32 days have passed since the “no evidence of disease” announcement and I’ve been just ticking off boxes. I’ve thankfully fallen into a new routine that includes morning juices, afternoon protein shakes, and in bed and asleep by 10:00 p.m. every night. I try to walk at least three times a week for thirty minutes, up and down the hills of my neighborhood with my music blasting in my ears to drown out the scary thoughts in my head.
There have been deviations to this routine, and a couple of bouts of stomach issues that stem from months of chemotherapy and high-dose methotrexate, but I’ve tried to take it all in stride.
It’s funny how the mind works. There are moments where I’m so engrossed in a work task that I’ll forget to even think about the past seven months. And until I take a bathroom break and spy my reflection in the mirror, I can actually act like it all didn’t happen.
In the stages of grief, I cycle daily between denial and rage.
I’m back in my kitchen, making food for the family again. Last night, I made two-ingredient bagels for Gaby to eat when he broke his fast. Months ago, while the recipe for these bagels were making the rounds but I was too weak to even attempt to try, I mentally made a note to try the recipe when I was better.
Another box checked.
I saw my friend Tami’s new house.
We started the process to move our eldest to a different school. This was one of the first things we did post-cancer. It is that important to me. We find out if the request is granted after a hearing committee this month.
Surrounded by strangers in a basement shul in a building in Ashkelon, I benched gomel and then tried not to bristle when the women wished me a mazal tov. How would they know that I hadn’t just given birth but rather fought for my life? I smiled politely and left the shul when my bracha was over, grasping the small hand of my four year old son tightly in mine.
I’ve thrown out every single expired product in the medicine cabinet of the kids bathroom. Bottles of Pin-X and old contact lenses, tubes of neosporen and chewable Benadryl. Boxes of probiotics for the kids and for me, thermometers that no longer work amongst half finished tubes of toothpaste. The white whicker basket that we used for hairbrushes and lice combs got tossed, an unnecessary piece of clutter that took up half the sink space. Mentally, I’ve made a list of all the rooms I need to go through, all the cupboards and closets and drawers that need to be looked through and cleaned out. The clutter weighs heavily on my mind and I need to feel lighter, to be surrounded by less. Their bathroom was just the beginning of a summer of seder (order).
On Friday, with the strong summer sun beating through the holes of my beret, I stood in front of the graves of my Grandparents a different person than I was when I went to pray for my life in November. Seven months ago, I cried and pleaded with my Grandparents to pray for me, to help save my life. Friday, I took baby wipes to clean the dust and sand off of the etchings on their headstones while whispering words of thanks. I crouched down and lit two new candles, closing the glass doors to keep the wind from blowing out the flames, and then placed two new rocks on top of the smooth Jerusalem stone. I thanked them for letting me come back and asked that they continue to pray for me to visit their graves again.
Gaby and I went to the movies, twice. We had Friday brunch at Ben Ami on Emek Refaim and ran pre-Shabbat errands at Super Moshava. We started going to sleep every night together, and while sometimes I will scroll through Instagram while he reads a book, I feel closer to him now.
Every morning except on Saturdays, I water my loquat and kumquat trees, the tomato plant that’s still yielding fruit, my basil, mint, curly parsley, zatar, louisa and thyme plants whilst singing Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies. Sometimes, Sivan and Tani will join me on the mirpeset to help with the watering. Often times, it’s a ritual I enjoy doing alone.
We started hosting play dates in our apartment again. Shabbat afternoon, I smiled to myself from the kitchen as I listened to the peels of laughter from a dining room table full of children. Eating ice cream cones with sprinkles and giggling happily to each other about absolute nonsense, until they abandoned their plates and raced off into the bedrooms to play hide n’ seek and imaginary games.
I started talking more about my past and my family to the kids, telling them stories about my childhood. I told them about my Zaydie and Uncle Benjy, and how they would often times come to our house in Queens for Shabbat with pockets full of quarters and red balloons. Zaydie would blow up red balloons for each of us and we would play with them for an entire Shabbat; Uncle Benjy used to read me books about Huey, Duey and Louis and the pizzas. Zaydie would walk into the house and switch into his yellow and brown sweater, which still hangs in the hall closet of my parents home.
On Wednesday, I went to Shiko on Lamed Heh street for my first post-cancer shave. I was born a blonde, as evident in the photo above, but my hair is growing in much darker but it’s soft and fine like baby hair. A post-chemo trick, according to my therapist, is to shave it back down so it grows in thicker. It was hard for me but I sat in Shiko’s chair as he expertly moved the clippers smoothly over my head, my hair falling like snowflakes on to the smock. In disbelief, I picked off the clumps of hair and sifted the strands through my finger tips. They were soft and downy with a gray tinge, like ashes. Shiko refused to let me pay just like he refused to let me pay when he shaved off my hair after my first chemo treatment. Another one of the good people that has surrounded me during my cancer journey.
I greet this new month with a mental list of tasks I want to accomplish and boxes to be ticked, and no shortage on life to be lived.