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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Mifletzet (Monster)

Every summer, we go with friends to various parks around Jerusalem.

Parks are great for so many reasons. They are FREE, and FUN, and MANY different families can all come and PLAY TOGETHER. Also, the kids feel free to run off and play by themselves, leaving the moms free to sit around and chat!

We love finding "new parks," but we also have our "old favorites."

My friend, IS, is the primary motivator and coordinator.

Our favorite park is The Mifletzet in Kiryat Yovel, in southwest Jerusalem. (click here for an arial view).

That's where we went today.

Our get-togethers are open to anyone who wants to join us, but there are several families who are "regulars." IS, NA, CV and I, all spent years together, meeting for "playgroups" with our kids. In many ways, our park excursions are the natural extension of our playgroups. The kids still get to play, and the moms still get to talk.

I was happy to learn that we would all be there, though it took a while for everyone to arrive. As usual, we talked about many interesting topics. (Thanks IS, for stimulating our discussions with your thoughtful questions!)

Y was the last to arrive, coming by bus from her course in French Hill (northeast Jersusalem). Due to a few mixups, she took 3 buses and still ended up in the wrong place!

She was not far away, but by bus it could take another 30-45 minutes. I felt so bad for her, and a bit frustrated, but I was too tired to pick her up. My friend, NA, just shrugged her shoulders, noting calmly "that's how they learn to get around." I wish that would be my first reaction!

NA offered to go pick Y up, and I was so grateful and relieved. I called Y to tell her; Y's first response was "if it's not too much trouble." I was so proud of her. I knew she was frustrated about the amount of time she already spent on those THREE buses, and yet she did not want to inconvenience someone else. (it makes a mommy proud)

Once Y arrived, she immediately disappeared with IS's and NA's daughters. The younger siblings were already out and about, sliding, climbing, and building sand castles.

IS had arrived early enough to claim a bench right across from the slides, so we had primary visual access to our children. And a short, stone wall just opposite us, so the kids could sit and hang out with us whenever they wanted.

At one point, A was building sand castles with RV, who is several years younger. CV asked me if I thought A was just being nice to RV. I looked over at my youngest daughter, and noticed how happily she was playing. Clearly, she was not concerned about the age difference.

As we were about to leave the park, the girls suddenly jumped up and went down the slides all together. It was a pleasure to see Y and the other older girls playing and laughing freely.

My son finally reappeared, with the other older boys, when it was time to go. MD is at his best, when he is outdoors, and can run and climb. He has always been my little "nature boy;" though he is not so little anymore.

We all had a wonderful time.

I had really pushed myself to get out of the house this afternoon. I was so tired.

It was so worth it!

Parks bring out the best in us all!

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

With love and optimism,

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Gift of Time

"I am not going to stay in the hotel tomorrow night." said my friend, last Monday, "The room is paid for; it's a shame for it to go to waste. Maybe you know someone who would like to use it..."

I would have loved stay in the hotel... on a different day. But not Tuesday night, after a long chemo day.

Later, I thought about it some more. A free night in a hotel. An offer like that does not come my way every day.

I called my friend.

"I'll use the hotel room!" I said.

"Great!" she answered, laughing. (She is always laughing!)

"I think I'll take one of my kids," I said, thinking aloud.

Ideally, I would have loved to go away with Moshe, even for just one night. But, logistically, it would not work.

Since I had just spent significant "quality time" with A, my youngest (after we went to Kever Rachel, I took her out to lunch and we had a wonderful time together), I decided to go to the hotel with Y, my sweet, eldest daughter, who has suddenly become the quintessential teenager.

It was so good for us to go away together!

After dinner, we unpacked our things and got ready for bed. Then we had a slumber party! We watched silly things on TV, ate melon and cake, and talked. I even braided Y's hair.

We did not talk about anything serious. We joked about this and that, made comments about the TV shows, and laughed.

At one point, Y said something about the cancer. I responded seriously, and Y looked at me, the way only teenage girls look at their mothers, and said "I was kidding!" (subtext: "gee mom, don't you know anything??")

I laughed, relieved that she was joking, and relieved that she had made a joke about the cancer. It's not a big deal. It's just another "thing" for us to joke about. Next...

Before we knew it, it was past midnight. We were both tired, happy, and ready for bed.

I called Moshe to say good-night. A was sleeping over at a friend's, so Moshe and MD had some "quality time" of their own. They had gone out to a movie and had a great time. Everyone had a special experience that night. I went to sleep feeling tranquil and at peace.

In the morning, Y and I woke up early, so that we could eat breakfast together. I love hotel breakfasts!

Our morning was relaxed, and easy going. Breakfast was refreshing and tasty.

Soon enough, it was time to go.

I drove Y to her course, and headed off to my retreat.

Seamlessly, we returned to our busy lives.

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

With love and optimism,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Giving and Receiving

Our support group seems to have dwinded.... but, not exactly. Each meeting, only 5-6 women attend; however, each time it is different women. We seem to be fluctuate between 10 "regulars." (2 women seem to have dropped out).


The subject of this week's support group, "Giving and Receiving," could not have been more aptly timed. (to understand why, read my previous post)

"Which is more difficult," asked our group's facilitator, "and why?"

We give from a place of strenth; we are empowered by giving.

We receive from a place of weakness; receiving makes us feel "needy."

We prefer to be "givers" rather than "takers."

We have strong egos. We cling to our self-image of being "hakol yachol" (able to do anything).

Accepting help means accepting our inability to do that which we did before. We do not want to accept our limitations. So we resist.

We know:
* it takes strength to accept help
* we would be happy to help, so we should be happy to accept help
* we are giving other people the opporunity to do mitzvot (good deeds)
* by accepting their help, we are allowing the people who care about us to feel involved and useful

We also know that we really do need help.

We know all these things to be true. Yet, asking for help is one of the hardest things for us to do.

We are learning.

I am learning.

I have learned to keep lists. If someone offers to help me, I write it down. If I don't, I will forget who offered.

If I am out and about, I probably don't need help at that moment. But I will need help another time and it is easier to call someone who has already offered to help.

