How can six days feel like a year? But it has been six days since my last blog post and I’ve been so busy trying to figure out what is going on in my body that I’m mentally drained. Physically, thank g-d, I feel great. Emotionally and mentally, I just feel drained.
Last Thursday morning, I jumped out of bed when my alarm rang at 6:00, got Gaby and the kids out to school and took a cab to the Medical Center for a dermatologist appointment I had scheduled months and months ago. I was going for a routine mole check and because I’ve been breaking out more than I’d like as a 41 year old woman. I ended up spending almost an hour with her, explaining the situation, and getting a thorough workup for Melanoma. B”H she didn’t see anything but as we were sitting down and talking, she mentioned that I should go see an Opthalmologist because there is a very rare melanoma of the eye that first metastasizes in the liver. I remembered that my eye doctor from childhood told me that I had a freckle near my optic nerve so it was really worth getting looked at. My dermatologist was incredible and immediately called in a favor and got me an appointment across town with a colleague.
I can’t explain what it felt like to get some control back in my life. I have been spending days getting shuttled around from appointment to appointment, I stopped driving because I haven’t been in a good head space, and as an independent person, that was really hard. Thursday, I felt like I finally had some control and so I hopped a cab to Beit Hadfus and waited my turn for the Opthalmologist. While waiting for my eyes to dilate, I sat next to two octogenarians from New York. They were talking about their Grandchildren and people they knew in common, they talked about Daf Yomi and really boring, mundane stuff. And I felt a surge or jealousy that I can’t even explain. I was jealous of these 80 year old men just hanging out at the doctors office waiting their turn for routine appointments. And while I know I don’t know their back stories at all, I was envious because the future I had envisioned for myself – being a badass old Savta – is murkier these days. And that’s hard.
Fortunately, the Opthlamologist confirmed the presence of a freckle near my optic nerve but said it was flat and old and he doesn’t believe it to be the primary cancer. I felt both relief and frustration though since I really just want answers, but it gave me strong hope so I walked across the street to Shigaon Shel Shulchan and got a ton of turkey plates on clearance.
We were gonna have Thanksgiving on Friday night, no matter what. I love Thanksgiving, it’s literally my favorite national American holiday. I usually love to host a huge Thanksgiving with family and friends but I just wasn’t up for that this year. Instead, we had an intimate Friday night Thanksgiving at home where we all went around the table, said what we were thankful for, and ate delicious turkey with all the traditional Thanksgiving fare. We tucked the kids into bed later than usual Friday night and then my mind started to wander, and while I am really good during the day at just keeping busy and focusing on what I need to focus on, the nights are hard. Gaby begged me to take something to help me sleep and I finally gave in, and for the first night in days, I slept peacefully.
Shabbat we spent the afternoon being hosted by wonderful friends and we all had a great time. Sunday morning, it was back to the grind, as the liver biopsy appointment loomed closer and closer. Sivan needed a blood test and a hearing test, and she was complaining that her throat hurt, so I spent the morning with her at the Medical Center. It felt good to focus on someone else for a couple of hours, even though the blood test was very unpleasant. I decided to let her stay home with me for a Yom Kef and we had a really nice day together.
So, here’s the thing about cancer, you realize you can’t push things off anymore because time is no longer infinite. I realized on Saturday night that I had never picked up the pottery we painted at Kad VaChomer back in August. And the kids really want to see what they had painted, so I decided that after our doctors appointments, we were going to go pick up their pottery. Except that Kad VaChomer was closed until 3:00 p.m. Sivan hung out in the little park next door and I watched her, with her boundless energy, run around and play. It was a special moment. Then I bought her lunch at Aroma, picked up some organic eggs, and returned home to meet with a 20 year old we are thinking about hiring to help with the kids. The afternoon was a blur of picking up, chug drop offs, and dinnertime. I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I went to bed at 11:30 p.m. and anxious about the liver biopsy in the morning.
What can I say about a liver biopsy? It’s not a pleasant procedure but I was in very capable hands. We were running late even though we left at 7:35 a.m. after my father-in-law came to pick up the kids and take them to school, and Gaby and I ended up sprinting through the parking lot to the appointment. I remarked that it’s crazy that I have no problem hustling and yet I have cancer.
We checked in, was admitted into day surgery ward, and I was given a bed and gown to change into. I didn’t have to wait too long but I was really, really anxious. Once again, they couldn’t find a vein since I’ve been blessed with crappy veins and after three tries, they were finally successful. Then an orderly came in and asked if the “Cholah” (sick person) was ready and I honestly looked around. I didn’t think it was me because again, I don’t feel like I’m a sick person. They took me to the ultrasound room where I met with the Professor doing the biopsy. And she was a no BS type of woman. I immediately felt confident in her ability and scared as hell. Here’s the thing about scary procedures, it take my ability to understand Hebrew and just obliterates it. And so she spent 5 minutes yelling at me to “LaZuz” (move) and “Lehistovev” (turn around) and I was just so scared that I couldn’t remember which was which. So, I moved when she wanted me to turn around and I turned around when she wanted me to move. Needless to say, she got frustrated with me. I asked at least three times if they could maybe give me a sedative and they ignored me, and then honestly I just closed my eyes and let them do what they needed to do. I felt helpless and just hoped the biopsy would be over quickly and successfully.
