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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wait & See

Stuff is going on, but I can not write about it yet.

We finally had an opportunity to update our two youngest kids, but our oldest is away until Thursday.

I do not want to post anything until everyone in our family knows what is going on.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Friday, June 26, 2009

Support Group -- Before and After

Back-story: The third incarnation of our support group (for women living with metastatic disease) is a series of four five meetings with a psychologist who specializes in psycho-oncology and, within that field, specializes in dealing with children.

The group consists of nine women with cancer. The two women who facilitated the previous support group at Beit Natan are also attending the meetings, both to learn from the psychologist and to add to our support network. It is a very unique and incredibly warm and nurturing atmosphere.


The second meeting of this support group was really the first meeting for me. I came so late to the first meeting, that I really did not feel part of it.

Since three new women also attended the second meeting for the first time, a significant portion of the meeting was again devoted to introductions.

Then we did an exercise comparing the behavior of one of our children before and after our diagnosis. I chose to concentrate on my youngest child, who is the quietest and perhaps the most affected by my cancer.

The discussion raised all sorts of issues, such as:
  • What are "normal" changes for a child that age?
  • How can we know how our cancer is affecting our child's development?
  • How does having cancer affect how we parent?
  • In what circumstances should cancer cause us to be more lenient? Or more strict?

The facilitator assured us that we will address these questions in future meetings.


Later that week, my youngest daughter noticed a piece of paper on the table with her name on it. I glanced at the Hebrew in my handwriting and thought it must be my notes from our parent-teacher conference. I asked her not to read it on her own and told her that I would go over it with her another time.

A few minutes later, she asked me about something I had written. I realized the notes were what I had written in my support group. I chastised her for not following my instructions and explained that the paper contained notes that I had written for myself were meant to be private. Chagrined, my daughter apologized contritely.

I decided to transform her transgression into something positive. Explaining the context of the exercise, I suggested that she share differences that she noticed. At first, she mentioned, as she always does, that I am tired. Then she got more specific. She revealed that she no longer asks for help with her homework, since I am usually too tired to help her.

My heart fell when I realized she is not even asking for my help anymore. It hurt, but I appreciated her honesty. I took my daughter's face in my hands, looked directly in her eyes, and gently begged her to please keep asking for my help. I acknowledged the fact that I am often tired. Then I pointed out that there are also times when I am not tired and I am both able and happy to help her. I do not want either of us to miss out on those times.

Then she noted that when she was little I used to sit with her while she did all her homework while, more recently, I would only pay attention when she needed my help with specific problems. This, I pointed out right away, had nothing to do with cancer! As gently as I could, I explained that it is BORING to sit and watch her doing 100 math problems. Even if I did not have cancer, I would no longer be doing that! I emphasized that I am happy to help her with problems she cannot solve on her own. But, with or without cancer, I will not sit around doing nothing while is working independently on her homework. She can do that on her own.

Some changes do not have anything to do with cancer!

I think she got it.

A few minutes later, she turned to me, with a hesitant smile, and said that she also noticed a good change. My curiosity peaked. With a proud smile, she noted that she had become much more independent. How true! What a pleasure to elaborate on the many manifestations of her independence!

Among other things, I noted that she takes buses freely and confidently. She smiled at me with an impish grin and pointed out that "it is still nicer to be driven places..." We both laughed at that! She might be able to get around on her own, but she still prefers to be taken.

As with so many things, I felt torn by conflicting emotions: pride that she can take care of herself, sorrow that she has to take care of herself, joy that she still likes me to take care of her, and desire to continue taking care of her.

After enumerating her various accomplishments, I pointed out how proud I was of her attitude! She recognized, by herself, that she also benefited from this challenging situation.

My little girl possessed a depth of understanding that amazed and impressed me.

As our conversation drew to a close, I could not help but be grateful for the opportunity that had presented itself that afternoon. I received a gentle reminder that my daughter still needs my help. At the same time, I discovered that she is learning how to take care of herself. And, on top of that, I see that she is emotionally mature in ways that I would not have expected, particularly in her ability to see positive ramifications even in difficult circumstances.

I wanted to capture the moment and savor it.

(I guess I just have)

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Could Not Do It All

I had something scheduled for every night this week.

Lest you think just my nights were busy, I also have things planned for every morning, and every afternoon. Not to mention all the "little" things that I have to squeeze in sometime in the middle of all these activities....

Well, tonight, I just could not do it. At 6:15, I just did not feel up to going to the lecture at Zichron Menachem, even if the speaker is really amazing and is only in Israel for a brief visit.

I crashed.

I lay down on the couch and just rested.

I might have fallen asleep, but my son sat down with me and we talked for a while. It was nice.

Now the girls are home too and my home feels like a regular zoo!

I am so tired.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Crazy Week

This week is perhaps the fullest and craziest week that I have scheduled all year.

I do not know how I will manage to do everything! In fact, I am fairly certain that I will not manage to do everything!

I hope I will have time to post, at least something, every few days.

I really would have liked to write about tonight's support group, but I just do not have time!

I am overbooked and my father's voice is ringing in my ears: "You are trying to do too much!"

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Saturday, June 20, 2009

End of the Year Celebrations -- Part II

Despite my best intentions to post Part II the next day, it has been more than a full week since I posted End of the Year Celebrations -- Part I. Life has been busy!

The Kfitz Kfotz (gymnastics) performance ended at 7:15 and the Erev Shorashim (Evening Celebration of our Family Roots) began at 7:00!!

Even racing out of the gym, we did not arrive at my eldest's school until around 7:45.

We immediately went upstairs to the students' exhibition of items that have special meaning to their families. The large lobby was laid out like a museum, with artifacts mounted on the walls and on special stands, with printed explanations about the special significance of each item to the student.