If someone offers a particular kind of help, I write that down too. Not everyone is willing to go shopping, pick up my kids, do my laundry, or help me clean my house... but some people are.

I am learning to be gracious. When someone helps me, whether solicited or not, I say "Thank you."

Rather than throwing out some sort of deprecating comment (choose any of the following: 1. "you shouldn't have...", 2. "it wasn't necessary..." 3. "we don't really need it..."), I express my appreciation: "Thank you for thinking of us", "That was helpful/thoughtful/kind," "I really appreciate your efforts."

Slowly, very slowly, I am learning not only to accept help, but also to ask for the help I need.

I am learning to say "Thank you. We don't really need 'that', but 'this' would be very helpful."

It's a process.

After I was diagnosed last summer, Moshe turned to me and said decisively: "You need to squelch your natural inclination and, every time someone offers to help, just say 'yes'!"

Who would have thought that saying "yes" could be so difficult?

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

With love and optimism,

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beit Natan Summer "Retreat" -- Part II

(Click here to read Part I)

I chose the afternoon session called "Etgarim" (challenges). I did not know what to expect, but it sounded like fun. Little did I know....

We drove in shifts to Ya'ar Yerushalayim (the Jerusalem Forest), where there were three madrichot (guides) waiting for us. They would be leading the session with J, one of the psychologists from Beit Natan (she gave an excellent lecture at the winter retreat).

As we waited for the rest of our group to arrive, I asked D, one of the madrichot, about Etgarim. Etgarim began as an organization to provide physical challenges for necheh Tzahal (wounded soldiers). Over time, it expanded and now offers challenges for all sorts of groups, including youth at risk, other groups with disabilities, etc. I discovered that D also had a disability -- she was deaf (she spoke so clearly, that I hadn't noticed).

When everyone arrived, we introduced ourselves. We began our first challenge by forming a human knot and working together to untangle the knot. It was challenging.... and fun!

Afterwards, J gave each of us a slip of paper and instructed us to write down one or two of our dreams; something that we would like to see in the future, that would be a turning point in our lives.

Then, we walked over to the main challenge: O.D.T. ("Out Door Training). The madrichot had prepared a "rope bridge" -- two rows of rope, strung across four trees. With our feet on the bottom rope (approximately 1 meter above the ground), and our hands on the top rope, we would walk from one end of the bridge to the other (with safety equipment, of course).

I knew it could not possibly be as easy as it looked when the madricha (guide) demonstrated how to do it. Nonetheless, I volunteered to go first. The longer I waited, the scarier it would be for me.

There were three stages of the bridge. At the end of the first section, hung a bottle into which we would deposit the notes with our dreams. We could choose to complete just the first section, or to complete all three stages. I was determined to complete all three stages.

I started all right, using my good leg to lift myself onto the ropes. As I pulled myself along, I felt the bottom rope shaking. I started laughing. L was there, and as I inched along, with the bottom rope shaking all the while, the two of us kept laughing. I felt myself falling backwards; I could not seem to find my balance and stand up straight.

I calmed myself and looked to D for guidance. D advised me to brace my legs. But with my bad hip, I could not lock my knees. When I tried, the stress on my hip was too painful.

I fought to hold back tears. I have always thought of myself as a strong woman, capable of anything. Suddenly, I could not ignore the fact that I had a physical limitation.

I looked D in the eyes, and quietly said "ani mugbelet" -- I meant to say "I am limited", but the Hebrew words also mean "I am handicapped." As I gave voice to the words, I was struck by the second meaning. I suddenly came face to face with a truth I had been desperately avoiding.

I tried with all my strength to complete the first stage, but it was too difficult to hold myself on the ropes. I let myself down, literally and figuratively.

I did not even reach the end of the first stage, to put my note in the bottle.

I could not do it.

I stepped aside and endeavored to compose myself.

J came over and asked if I would like to try again, with her on the ropes with me. Apparently, it would be easier with someone else leading. I said yes.

After watching two or three women complete the task, I was ready to try again.

J went up first; then I lifted myself onto the ropes, again. J wanted to help me with the safety ropes, but I was capable of handling them by myself. Still, I needed more help to stand up securely. Y, one of the other madrichot, balanced the ropes from the other side.

This time, I completed the first stage, and was ready to go on.

Towards the end of the second stage, I seemed to be handling myself much better. Y suggested that I complete the rest of the second and third stages by myself. I agreed.

Almost as soon as Y sailed away down the ropes, I felt my balance shifting. I could not hold myself steady without her assistance. I called Y back. With Y's help, I could do it.

At the end, as I climbed down from the rope bridge, I felt good that I had traveled the entire bridge. But I wanted to do it by myself.

When everyone had completed her turn, those women who wanted, could cross the first stage of the bridge a second time.

I really wanted to cross the bridge myself.

I pulled myself up onto the ropes.

I tried to hold myself steady, to find my balance.

I could not do it. I needed help.

Once again, I turned to Y for help.

With her assistance, I was able to cross the bridge confidently.


I was the only member of our group who needed that kind of assistance.

I was also one of the youngest members of our group.

I was also the only member of our group with metastasis (as far as I know).

I was also the only member of our group with a physical limitation (with the exception of an older woman, who did not even attempt to cross the bridge).


As I mulled over my experience, I had an epiphany.

I need not feel embarrassed about needing help. I should be proud that I was able to recognize my limitations and to get the assistance I needed.

Asking for help did not mean that I failed. Rather, my ability to seek the help I needed meant that I succeeded.

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

With love and optimism,

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Randy Pausch (October 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008)

I wanted to post about Randy Pausch months ago -- but I could not figure out how to include the UTube video.... so I waited....

Like so many others, I loved his "Last Lecture."

I became a groupie -- I watched every video clip I could find. I watched the Last Lecture several times. I watched his lecture on Time Management (I really need help with that one!). I watched everything. (you can find most of his wisdom here)

And I checked his personal update site every few days.

I followed his battle with pancreatic cancer, and I was inspired.

