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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Beit Natan Winter Retreat -- Part II: Laughter is the Best Medicine

During the second day, there were four workshops that were offered twice. So we could choose two workshops. I chose the laughter workshop and a workshop led by a social worker who will be leading a group for women with metastesis. I decided to do the "serious" workshop first, so that I could finish with my crying in the morning. It was a good decision.

A few months ago, I attended a laughter workshop ("yoga tz'chok") for mothers and daughters, that was sponsored by my daughter's junior high school. Most of the young teens there (all 7th and 8th grade girls), were too self-conscious to participate. Many of the moms were too. But I had a good time, and laughed with the other moms who participated (and didn't care how silly we all looked).

From that experience, I knew that the laughter workshop would involve us doing/saying strange and funny things. I was more receptive this time, because I knew what to expect.

On my way into the afternoon laughter workshop, a friend, who had participated in the morning workshop, advised me not to look at anyone and to "just laugh." That was good advice.

I went in to the workshop with a very open mind, a willingness to be very silly, and a readiness to laugh. I focussed on the faciliator, Yehudit Kotler, (who was great) and followed all her silly instructions. And I laughed.

One of the other women, L, laughed at everything. A real, deep, contageous laugh. Every time I hesitated, I looked at L and burst into laughter.

By the end of the workshop, I was laughing so hard, I couldn't stop. I didn't even know what was so funny, but I couldn't stop laughing, even after the workshop was over.

At dinner, everything struck me as funny. I laughed at everything.

The evening program was with Tzvi Cohen, a well known, Israeli radio personality. The program was to figure out all sorts of word games, which he had created. I love those types of brain games, but in Hebrew I am completely lost. I think I figured out two answers the entire evening. It didn't matter, I still had a great time! He was very entertaining! I sat next to L, and we laughed the whole time. It was fun!

So, laugh with me!! hahahahaha, heeheeheehee


"When God brings about the return to Zion...then our mouths will be filled with laughter..." (Tehillin (Psalms)126:1-2)

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

With love and optimism,

Happy Birthday to Me

"I got you a gift for your birthday" Moshe whispered to me, as we were going to sleep Monday night, reminding me that my birthday had arrived (according to the Jewish calendar, each new day actually begins during the night before the new date).

"That's sweet," I answered, as I drifted off to sleep.

"I'll give it to you tomorrow," he said, "on the day of your birthday."

"OK," I answered, only briefly wondering what he could possible get for me. (I am not into Jewelry or other traditional gifts)

But the next morning, we rushed off to the Brit (ceremony of circumcision, marking the entrance of a Jewish boy into the covenant of Abraham) of Moshe's sister's 8 day old son. The morning was spent in joyous celebration of someone else's birthday. I didn't even remember my own.

Later in the afternoon, we were all home, in anticipation of the snow storm. I went into my room, to rest, and surprised my husband and daughter, who asked me to leave the room. As I left the room, I suggested that my room isn't the best place to prepare surprises for me. My merry elves, agreed, but did not move their workshop.

A few minutes later, Moshe gathered the kids together to sing "Happy Birthday" to me. Y presented me with a "Happy Birthday" sign, and was a bit insulted when I noted that everything was spelled correctly. (I thought I was complimenting her....)

Then Moshe handed me the gift (which Y proudly announced that she had wrapped). I could tell it was a book. And, once again, I wondered what kind of present Moshe would choose for me.

As I opened the wrapping paper, I saw that it was actually two books. Then I noticed the gold covers, and knew what books they were.


Every year, shortly after Pesach, for one full week, ALL books in Israel are on Sale. This week is called Shavua HaSefer (Book Week) and it is a wonderful Israeli tradition. In Jerusalem, there is a large, outdoor fair, open from morning until late at night. Each publisher has a small stand and it's possible to wander for hours, from stand to stand, examining hundreds (thousands!) of books)

Moshe and I wanted to purchase updated map books and siddurim (prayer books), so we waited for Shavua HaSefer, when we'd be able to get everything in one place, and on sale. I thought Moshe would go by himself, but he thought it would be fun to go together. So we made a "date."

