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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Beit Natan Winter Retreat (2010) -- Day 1

I woke up, Sunday morning, exhausted.  After we returned from the hospital, the night before, I packed really fast (read: I threw some stuff in an overnight bag).  Needless to say, I forgot to bring all sorts of necessities, like a toothbrush.... (luckily, I did not forget anything that could not be replaced, like my meds).

I hoped to sleep on the busride.  I purposefully sat next to someone I did not know, who looked kind of tired, so that I wouldn't be tempted to shmooze.  Really. 

I should have known better.

My seat-mate seemed so reticent and introverted that I felt obliged to try and make her feel more comfortable.  We talked for a while;  she relaxed and even smiled. 

Then, I went to the front of the bus, to say "tefillat haderech" (prayer for travelers).  Ever since my first retreat, I have been the one to say it on the busrides.  On my way back to my seat, I had to stop and talk with friends.  I mean, seriously, I could not just ignore them!

By the time I returned to my seat, we were almost there. 

So much for sleeping on the bus!

When we arrived, the program started right away:  Coffee and registration;  greetings from Chaya Heller; and an introductory excersize with Jenny and Sarit (I was in Jenny's group). 

Then there was a break.  I would have liked to go swimming, but I was so tired.  I decided to take a few minutes to sleep, even if I wouldn't be able to sleep for long. 

Definitely the right choice, though it was tough to wake up.  I think I only slept for 20-30 minutes.

The first workshop I attended, "Journey Into Yourself," started late.  Fifteen minutes after the starting time, only about 10 out of 30 women were present.  I felt that was enough time to wait and that we had reached "critical mass" (i.e. enough people to start). But the program organizers asked the discussion leader to wait a little longer.  By twenty minutes after the starting time, I started feeling annoyed. 

As many of you know, arriving on time and sticking to a schedule are not easy for me.  Not only had I been exactly on time, but had I known they were going to start late, I could have really benefitted from an additional 20-30 minutes of sleep!

I kept thinking of a shiur I attended recently.  My husband and I were running late, and I felt certain the teacher would wait for us, because we were only a small group, and she knew we were coming.  We arrived only a few minutes late, but she had already started.  This made a strong impression on me.  She demonstrated a serious respect for her time (and the time of her students).  The contrast was striking.

Finally, the leader began the session.  After her introduction, she spread out discussion cards, and we each chose two.  It was very interesting to see the cards people chose and to hear their reasons why. 

I chose a picture of a smiling young girl, looking through a window, with lots of green foliage behind her, and, inside, a lively lizard and two butterflies.  The card evoked in me feelings of joy and youth, love of life, and a connection to my daughters (It's a long story, but the lizard is a family symbol for my eldest daughter).

By the end of the session, I had let go of my feelings of frustration.  There were at least 20 women by then, and I felt I had a chance to start to get to know them.  My connection to these women had begun.

After dinner, Noya Mandel (Hebrew link), a religious female stand-up comic, entertained us.  If you ever get a chance, go see her!  She is funny!!

After the show, several clusters of women hung around, talking. 

Our little cluster was the last group to break up.  My roommate and I headed back to our room and continued talking.  As I mentioned in a previous post, when we dared look at the clock, it was 2:25 in the morning. We agreed that we really should go to sleep. Then, we talked for another 20 minutes, or so!

I suspect neither of us wanted the day to end.
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Little Gentleman

Once again, my son surprised me.

We were at a simcha, and I had just taken a plate of food.

He wanted to show me something, so I started to walk with him.

"Here, Ima," he said, reaching for the plate, "let me take that for you."

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

With love and optimism,

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beit Natan Winter Retreat (2010) -- An Open Letter of Thanks

To Whom It May Concern,

Three years ago, a friend dragged me to my first winter retreat with Beit Natan.  I was amazed and impressed with the program and the participants.  I left the retreat feeling supported and encouraged.

The next year, I persuaded other cancer patients to attend. "You will be glad you went," I assured them, confidently.

This year, Beit Natan's winter retreat was fantastic.

The content was relevant and interesting.  The lecturers and discussion facilitators were professional and inspiring.  And the participants were warm and accepting.

