הודוּ לה’ כִּי טוב. כִּי לְעולָם חַסְדּו
I couldn’t sleep on Tuesday night, so I tossed and turned and prayed. I skipped breakfast Wednesday morning and packed up my black knapsack with what has become my weekly hospital items: my binder full of medical papers, a water bottle filled with half water/half fresh pomegranate juice, my siddur with tehilim list, etc. Gaby and I dropped off the kids at school and then headed over to Shaare Tzedek for my 8:00 a.m. appointment. These appointments never run on time, but the earlier it’s scheduled the lower the number, the quicker you’re called. We learned that trick early on in my cancer journey. Gaby parked in the parking lot and we walked silently through the second floor to the second banks of elevators that took us straight to the sixth floor.
The hematology-oncology day clinic was already packed with people. I walked to the machine and pressed the button. The number 18, the gematria of life, popped out and I hoped it was a good omen. My number was immediately called and I wished the secretary a good morning, gave her my teudat zehut number, and she handed me back a page full of stickers but no bracelet.
“You’re here for a PICC line removal,” she said.
“Yes, and also results from my PET CT. Did Dr. Ashkenazi leave them with another doctor for me?” I answered.
I couldn’t understand what happened. Dr. Ashkenazi had said he would call with the results early in the week, yet I never got the phone call. When Sunday and Monday passed without word, I started dreading the worst.
The secretary told me that Dr. Ashkenazi was in the office and that he just wasn’t seeing patients. We explained that I was waiting on test results and she sent us back to his office to see if he would meet with us. We walked through the familiar halls with a feeling of dread and then knocked softly on his closed door. No answer. The lights were on but no sound was coming from within. We gave up, walked back to the waiting area, and Gaby went back to the secretary to ask what we should do. She called Dr. Ashkenazi who said he would call our number when he was ready, so we sat and waited. I took out my siddur and started to daven. A Charedi woman was busy setting up “kibud” as they call it, some nosh for the people waiting in the waiting area. She took out a huge plastic bag filled with round shaped cookies and filled three large tins on the tables. Afterwards, she started filling up empty tins with pretzels and then urged everyone waiting to enjoy and partake. The germaphobe in me was amazed by the people sticking their hands into these tins and helping themselves to cookies and pretzels. I wondered if I would ever be able to eat like that again, without worrying about germs or illness.
Anglo volunteers walked around asking patients if they needed water or hot coffee. I could tell that the Hebrew was difficult for one of the volunteers and so I declined politely in English. She was so happy to be spoken to in her mother tongue that she stopped for a quick chat with us, letting us know that there was a coffee station inside with plenty of hot drinks available. We didn’t bother telling that we are veterans at the day clinic, we simply thanked her and smiled.
Dr. Ashkenazi called the number after me to his office and my heart started racing. He was starting to see patients and there were only three of us on the board. That meant I could be next and I just didn’t know how to feel. Gaby played video games on his phone while I tried to distract myself by looking around the room. I caught the eye of a woman sitting almost across from me and then realized she had been one of my roommates on the 7th floor two weeks ago. I asked her how she was feeling, noticing that she was sitting with a mask on, and wished her a Refuah Shelaymah. Her number was called for blood work and she disappeared inside the door marked 2.
Gaby’s Aunt Della joined us for a couple of minutes and was a welcome distraction. She was all sparkly and smiley and just teeming with good energy. Her presence helped ease our tension and calmed our nerves. She left seconds before my number was called.
Number 38 to room number 14.
It was time.
Gaby gathered the black knapsack and I took the lead through the double doors marked pull. I weaved through patients waiting to check in with the nurses, and those already hooked up to IV poles and treatment bags. We took a right near the end of the hall, walking past the nurses break room which was empty, past the closed doors of the other hematologists, the bone marrow transplant coordinator, and then through a dark hallway until we stopped at door #14. I knocked softly and Dr. Ashkenazi told me to enter. I tried the handle but it was locked. I felt badly that he had to get up from his desk to let us in but he did seconds later.
“Please, come in,” he said.
“Hello Dr. Ashkenazi, how are you doing?” I answered.
“I’m well and it looks like you are to,” he said.