Just yesterday (Friday), I was talking about him with Moshe. We were encouraged by the fact that he's still alive, and might even see himself when the new Star Trek movie comes out. A few hours later, his name came up again, when Moshe cited his opinion about encyclopedias and Wikipedia.

Randy Pausch passed away on Friday morning.

I can't believe that he's dead.

I am so sad.

Randy is survivd by his wife, Jai, and their three children, Dylan (6), Logan (4), and Chloe (2).

May his memory be a blessing.

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

With love and optimism,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beit Natan Summer "Retreat" -- Part I

I did not have to be persuaded to attend this time.

After such a strong and positive experience at Beit Natan's two day winter retreat (read about it here and here), I was thrilled to attend a one day event in Jerusalem!

I was delighted to see T, my "roommate" from the winter retreat, who came in from Petach Tikvah. She is an amazing woman. She has been living with a brain tumor for over 20 years! (I find that very encouraging)

As we entered the conference hall, we received a small bottle of "bubbles."

Haya Heller, who founded Beit Natan, greeted us. She is a very impressive woman; a psychologist by profession, she is also living with her own challenges (MS). Haya concluded her opening remarks by inviting us to let out our "inner child." Slowly, women of all ages rose from their chairs, and filled the room with the magical soap bubbles.

I did not expect to learn anything new from the first lecture, about nutriciton. I was pleasantly surprised to find the lecture both interesting and informative. Though the theory was inspiring, the practical application was... well, impractical. Healthy eating demands food preparation. Spending a significant amount of time in the kitchen has never been "my thing."


Next on the program, we had a choice of 4 sessions. Originally, three of the sessions were divided by topic and stage of cancer, and the fourth session was in English. I chose to attend the session for women with advanced cancer. Unfortunately, in the end, none of the sessions were determined by stage. Since the groups were random anyway, I decided to attend the group in English.

I was the only woman in that group (with the possible exception of one), with metastasis. During the introductions, three women shared that they were rejecting conventional treatment and choosing to treat their cancers solely with "alternative" methods -- I found that very disturbing. I do not dismiss the benefits of "complimentary" medicine. But I cannot fathom how someone can choose a path that is likely to lead to metastatis.

The session was lead by a "narrative therapist", who invited us to interview cancer. The fascilitator and another participant played the the roles of cancer cells. I watched as the women asked: What do you want from us? Who are your parents? How can we get rid of you?

As the "cancer cells" answered these questions, I felt increasingly alienated. I do not relate to the approach that "cancer is caused by worry and stress" or "cancer is a gift." At the root of these attitudes is the idea that we can control cancer, that if we can learn what we need to learn from it, then the cancer will go away, or not come back. Not only did I feel the session was a waste of my time, it was actually disturbing me.

I decided leave and find a different session.

I joined the session "Speaking with Ourselves and Our Loved Ones", led by the facilitator of my support group. The women were talking about communication, and the difficulties in talking about cancer, with our kids, husbands, and friends. It occurred to me that I can easily talk about the technical side of cancer (test results, treatment plans, etc), but that it is far more difficult to talk about the emotional issues (having cancer forever, being a mother with cancer, fears of dying, etc).

Towards the end of the session, we were asked to write a letter, to ourselves or a loved one. I knew right away that I needed to write to Moshe, and that I would share the letter with him. I want so much to find a way to talk about the emotional issues without being swallowed up by them.

When the session ended, I felt strong. I knew that I needed to talk with Moshe, and that I would find the courage to raise some of these issues.

(Click here to read Part II)

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

With love and optimism,

Monday, July 21, 2008

Kever Rachel (Rachel's Tomb)

כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, קוֹל בְּרָמָה נִשְׁמָע נְהִי בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִים
רָחֵל, מְבַכָּה עַל-בָּנֶיהָ; מֵאֲנָה לְהִנָּחֵם עַל-בָּנֶיהָ, כִּי אֵינֶנּוּ

So God said: A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation, and bitter weeping;
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are absent. (Jeremiah 31:14)

For years now, I have wanted to visit Kever Rachel.

A few years ago, "they" built this big new complex.

I was curious how it looks.

I remember Kever Rachel as a small, rather run-down, old building. I was there almost 25 years ago (when I first came to Israel). Back then, visiting Kever Rachel was an educational experience, not a political statement.

I am not big on davening (praying) at k'varot (gravesites). I do not need some dead person to act as my "intermediary", even if he/she was a really important person when he/she was a living person. (Except for my grandmother, who I believe is up in heaven, looking over me and making a lot of noise on my behalf!)

Moreover, I know that historically, it is unlikely that Kever Rachel is really Kever Rachel. (Though the tradition of that location probably dates back to the time of the Crusaders).

Nevertheless, do not try and take it away from me and my people!

As soon as it became difficult to go to Kever Rachel, it became important to davka go to Kever Rachel. But getting there is not so easy anymore. You can no longer just hop in your car and go.

Again, my friend MG, who is visiting from the US, wanted to go. So, I decided to go with her.

I could not take MD with me, 'cause he is a Cohen. But I did take A.

A few minutes after boarding the bus, we passed through a checkpoint and entered a concrete corridor. A minute later, the bus stopped opposite the entrance of a large building with a façade of Jerusalem stone. Across the street, a flowered traffic circle, and an empty parking lot, beckoned for cars that no longer come.

We entered the complex. Our footsteps echoed along the marble hallway.

There inner room was crowded; there was no where to sit. A did not feel like reciting Tehillim (Psalms) or her morning prayers. Instead, she said a short personal prayer. Then we went and sat in the larger, outer room.

"Are you always going to have cancer?" my sweet and innocent 10 year old asked quietly, as soon as we sat down.

We spoke about God and miracles.

We also spoke about living with cancer.

My heart felt like it was breaking.

I could not protect my little girl from the pain and sorrow, even though I was trying so hard.

I felt grateful that she felt comfortable asking the question. She is so acquiescing, so accepting. Yet, clearly, she is also sad and hurting.