When we arrived at the fair, I thought we'd kind of walk around, look at a few book stands and absorb the atmosphere. Even if we had the funds to buy more books, we were out of space on our bookshelves. Nevertheless, Moshe wanted to visit every single publisher's stand (and there are a lot!). I could have skipped most of them, but Moshe found books that interested him in almost every stand.

There were a few stands that interested me, mostly the stands of publishers who publish Israeli history books and books for tour guides (I had hoped, before I got cancer again, to resume my work as an educational tour guide). Ariel Publishers had many interesting books, including a book by Prof. Eilat Mazar, about her archaeological discoveries at Ir David (the City of David). But the book that really caught my eye was a gold covered book with pictures of Jerusalem at the turn of the century (late 1800's to early 1900's). "There is another volume," pointed out the salesman, "one is of the Old City, and the other is of the New City."

Moshe and I stood there, flipping through the pictures. "Look at this one," I kept saying to Moshe, transported back in time to the places that I know so well. I knew Moshe wouldn't object if I wanted to purchase them, but I was acutely aware of our budget. Reluctantly, I put the books down. We moved on.

As we moved from stand to stand, it became clear that the fair was going to close before we had time to visit every stand. "I want to come back tomorrow," Moshe declared. "That's fine with me," I responded, "but you're coming on your own. I don't have the patience to do this again." It worked out well, because the store with the siddurim (prayer books) didn't have enough of the kind we wanted, and would bring more the next day.

Over the loudspeakers, we heard the announcement that the fair was ending for the day. On our way out, we passed the Yad Yitzchak Ben Tzvi stand. It was huge, and had many books that interested me. I almost bought one of the Jerusalem tour books, but I couldn't decide if I should get it in Hebrew or English. The Hebrew version is a bit more comprehensive, but the English is easier for me. I hate decisions, so I put it off (until next year...).

Not surprisingly, we were among the last to leave the fair.

Back to the Present:

As I pulled the books out, I was touched that Moshe had remembered how much I loved those books.

"But we didn't get them on sale," I blurted out, without thinking.

"We didn't?" Moshe asked, with a sly grin.

"You bought them during Shavua HaSefer?" I asked in disbelief.

Moshe just smiled.

He had bought them, and hid them for 6 months, so that he could give them to me for my birthday.

"Thank you," I said, as the tears rolled down my cheeks, "thank you."

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

With love and optimism,

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Beit Natan Winter Retreat -- Part I: Facing the Future

The retreat was amazing!

I wouldn't have gone, if it hadn't been for my friend EA. She really encouraged me to attend. Every time I saw her, she was so enthusiastic and inviting. EZ, from Beit Natan, also called me several times, encouraging me to attend. I am grateful to them both.

The program was excellent, both interesting and informative. The workshops were emotionally moving. And the women who attended were so special.

I attended a workshop in guided imagery, led by Bracha Toporowitz. One of the excersizes led me on a journey to a beautiful future. I was with Moshe, surrounded by our children (all happily married) and their children. It was a warm and happy family gathering. Everyone was smilling. As I observed my wonderful, imagined, future, I felt my very real tears rolling down my cheeks. Suddenly, I was so afraid that I wouldn't live to see that future. At one point, I started crying uncontrollably. I was overcome with fear. I felt like I discovered a place that I didn't even know existed within me, and I didn't want it to be there.

Afterwards, I was unable to focus on the next lecture. I could not stay in my seat in the front of the lecture hall, so I went to stand in the back. Chaya Heller, the founder of Beit Natan, saw that I was having a difficult time and invited me to talk with her in another room. We sat down and I cried some more. I was so afraid of being afraid. I viewed fear as a black hole that threatened to swallow me. Chaya helped me to accept my fears and not be afraid to face them. I felt encouraged and strengthened by our conversation. She is an amazing and impressive woman.

