Three years ago, when I was first diagnosed, I had to decide whether to have a lumpectomy, a mastectomy or a double mastectomy. Given the cancer and my medical background, a purely clinical recommendation would be to have a double mastectomy and get rid of all future risk (little did they know...).
But, since the decision was not a purely scientific one, and emotions were also a factor, I was told that I needed to figure out how important my breasts were to me.
Up until that moment, I was.... um.... well.... rather attached to my breasts.
In addition to everything else that women with breast cancer experience, I was a La Leche League (LLL) leader. I talked about breasts and breastfeeding ALL the time.
So, half a year later, after I had lost my breast (reconstruction notwithstanding), and could no longer lactate on that side, I was faced with a decision: Did I want to continue my work as a LLL leader?
For a few weeks, I deliberated. How would I feel talking to mothers about breastfeeding? How could I offer support after facing such a devastating loss? Maybe my time would be better spent volunteering somewhere else? Maybe I should volunteer with an organization that helps breast cancer survivors? Maybe it was time to "retire," or at least take a "leave of absence" from LLL.
But, the more I thought about leaving LLL, the sadder I felt.
First of all, I firmly believe that everyone should do their part to make the world a better place. I am not one of those supermoms who can make supper for mothers who just had a baby or who are sick and need help. (God knows, I can barely get dinner ready for my own family!) But I can help mothers who want to nurse.
Moreover, I LOVE being part of LLL in Israel. Though leaders come from all over the political and religious spectrum, we all share many of the same fundamental values of mothering. With other leaders, I can freely discuss how long I nursed my children, or at what age they stopped crawling into my bed at night to cuddle (you don't want to know).
I love being in a room full of women who all believe in "family first," whose children are a pleasure (not a nuisance), who believe that a mother should be "responsive" and "attentive" (and that does not mean our children are "manipulating" us), who believe that children need their mothers (and that need is a real need, that does not go away as the child grows). The environment is nurturing and warm and caring and loving. And, though we don't always agree, we communicate with respect and consideration.
I am not a perfect parent. I often fail to live up to the standards of a LLL leader. (I don't post those stories). But, when I close my eyes, and imagine the family that I want, the picture would definitely fit into any LLL album.
So, I chose to stay. I still take phone calls. I still meet with mothers. I still run groups (though our group in Homat Shmuel is currently dormant). I still sit on the Israel Area Council. I do less than I did "before." Nevertheless, I am still an active leader.
I just spent two wonderful days (and one night) at our annual LLL leaders' retreat.
We had workshops about communication, and sessions about leaders' responsibilities, and a fascinating lecture about immunology and mother's milk (We learned all about the development of a baby's immune system, and that giving a baby "just one bottle of formula" has a significant impact).
I led the getting-to-know-you games at the start of the conference. It was a lot of fun and I received a lot of positive feedback.
I also ran the evening activity, which was nice, but not nearly as successful. I am not discouraged. I already have ideas about how to make it better next year.
I learned a lot, laughed a lot, and received lots of love.
How could I give this up?
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,