Then, just as suddenly, A started talking about something else. I was a little surprised at how quickly she changed topics. But she was done, and moving on. So, I did too (at least on the outside).

A few minutes later, A went to get some water, and I went inside the inner room and recited some Tehillim. She joined me for a few minutes. When MG finished davening, we all left to catch the next bus.

For those who are interested: There is a subsidized bus (Egged #163), that runs along Derech Hevron. The round trip costs only 7.50 NIS, from anywhere along the line.

On the way home, MG explained the significance of Kever Rachel to A.

"Rachel," she explained, "is the spiritual mother of the Jewish people. Rachel suffered her entire life. Rachel grew up among idol worshipers; she delayed marrying her love, so that her elder sister could marry first; she died in childbirth, after her second son was born; she never lived to see her children grow up. Because of her suffering, Rachel's prayers are powerful. We hope that by praying at her tomb, our prayers will join hers. We hope that God will pay special attention to our prayers, because we are praying together with Rachel Imeinu (Rachel, our mother)."

We were on a bus full of religious people, mostly women, many of whom regularly pray at Kever Rachel. No demonstrations. No slogans. Just simple religious people on a spiritual quest. The passengers spoke in hushed tones, as though still within the prayer halls.

We left behind the large, beautiful complex, with marble halls and a façade of Jerusalem stone. The bus lumbered through the silent corridor, lined with towering concrete walls.

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

With love and optimism,

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Support Group -- MASKS

"Well we all have a face that we hide away forever,
and we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone.
Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk, & some are leather.
They're the faces of the stranger, but we love to try them on"
-- Billy Joel, The Stranger

That Sunday, June 22nd, we made masks.

It was our third or fourth meeting, and only five women came: L, T, P, ? and me.

Despite the small group, or perhaps because of it, the atmosphere was conducive to intimate conversation.

It's funny; by making virtual masks, we revealed what lies behind our very real, albeit invisible, masks.

The facilitator brought markers, and feathers, string, and... sparkly pipe-cleaners.

I immediately chose a few sparkly pipe-cleaners and quickly cut them to size/shape: sparkly gold pipe-cleaners to line my eyes, and form my eyebrows; sparkly red pipe-cleaners to form round circles, for my cheeks. Then I lined the opening for my eyes with translucent green cellophane. I attached t'chelet (periwinkle blue) string to either side, to tie the mask over my eyes.

What does my mask mean? It's simple.

The pipe-cleaners represent my energy, and joy. They are the dominant features, and I want my mask to reflect that. The green cellophane represents the thin, almost invisible, layer that hides my eyes, so you can't look too deep, and see the pain that is within. The t'chelet strings represent the tears, that sometimes escape, despite the smiling veneer.

I wear my mask, so people smile when they see me.

I wear my mask, so people talk to me with joy.

I wear my mask, so people treat me like I'm going to live forever.

I wear my mask, because I like the way it looks on me.

I wear my mask, because that's what I want to see when I look in the mirror!

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

With love and optimism,

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How A Technophobe Became a Blogger....

What was I supposed to do?

I was supposed to be done with cancer!

Instead, the cancer was back and had mysteriously spread from my no-longer-existing breast to my bones, liver and lungs.

Suddenly everyone wanted to know how I am doing.

I could barely cope with the news. Every time I talked about it, I started crying.

I could not make a million phone calls. I did not have time to send either personal or group emails.

I had three young children and I did not know how I was going to get through the next twenty four hours. (That panic persisted for weeks!)

Still, I did not want to blow off my family and friends.

A friend suggested I use a blogging site for people dealing with health issues. It made sense, but I did not want my identity to be defined by illness. So.... I found a user friendly, "normal" blogging site, and, despite my latent technophobia, decided to jump right in and start blogging.... I just needed to choose a blog name...

Wow, that was almost as hard as choosing names for my kids!
(Did I mention that my first child had no name for over two weeks?!!)

Late one Saturday night, my husband and I were hanging out with a serious blogger friend (Jameel) and his wife (Jameela). For over an hour, we brainstormed about a name for my blog. We came up with.... nothing. (worse than nothing -- we had a list of really lame names). At midnight, we called it quits.

As we were leaving, I mentioned to Jameela that I was making "coffee and chemo" dates with friends.

"That's it!!" shouted Jameel, "that's the name of your blog!!"

And so it is....

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

With love and optimism,

(Cross posted here)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Kotel, Har HaBayit & Ma'ale HaZeitim

A good friend of mine, MG, arrived in Israel Wednesday night.

My sister called me on her way home from the pool, with my two younger kids. When I told her that MG was at my home, my sister scrapped her plans to take my kids out to pizza. Instead, she picked up extra pizzas and joined us for supper!

We hung out for a while, then my sister went home. MG wanted to go to the Kotel (Western Wall).

"Now?" I asked, hoping we could just hang out at home.

I am not such a big Kotel person. Jews started praying at the Kotel because non-Jews ruled the land of Israel and forbid Jews going up to pray on Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount). The Kotel is not inherently holy; rather, it became our spiritual destination because it was the closest we could get to our holy site, Har HaBayit. Now that Jews rule the land of Israel, we should return to praying on Har Habayit.

Ideology aside, my friend really wanted to go to the Kotel... now. So, I abandoned all hope of going to sleep early, and took her to the Old City.

It was 11:30 at night, and there was no traffic. As we drove into the Old City, I turned to my friend and said "You know, with my "handicapped parking" sticker, I think we can drive right in and park next to the Kotel." If I was wrong, at that hour, it would be quick to drive around the Old City again. "Let's try it," I said with a grin.

It worked.

We parked in the plaza. It was pretty cool.

My friend went up and davened (prayed) next to the Wall. I hung back and thought about... things (Har HaBayit, politics, my family, my health....). Eventually, I picked up a Sefer Tehillim (Book of Psalms) and recited the first few psalms.

Afterwards, my friend mentioned that she has a good friend that lives just outside of the walls, to the left....

"Oh," I responded, "I drive home that way all the time."