It will take some work to find a place for the fear. I don't want it to define me or to depress me, but it does exist. And I want to find a way past it, so that I can view my future with confidence.

It's like throwing a ball -- you need to see the ball arriving at it's destination before it even leaves your hand. It is our faith in the future that is imperative for us to arrive at that future.

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

With love and optimism,

Monday, January 21, 2008


I haven't been so dilligent about posting recently.

I try to avoid the "I'm tired, so can't post write now" posts. So, instead, there is this silent void.

The lack of energy doesn't always occur in a vacuum, even when I'm sick with a cold (like now).

Sometimes, I've had a really good day, but I "used up" my energy. So there is no energy left for sitting down and composing.

Over the past few weeks, I have been fighting a cold. (not so successfully)

It feels like I'm always sick these days. It takes me almost a month to get rid of the common cold. And by the time I'm healthy, another cold seems to be right around the corner.

It's frustrating.

But I am still dilligent about attending simchas. This past month has been super busy. There was the wedding of Moshe's cousin (which I hope to post about), and Moshe's sister's son's Bar Mitzvah (did you follow that?), and the Bat Mitzvah of E (Y's & S's daughter). And we have at least three more smachot in the coming week (a wedding and two more Bat Mitzvahs).

Thank God, there are a lot of good things going on.

This past week, I really did not feel so good. Besides the sleepiness that was weighing me down, I felt like I was in a fog. I couldn't think clearly and I barely had enough energy to get out of bed. For the first time I can remember, I taught one of my beginners classes from outside of the water. (they are advanced beginners, so they were fine, but it was not the way I usually teach) I just couldn't get in the water -- I was afraid of getting chilled.

Today, thank God, the fog finally lifted. I feel much better, even though my nose is running, I can't stop sneezing, I have pain in my ears from the pressure from my sinuses, and I have pain in my chest from pneumonitis (inflamation of the large airways) -- I never even heard of that last one before!

I finally succumbed, and went (again) to the doctor.

It was totally "gam zu l'tova" (all for the best). My doctor was a tzadik, and squeezed me in. Then, in addition to diagnosing me, he agreed to listen to my daughter's lungs. It turns out that I wasn't being paranoid about her cough -- she has a-typical pneumonia. She was home sick all last week (with a virus, but no pneumonia). Over Shabbat she seemed much better and today she went to school. But, still, now she has pneumonia.

The moral of the story: always trust your instincts!

Anyway, I got permission from my doctor to attend tomorrow's retreat for cancer patients, sponsored by Beit Natan. Beit Natan is another support network, for religious women with cancer. A friend of mine told me about the retreat and convinced me to try it. It's three days (Mon, Tues & Wed) -- away from everything.

I'll be back in time to attend my friends' wedding on Wednesday night!

So, for the next two or three nights, I won't be posting.

But don't worry.

I will be having fun!

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

With love and optimism,

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Highs and Lows

I've finally figured out my energy chart.

At the end of a cycle, after not having chemo for two weeks, my energy is at its peak -- let's say at 30.

Then, I start a new cycle.

Within 24 hours, my energy drops to about 15.

It stays down between 15 and 17, for a few days. Then, towards the end of the week, it rises to about 22.

Then I have another treatment, and my energy drops to about 7.

It stays down around 7 to 10 for a few days, then starts climbing up.

After about a week, it's up to 17.

A few days after that, it climbs to about 22.

Then, towards the end of that week, it continuously rises, until it hits 30 again.

Then.... repeat.

The first time my energy returned, I felt amazing! Then... depressed.

I was crushed by the thought of losing all my energy, again.

Now, I take comfort in the fact that there is a fairly predictable pattern.

Recently, I was driving home at night (something I often don't do, because I am usually too tired to drive). It was cold and, slowly, the windshield fogged up. I put on the defroster, and watched as my vision slowly became clearer.

It occured to me that that is an appropriate analogy for my energy.