My hands started shaking and I gave Gaby a look. We dropped into the chairs and waited for the results, which were already printed out on his desk.
The good news is that there is no evidence of disease. But the reason why Dr. Ashkenazi couldn’t call me to tell me over the phone is that there was an additional finding in my PET CT. There’s an area of hypodensity in my spleen that has been there for all three PET CT’s. At this point, all of the hematologists agreed that it wasn’t something to be concerned with, but because it’s there they are going to send me for another PET CT in 6 months. Otherwise, my PICC line would be removed and my next appointment for blood work and monitoring would be in three months.
I stopped functioning in that moment. Part of me wanted to jump around and scream and hug Gaby and revel in the moment. “No evident of disease,” remission, cancer free. Unreal.
The other part of me was concerned. What does area of hypodensity mean? Why is it there?
Dr. Ashkenazi sent us to the nurses station to meet with Nechama, one of the amazing nurses who has cared for me during these past 6 1/2 months. We thanked him for his time and wished him a good summer.
Gaby sat next to me on the gurney while we waited for Nechama to join us. We were in shock. Did this moment really come? It felt so surreal, I didn’t know what to do first. I told Gaby to call his Mother when Nechama came in to the curtained off area. We told her the news and she was so happy for us. PICC line removal was pretty quick but very bloody, so I had to sit there for 10 minutes putting pressure on the area. When the bleeding stopped, Nechama put a bandage on and told me I could take it off that night and shower. I think she gave me a hug and I thanked her.
We walked back out the double doors marked push and waited to see Yael to schedule our next appointment with Dr. Ashkenazi. She asked me if I was okay and I felt my hand move to my wet face; I hadn’t realized I was crying. I told her it was happy tears and we scheduled my next appointment for the last week of August.
The sun was beating down on my bare arms but it wasn’t unpleasant, as there was a light breeze as we took our first few steps out of the hospital. I put on my sunglasses and we walked to the car. Gaby had SMSed his Uncle and he told him to take me out for breakfast. I have never been one for labels but I tried this one on for size.
When we got into the car, I turned to Gaby and said that I guess my new name is my name forever. Someone had told me that if you add a name but the person dies, the added name isn’t accepted.
Then I started to panic.
I sent Rav Rudman an SMS and asked if I could speak to him about the test results. I pulled up Google and tried to understand what this area of hypodensity of the spleen meant. We called our primary care physician and left her a message, then scanned the test results and emailed them to her. I SMSed Dr. Gatt at Hadassah and asked if he wouldn’t mind looking at the results as well. Fear about this area of hypodensity kicked in to over drive and I wondered how much I should be worried. I know Dr. Ashkenazi explained it to me but until I could understand it in layman’s terms, I wouldn’t be able to accept the news.
I asked Gaby to stopped calling people, to give me a minute to understand what this all meant before we shared the news with even more people. I wanted to hear back from Rav Rudman, I needed to know if I should bench Gomel, if people should take me off their tehillim lists. I Whatsapped my Mother to see if she was awake, I called my sister Rivka to tell her the news. I heard back from Rav Rudman. Yes, I can bench gomel but people should continue to say tehillim for me until the next PET CT in six months. Dr. Gatt wrote back about the hypodensity of the spleen, he said exactly what Dr. Ashkenazi told us.
I let out the breath I have been holding for the past six and a half month.
I’ve spent the past three days processing the news and sharing the news with close family and friends. I’ve enjoyed three glorious showers using the shower head instead of the hand held device. I’ve wandered in a daze through town for a couple of hours and have had more than a couple of meltdowns. I cycle between utter euphoria, panic and exhaustion. I want to be left alone yet I want to be around people. I’m overwhelmed. I’ve been to the Mikvah for the final time. I’ve thought about life beyond cancer, beyond illness, beyond treatment.
הודוּ לה’ כִּי טוב. כִּי לְעולָם חַסְדּו
Thank g-d, I’ve made it to the other side. I’ve spent six and a half months fighting for my life. That fight doesn’t just disappear because of the amazing news. No evidence of disease. I’m still processing the meaning while continuing to pray.
And I’m thankful. So, so thankful to all of you for helping me get here.