My friend thought I must not have understood correctly, since left is towards "East Jerusalem" (where mostly Arabs live) and right is towards "West Jerusalem" (where mostly Jews live). But, when there is a lot of traffic, I often cut thru Ir David (Silwan), and Abu Tor, to get home quicker.

It turns out that her friend lives even further to the left, on Har HaZeitim (the Mount of Olives), in a relatively new neighborhood called Ma'ale HaZeitim. When the neighborhood was founded, apartments were really cheap. Today, people are lining up to buy apartments there! (you can still rent for cheap, but if you want to own a place, you better start saving!)

It was almost midnight, but we decided to go visit. I had never been there and I was curious.

MG's friend MW was so cool!! We had a great time!!

At one point, MG's kids called to talk and MG was just chatting away. I felt a little anxious, because I needed to get home and bake a cake for my youngest daughter's birthday party!

No problem! MW suggested we put together the dry ingredients at her place; then I could just "shake and bake" at home! (referring to a commercial product from our childhood)

As you know, I'm not a big baker. I bake three times a year. (my husband does not even get a cake for his birthday!). But this was fun!

It was 1:00 in the morning, and I was baking with someone I just met, in a really cool Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem!

Just before we left, I went outside, onto the front porch/entrance of the building. We were literally meters away from the Jewish cemetery. Suddenly, a thought struck me: Can cohanim (who are prohibited from entering a cemetery) visit here? Turns out, this is not a simple question and there are different opinions. (I'll have to look into this further)

MW explained a bit of the history of the land. It was purchased as agricultural lands by Chabad, during the time of the Ottoman Empire. The Jews of Jerusalem used the fields to plant wheat for shmura matzas for Pesach. In 1948, the lands were confiscated by the King of Jordan and the fields lay dormant. In 1967, when East Jerusalem was recaptured by Israel, the lands were returned to their lawful owners. Irving Moskowitz purchased the lands and is developing the new neighborhood.

I was interested in hearing more, but it was late, and we were all tired.

As MG and I drove back home, I could not help but be amazed at how close these people were living to Har HaBayit.

What a zchut (privilege)!

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

With love and optimism,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat)

So, a week has passed. I no longer feel the intense pressure (like a watermellon is trying to exit my head, via my ear). However, I still have pain, ringing and the sensation that my ear is "clogged."

I almost went the ENT clinic yesterday (Tuesday), since my ear was hurting a lot, but I decided to stick it out one more day.

Today (Wednesday), the ENT doctor said my ear looks better. He noted that, though the process is slow, there is improvement.

So, I get to...... "come back next week."

Meanwhile, I am done with the oral antibiotics and back to the antibiotic ear drops.

The hole in my eardrum is closed, much to my relief! (I suspect it closed last Thursday)

Doctors do not treat it as such a big deal, even if the hole does not close. The only thing it changes is you are not allowed to SCUBA dive. Now, it is true that I do not SCUBA dive.... yet. But that is one of the things on my "things I want to do" list....

And, since I am pouting, I will just say that this was supposed to be my week off!

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

With love and optimism,

Monday, July 14, 2008

"If Your Head Was Not Attached to Your Neck...."

"If your head was not attached to your neck," my mother would admonish me, "you would forget that too."

As a kid, I resented it. As an adult, I reluctantly admit it is true.

This morning, I did not feel well. I wanted to nap, but there was too much to do. I was busy with a thousand things when I realized that I had to get going or I would be late to the pool. I arrived, just minutes before my first class, and got a parking space right in front of the entrance (the first good thing that happened today). As I removed my keys from the ignition, I looked to my right and noticed... my pool bag was not there.

No pool bag = no swim suit = no lessons.

I had no choice; I had to go back home to get my pool bag.

I sent A into the pool, to tell my student. Then I pulled out of my perfect parking space, knowing that it would not be there when I returned.

I was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!

What could I do? I called my sister.

Thank God for sisters!

She was having a pretty bad day too. But, after hearing about mine, she said "you win!" At least I made her smile (and maybe even feel better)!

My sister is a really good listener. She always knows just what to say!

I am a fixer. My sister is a listener. (You can't always fix things, but you can always listen. I can learn a lot from my sister.)

My sister listens... empathizes... and, when appropriate, laughs.

I felt much better when I got off the phone.

Alas, my day's mishaps were not yet over.

On the way home from the pool, I phoned my son at his friend's home, and instructed him to meet me on the corner.

A few minutes later, as I am driving down Derech Hevron, my daughter asked "why didn't you pick up MD?"

I could not believe that I forgot to pick him up!

My mother's words rang in my ears.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I think I lost my head in Australia.

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

With love and optimism,

Support Group & Simchas

It is hard for me to choose.... So I try to do everything!!

I am always trying to "dance at two weddings" -- thought they are not always weddings!

Monday night, I had my support group meeting at 6:00, in Bayit Vegan (not far from Sha'are Zedek) and a Bar Mitzvah at 7:00, at Shulchan David, on Mount Zion, next to the Old City.

I missed the last meeting of my support group, because of my terrible ear infection (which still hurts, but is improving.... SLOWLY). So, I really did not want to miss it again.

Even though I was running late (surprise), I arrived with the intention of leaving after an hour.

The group was small, but good: L, MC, E, Y, C and Me.

The topic of this meeting was “control.”

Both L and C had gotten some bad news that day, so we also dealt with some of the more difficult aspects of not being in control of our lives.

L and her husband were about to go on a 10 day vacation together. That morning, her doctor told her to cancel her vacation because she needs a small surgery, due to a new problem in her kidneys.

C also just found out that morning that her chemo isn’t working and the cancer is growing, significantly.

Apparently, chemo has not been effective recently for both L & E, and they are also anxiously awaiting news about what treatment to start next.

Y seems to be in constant pain as well.

The meeting was a bit hard, content wise, but it was also important, content wise.

I have a hard time coping with my illness, and especially with the lack of control over my life.

I am, B”H (Thank God), still in the beginning of my battle. My drugs seem to be working. My cancer seems to be stable. We have had a few scares, but, hopefully, the drugs I’m taking will work for several years, and I can stave off the anguish for now.