I joined up with Moshe, who was there from the start. I only managed to view a few items (a volume of Gemara rescued from the floor of an antique shop in Europe after WWII, a challah cover, a Yemenite outfit embroidered by a student's grandmother), before we were directed to the auditorium for the program.

The girls put together a well balanced program, combining Divrei Torah (Jewish teaching) from the principal and several teachers, musical interludes by different groups of students, personal stories from a student (Treppenwitz's daughter, who spoke about her Aliyah experience) and several parents, and a dance performance celebrating the diverse backgrounds of the students.

All the different facets of the evening were woven together to create a sense of entertainment and community.

Afterwards, we joined together in the downstairs lobby, to taste the different foods that the girls brought, representing some of their families' special recipes. They prepared recipe books for us to take home as well!! Yumm!!!!

Before going home, we went upstairs to see the rest of the exhibition. Most of the items were already taken home by the girls. But some things were still there (a sari from India, a special Moroccan outfit worn by a girl's father for Leil HaSeder, candlesticks, silverware, childhood dolls, and a unique work of art juxtaposing a glass etching of a concentration camp, a stone from a bunk in the camp, and a picture of the grandson of the survivor of that camp in an Israeli air force uniform (this last item was brought by the daughter of one of the nurses who works in my chemo ward)).


My daughter brought a small Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark) that used to contain a miniature Kosher Torah that her great, great grandfather, Rav Ze'ev Wolf Gold, brought with him when he went to visit small communities in pre-State Israel. The Torah itself was "borrowed" by someone in the Jewish agency who never returned it.


When my daughter first asked me about a special family food, I could not even think of anything. Then she thought of the special herring salad that my Omi (grandmother), for whom she is named, prepared for breaking the fast of Yom Kippur. Our family still prepares and eats this dish after every Yom Kippur.

The thing is, it is a very unusual dish, combining herring, onions, apples, pickles, cranberries and sour cream, served cold, over hot boiled potatoes. Oh yeah, did I mention that the color of the salad is fluorescent pink? Over the years, most of our guests would pass on that part of the meal. So we were skeptical about how well that dish would go over at her school's communal dinner.

In the end, my daughter chose to make her Safta's (grandmother's) famous salad, which is a beautiful green salad with vegetables sliced julienne style, in a light vinaigrette dressing. Originally, she was going to make it together with her grandmother (Moshe's mom, who lives in Beit Shemesh). Unfortunately, her Safta did not feel well and we did our best to replicate her wonderful salad. We must have done an OK job, because the salad was gobbled up within minutes!

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

I totally should have split that last post (about chemo day) in half! But so often I never get around to posting the second half....

Two long posts in as many days. That goes against the unofficial blog rules -- never post anything longer than 3-4 scroll downs!

You tell me. Do you skip posts that long? (I admit that I often do!)

Should I have split it up?

Should I have edited it more.

Come on, I'm tough.

Give me some feedback!

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

The BEST mood!

What can I say? Chemo was so much fun today!!

First of all, I started off the day in a GREAT mood.

I went to sleep late and woke up early, yet I was still full of energy! My guess is that I was feeling the after-effects of the laughter workshop!

When I arrived at chemo, I saw RE, who I have not seen for a long time (she's my friend, who runs the hadracha (informal education) center at Tel Shilo). We both changed chemo days and now we do not overlap at all. So it was great to see her and have a chance to catch up!

As we were talking, my oncologist snagged me to come into his office. I got nervous, because we were not scheduled to meet today, but he just wanted to take two minutes to share the results of my MRI. Everything is stable, Baruch HaShem!! (Thank God)

When I went to stake out a chair in the day room, several people greeted me enthusiastically. What a great feeling!! I spent a few minutes chatting with each one, and then went to open my port.

Once again, the nurse drew blood easily. What a bracha! (blessing) For almost a full year, it took almost 15-20 minutes to draw blood from my port -- and that is when the port worked! Almost 50% of the time (maybe more), I had to get blood drawn from a vein because the port only worked "one way" -- you could put stuff in, but you could not get anything out! Something shifted during these last two months and the port has been working as it should!! Chasdei HaShem! (God is good!! -- ok, that is not an exact translation, but you get the idea)

After that, I had a wonderful foot massage to relieve some of the pressure in my feet and legs from swelling caused by the chemo. (Thanks to the Yuri Stern Foundation)

After my massage, I sat for a few minutes with N, another friend from chemo who I have not seen in a long time.

Then today's chemo date arrived! I have not seen my friend HND for a long time! Our schedules just don't match up! But she is about to move up north and we both really wanted a chance to hang out before her move. As always, our conversation covered a broad range of topics and was really interesting!

In the middle of the day, when the ward was starting to empty out, one of the nurses, who is a real character, sat down on one of the chairs for "story hour." Yesterday, a patient gave her a printout of one of those cute anecdotes circulating the internet these days (The Story of the Ceramic Tea Cup and its Maker) and she decided to share it with us, translated into Hebrew, of course.

Just as she began the tale, the couple who comes each week to deliver food from Ezer MiZion arrived.

How can I describe this couple? First, you need to know that the "typical" volunteers for Ezer MiZion are gentle Hareidi (ultra-Orthodox) women in their late fifties, or older, who speak softly and tend to be very demure. Not this couple. They are probably in their forties, but maybe in their early fifties -- I used to be good at estimating ages, but not any more. It does not matter; their age is irrelevant. They are certainly young at heart!

