opinion.

Shabbat was really nice. We received yummy food from four amazing families (Zeff, Leybovich, Betzaleli and Ben Yishai) and it really made my life so much easier. I was really tired today and while Gaby took the kids to shul, I got in a really long nap. Tani has been waking me up a lot during the night. I think he just wants to make sure I’m really here, he doesn’t really need my help.

Our next door neighbors knocked on our door right before Havdalah and invited us in for pancakes. The kids really wanted to go so we told them that they would come over after we said Havdalah and they put on shoes. When we closed the door, Sivan said to me “oooh, I know why people are inviting us and being so nice! It’s because you’re sick with cancer!”

Out of the mouths of babes.

The kids were thrilled to go and had a great time making pancakes and playing games. Gaby and I were able to slowly put away Shabbat, wash some dishes and generally clean up.

I’m counting down to Tuesday and just praying that my numbers will be good enough to have the second RCHOP on Tuesday morning. I also need to make sure I stay healthy so I can get the second treatment. And, if I can avoid vomiting for 6 hours posts chemo, that would be the perfect trifecta.

Thanks for all your prayers and good deeds! Please continue to daven for me: Lior Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit.

May it be a Shavuah Tov!

11:30 p.m. Update: Thanks to the folks who read this post and have put me in touch with someone who is helping us! 

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3 Responses to Jewish law and cancer

  1. Naomi Grumet says:

    Firstly, refuah shlema — and kol hakavod for blogging about the experience.
    You’ve raised a lot of issues in this blog which are critical things for anyone dealing with cancer with regard to mikveh. Most of which have solutions, which unfortunately the rabbi you spoke to didn’t know. The Eden Center just came out with a publication for mikveh attendants dealing with breast cancer and mikveh which presents many possible solutions, and we are working on raising the funds to create the guide for women undergoing treatment. For example, there are halakhic authorities who allow you to immerse with the sleeve over your PICC – or to close the end with one of several kinds of creams. Though a PICC is more complicated halakhically than a port (and therefore worth encouraging any women at the beginning of the process to ask if a port is a feasible medical option for them), there are ways to immerse even when you have one. We can also guide you about when to go because of the immuno-compromised issues. If you contact us we’d be happy to send you the guide and help you navigate this difficult stage so mikveh can happen sooner and more smoothly. Here’s an article about this: ​​

  2. Yifat says:

    Shira hi.
    It was an amazing experience for me to read your blog. I’m a breast cancer “survivor ” myself (1 year 3 months after first biopsy). I was two weeks before my due date. Fortunately I had no need to go to the Mikva during chemotherapy because of different medications that I’m taking. I wanted to let you know that a very good friend of mine with a different health issue has had a TP line since she was a baby. That’s how she gets her nutrition. Today she is s mother of 2. Goes every month to The Mikva. She tells the Balanit that she needs to come and the Balanit changes the water and she is the first to go in. That is the way she avoids infections. Halachic wise she can go in the Mikva with the TP line. I hope I was able to help you just a bit. Take care andרפואה שלמה!

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