I can still feel the heaviness of my lunch roiling around in the pit of my stomach as my doctor confirmed my cancer fears. I had taken my Mom out for her birthday, a couple of days early, to Kikar HaMusika for an Italian lunch. The sky was a beautiful blue and it was that perfect fall weather, just crisp enough for long sleeves but a gorgeous day to sit outside.
I can still hear Gaby’s excited voice in my ear when he called to tell me he was on his way home and we needed to find a babysitter because our Doctor wanted to see us right away. It was almost 6:00 p.m., well past office hours, and I just knew the news couldn’t be good. My heart started racing as I called my Mom to come watch the kids. Then I locked myself in the bathroom and sank to the floor.
I can still feel the cold, hard floor beneath my body as I dialed my friend Shulamit. With pulsating fingers, I messed up the number and had to dial again. I told her the Doctor wanted to see me and started freaking out. “It can’t be good news that she wants to see me so late, can it?” I asked. “I don’t know but I won’t lie to you, it doesn’t sound good,” she said. I appreciated the honesty, I didn’t want her to tell me I was going to be fine when we both knew that I might not be.
I can still see our Doctor’s red rimmed eyes and shaking hands as she stacked and shuffled booklets of papers on her desk. I held Gaby’s hand as she began with “It’s not easy for me to say this..” and then I cut her off and asked “do I have cancer?” I still see the shake of her head as she said yes.
I can still hear Gaby’s cries as he immediately buried his head into his hands and wept.
I can still feel that sensation of real fear just wash over me. It started at my throat and just moved down my body like a wave as the shock of the news set in. I tried to be in the moment as our Doctor continued talking about tumor markers and finding the primary and PET CT appointments and the oncology ward at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center.
I can still hear the silence over the cell phone as I called my Dad and told him he needed to get to my apartment right away because I have cancer and we needed to run some errands before we came home. I needed to pull myself together before we walked through the door to face our three children; I needed some time to digest the news. Then the strangled okay before I hung up the phone.
I can still hear the sounds of my cowboy boots tripping on the pavement as we walked to see Gaby’s Uncle and Aunt to deliver the news and ask for help with Shaare Tzedek. Gaby’s cousin Micah brought me a glass of water when I couldn’t speak, and then disappeared into the kitchen but never said a word. Later, I would focus on Micah and the moment he brought the glass of water. I would ask Gaby if he knew what was going on, if the news was scary for him, what he could possibly be thinking as he sat in the kitchen a few feet away and heard us talking about the cancer that was already in my liver. In the car to Gaby’s parents house, I will apologize to the air for not remembering to bring my empty glass of water to the sink. How in that moment, I was able to feel shame for not clearing away my glass.
I can still see my mother-in-law’s face as we sat down in the living room and cried over the news. Flashes of the first moment I ever met her in that very living room came to mind but now we were in the dark when back then, there was so much light.
I can still hear the sound of my bedroom door closing behind me as I took my Mom into our room to tell her the news. I thought my Dad told her when he arrived, but he didn’t want to scare the children. He sat on the couch reading them a story while Gaby forced some happiness into his voice and began ushering the kids to bed.
I can still feel the chill in my sheets as we sat on the edge of the bed and I told my Mom I have cancer, but we don’t know what kind it is and that it has already spread to my liver. And the look of complete shock on her face, and the feel of her arms around me as she pulled me close and told me that she’s sorry and that the next couple of months will be hard but that I’ll get through it.
I can still feel my lips on my children’s hands and foreheads as I wandered all night from room to room looking at their sleeping forms. I stood on my tiptoes on the step stool to reach Sivan’s fingertips and thought about moments I might not be here for: their bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvah, first girlfriends and boyfriends, the Army, their weddings, the birth of our Grandchildren, the happy moments and the ones they really need their Mother for.
I still feel the wetness of my tears on my face as I looked at the empty side of my bed, then at Gaby’s sleeping face, and wondered what it would be like if it were permanently empty.
And I can still see the sky turn pink on November 16th as I sat in my living room chair and watched the sun rise, and wondered how many more I will be privileged to witness.
This morning, after we got the kids off to school, Gaby and I drove to town and parked near the municipality. After dropping off some work plans, we made our way through the Jaffa gates. I lifted my hand inches from the Mezuzah and blew a kiss before walking with the herd of tourist following guides with signs and listening through earphones to the history of the Old City.
We passed the Christmas lights lining the path towards the Armenian Quarter before turning down the ancient cobblestone corridor towards the Rova. It had rained yesterday and the stones were slick; I stuck to the sides and told Gaby we just need to follow the guardrails towards our destination. We burst into the square outside the Hurva synagogue and took photos like tourists; an old man learning Torah with a shtender in the square caught my eye. The juxtaposition of his learning in front of a sign for BBQ was striking and I captured it on my phone. I told Gaby that the last time I walked through this square, I had run into my old childhood friend Ari M.
We continued past the arches, archeological ruins that lead into the sea of steps winding it’s way down towards the security checkpoint outside of the Kotel. An old woman asked for money and I told her that P”G I would bring her some on our way back, a promise that I kept. We flowed through a group of Christian tourists and Israeli teens on a trip to the Wall and waited our turn through the metal detectors. The square outside the Kotel Wall was crowded with tourists and students; a photographer posed an American family around a Bar Mitzvah boy, his new black hat awkwardly perched on top of his head.
The last time I came to the Kotel, I was praying for my life. With my hand on the Wall, and my Siddur stained with fat droplets of tears, I begged G-d to save me.
Gaby and I parted ways and I walked towards the Wall; I searched for a break in the row of women so I could step up and touch the stones. I found a small space next to a woman crying into her prayer book and closed my eyes, resting my hands on the cool, smooth surface. I opened my Siddur and looked for פרק ק”ז; Rav Rudman told me that morning it’s the psalm one says when they have been saved. A note tucked into the Wall falls into the open pages of my prayer book and I take the tightly wound scroll with my fingertips and replace it in the crowded crevices between the stones.
And then through tears, and with my hand on the Wall, I said thank you.