What sets these volunteers apart is the husband, who has a booming personality!! He is tall, wears a large white kippah typical of hippie dati leumi (national religious) types, and his presence just fills the room with joy!! (He makes me look quiet!!) Both the husband and the wife have large, warm smiles, and they take a bit of time to talk and joke with the patients. Just writing about them makes me smile!!

Today, they mentioned that they are going on vacation for a month. They will be spending a week in Orlando. Disneyworld and Universal Studios are my favorite places in the world!!! I could spend a month in those parks and not get tired of the rides!! Not to mention all the REALLY NICE people who work there!!! So, I spent some time with them describing the different parks and rides, and sharing tips for how to maximize their time. It was nice to be able to give back something to these special people who brighten up my day each week. (At least, I hope my suggestions were helpful. We'll find out when they return.)

I admit I am a bit jealous. I REALLY want to go to Orlando with my kids now, while they are still young enough to enjoy vacationing with their parents. (and while my health is still good enough that I can go on ALL the rides!!)

After the couple left, the nurse continued with her "story hour."

The whole thing was just so funny!!

After chemo, on our way out, we met S&AG, who were hanging out in the coffee shop. We hung out with them for a while, catching up. AG is always involved in really cool and unusual projects. S&AG were advisors when I was in NCSY. I was a S "groupie" -- I always attended any session she led. She was, and is, a fantastic educator and role model! I wonder if she knows how much I admired her. (if she reads this post, she will know now!)

When we left the hospital, I was not tired, so I accompanied my friend on an errand and then she came over for a quick cup of coffee.

Not long after she left, my kids came home. They were all excited about having sold almost everything they brought to the shuk kach-ten ("give and take" market) -- the kids bring things to barter and "sell" for special school made money. My kids had a table together and cooperated so that they could each get what they wanted.

I find it fascinating to see what interests my kids from year to year. Sometimes they just get junk that they tire of in a few days, but sometimes they get things they really want. For example, my son got a fun baseball cap that he likes, and that he can use for tiyulim (hikes). This year he lost several hats we had that he liked, so I am pleased that he found a hat that suits him. Hopefully he will keep this one for a while. (I am not holding my breath)

My daughter waited patiently for her turn to share her treasures. She watched as my son slowly took out eat item and showed off his finds. Then she did the same, slowly exhibiting each item, saving her favorites for last.

By the time they were done, so was I. It was a long day.

But both kids still needed more attention. My son was in one of those moods where he was still hungry but would not finish the food he had. And my daughter wanted me to sit with her and fix all the typos in her English project.

I would have been happy to hand over the reins to Moshe, but he went to Shavua HaSefer (The Book Festival) again, for the third time.

I could not even turn to my eldest for help, since she is away for the night. Her school decided to have an overnight tiyul (trip) for the last two days of school.

In the end, I just sent my kids to get ready for bed. My son grumbled the whole time about being hungry but when I went in to talk with him about what happened he was already asleep! My daughter also would have been happy to play around for longer, but it was 8:30 and time for bed!

As soon as the house quieted down, my good mood returned.

I planned to go out tonight to celebrate a friend's birthday. If Moshe were home, I probably would have gone, especially if we would have gone together (read: if he drove). But by the time the kids were in bed and asleep, I realized it was too much! I might have been able to drive there, but I did not want to drive home late at night.

I had a great day, but my energy has finally waned. I am tired. The good kind of tired. The way you feel after a really great day.

Isn't it funny? Today was a chemo day, but it was a really great day.

Fancy that!

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Run, Run, Run!!

no energy to edit/no time for links -- forgive me.... please...

Slept late, thank God. Would have slept more, but too much to do.

Got up and quickly threw in two more loads of dishes. Still trying to clean up from the... did I mention we had a... mouse!?!?... for the FOURTH time since we moved into this apartment! No one (not even our really great exterminator) can figure out how the creatures are getting into our home!!! aaack!!! (they are NOT cute when you do not want them in your home!!)

Do you know that I am a really messy germ freak?!?! I know... you are wondering how those two traits can go together. Well, they can.... and it is not pretty!!

God bless her, my newest ANGEL from the heavens came by today. She is a friend of a friend, who has been davening (praying) for me for months, and recently asked to join our food rotation. (Twice a week friends cook meals for us, to help ensure that my kids and I get at least a few balanced meals a week). Anyway, when she stopped by to drop off food, she looked at our balagan (mess) and said "I can help with this."

Once again, Moshe's words echoed in my mind.... "just say YES!"

So, I looked this energetic woman straight in the eye and said, "Thank you; that would be so helpful!"

Without missing a beat, she set a date for the following week. Then, she set another date for this week! She is a powerhouse! I am in awe of this lady, who is ten years my senior and seems full of boundless energy!

In the end, I cancelled OT so that we could finish today's project. We finished cleaning out my parve cabinet, as well as the cabinets under the sinks and... most importantly, my countertops! I cannot begin to express how nice it is to see my countertops again!!

Such a simple pleasure.....

In the middle of all that, someone from ZM (Zichron Menachem) called to convince me to send my kids to today's special program (I did not even know there was a special program today!). OK, I can do this. I called the school and, miracle of miracles, my kids got the message that I was looking for them and called me back! My youngest could not attend because today one of the kids in her class had a birthday party. But my son agreed to go. So I called ZM back and the coordinator said she would send the hasa'ah (transport) for him.

Great! Until a few hours later, when a different coordinator from ZM called to say that she might not have a way to pick up my son unless he left school half an hour early. That is no good!

I called the school again, but did not manage to speak with my son.

Meanwhile, the coordinator called me back, told me that my son should just take a cab to ZM. I still did not know how I was going to find my son.

At around 3:00, my ANGEL left to go help out our mutual friend and I continued trying to figure out logistics.