The atmosphere created at this retreat is exceptionally powerful.

The dynamic between the staff, the vatikim (return participants), and the first-timers was harmonious and empowering.  Over the course of three days, relationships were built and solidified.  Women who arrived, feeling confused and isolated, left feeling connected and informed.

For the past five months, since I learned that my metastasis spread to my brain, I have been struggling to maintain my positive outlook.  I came home from this retreat feeling strong and invigorated.

I connected with several other women who, like me, are living with cancer, and will be, for the rest of our lives.  What a special gift, to be able to provide and receive support, at the same time.

What is most striking about this amazing gathering of cancer patients and survivors is the incredible happiness that is exuded by so many of the participants, including those struggling with cancer on a daily basis. 

One would expect, rightly, that we would cry together.  We do.

But we also laugh together.  We laugh about the silly advice that well-meaning friends (and strangers) offer, we laugh about all the ironies that life has shown us, and we laugh about nothing at all.  We laugh, and laugh, and laugh.  And we feel good.

Not only does the laughter strengthen our immune system, it strengthens our faith, and it strengthens our spirit.

I am grateful to Beit Natan for all the wonderful work they do during the year, and especially for the winter retreat, which is an incredible gift to me, and all the other wonderful women who attend.


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

With love and optimism,

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Roommates -- Completely Irresponsible!

I need to room with someone boring.

Since I did not get much sleep the night before the retreat, I planned to go to bed early.

I did not plan on spending all night talking with my roommate (MT, from my support group).

One thing led to another, and the conversation just kept flowing....

When we dared to look at the clock, it was 2:25 in the morning.  We agreed that we really should go to sleep.  Then, we talked for another 20 minutes, or so.

The next night, the program ended late and we were determined to go to sleep.

But, like teenage girls, we could not stop talking.

Before we knew it, we had talked well into the night.

When we finally turned out the lights....

4:05 am.

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

With love and optimism,

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Bit of Pain Is a Big Pain (in the 'you know what')

One moment I was fine, the next I was in agony. 

Motza"sh (Saturday night, after Shabbat), I was moving along when, all of a sudden, I felt shooting pain in my left hip/thigh.  I had not fallen or banged into anything, so I assumed I just pulled a muscle, though I could not figure out how.

I hobbled along, doing what needed to be done for a few hours.  Then I got nervous.  What if the pain got worse on the retreat, when I would be on the Carmel mountains, miles away from home (and Sha'are Zedek, my hospital of choice)?

I called the family doctor on call.  After I described my condition, he asked me a bunch of question, including whether there was any swelling.  I did not know, so I checked.  I reported that my thigh was swollen;  the swelling was mild, but definitely noticible.  "You need to go to the hospital now," the doctor informed me.

I did not want to go to the hospital.

"Is it necessary?" I asked, knowing the answer.

"You might have a blood clot;" he responded, matter of factly, "you tell me."

So, with nothing ready for the retreat, Moshe and I left our kids and paid a visit to the emergency room.

Ironically, the family doctor was at Sha'are Zedek, in the ER, with a relative of his.  Despite being there for personal reasons, he talked to the head of the ER and made sure they were expecting me.

When I got to the ER, I met the woman from oncology who coordinates my bone study.  She was also there for personal reasons, accompanying a friend of hers.  She also helped make things smooth for me.

I introduced the family doctor and the research coordinator.  It turns out the doctor's relative is also an oncology patient, so she helped them as well. 

I had an ultrasound -- no blood clots, thank God!
They took some X-rays -- no fractures or broken bones, thank God!
An orthopedist examined me -- he could not find any particular problem, Thank God!

I got the "all clear," to leave and go on my retreat.

I will have to see a doctor, and possibly an orthopedist, when I get back.  But there is no rush and no immediate concern.

I'm still in pain, but I can live with that.

I am so happy that I did not have to miss the retreat!

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

With love and optimism,

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beit Natan Winter Retreat (2010)

Two years ago, in 2008, not long after I was diagnosed with mets, my friend, EA, badgered me into going with her to Beit Natan's winter retreat. 