After chemo, I feel like I am moving around in a fog. Everything is difficult (blurry). Then, as the effects of the treatments fade, my vision slowly returns and I amazed by the clarity and my ability to function.

Yesterday, when I was at my height of energy, I felt so great! I did a load of laundry, two loads of dishes, and a number of other small chores.

It might not sound like much, but it was tremendous for me!

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

With love and optimism,

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Homat Shmuel - Stand Up and Be Counted

I've been sick again for a while. Another common cold.
(Didn't we agree that cancer patients should be spared the common cold??)

This time, I knew the cold would hang around for a while -- weakened immune system, and all that. So I decided to spend the entire day in bed.

At 5:00, I called Moshe, to tell him that I was too sick to go to the demonstration (more about that below). Unfortunately, he informed me, he needed to work late and would have to miss the demonstration. OK, I answered, I guess we'll just have to miss this one.

But, as I headed back to bed, I just didn't feel right. For years, I dragged my kids to demonstrations around the country. Now, with the demonstration just outside my doorstep, I wouldn't go?

I found my thickest wool sweater. I dug out my ear-muffs and woolen gloves.

OK kids, I called, get dressed in warm clothes.

With my mother admonishing me in the background ("I don't think you should go"), I led everyone, including my mom, out the door.

Thank God.

There were about 2,000 people there, according to the news (so there were probably around twice that). People were continuously coming and going.

The demonstration:
Jerusalem is under attack. US President George W. Bush is arriving in Israel tomorrow. His government is calling on Israel to stop construction in Homat Shmuel (aka Har Homa), a relatively new neighborhood in the south-east corner of Jerusalem. Homat Shmuel is adjacent to Talpiot, Gilo, Ramat Rachel, and the Judean dessert. It is a mixed neighborhood, with religious and non-religious living side by side.

Homat Shmuel is also my home.

Moshe and I had always dreamed of making our home in a yishuv (Jewish settlement). But, after years of searching for the perfect yishuv, I couldn't bear the thought of leaving Jerusalem. I loved living in Yerushalayim, Ir HaKodesh (the Holy City of Jerusalem). My children went to school in the Old City -- they would run through the courtyards and scamper through the alleyways, as if the ancient city were their backyard. How could I leave? But housing prices were so expensive....

Then, we discovered Homat Shmuel, a new neighborhood, on paper, that was affordable to young couples with growing families. Nothing was built yet. It was perfect.

We could stay in Jerusalem and still participate in the building of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).

Homat Shmuel is five years old now. It is a thriving community and a wonderful example of religious and secular Jews living and working together. There are two excellent schools, a community center, parks, restaurants (good ones!), exercise clubs (to work off the good food), etc. It is an integral part of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

I thought the demonstration would be small, especially because tonight was cold and rainy. I expected mostly local residents would care to come out. I was wrong. Demonstrators came from all over the country.

I haven't gone to a demonstration in a long time. I have been so tired, fighting my own personal battle. But I miss it.

I miss being with a large group of people who care so much about the land of Israel, that they will stand for hours, in the cold and mud. I love reading signs that express what I feel in my heart. (The best one tonight read: We want to build homes for our children, not launch pads for katyushot). I love Women in Green, who were the main organizers of tonight's event, and who never tire of saying what needs to be said. I love being a part of all that.

I love being with people who are ORANGE.


I am so caught up in the world of cancer, that I often don't have the strength to deal with what is happening to our country. I often can't bear to listen to the news because it makes me depressed and I need to keep my mood up. But I am not oblivious to what is going on around me. And my heart is breaking at what the Israeli government is doing to our country.

I am so proud to go with my children, to stand up and be counted. To say to the US and Israeli governments that Jerusalem, and all of Israel, belongs to the Jewish people. No one has the right to give it away.

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

With love and optimism,

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Shabbat Shalom

A friend, LA, recently asked me what I mean/understand when I say/hear Shabbat Shalom.

I was confused by the question. I had never thought that much about it. It is simply a salutation, like "hello" or "goodbye".