Just then, my daughter called; she could not go to a friend's home after school and wanted to know what to do. If she came home, she would need to take two buses to the birthday party, unless I wanted to take her. I really did not want to take her. But there was nothing for her to do in the meanwhile. So, I told her to come home, hoping that after resting at home for an hour she might be willing to take another two buses to the birthday party.... (ok, it was a long shot, but I was desperate!)

I also told her to tell her brother to take a cab to ZM and that they would pay for it when he got there. It should be so simple!

A few minutes later, my son called, anxious about the taxi ride. What if the cab driver does not let him out of the cab without paying?? I tried to reassure him, without much success. Just then, the school "superman" (this guy does EVERYTHING for the school, it just seems insufficient to call him the maintenance man) got on the phone. I explained the situation to him and he helped my son get a cab; he explained everything to the cab driver, so my son just had to get in and go. Phew!

OK, it was now 3:30. I wanted to go pay a shiv'a call to my neighbor, whose husband just died from a brain tumor (more on that another time). Today is the last day of the shiv'a and I had hoped to clear a full hour to be with my neighbor. If I had to take my daughter to the birthday party at 4:30, I would have almost enough time.

Then, just as I was about to leave my home, my friend called and told me that my neighbor was resting until 4:00. There goes that idea. I did not have enough time to go. OK, I would go later....

... maybe I could persuade my daughter to take another bus... or two.... If not, I would have to go to the shiv'a afterwards (I hoped there would be enough time).

My youngest walked in the door, close to 4:30, visibly upset. It turns out that she waited around to help her brother, who was less than gracious, then she missed not one but TWO buses, and arrived home with no way of being on time. No way I could send her by bus at that point -- she would have been super late and she was already exhausted her bus rides home. She was so generous with her brother, I had to take her.

As soon as I got back, I went to the shiv'a (more on that another time too. maybe.)

I stayed as long as I could. Then I left with another friend to a laughter workshop with Yehudit Kotler at Beit Natan, in English. It was so much fun!!! I really needed that pick-me-up on so many levels!!

I was happy to see two other friends there, one who I know from chemo and the other who I know from a mutual friend and who has become a friend in her own right. I was sorry to meet another old friend there, who I did not know had "joined the club." (She has some sort of Leukemia, and I sure hope that she will be ok!) I met several other really special women there too. And, of course, I laughed a LOT!!!

My friend just came along for the fun!

We went straight from the laughter workshop to tonight's local English Rosh Chodesh Shiur. This month's guest speaker, Naomi Grumet, led a very interesting discussion based on her doctoral research about Nidah (Family Purity). It was fascinating!!

Usually the shiurim end some time between `10:00 and 10:30. Women kept asking more questions (me too) and we did not finish until almost 11:30!!

Then, when I came home, I had to make popcorn and drinks for the kids to barter tomorrow at their school's shuk kach-ten ("give and take" market). Kids are supposed to bring old toys and stuff to "sell" (for special school money, good for that day only) or trade. My kids learned early on that kids always want to "buy" food, so that became our "standard fare," in addition to whatever stuff they wanted to bring.

So I stayed up for another hour or so making popcorn and packing it into sandwich bags and making iced tea (our new "thing").

Then I spent a few minutes with Moshe, eating dinner and chatting. Then a "quick" blog post (done!) and off to bed!!


And I have chemo tomorrow???

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Growing Up: Rising to the Occasion

My youngest daughter's class is a challenge. There are only 8 girls, out of 24 kids, and the class dynamic among the girls is.... complex.

Whenever I ask my daughter what is bothering her, it almost never has to do with me or my cancer. It almost always has to do with something that is going on with the girls in her class.

She has been particularly bothered by certain divisive behavior exhibited by specific girls in her class. Recently, she has taken a more active role in organizing class activities.

Last night, she organized an Erev Banot (a "girl's night out"). During the first half of the evening, she ran several mischakei chevra (interactive games). Several games were "just for fun," but one or two of them had a serious social message.

At one point, I thought she might want to do something a little differently. When I called her over, she calmly told me that she wanted to do things a certain way. I realized that this was her show, and I should just sit back and try to be invisible (not at all and easy task for me).

The last game she played with the girls required all the girls to cooperate with each other. I thought it was a clever choice, considering her goals for the evening. It was fascinating to listen in on the game.

Ironically, one of the girls who can be a bit standoffish, when she is not at the center of attention, came very late. My daughter immediately included her in the game, but the girl was hanging back. However, because the nature of the game required cooperation, almost immediately I heard the other girls saying "you have to join with us or we cannot do it."

After the final game, my daughter summed up the evening beautifully, explaining that in life, as well as in the class, the best way to achieve our goals is by working together.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,


I meant to post last night. Really, I did.

But I was so tired.

So I lay down on the couch with my computer on my lap and continued typing in my post.....

....until I fell asleep.

:-} (sheepish grin)

I am not sure how I ended up posting a blank post, but there you have it.....

Now I have "filled in the blanks!"

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

My Brother is Coming!!

My brother and his family are coming in for my son's Bar Mitzvah! YAY!!

He will be here from July 30 to August 16.

I am looking for a place for him to stay. Anyone going away during those dates?

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Can't Keep Up!

It's only Sunday, and I am tired already!

Today was the last day of Ofek2 (an afternoon program for gifted kids) -- the kids from the juggling class presented a short performance.

My son juggled two diabolos. I thought he did a great job.

I videotaped it. (do you still call it videotaping if it is a digital recording??)

I wish I knew how to upload the recording onto the computer!!

Afterwards, Moshe, my son, and I went to Shavua HaSefer (Book Festival).

What can I say, I LOVE all those books!!