I was not interested in going.  I worried that spending 3 days with women dealing with cancer would be depressing and would drag me down.  She thought it would be good for me and that I would have a good time.

She was right.

But I did not know that yet...

I told her I would "think about it."

She called me every few days.  I told her I was "considering it."

Had she stopped calling, I would not have gone.  But she did not stop calling, and, eventually, she convinced me to try it.

I am so grateful for her persistance.

I had such a wonderful time (you can read about it here and here).  I could not wait for the retreat the following year (you can read about that here, here, here, and here).

This year's retreat is this Sunday to Tuesday.

My kids are bigger and more independent.  I no longer need to make all sorts of special arrangements to go away.  Besides moving swimming lessons to Wednesday, I did not have much to organize, other than packing my bags.

And, since we just recently had such wonderful family time together on our vacation, I do not feel bad about disappearing for a few days.  Everyone will be fine without me.  They will barely miss me.

I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones.

Four of us, from our support group, are going -- three "old-timers" (M, L and me) and one "new" member, Z, who joined us this past summer.  I am happy to be going with friends.  It is also good for me to know who some of the other women with mets are.

I would have liked to bring my laptop with me, so I could blog at night.  But it is still not working.  Gam zu l'tovah (it's all for the best), this way I will probably sleep more. 

I'll try to post Tuesday, when I get home.  But I have shiur (Torah study class) that night, so no promises.

I guess life is back to "normal," because I suddenly feel very busy!

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

With love and optimism,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shabbat with My Rav

The last time I spent Shabbat with my Rav and his family, I was single.

A few years later, after Moshe and I married, we planned to spend Shabbat with my Rav and his family.  Unfortunately, at the last minute, Moshe got sick and we had to cancel.

One thing led to another, and ten years passed.

We spent this Shabbat with them.

I had such a good time.  They are such a special family.

After Shabbat, my Rav's wife, took out her calendar and asked, "When are you coming again?"

I feel privileged to be such a welcomed guest in their home.

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

With love and optimism,

Friday, January 22, 2010

Israel and Haiti -- "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18)

Want to be inspired?

Read an Eyewitness Account In Haiti.

Make sure you have tissues.

Special thanks to Jameel (The Muqata), for translating and posting this letter, from one of our boys, about the Israeli Defence Force Medical Corps Delegation to Haiti.

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

With love and optimism,

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Medical Update: MRI and PET CT -- Results

It turns out, I tend to hear what I want to hear. 

Twice now, I thought tumors were gone, when they were not.

So, today, I sat with my oncologist, to understand what is going on in my body.

The bottom line: my cancer is under control.

I still have tumors in my brain, my lungs and all over my skeleton. 

Thank God, there is currently no evidence of disease in my liver. (At least I got that one right!)

Both the MRI and the PET CT show the tumors in my brain are continuing to shrink.  The shrinking may be a continued effect of the WBR (Whole Brain Radiation) or from the Tykerb/Lapatinib (which seems to cross the blood brain barrier) or both. 

The PET CT also confirmed that:

1. the tumors in my lungs, which are tiny, are stable
2. the tumors in my bones are stable
3. my liver is clear

Overall, the news is good.

Stable is good.

I still wish it would all go away.

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

With love and optimism,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Computer Woes

My laptop is busted! 

I thought it was just the wire connecting the battery.  I friend helped me find someone to fix the cord, but it still won't charge.

The great computer guy, who all my friends recommends, told me I need to take it into town, to this other guy, who knows how to service this particular make.  If I am lucky, a new power cord (around 250-300 NIS) will do the job.  Otherwise... who knows.


I have been without my own computer for several weeks now. 

I have to "wait in line" to use Moshe's computer.  My kids constantly need the computer for homework (not to mention FB, Runescape, and whatever). When Moshe is home, he has top priority... it is, after all, his computer.  I am constantly being chased rushed off the computer.

Most significantly, I can't take Moshe's computer into bed with me.

It is often difficult for me to sit for any length of time at the computer.

With my laptop, I can lie in bed and type comfortably, at my convenience.

I have got to take care of this, soon!

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

With love and optimism,

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Gentleman -- My Son

What was I thinking?  I left my home in "Crocs" (the fake ones, I am proud to admit) and no rain-hat or umbrella.