The rollercoaster is hard. The lack of control is really hard.

The fact that things probably will not get easier with time, is also hard.

Both E and MC emphasized their belief that we need to focus on living in the moment and enjoying all the brachot (blessings) that we have now.

I think it’s important to allow ourselves the space to be depressed. My approach is to limit my depression to a day or two (though sometimes it sneaks past the deadline), then to gather up my strength and focus on the positive. What else can we do?

I do think it is important to give ourselves the permission to cry and feel sad. Because, let’s face it, cancer is hard! (and scary)

The women in my group are really strong. They are all determined to enjoy life and make the best of a difficult situation. Nonetheless, it is good to have a place where we do not need to be strong all the time.

I did not want to leave the discussion in the middle. So, I stayed almost until the end. Then I rushed off to the Bar Mitzvah.

I arrived, anxious and out of breath, hoping that I would not miss the speeches (Yes, I actually really look forward to them!). Imagine my relief when I walked in and realized that everyone was still in the reception! (I even got to eat some of the delicious reception food)

What a fun Bar Mitzvah!! My friend AK, the mother of the Bar Mitzvah, danced so much! After the meal, she grabbed me to come and dance more!!

I love dancing!! Of course, I am limited, and dance a little like an old lady. I can't jump, hop or twist my hips too much. But I do what I can!!

At one point, I realized we were not enough women to create a sustainable circle. So I went from table to table, announcing: "A wants to dance; we need more women; please come!" Within seconds, we reached "critical mass"! We danced with unbridled ruach (spirit)!

I sort of want to justify my boldness by pointing out that I knew most of the people at this simcha. But, let's be honest, even if I had not, I would have done it anway!

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

With love and optimism,

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shabbat in Hareisha

I couldn't plan anything.

"Come to us for Shabbat," my SIL invited, "You can let me know at the last minute."

That's the right kind of invitation for us!

We went and had a wonderful time! My in-laws were there too.

Hareisha is a very small yishuv, on the apex of a mountain. The kids are totally free there. As we drove up the mountain, we saw a wild boar. A few hundred meters later, we were on top of the mountain, where my nieces were eagerly awaiting our arrival.

The ran to greet us with kisses and hugs! From that moment, our kids were busy with cousins.

I love watching my kids play with their cousins!

I never had cousins, growing up. Both my parents are only children. No aunts. No uncles. No cousins.

I love being an aunt! And I love it that my kids have such wonderful aunts, uncles and cousins.

Family is everything to me!

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

With love and optimism,

Friday, July 11, 2008


Juggling Frogs wrote a wonderful comment on Mother in Israel's blog:

"You know how some homeschoolers work without a curriculum and call it "unschooling"? Well, we're not homeschoolers, but in the summer, our family engages in "uncamping". We bask in the lack of a schedule and float across time..."Juggling Frogs 07.07.08

I have not yet decided if I am a "homeschooler-wannabee" or just a "homeschooler-sympathizer". In either case, If I homeschooled, my kids would definitely be an "unschooled" -- which is why Moshe would never agree to it.

Thankfully, despite a rocky start with one of my kids, all three of my kids love school -- though they don't always admit it! They all love to learn; most of their teachers are excellent; and they have great kids in their classes. (Don't be fooled, I have my share of criticism of our school in particular, and the educational system in general! But, since we are sending to school, at least we have frameworks that work, overall, for our kids.)

That said, we all look forward to spending our summers together! Up until this year, we also basked in our free time. We slept late in the mornings, stayed out late at night, played with friends, and had a wonderful time.

When asked, the kids would tell their friends that they are in "Kaytanat Ima" (Mom's Summer Camp) -- we even made T-shirts, which we would wear on our outings. (Every summer, each kid would paint his/her own "Kaytanat Ima" shirt)

Last summer, I lost a lot of my summer running around to tests and doctor's appointments, and, eventually, chemotherapy (starting, Thursday, July 26).

Thankfully, my friends, especially IS, really helped make sure that my kids' summer vacation still included many fun activities.

Each year, we plan most of the summer with IS -- She is much more organized than I am, she has a daughter Y's age and a son MD's age, and ALL our kids play well together! (At the end of last summer, MD told me that he especially looked after TE, one of IS's young twins, as if TE were MD's little brother!)

So, it was natural (and more than generous) that IS volunteered to organize transportation and food so that my kids could continue to participate in all our usual fun activities (museums, parks, etc).

At one point, IS mentioned that the outings were different without me. I was sort of surprised. I knew that IS would miss my company (since we both look forward to hanging out and talking all day). But I did not think my kids would really notice my absence. After all, when I'm there, my kids practically ignore me while they play with their friends. It was nice to know that they missed me (in a bittersweet sort of way).

I am glad that I did not know then, that that would be our last free summer together.

This summer, my eldest daughter is busy almost all July. As I mentioned before, she went away the first week of summer vacation for four days and three nights, to a "madatzim" (young leaders) seminar. She came back Wednesday night, bursting with enthusiams and eager to share what she learned!

Next week, she begins a 13 day course to become a "madrichat ezer" (assistant teacher) for her gymnastics chug (class). Even though Y only started gymnastics this past year, she also volunteered as a "mitnassah" (teacher trainee) for the younger kids. She took her volunteer job very seriously, and almost never missed it! Her instructor was so impressed with Y (both by Y's personal improvement and by her commitment and skill as a "mitnassah"), that she strongly recommended that Y take this training course, even though Y is still relatively new to gymnastics and cannot do all the exercises for this level, yet. The training course is a serious and intense course, run by the municipality and the Wingate Institute.

MD also put in a special request this summer: he wanted to learn computer programming. We searched around and found a 2-week program, in the same building as Moshe works!

Only A chose to stay at home! I was so excited to have her to myself!!

Who knew that I would spend the entire week running to the hospital?! Thankfully, one of her good friends is also home, and they spent a lot of time together, including one spontaneous sleepover. At least we have next week together!