It was fun going with my son too. He is interested in a lot of things. It was fun just browsing and discussing topics that came up when we saw interesting books.

This year I hope to go back at least one more time. I would love to go with my daughters too.

The one book I wanted to find was not available -- Kayitz Katom (Orange Summer), by Esther Shtreit-Vertzel. We'll have to get it in one of the local bookstores.

We did get the most recent Shay Charka book, La'Azazel Im Babba (לעזאזל עם בבא). Last year, we purchased ALL of Shay Charka's 11 books, but we missed the day when he was at the book fair to autograph them. This year, we made sure to be there when he was there and asked him to autograph them all! He was a really good sport. I am not sure who is a greater fan of his, my kids or my husband!

(btw, Shay Charka also blogs (in Hebrew); check it out his blog here)

When we came home, we discovered that our daughters had been busy little elves and had tidied up both the living room and my youngest daugther's room. Tomorrow night we are hosting an Erev Banot (girl's night) for the girls in my youngest daughter's class.

As my mom used to say: No rest for the weary!

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shabbat as it Should Be

Just when I needed a chance to rest, Shabbat arrived!

We were invited out for dinner and we had lunch at home.

I had invited guests, but they were unavailable -- that turned out to be a bracha! (blessing)

I really enjoyed being just with the family for lunch.

We all spent a lot of time running around last week; it was nice to have some "down time" (as my father likes to call it).

I love spending time together on Shabbat.

Before we moved, we used to have guests all the time, for both meals. After we moved, and I began my various treatments, it took a long time before we felt able to host. Even when we did, we only hosted one meal.

I discovered the simple joy of just being with my family on Shabbat.

Since then, we almost never host both meals.

I did not stop to consider that if we went out for one meal and had guests for the other then we would not have any time just to ourselves. By the time I figured that out, I had already made the invitation.

Luckily, when we found out our friends could not join us, I refrained from inviting another family. At the time, I just felt so tired, I did not feel up to hosting.

Later, I realized that we really needed that time together as a family.

It was not a "perfect" Shabbat. Some of the kids were not feeling so well. In fact, after lunch EVERYONE took a nap. (Rarely do the kids sleep on Shabbat!)

Still, I enjoyed the conversations we had together.

Even more, I enjoyed just being together.

That is really what it is all about.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

End of the Year Celebrations -- Part I

Two years ago, my girls started learning gymnastics at our local branch of Kfitz Kfotz*.

I will forever be grateful to both Tehilla Fraenkel (founder and director of Kfitz Kfotz) and Temima Petersal (head coach of the Homat Shmuel branch), for all that they have given my daughters.

Both of my daughters began Kfitz Kfotz at a relatively "old" age, especially my eldest daughter, who was the oldest 'new kid' in all of Homat Shmuel (and perhaps all of Jerusalem). I almost expected them to "drop out." I certainly expected them to have issues (about being so much older, about not being "as good," about being different in so many ways...).

Was I in for a surprise!!

Within a few weeks, both of my girls were hooked. They "could not" miss a single workout! If they were late, they had to call and let Temima know. They took gymnastics very seriously. And they loved it!!

Sometime in the first few weeks, Tehilla hosted an evening for all the parents from all the different branches to explain her vision of what she is trying to create through Kfitz Kfotz. Since only about 10% of the girls will ever exhibit true prowess in gymnastics, her goal for 90% of the girls is far beyond the ability to do cartwheels and handsprings. Kfitz Kfotz strives to build up the girls both physically and spiritually, to create a sense of camaraderie and good sportsmanship and to imbue the girls with a love of sports. I have been privileged to witness the impact of these efforts on my girls.

Before I knew it, my eldest began going early, to help with the younger kids. She could barely do anything herself, yet the staff and older kids welcomed her and encouraged her to contribute in whatever way she could. She took her 'job' seriously, arriving on time, staying late, and never missing a class (if humanly possible).

At the end of the year, she joined the summer training program to become an assistant coach. When she discovered that the following year she would get paid for helping the kids, she was really excited. Though she admitted that she had not known that she would get pain and would have done it for free! (She is saving the money, which is good, 'cause she'll need it for driving lessons, college, etc.)

Both of my girls begged to continue for a second year; and both progressed so much more this year. Their commitment did not waver and their enthusiasm only grew.

Yesterday evening (Wednesday), Kfitz Kfotz hosted their end of the year performance. From 5:30-7:15, we watched the girls and their instructors perform dances and exercises exhibiting their abilities. In her opening remarks, Tehilla reminded the audience to clap equally for all the participants -- reminding us all that Kfitz Kfotz is about a nobler aim than physical abilities (no matter how impressive).

What amazed me more than anything was that this was not just an evening for mothers extended family (female relatives only, since Kfitz Kfotz is just for girls). In addition to inviting my sister and Moshe's mom, both kids invited friends of theirs! Even more surprising to me was that their friends made the effort to come!! And they were not the only ones! The enormous auditorium was packed!!

At the end of the evening, ALL the girls get "medals" (candy necklaces that kids of ALL ages appreciate!). In addition, girls who had been working out with Kfitz Kfotz for 5 years and then 9 years and up receive medals in recognition for their diligence and hard work.

My eldest received a medal last year for her volunteer work as an assistant and this year she received a medal for her commitment as part of the staff.

When I dared to suggest that we leave before the distribution of medals, so that we could be on time (or less late) to my eldest daughter's "Erev Shorashim" (Evening of Roots -- more on that tomorrow, b'li neder (I hope!)), my daughters were horrified! Perish the thought!! We stayed until the end.

The second it was over, my daughters tracked me down and rushed me out (lest I get side-tracked and start a conversation with any of my friends....). With two of her classmates in tow, my eldest pulled me to the car. We hopped in and headed straight for their school!