In case you did not know -- it was pouring, on and off, all day long.  (Thank God!  We need the rain!) 

Well, it might not have been raining hard when I went to teach swimming, but when I was done, the rain was coming down strong!

My son noticed that I had no protection for my head and offered me his jacket, with a hood.  I told him that I would be fine.

Again, he suggested I use his hood. 

If I took his coat, he would have nothing.  I cannot fit into his coat, so I couldn't even trade coats with him.  I told him to keep his coat on, that I did not want him to get sick.

He insisted on taking off his coat and giving it to me.  "It is more important that you don't get sick," he told me, emphasizing that he is young and strong, and can handle it better if he gets sick.  "I have a hood on my sweatshirt," he reassured me, as if that would shield him from the pouring rain.

I saw that he was determined to protect me.  He would not accept any other solution.

He was not fighting with me.  But, at the same time, he was very gently standing his ground.

I thanked him and accepted his coat, placing the hood on my head.

Then, as we left the building, he saw that I was worried about slipping.  He offered his arm for support. This is the same son (I only have one) who won't hold my hand in public anymore.  He held my hand the whole way, while we walked slowly and carefully to the car.

I was so touched by his concern, and so proud.

My little boy is growing up.

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

With love and optimism,


I wrote this on November 25th, just a few weeks before we left on vacation.  It must have gotten lost in the shuffle, because I see I never posted it.

By last Wednesday, I was a ball of nerves.  Too much to do and too little time!

I needed to slow down.

I slept late.  Really late.  10:30 in the morning late.

The Rebbetzin came for a visit around 11:00, just in time for my morning coffee.  (OK, I admit it: despite the blog title, I don't regularly drink coffee, not even in the morning.  I am a "social drinker." I only drink with someone else who is drinking.)

I really enjoyed talking with the Rebbetzin.  She still intimidates me, but she is so nice, and so thoughtful.  She brought over a delicious vegetable soup!  We all love soup and her soups are really nutricious and so good!

After she left, I did some chores -- not fun, but they gotta' get done.

Then, my friend, Idit, came over for Shiatsu.

What a treat!!  When she was finished, I felt relaxed and calm, and ready to handle what needed to be done.  What a gift!

In addition to practicing Shiatsu professionally, Idit volunteers her services to me and to the Yuri Stern Foundation.

Idit has a wonderful, warm, and relaxing treatment room in her home.
For regular treatments or to treat yourself to something special:
Idit Amir
Idit Amir amir.idit@gmail.com

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

With love and optimism,

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Kids Will Never Know the Me I Was "Before"

My kids were 11, 9, and 7 when I first got breast cancer.

Back then, I thought of breast cancer as an "inconvenience."  It did not scare me.  My grandmother survived breast cancer, and was fine.  My mother survived breast cancer, twice, and was fine.  I was young (39) and strong.  I would be fine.

My greatest concern was for my kids.  I did not want them to miss out on anything, while I was busy dealing with cancer.

Friends informed me that cancer would takes over my life for 6 months to a year.  Then, I presumed, I would be done.  In the end, it took a bit more than a year and a half, but by the spring of 2007, I was ready to move on.  My kids were just at the end of their 12th, 10th, and 8th years. 

I was full of energy, glad to get my life back.

I had plans, so many things to do.

God had other plans.

My kids were 13, 11, and 9 in June/July, 2007, when I was diagnosed with mets to my bones, liver and lungs.

Those few "good months," when I thought I was done, were suddenly overshadowed.

I still felt young and strong; determined to keep doing the things I was doing.

I was not that strong.  I could not keep up the pace.

I realized, this is it.  I am never going to be the person I was before. 

That realization was hard enough.  Then I was struck by the even more aweful realization:  This is how my kids will always know me.  They will not remember the me who I was "before." They were too young, when it all began.

My kids will only remember me with cancer.

They will not remember the mother with boundless energy, the activist who brought her three young kids to all the demonstrations, the leader on long hikes and camping trips, the tour guide, the educator, the..... person I used to be.

They will only know me like I am now.... tired, in bed, apologetic.

I know, it is not so black and white.  I do a lot with my kids.  I am not in bed all the time.  But I am not the me that I was "before."

Yes, I am now over 40.  All my friends are slowing down.  But it is not the same. 

My kids were 15, 13, and 11 when I was diagnosed, in June, 2009, with brain mets.  The new diagnosis hasn't changed much about how we live our lives.

My husband and I work hard to keep our kids informed (on their level), so that they won't live in fear. They know we tell them everything, so they do not need to worry or wonder.  There are no secrets. 

I think we have been quite successful in this area.  Our kids are "bored" with cancer. To them, cancer is an inconvenience.  It is frustrating when your mother is tired and not readily available.  But they are not scared. Why should they be?

My kids will never remember me when I was healthy, not even my oldest. That is very sad for me.  But living with cancer is normal for them.  They do not know any other way.

My biggest desire is to live long enough to see them married and, hopefully, to be around at least for their first births, to help them with nursing and be there for those new beginnings, when support is so important.

Sometimes, I look at them, and think "they are so young....."

I pray, a lot. Not so much formal prayer, but just talking to God and making sure He knows how much I want to live.

I can live with cancer.  I just want to be here for my kids.

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

With love and optimism,

Thursday, January 14, 2010

National Fast Day

Politics make me sick.  Since there are bloggers who say what I would say, perhaps even better than I would say it, I allow myself the luxury of blogging about other fun topics, like living with cancer.

In general, if you want to know what I think about politics in Israel, read The Muqata, Treppenwitz, or Joe Settler.  They say what needs to be said.

But, every once in a while, I still need to say what I need to say, because nobody else seems to be saying it.

The Sephardic Chief Rabbi (Rishon LeTzion), Shlomo Amar, has declared today to be a public fast day, basically, to pray for rain. 

Today's Chief Rabbis are no longer powerful spiritual leaders, who serve as our national moral compass. They are government appointed lackeys, who do not criticize or speak out against the government, even in cases of religious prejudice. 

But they will declare a public fast day to pray for rain.

The thing is, as religious leaders, they have an obligation to be our nation's spiritual guides, especially when our nation has lost its way.

Every day, at least twice a day, religious Jews repeat the formula that God gave us, in the second paragraph of the sh'ma (Deuteronomy 11:13-21):

Option A:  If we listen, and do the right thing, God will provide the right amount of rain for our land (Israel), and we will reap our harvests of grain, and wine, and oil. And, basically, everything will be good.

Option B:  BUT, if we don't listen, and we stray from the path, then God will close the heavens and there will be no rain, and the land will not produce, and we will lose the land that God gave us.

Now, let us take an honest look at what is going on in our country:

1. Jews are prohibited from building homes (the Israeli government has imposed a building freeze)

2. Jews are being expelled from their homes, and their homes are being destroyed (see above)

3. Arab terrorists have free access to Israeli roads (resulting, for example, in yesterday's stoning on highway 443, next to Beit Sira, just outside of Modi'in, and today's stoning that injured a mother and her one-year-old baby).

4.  Checkpoints that were set up to prevent terrorists from entering populated Jewish areas, have been removed, as a "goodwill gesture" to terrorists (resulting, for example, in the drive-by shooting and murder of Meir Chai two weeks ago).

We might come to the conclusion that rather than a national fast day, what we need is a different government and different national priorities.

Maybe the Rabbis should organize something more effective, that will result in actual changes in Israel, which might just bring us closer to fulfilling our side of the formula, which, if we do it right, will result in God fulfilling His part.

In Zechariah, Chapters 7-8, God is asked if we should continue to fast (on days like Tish'a B'Av and Tzom Gedaliah), after our return from exile.  God mocks the question, reproving the people for missing the point:  God never commanded the people to fast.  Rather, the people instituted the fast days after ignoring God's message, and losing Jerusalem.  God did not ask for fast days;  rather, God asked the people to be just, compassionate, and merciful.  God wanted people to speak the truth, and to refrain from corruption and dishonesty.

The message in Zechariah is clear:  What we do is what matters to God, not whether we eat or fast.