So, our family has gone from having all the time in the world, to having to schedule around Y's programs, MD's kaytanah (summer camp), my chemo, and, let's not forget, youth group activities! Y is now in "chagas" (chevraya gimel -- high school age group), which means that she has activities all the time, at all hours of the day and night.

It is a bit frustrating for IS, whose kids are still home and don't go to youth group, so she is still free as a bird! I am grateful that she is so flexible!

Meanwhile, I have mixed feelings.

I loved our summers of uncamping. I loved waking up each morning and deciding what we were going to do. I loved being able to stay out late, and not have to worry about waking up the kids in the morning. I loved being able to just pack up and go, whenever/wherever I wanted.

But I am also proud of the things that my children are choosing to do with their summers.

And I am proud of the independence that they are developing.

Of course, these mixed feeling can hit you in the gut. Like, when I asked Y if she would be joining us for certain activities, and she answered "Sure, if it fits into my schedule."

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

With love and optimism,

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Sound of Music

I took my family to see a local production of the Sound of Music tonight.

It was wonderful!

I love the music! And the performance was excellent (especially considering that it was amateur theater).

I must admit that, when I was a kid, I was not nearly as offended as I am today over the boy telling the girl "You need someone older and wiser telling you what to do...."

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

With love and optimism,

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sha'are Zedek Marathon (10 Days and counting...)


Saturday, June 28: The Ear Pain begins

Saturday night: Began using Ear Drops (Desoren)

Sunday, June 29: Went to GP, began antibiotics (Augmentin/Amoxicillin)

Sunday, June 29 - Monday, June 30: Pain so bad, I stay in bed

The Sha'are Zedek Marathon Begins:

Tuesdays, July 1, 6:00 am -- 8:30 pm: Sha'are Zedek:
1. Emergency Room/ENT clinic (excruciating Ear PAIN!!)
2. Oncology Day Ward: meet doctor, open port, take blood tests
3. ENT clinic: consult with senior physician (new ear drops)
4. Oncology Day Ward: Chemo
5. CT: head, neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis

Wednesday, July 2: Bone Scan at SZ

Thursday, July 3: ENT clinic (follow up) at SZ: Come back Sunday

Friday, July 4 - Saturday, July 5: break for Shabbat (still in pain!)

Sunday, July 6: ENT clinic (follow up) at SZ: Come back Monday

Monday, July 7: ENT clinic (follow up) at SZ:
1. Hearing Test: hearing damage (some might be permanent)
2 Poke hole in ear drum (ouch! -- pain is less now)
3. Snake miniature camera up nose (yuch!)
4. Come back in two days (?אלא מה)

Tuesday, July 8: Oncology Day Ward at SZ: Chemo PLUS
X-Ray at SZ: head to toe (almost), part of bone drug study

Wednesday, July 9: ENT clinic at SZ: technical mix-up: the doctor I needed was not there; Come back tomorrow
(Then, off to Hadassah Har HaTzofim to meet a gyno-oncologist for another opinion about my markers -- I waited over two hours; but the doctor was very nice. He does not seem concerned. Still, I have to repeat some tests and come back in 6 weeks.)

Thursday, July 10: ENT clinic at SZ



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

With love and optimism,

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ear Update

Today I went back to the ENT clinic at Sha'are Zedek.

Dr. T was on duty. She had seen me on Tuesday morning, but not since then. (When she saw me, she told me that she had just asked about me. Nice!)

She recommended lancing the ear (she used a fancy term for it). They basically use a laser, or very fine needle, to poke a hole in the eardrum and let the infection out of the middle ear. It basically ends the pain IMMEDIATELY. In most cases, the eardrum closes back up in a few days. (There is a slight risk that it won't close, and that's what worries me)

She says that without this procedure, it can take a MONTH for all the fluid to dissipate and for the pain/pressure/ringing to go away. That is unacceptable to me.

Even though I was impressed with her, I want a senior physician to give an opinion and do the procedure.

On Monday, Dr. S will be there (he saw my ear both on Tuesday and on the follow up visit on Thursday) and there should also be a senior physician.

So, I'm going back tomorrow morning.

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

With love and optimism,

Friday, July 4, 2008

More on Teenagers and Shoes

(For greater appreciation, read my post about Shoe Shopping with My Teenage Daughter)

This time, I really did promise Y that I would take her to get shoes.

She saw flip-flops for 10 NIS in the mall. I told her we could go get them this week and then I would take her out for lunch.

We were both looking forward to it.

As each day passed, and I was unable to bear the thought of shopping with my ear ache, Y's disappointment grew.

Next week, Y is going away for 4 days to a seminar for "madatzim" (madrichim tz'irim -- young leaders). All year, she had been taking this hadracha (informal education) course for 8th graders who are interested in being madrichim (leaders). At the end of the year, they receive a certificate and have the option of continuing the course at the next level.

I realized that if I did not take her for shoes on Friday (both to get flip-flops and a decent pair of sandals) that she would go off next week in her old, falling apart sandals. (the "new" ones are completely useless)

Thursday night, we discussed going for shoes on Friday, and it was clear that Y wanted to go, but did not want to count on it.

Unfortunately, there have been several occasions when I told her we would do something (usually involving shopping for something she needs) and then "something came up" and I had to cancel.

My daughter does not ask for much, and she is a tremendous help to me. It makes me sad to constantly dissapoint her.

Friday morning, we both woke up early (for us), but I did not feel up to it. After a nice breakfast together, I had to got lie down. I told Y to wake me up by 1:30, and, hopefully, we could go then.

Thank God, when she woke me up (the third time), I felt like I could manage to take her.

We left quickly, and went to the mall. The flip-flops she liked were no longer there. We quickly perused the other shoe stores, but did not find anything. (Y sort of liked one pair (for 100 NIS), but they did not have her size)

We left the mall. Y was bummed.

I had two ideas for places that we could probably find flip-flops, so the excursion would not be a total wash-up. Y chose to try Bazaar Strauss (a discount store that is really "hit or miss").

It was a HIT!