Our evening had only just begun!

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

* I searched the web in Hebrew and English for a link to Kfitz Kfotz's webpage and found... nothing!! It is (embarrassingly) too late to call anyone, but if you know of a webpage, please leave a link in the comments!! --- SPECIAL THANKS to Sara G for the link to their website!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm OK

As I sat down to eat dinner with my husband last night, I said good-bye to my friend who had called to see how I was doing. She read my last post, and was worried about me.

"I'm fine," I told her, just before hanging up the phone, "You don't have to worry about me."

"You're fine?" My husband questioned, wondering out loud about what we were talking.

I slipped into the seat across from him.

"...about the women from our group...." I explained.

"You're fine?" He asked again, now seriously perplexed.

"Well, I'm sad," I elaborated, "really sad. But I am OK."

I know he wondered how I could be OK. Part of me wondered the same thing.

It is entirely possible that the magnitude of the situation will hit me harder later on. Or not.

During our conversation, my friend had asked a very pointed question: "Were they worse than you?"

I suspected that they were, but had not thought about it too deeply. In order to reassure my friend, I reviewed the list: 1. one (E) was not very open - I do not even know what cancer she had - but I had the impression from the beginning that her situation was not so good; 2. another (P) had a different cancer, in a very advanced stage, and it was a miracle that she lived as long as she did; 3. the third (B) also gave me the impression that her situation was not very good; 4. the fourth (Tz) had discovered a new tumor, behind her eye, that the doctors had "missed" for several months. I knew that was not good, I just did not realize how devastating it would be. and 5. the fifth (Y), also had some sort of advanced cancer (maybe in her GI tract?), was older, and was clearly struggling with her diseases (though she also continued to work, which was easier for her than continuing to maintain her household). I had not realized that her situation had deteriorated.

"Yes;" I finally answered my friend, "I am not in the same place that they were."

And, with that, I placed them all into a separate category.

I am not like "them."

"My cancer" is under control. I am not in any immediate danger.

It is the truth.

My cancer is responding to treatment. It is stable. And I can live this way for a long time. (that's the plan!)

So, for my own self-preservation, I have to file away these stories and remind myself that I am different.

I am not deluding myself, but I am also not going down that road that leads to nowhere good.

I am sad, and slightly overwhelmed, by the loss. But I am not in that place (in the world of the dying). And I do not want to get stuck there.

Right now, I am firmly in the world of the living. I am busy with of end-of-the-year performances, and summer plans, and dirty dishes, and mundane complaints, and chatting on the phone, and running around, and trying to do everything for which there is never enough time.

So, please, don't stop calling me for advice about your problems. If your problems are not little to you, then they are not little to me. And don't apologize for telling me about your day to day life. I want to know what is going on with you. And don't worry about me.

I am OK.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism, ,

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And then there were six....

Sometimes, I feel like I have been dealing with cancer for years.

It is hard to imagine that I am only two years into the game.

In the beginning, I was desperate to find other women who have been living with cancer for ten years or more. I needed to speak with real live women who were beating the odds.

They exist. And they are amazing.

One of the women in my support group has had cancer for 19 years. She still works every day. She has married off all four of her children, all of whom were little kids when she was first diagnosed. (One of her sons, and his family, lives down the block from me.)

All of the women in our support group are still very active. We are all busy women who also happen to have cancer. Cancer is not what defines us, even though it is our common denomenator. There is vitality in our group of vibrant women.

Our group has created a "safe space," filled with faith, hope and optimism, despite the fact that we talk about our inermost feelings and our deepest fears.

Currently, we are in the middle of a 4-5 part series with a psycho-oncologist whose specialty is parenting. Many of us felt the need for several sessions focussed on issues of parenting.

I constantly wonder about my childrens' behavior -- how much of their behavior is "regular adolescence" and how much is affected by cancer?

This past Sunday, we gathered early, to talk about the recent passing of Pia, one of the members of our original group. When I arrived, I learned that another woman from the group, B, just died this past week (She only came to our support group once or twice, but I met her in the hospital on several occasions, and other women knew her from previous groups/events).

Within the first few minutes of our discussion, I learned that a fourth women from our group, Tz, had died almost two months ago. I did not know.

I was caught off guard and did not know how to process the information.

When I commented on the fact that four women from our group had died already, I was corrected. ("What? You did not know?" ) Apparently, Y died a while ago too.

I did not know.

How could I know? I did not ask and nobody told me.

I wish somebody would have told me. I did not like finding out this way.

All of a sudden, I was faced with several deaths.

I know that in many ways my situation is different. That does not change the facts.

In less than two years, five women from our support group are no longer with us.

Six of us are still here.

Five of us still meet regularly, at our current support group. (the sixth lives in Dimona, over 3 hours away)

Four of us meet almost weekly, at Sha'are Zedek, where we get chemo on the same day (the fifth lives in B'nei Brak, as does another women who has been part of our group from the beginning of this year).

Three of us have the same oncologist.

Our lives are all intertwined.

These women form such an integral part of my life. I see them, and speak with them, more regularly than almost anyone else. We share intimite details of our lives. We seek advice, comfort, and support from each other.

I do not want to consider the possibility that we will not all be here in another two years.

This week, three more women joined our support group about parenting.

Once again, we are a group of ten.

I cannot help but wonder who will still be here two years from now.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Monday, June 8, 2009

Feeling Good!

You guys are the best!!

I knew I could allow myself a pity-post and you wouldn't go getting the wrong idea.

I felt significantly better today.

At least, my tummy did.

I still felt that heavy, weighted, tired feeling that I felt last night. It did not bring my mood down, but it did make me want to go back to sleep.