To get to the liver, she felt between my ribs and had me hold my breath a couple of times while cutting out a sample. Of course, holding my breath was hard and I ended up exhaling at the wrong time so she yelled again to hold my breath and thank g-d she didn’t puncture a lung. The biopsy part took about 20-25 minutes and when it was over, I felt pain in my right shoulder. Apparently, that’s very normal and she told me that she really hopes they got everything they needed and we just have to wait for the pathology report.
Through this all, Gaby and my Mother-in-law were waiting, giving me the emotional support that I needed. They wheeled me into recovery where I laid on my back and dealt with the pain. They asked if the pain was really bad and thank g-d, it was manageable so I didn’t need to take any medication. Honestly, in my lifetime, I’ve had 3 C-sections, been through 36 hours of hard labor, had a D&C, 2 spinal taps, I’ve broken my wrist and my heel and you do not want to have a boil lanced. Not pleasant. My tolerance for pain thank g-d is pretty high, so I just dealt with the discomfort and after three hours, I was feeling much better. They let me out around 2:00 and I was home by 3:00 when the kids got out of school.
So, here’s the thing about liver biopsy recovery. I can’t shower for 24 hours (yuck), the bandage has to stay on for 48 hours (also yuck cause it’s itchy), I can’t fall or get pushed, and I can’t lift anything heavy for an entire week. I won’t bore you with the rest of my restrictions, those are the important ones. I was still feeling a little tentative when I got home, so I popped myself into bed and got to work.
Just FYI – I put in 10 hour day yesterday and got loads accomplished for work – which made me feel really great.
But, I couldn’t hug or hold my kids, and that proved really difficult for them. My eldest was sad, my middle had a meltdown, and my baby basically said eff that Mom and did whatever he wanted to do, which was climb up on the bed and try to get as closed to me as humanly possible. We dealt with a lot of meltdowns last night and that made me really upset, because I have no idea what’s to come and if this is how they handle 1 night of me having to recoupperate in bed, how are they going to handle what I might have coming down the pike?
We did the best we could to just help them emotionally. I suggested they draw me get well pictures and they ran to the arts and crafts cupboard and got to work. It actually really helped calm them down and we were able to avoid any more major meltdowns. I was feeling very tired earlier than normal but I pushed myself to get in my 10 hours and then fell into bed at 12:30.
And then, the most amazing thing happened to me. I was awoken by the tinniest hands pressing ever so gently on my side. Now, we told the kids that they couldn’t join us in bed last night because I was worried someone might accidentally kick me in the side, but my son just couldn’t stay away. He kept gently pressing on me, not trying to wake me up like he would normally do, but tentatively just feeling around on my bandage. I kept my eyes closed and just waited to see what he would do and after a couple more gentle presses, he pulled the covers over his head, laid down and fell asleep. I know I told him not to join us in the bed, but I was really happy that he did.
That brings us to Tuesday morning. I was up at 6:00 with my alarm, made Aruchat Esser, packed book bags, dressed two kids, made breakfast, and basically got everyone out the door on time. Today is going to be a short day for the kids because tonight is Gaby’s cousin’s wedding. The girls are going to be flower girls and Tani is going to be wearing a coordinating outfit. I hired someone to do the girls hair and everyone is really excited.
Gaby and I are very close to his cousin Noa, who is getting married tonight, and so we made the joint decision not to tell the Zwebner side of the family about my diagnosis. So, even though we feel like the world knows about me, the Zwebner side is in the dark. We didn’t want anyone sad or anxious during Noa’s wedding, we want everyone to just be happy tonight. Aside from Gaby’s siblings and parents, and my friend Heddy, no one else in the family that will be at this wedding knows what’s going on with me. I’m looking forward to pretending for a couple of hours that I’m okay.
And now we’re back to waiting. At this point, I have no more procedures set up. I have no more doctors to go see, I just have to wait for the pathology report.
So we’re waiting and I’m trying to live my life the best way that I can. I’ve thrown myself into my work, I’ve been taking LOADS of advantage of Cyber shopping and sales because this year, the kids are going to have an AWESOME Chanukah, and I’ve started organizing things around the house.
Sorry for the long update, if you made it this far thanks for reading. And thank you all for davening for me. I’m overwhelmed and humbled by the incredible response from family and friends, I hope one day I will be able to repay each and every one of you for your kindness.
Please keep davening for me:
Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit