It was Midnight the first time I came face to face with my new shadow. I had just finished working and was making my way to the light switch in the living room, when I noticed my shadow above our alarm box. It was jarring to see, a reflection of myself that I didn’t recognize. The round, nakedness of my bald head. The sudden protrusion of my ears. My hand lingered on the light switch and I moved my head slowly, from side to side, trying to understand this darker reflection of my new self. But the shadow doesn’t reveal the high cheekbones or the darker eyes, the paler skin or the prominent strawberry marks sprinkled across my hair line. It doesn’t reveal the ski line of shaved hair that remains, criss-crossed haphazardly across my skull, nor does it differentiate between skin that was once kissed by the sun from the alabaster skin covered by hair since birth. All I see on the wall is the proof of my illness.

I sighed and picked up my hoodie, shrouding my head in a semi-recognizable form, and switched off the light.

Before I write an update from last week, I wanted to write an update on my last blog post about Jewish Law and Cancer. The amazing Dr. Shana Strauch Schick , an incredible halachic resource and wonderful friend, has been helping us since my post went live and we have been making some much needed progress. I thank friends like Pesha Fischer, Chaya Bina-Katz, Yael Bitton and so many other women who reached out to me almost immediately with contacts and recommendations of incredibly learned women to speak to who can help us deal with this important challenge with Taharat Hamishpacha.

Thank g-d, Gaby is now able to help me with all physical tasks without it being an issue of Hilchot Niddah. We have the mekorot and I’m happy to share if anyone wants to see how we received that psak and the steps we have been taking to comply. We are still working out issues of Mikvah and emotional touching, but I’m really confident that we will get there. We have been in touch with Dr. Naomi Marmon Grumet from The Eden Center  and they are in the process of publishing an essential guide called ‘Toward Hope and Healing — A Guide to Breast Cancer and Mikveh.” I will be writing another blog post just about this project as I believe the information in this booklet – written in both Hebrew and English – should be in every single Mikvah throughout the World.  I believe all women touched by cancer – not just breast cancer – will find the information within extremely healing, informational and valuable. In the meantime, if you would like additional information about this project or to donate to help make the publication and dissemination a reality, please visit this link.

Tuesday was my second treatment at Shaare Tzedek and this time, I came better prepared. I made sure to eat very light that morning, sticking to lots of water and some plain eggs and whole grain bread. I skipped all fruits and vegetables. They start my treatment with two acamoli’s (tylenol) and a dose of anti-histamines and since I didn’t sleep much the night before, I basically passed out for the first couple of hours of treatment. I go through about 5 bags of medication in one treatment – the complete R-CHOP. It took an entire day and fortunately for me, I was asleep for majority of the treatment. I woke up when the Red Devil drip started and had one rice cake, just to have something in my stomach, and then dosed while Gaby kept me company and the once packed treatment room began to thin out. I will be writing a post just about the people I’ve met going through treatments because this journey has brought me in touch with some incredible people.

Thank g-d, I was put on a much stronger anti-nausea med and so there was no post-treatment vomiting. I was very pale and weak after treatment but was able to walk all the way to the car by myself and when I got home, I just popped into bed and rested. I was still really tired by Wednesday so no morning shift for me, but I spent a lot of time sleeping and resting and by Thursday morning, I was able to wake up with the kids.

I can’t even explain how essential it is for our kids to see me do mornings. Even if it means that I’m wearing gloves to pack their lunches, make them breakfast, do their hair, put on their shoes. If I’m in the kitchen at 6:00 a.m. to get Sivan ready to get on her van in the morning, and they see that I’m in charge just like I was two months ago before my diagnosis, the whole house just runs smoother.

Part of my post-chemo regiment is four days of Prednisone (steroids) and I have to say, they make me crazy. I hate steroids, they put me in a foul mood, they make me angry and depressed and miserable. By the fourth day on the drug, I’m really just totally unhappy and counting down the minutes until I can stop taking them. Unfortunately, since Tuesday is my treatment day, that means I’m really miserable on Shabbat. This Shabbat was even worse since Tani came home on Friday with strep. Which meant that I had to spend most of Shabbat in isolation because I am particularly vulnerable to illness and infection.

Shabbat spent isolated from your family is horrible. It’s just not pleasant and no one is happy when Mommy is stuck in her bedroom. As a Mother, I couldn’t even comfort my child when he was burning up with fever and crying out for me to give him a hug. That was very hard. The burden of running the family on Shabbat fell heavily on Gaby’s shoulders, and so he got very little rest. Thank g-d we had four amazing families bring us food for Shabbat (Adar, Herman, Benovitz and Sterngold) because there was just no way I would have been able to cook Shabbat this week.

At some point yesterday afternoon, while listening to the bickering and misery of my family in the living room, I decided I had enough! I opened the door and asked Yarden to dance for me in the hallway so I can watch her. She was so excited to dance and sing for me! She moved the laundry baskets in the bathroom and put on a show. It was 30 minutes of pure happiness. Sivan came to watch and I let her sit at the foot of my bed, while we let Tani bring a small chair to sit in all the way in the doorway and far away from me. Gaby joined a little while later and the mood started to pick up. The kids took turns putting on a little show for me in my bed and I enjoyed every. single.minute of it.

That’s when I realized that I’m going to have to use some out of the box thinking to push past the miserable moment, and make some precious memories.

I didn’t get much sleep last night but was able to get up at 6:00 a.m. to do mornings today. It was really wonderful for me to be back in charge and in the kitchen and even though I was tired, the hour I spend alone with Sivan in the morning is just so important. I love how I make their Aruchat Esser and lunches, I love thinking through what each child would like to eat, and try to put as much love into their little lunchboxes. I pack their book bags and fill water bottles, remember to put a fruit for the fruit bowl and sign any homework pages or permission slips. Unfortunately, once I’m done making everyone breakfast and getting them packed, I’m pretty tired and need to head back to bed. That means that Yarden and Tani don’t really get to see me in the drivers seat so I’m going to work on that a bit more. Even if that means that I curl up on the couch and keep them company until they walk out the door, I’m going to try to do that.

I’ve also noticed that I just don’t have the same stamina I had two months ago. Washing breakfast and lunch dishes, moving the wash into the dryer, and then hanging the wet wash to dry really takes a lot out of me these days. Three months ago, I was able to do that, run all my errands, workout for 30 minutes, put in a 10 hour work day, cook an entire meal, fold laundry, and then some!

But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this cancer is that I just need to take things day by day.

Please continue to keep me in your Tefilot: Lior Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit



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One Response to Shadows

  1. Yonina Juni says:

    Shira, I only just heard that you were going through this. Having read this riveting account of your experiences, I’m finding your love, strength and determination to be there for your children, as well as your commitment to halacha during this awful challenge to be truly awe inspiring. Thinking of you.

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