Even though I woke up late, I still felt like like I was in a fog. After a few hours, I stopped fighting the feeling and lay back down on the couch. (The laundry was finished, but I still had not made my bed. God bless my husband, who finally asked my kids to do it for me tonight.)

Anyway, As soon as I lay down, I fell into another deep sleep... for FOUR hours!!

I had to force myself to get up and go to the pool.

Once there, my energy returned to me.

I am constantly amazed by how much effort it takes me to drag myself to the pool each week and how great I feel after I teach.

Today, I even swam a few laps.

I am really out of shape, and I am stiff in places I did not realize (probably from the cancer). I want to try and swim a little bit each week. I hope that I will succeed in motivating myself.

I also hung out a bit, treading water and chatting with some some women I know.

At the end of the day, I still felt very tired and weighted down, but I also felt good!

I was going to write a heavier post, about something I found out yesterday, but I think I'll post it tomorrow.

There is too much good energy in my home right now. I want to enjoy it.

My two youngest kids just returned from their tiyul sh'nati (annual school trip). They are showered, fed, and bursting with stories about all their adventures.

Life is good!!

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Feeling Sorry for Myself

My tummy troubles are not going away. Last week, day 2 was the worst. After that, it got better.

This week, I expected day 2 (Shabbat) would be pretty miserable. Naively, I did not expect tummy troubles on day 3 (Sunday).

I woke up and almost immediately needed to take a Loperamide (Imodium). In just over 24 hours, I took 9 Loperamide pills.

A few weeks ago, my oncologist gave me instructions to contact him if I needed over 6 pills and to go straight to the hospital if I needed 8 pills.

I jotted off a quick note to my oncologist, explaining the current workings of my bowels and my desire to avoid going to the ER. He called and advised that I "drink like a fish."

I went to my Sunday morning shiur (Torah study class), tried to ignore my upset tummy, and drank, and drank, and drank.

After class, I drove to Hadassah for my second MRI in two weeks.

On my way, I stopped to pick up more Loperamide. My stomach was grumbling a lot and I worried that I might need to use the bathroom in the middle of the MRI, which would mess up the test. The next time I needed to take a pill, I took two, just to be safe.

At Hadassah, I ran into a friend of mine, KB, who is waiting for a new heart. She has been in the hospital for over a month and will be there until she gets a heart ("if I only had a heart..."). Always looking for something interesting to do, she joined me while I waited for my MRI. We swapped "war stories."

Soon enough, the technician called me in for the MRI.

Inside the "inner chamber," I stretched out my left arm so the nurse could insert the needle for the contrast. It was easier this time. I think she used a smaller needle.

Once inside the MRI machine, I drifted off to sleep. I woke as the doctor tried to inject the contrast... and failed.

Something was going wrong, but I could not see and nobody was explaining anything. I could feel the staff poking and prodding my arm.

Then... PAIN!

They removed the needle, but the pain got worse.

I complained about the pain and was told "the needle is out; there is nothing else to do." As the pain increased, my tolerance level decreased. I found myself crying in pain, with no one to help me.

They removed me from the missile launcher MRI machine and I tried to regain my composure.

I did not want another needle stuck in me, but I also did not want to do the test without the contrast.

Eventually, I allowed the nurse to spary a topical anesthetic on my hand and insert the needle there.

When the MRI was finally over, I felt battered and worn out.

I know that I will have pain, not to mention big black and blue marks, on my arm and hand.

I know this should not be such a big deal.

I hate the pain and the humiliation.

At night, my arm still felt sore, as it does now (the next day).

Moshe was sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do to help.

I felt sorry for him, knowing how sad he felt for not being able to make me feel better.

Mostly, I felt sorry for myself.

At the end of the day, I was so worn out, I could not even blog.

As I nodded off in front of my computer, I forced myself to get up and dragged myself to bed.

I just wanted to fall into bed and I could not even do that!

My sheets were still in the laundry!!

This was just too much for me.

I called out to Moshe that I was going to sleep on the couch.

"Why?" He asked, confused.

"My bed's not made and I just can't wait," I whined, as I flopped onto the couch and crawled under the covers.

I just wanted this horrible day to end.

Within seconds, I was fast asleep.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lessons My Dad Taught Me

Several times recently, my eldest daughter has expressed her desire to do everything she possibly can. She wants to make the best use of every single second of the day. She does not want to waste even an hour of her precious time.

I can understand that. I used to feel the same way. To be honest, I still do.

When I was in high school, we read Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. One line burned itself into my memory: "As if you could kill time without injuring eternity."

Even then, I understood how precious, and valuable, time is to us. I knew that wasted time is lost forever and how we use our time affects the very fabric of our being.

I remember the day when I came face to face with the fact that I can not do everything.

I was a sophomore in college and I could not figure out how to juggle two conflicting activities, both of which I really wanted to do.

I called my father.

I knew my father, the man who could solve any problem in the world, could help me solve this one.

I sat on my bed, and explained why it was imperative that I find a way to do both activities (neither of which I can remember now).

After listening patiently, my father's response was straight and to the point: "you cannot do both."

"But Daddy...." I pleaded, needing him to understand, needing him to to solve my dilemma!

He understood.

Now he needed me to understand.

There are times in life when we cannot do everything we want, no matter how hard we try; sometimes we have to choose.

The most difficult choices in life are not between right and wrong -- those choices are easy; the correct decision is clear. The most difficult decisions are choosing between right and right.

It has never been easy for me to give up something that I want to do.

Perhaps the hardest part of cancer, for me, is the additional limitations that it places on my time and energy.

I want to do more, not less.

I have never been good at accepting my limitations.

To this day, my father admonishes me for trying to do "too much."

Once, my father sat with me, and tried to help me create a schedule out of all that I wanted to do and all that I needed to do.

There were not enough hours in the day to do everything.

My father thought the conclusion was obvious: I have to cut things out of my "to do" list.

My solution: throw out the schedule!

I do not want to "slow down."

I have to, but I do not want to.

Like my daughter, I want to do everything that I can.

Perhaps it is folly.

Which brings me to the second quote that burned itself into my memory in high school: "And still I persist in wondering whether folly must always be our nemesis." (Edgar Pangborn)

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Musicals -- is the content kid friendly?

So, what I want to know is this: does anyone else feel conflicted about exposing their kids to musicals?

We just saw a wonderful local performance of Oklahoma!

Among the subjects that I found problematic were: promiscuity, suicide, violence, etc.

Compared to many other musicals, Oklahoma is downright wholesome!

I love taking my kids to musicals. I love the theatre and I love the songs. And I love the way my kids spend the following days bursting out in spontaneous song.

But I would not want my kids to watch movies or read books that treat this subject matter as legitimate.

So why should it be okay in a musical?

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Paying the Piper

My life has been very busy these past weeks, and even more so these past few days.

Yesterday, I attended the La Leche League Conference in Israel.

I actually considered not attending, but I realized I would be so sad if I missed it. I am so glad that I went!

The topics did not interest me so much on paper, but the lectures were fantastic! I gained new insights and information.

Towards the end of the day, I started feeling really tired. During the last two lectures, the rooms were too warm and I just could not keep my eyes open any more.

I realized that I had hit my limit.

I had the idea that maybe I would join Moshe for the second day of the Star Trek convention, but I really was too tired.

Instead, I went home and spent the afternoon with my daughters. My friend, FB, who drove me home from the conference, came in for a bit and the four of us played this great board game, Cartagena. (thanks ABH!!)

Today, Tuesday, I slept late and did very little. I fully intended on napping during the day but, just as I was about to lie down, I remembered that the kids come home early today. I felt like I needed to be around for my kids. So, I forced myself to stay awake.

I am really tired. But I feel really good!

I know that I need to find my balance. I can go out and do things. But I do need time to "catch up" and rest afterwards. I think the ratio is 1:2 (activity:rest).

I have never been good at slowing down.

This is perhaps my biggest challenge.

Maybe I'll find time to rest tomorrow....

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Monday, June 1, 2009

My First Star Trek Convention

I was excited... and a bit apprehensive. I know how much Moshe loves Star Trek conventions. I thought it would be fun to enter "his" world.

At the same time, I expected to meet some pretty strange people....

Barely 60 people attended the 'Q-Con 2' convention. I would not even call it a "convention"…. but when I called it a Star Trek “gathering,” Moshe got all hot under the collar.

“It’s a convention,” he corrected me. (He is so cute when he takes this Star Trek stuff so seriously!)

All kidding aside, I was also excited to meet John de Lancie, the convention’s guest star. John de Lancie played the recurring character of “Q” – a being who is both petulant and omnipotent (a rather dangerous combination).

De Lancie’s son, Keegan, who played Q’s son in an episode of Voyager, was also a guest star. Keegan is a Fulbright scholar, studying in Amman, Jordan. He and his parents were visiting Israel on a personal tour. The convention was scheduled around their visit!

It would have been fun to bring the kids too, but my girls had gymnastics and my son had Ofek (an afternoon program for gifted kids).

So Moshe took off early from work, and the two of us drove to Herzliya for the convention.

There was only one building in the area and I thought 'this can't be the place; it's a youth center.'

It was the place.

We arrived 15 minutes early (mark the date!), and hung around for a while until things got started.

There were about 15 people in the auditorium when this young guy, with big, thick-rimmed glasses (you can’t make this stuff up!), came out and asked which episode we would like to see.

After watching the episode, the guy came back to let us know that the next part of the program would begin in about half an hour, and did we want to just wait or watch part of another episode.

I kid you not! (We paid money for this!!)

Well, hey, we are Star Trek fans, so we voted for another episode! Duh!

In the end, we watched the entire episode, with time to spare before the program began.

Then we watched the episode with both Keegan and John de Lancie, with live commentary by Keegan. Afterwards, he chatted with the audience.

Then Marnie Mosiman, John deLancie’s wife, performed two songs. The first was a parody of “Without You,” from “My Fair Lady,” called “Without Q.” It was very clever. (She stuck in some Israel references as well)

Then John de Lancie read The Devil and Billy Markham, by Shel Silverstein. (I could only find part 1 on line, but de Lancie) Afterwards, he chatted with the audience as well.

During De Lancie’s Q & A with the audience, he mentioned that he acted in Days of Our Lives, back in the 80’s. My father’s cousin, Michael David, used to write for that show back then. They must have worked together.

De Lancie is currently directing operas, which I think is really cool. (If I can admit to liking Star Trek, then I can admit to liking opera.)

One participant asked de Lancie why he thought Q had such popular appeal – de Lancie suggested that Q’s absolute freedom, coupled with no sense of responsibility is every person’s fantasty. I laughed at first, then realized the profundity of that statement. It is true – it would be awesome to be able to do whatever one wanted with no concern about the consequences!

I was not like that, even as a teenager….

Afterwards, we got a chance to talk with John some more, and also Keegan and Marnie. They were all very nice and interesting people.

That was the best part of the convention being so small – it felt very personal and friendly.

Keegan says he comes to visit Israel fairly frequently. I mentioned that I worked as a tour guide and offered to help him plan an itinerary. I doubt he will take me up on my offer, but wouldn’t it be cool if he did?

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,