Right away we found flip-flops for 7.90-14.99 NIS. Y, of course, only like the more expensive ones, but she was willing to pay the difference. So we got her a pair, and a cheaper pair for A and me. (In the end, Y's pair also cost only 7.90, so we were all happy)

Then, we went inside and saw many pairs of nice sandals, on sale, for only 20 NIS! I have NEVER seen sandals that cheap in Israel! Similar sandals sell for 150-300 NIS in some of the boutiques!

I bought her 4 pair!

She now has 2 nice pairs for simchas/shabbat, 1 nice pair for shabbat/school, and a pair for school.

All for less than 100 NIS!

Not bad.

Hopefully, we won't have to go shoe shopping again for a LONG time.

And, since Y, A and I are almost the same shoe sizes, we can share!

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

With love and optimism,

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Medical Update -- CT, Bone Scan & My Annoying Ear

CT -- shows no signs of cancer spreading

Bone Scan -- ditto

MRI -- LONG story! (maybe I'll write about it tomorrow) Short version: still waiting for an earlier appointment.

Ear --
1. woke up this morning after my first good night's sleep in days; noticed a slight decrease in pain.
2.went to the dentist, to eliminate my teeth as a source of the pain. My teeth are fine.
3. went back to the ENT clinic at SZ for follow up. The doctors noted that there is less pain, less redness & less swelling. I stressed, again, that I am still in significant pain, not to mention the incessant ringing, the relentless pressure, and the pain in my jaw, which makes it painful to talk and eat (two of my most favorite activities!). The very sympathetic and kind doctors again said "those" words: "It takes time. Let's give it a few more days..."
4. I made another follow up appointment for next week.
5. last night I was able to go to sleep without the Percocet (I did take Cod Acamol), and I did not take either of those drugs this morning. (I did continue to suplement the Optalgin with Ibuprofen).
6. the pain is worse now (though not as bad as Sun/Mon). I will take a Percocet soon and go to sleep.


I did teach swimming today (with the doctor's permission) (I did not put my head in the water)

I went to this month's Laughter Workshop and my daughter, A, came with me!

Chodesh Tov!! ("A Good and Blessed Month")

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

With love and optimism,

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ear Ache -- AGAIN! STILL? When Will This Be Over??

5:30 in the morning.


I thought I was over this part!!


I'm in pain, like there was no yesterday!

Last night, after I posted, I went to bed, and realized the terrible ringing in my ears was still there. But the pain was less, and I was SO confident that I would get a good night's sleep and wake up feeling better.

MY EAR HURTS!! And so does my right JAW!!

I am so sick and tired of this!!

I took the ear drops and another Percocet (10 minutes early; I don't care!)

A few more minutes, and the drug should kick in....

My head feels like it is going to EXPLODE!

The Percocet is starting to work....

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

With love and optimism,

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

On the Road to Recovery... at least from my ear infection

Thanks to all those who wrote/called/prayed/etc!

I am (finally!) in less pain, and am hoping that by tomorrow, I really will feel the difference.

I now hear an ocean, more than ringing.

And my ear feels water-logged, and only a bit like it is bulging. (several times, I caught myself tilting my head and trying to bang out "the water" with the heal of my hand -- habbit! Now I understand why they call this "swimmer's ear"!)

I still can't hear in my right ear, but I am really hoping that will go away soon! (I am tired of asking everyone to repeat themselves!)

I am optimistic that I won't spend the night writhing in pain. (that is a BIG deal!)

Still, I am going to take a Percocet, to make sure I get some sleep tonight.

Laila Tov! (g'night!)

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

With love and optimism,

Ear Infection and Cancer -- What Fun!

The emergency room was quiet, when we arrived, around 6:00 in the morning.

During intake, the triage nurse brought me a Percocet. I don't know if the Percocet made the pain go away, but it certainly made me care less!

Percocet really spaces me out. (and I'm already pretty far out there...)

The ENT on duty peered into my ear with some really fancy equipment; then he said those infamous words: "keep taking the antibiotics and you should feel better in another day or two."

Not this time!

"I have been taking antibiotics for 48 hours, and the pain is WORSE." I said, in a strong voice, belied by the tears visibly welling in my eyes.

"The senior doctors will be in at 9:00," said the kind, young doctor sympathetically, "You can come back then for another opinion."

It was 7:00.

I had plenty of time to go to the oncology ward, open my port, and get my blood tests.

We went up to oncology.... apparently the ward opens at 7:30.

There were two chairs in the hallway, outside the locked doors. Moshe and I sat down. I closed my eyes. Between the two and a half hours of sleep and the Percocet, I could have fallen asleep standing up!

At 7:15 my oncologist came strolling down the hallway.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, shocked to find us at the hospital so early in the morning. "I'm glad I got here early," he continued, inviting us into his office.

We had a comprehensive visit. I left with referrals for a CT, a bone scan, and an MRI. My markers are creeping up (more on that another time) and we want to identify what, if anything, is changing.

Then I went to have my port opened -- I was the first one in line! (will wonders never cease!)

And then, back to the ENT.

The senior ENT diagnosed an outer ear infection, and prescribed a different set of ear drops. He disagreed with the younger doctor's evaluation that the infection was also in the inner ear, yet suggested that I continue taking the Augmentin (amoxicillin), since I had already started.

"This way, you are covered from all angles," summed up the young doctor. "Come back in two days."

Without further ado, I was dismissed (and discharged).

Alas, my day was far from over.... I returned to the chemo ward, where my day was just beginning!

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

With love and optimism,

Too Much Pain, For Too Long

I am off to the emergency room to see an ENT (ear, nose & throat doctor).

I did not fall asleep until almost two in the morning (maybe later). By 4:30 in the morning, I was awake and unable to fall back asleep. The pain and the ringing is worse. The antibiotics are not working.

I've been on antibiotics for 48 hours. I've been taking a combination of Optalgin, Cod Acamol and Ibuprofen to compat the pain. None of these drugs has alleviated the pain.

I've been in constant and increasing pain for three days and nights.

I can't take it anymore!

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

With love and optimism,