Another friend, GA, starts saying Shabbat Shalom early in the week. When questioned about it, he explains that we are awaiting Shabbat all week long. Though he gets curious looks, he cheerily continues to wish all a Shabbat Shalom.

I always liked this idea, that, from the outset, our week is centered around Shabbat.

I will often wish someone a "Shabbat Shalom" as early as Wednesday (occasionally even earlier) if I think I won't see them again before Shabbat. I get some of the same strange looks as GA, but I don't mind.

All week, I look forward to Shabbat.

On Shabbat, everything slows down and I get to spend real time with my family. We have proper meals, all together, with good conversations. No phone interuptions, no computer distractions, no outside obligations. Just good, quality family time.

And something extra.

Something deeper.

LA wondered if, as a religious person, I mean something more meaningful when I say "Shabbat Shalom."

On the surface, I certainly don't.

But maybe my friend is intuiting something that I am missing.

I would love for everyone to experience the magic of Shabbat that I experience. Of course, everyone experiences that magic in their own way. But the unique beauty of Shabbat, that elusive magical element, that is a gift. And I would love for others to have that gift.

And maybe that is the meaning of "Shabbat Shalom" -- that we are wishing each other that magical gift of Shabbat.

On the other hand, I think it's great that we don't think about it too much. If it was identified as a religious greeting, perhaps non-religious people would take offense. In this country, where everyone is hypersensitive about religious coersion, anything can happen. So, I'm quite happy that everyone says Shabbat Shalom to each other as a matter of course.

Still, there is an element to Shabbat that makes it more than just a "day off".

Shabbat is more than just a "Sunday".

There is a mystical element that pervades the day. It is tangible, even as it is unidentifiable. And it disappears when Shabbat is over.

This motza"sh (Saturday night), as we were eating supper, A asked if there was soup left over from Shabbat. There was, and everyone wanted some. "It was really delicious," Y commented, then added "but it won't taste as good as before". I asked her "why?" She answered "Because it won't have the special taste of Shabbat".

That's it then, isn't it?

That's what we mean when we say "Shabbat Shalom".

We wish each other "that special taste of Shabbat."

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

With love and optimism,

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Mikado

The first play/show that I ever remember seeing was the Mikado.

I was a little girl.

And I loved it.

So, five years ago, when I heard that the Mikado was being performed in Jerusalem, I jumped at the chance to take my kids.

Unfortunately, I jumped too late. The show was sold out, weeks before the first performance.

Luckily, there was such demand, that they decided to perform an extra show on Lag Ba'Omer (a holiday, 33 days after Pesach). Thankfully, I got tickets to that.

In fact, thus began my "Jerusalem Tickets" project (creating a group for cheaper tickets to shows and plays). A friend, for whom I was getting tickets as well, turned to me and said: "hey, with your kids and my kids, I wonder if we could get a group price." It turned out that we were just a few people short. I figured that it wouldn't be hard to find another friend or two to join our "group." One thing led to another, and now we have a huge group and get discounts to all sorts of performances. (If you want to join us, just let me know)

Anyway, we got to see the Mikado and my kids loved the show.

Classic MD story:
During the performance, when Nanki-Poo deliberates revealing to Yum-Yum that he is the son of the Mikado, Nanki-Poo turns to the audience and asks "should I tell her?" Clearly, so that Nanki-Poo (and the entire audience) could hear, my beloved 6 year old son answered "yes!" The entire theater laughed at my adorable son, who didn't understand what was so funny. :-)

Well, we've been attending the Gilbert and Sullivan performances every year since then. And, though they don't always understand the subtext of the plots, my kids love every performance (and go around the house singing the songs they remember).

What fun!

When I heard that the Mikado was being performed again, I wasn't sure how excited the kids would be to see a show that they had seen before.

I was so thrilled when they all responded that they wanted to go.

In fact, Y insisted that we have to go -- since a good friend of hers is in the show.

We went this evening and it was a fun performance.

The creative director adapted several lines, to poke fun at our own Israeli culture. That certainly added to the fun and laughter.

Several times during the show, Y turned and whispered "I remember this part." What a pleasure!

How wonderful, to be able to impart to my children, not just the English language, but also English culture.

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

With love and optimism,

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Medical Update -- CT

CT results are good.

The tumors are stable.

It doesn't look like anything got smaller, but nothing got bigger either.

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

With love and optimism,

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Chemo Day, Parenting & TNL

Thanks to ABC (I'm not making this up, those are really her initials!) for joining me at the last moment and keeping me company! And thanks to JA who picked me up, drove me around, & took me home. You guys (gals) are great!

I'm beginning to get the hang of this chemo thing. Today is a "short" day. Only the "vanilla bean" chemo. But I now know that even a short day takes 2-3 hours. So I know that there is no way I'm leaving the hospital before 12:00. So I'm not disappointed.

And I did get my massage today (yay!), from the same woman (also a swimming instructor!) who gave me such an amazing massage the last time (2 weeks ago), only this time it wasn't as penetrating. (how's that for a run-on sentance!?) I'm not sure what she did differently. Still, it was a nice massage. And I felt better than I did before. I am forever in search of relief from all the tension in my shoulders!

Today, a friend of mine (who is also a Young, Religious, Anglo Cancer Patient) -- there aren't so many of us, thank God), was there too. I really enjoy spending time with her. I'm trying to convince her to change her chemo day to Tuesdays.....

Anyway, it was really nice (in that wierd, surrealistic, cancer-ward way) to be hanging out together.

Want to know how small this world is? One of the wonderful massage volunteers, who usually gives me a massage, is also ABC's son's ganenet (kindergarden teacher). And ABC also has three different connection to my fellow YRACP friend. How "Jewish Geography" is that?

[I just noticed that if you rearrange the letters in YRACP, they spell: CRAPY -- which pretty much sums up the cancer situation, albeit a bit crudely. Sorry about that. The letters just jumped out at me! What can I say? I've loved solving anagrams since I was a kid.]


Anyway, I got home and went straight to bed. (did I mention that I have a cold, again!)

I slept for 2 1/2 hours! How great is that!? Slowly, slowly, I emerged from the depths of my slumber.....

I got up and did some things around the house. We (Moshe, my mom & I) had plans to go out to TNL (more on that below).

Moshe was already on his way home, to pick us up, when my mom told me that my son just asked her why it's taking so much longer for me to get better this time.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I went into MD's room, and sat down to talk with him. We talked about cancer in general (how bad cells "eat up" good cells) and our body's immune system (which he's learning about in school), and about the cancer I had before (DCIS), and about the cancer I have now (breast cancer that has spread to my bones, liver & lungs) .... and we talked about living with cancer. It was a really good conversation. Afterwards, he gave me a kiss and thanked me for explaining it to him.

Then he bounced off to work on a power-point presentation about the mishnah that he is learning. Life goes on..... (btw, he is doing an AMAZING job on this project. I am impressed with my son! He figured out how to do everything on his own.)

Then Moshe arrived, and we left. Despite the traffic, we actually made it on time to pick up our tickets and get great seats!

TNL is "Tuesday Night Live" -- a new initiative from Arutz Sheva Israel National TV and The Ohr Olam Center for Biblical Zionism. It's an English TV show, aired on the internet, celebrating Israel and Judaism.

I wasn't sure what exactly it would be, but it sounded like fun. And it was!

The hosts, Ari Abramowitz and Jeremy Gimpel, are two long-time friends, who have a good time together on stage, talking Torah, and Zionism, and Am Yisrael.

They asked for audience participation and I volunteered. I know what I wanted to say -- about why I made Aliyah, but I'm not quite sure that what came out was coherent. Oh well.

(maybe tomorrow I'll post about why I made Aliyah.....)

Meanwhile, they are taping every other week, tickets are free, and the evening is fun!

Bring a date!

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

With love and optimism,