If we fast for 100 days, while we destroy Jewish homes with our own hands and allow our fellow Jews to be stoned, shot at, injured, and killed, then we do not deserve rain.

What do you think?

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

With love and optimism,

Finders Keepers -- My Eldest Daughter's Magical Talents

I looked. 

I spent at least an hour looking, if not more.  I looked in all the logical places.

I could not find my ID cards.

I replaced a few cards and, still, I did not find the rest of my cards.

I looked again.

I tried to remember where I put them.  I could not retract an image from my memory.

I knew I put them somewhere easy.  I just could not remember where.

I needed my credit card. 

I kept putting off calling for a replacement.  I did not want the credit card company to issue a new card with a new number.  All our bills are charged automatically to my card.  I would have to call EVERY service provided (water, electricity telephone, insurance, etc) to change our bills.  I dreaded the thought.

I knew the card was somewhere at home.

My eldest said she would help me find them.  She is THE BEST at finding things.  I do not know how she does it, but she finds things when nobody else succeeds.

She felt confident she could find my cards (I admit, I was skeptical), but she had been too busy to look.

Then, she had a day off of school and we wanted to spend some quality time together.  As a special treat, we decided to get sushi for lunch.  But I did not have my credit card.  So, with a sushi incentive, my daughter went to look for my hidden treasure.

Less than five minutes later, she came and asked, "Are these your cards?"

How did she do it?

They were right there, in a place I had looked several times.

How did I miss seeing them?

Why could my daughter find them and I could not?

There is only one explanation:  My daughter is magic!

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

With love and optimism,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hit by a Car -- It's Not Over Yet

Two months ago, on Sunday, November 15th, our son was hit by a car.

Though he flew off his bike, and out of his shoes, he basically walked away, unharmed.

It is still unclear to me if he lost consciousness at all.  He does not think so, but he does not remember the details of what happened right after he was hit.

The orthopedist in the ER did not seem overly concerned, and did not even send our son for X-Rays.  I found the doctor's attitude somewhat cavalier, but I was just so grateful that my son was ok that I did not challenge the doctor's decision.  I worried, a bit, that there might be injuries that would show up later. 

Our son limped around for a few days.  After about a week, he returned to his active self.  A month later, he still seemed fine, and I finally allowed myself to breathe easier.

Then, a week ago, on Thursday, January 7th, he complained about severe pain in his side.  At first I thought it must be more growing pains, like he gets in his knees.  But after a few hours, I started to get nervous.

So, Friday morning, Moshe took him to the doctor.  The doctor thinks the pain is from muscle damage caused by the car that hit our son;  he recommended physical therapy.

Again, our son limped around for a few days, clearly suffering from discomfort and pain.  Then, the pain let up for a day or two; then it returned, in his back, though not as severe.

We could not get an immediate physical therapy appointment; he had to wait until February!  I was so frustrated that my son could not get help any sooner.  Today, God smiled on us.  Someone cancelled, freeing up an appointment for tomorrow morning.  I am so relieved.

I just want this to be over.

I do not want our son to suffer.

(Not to mention that I can't ask my son to help around the house, if it hurts him to move!)

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

With love and optimism,

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I have been teaching swimming since I was twelve.  I'll save you the math -- it's been 31 years.

I have taught hundreds of kids, and tens of adults.  I have had students of all ages and all levels, from 3 months to 65 years, from beginners to advanced swimmers.

I teach all stroke forms, water survival, and even a bit of water ballet.  I focus on improving technique and endurance.

The one thing I do not teach is competitive swim.

All my kids know how to swim.  They have been in the water since they were babies.

This year, both my eldest daughter and my son have not attended swimming classes regularly; they are too busy and get out of school too late.

At the beginning of this year, my son expressed his intention to go swimming on his own, in the mornings, before school.  His stated goal:  to work out for half a year, then join the swim team.

The task turned out to be more challenging than he expected (for all sorts of reasons).  He did not make it to the pool very often.

Two weeks ago, after Breichat Yerushalayim (The Jerusalem Pool) closed for the winter, HaPoel Yerushalayim (The Jerusalem Swim Team) started training at Ramat Rachel (the pool where I teach).

My son decided to try out for the team.  This past Monday, he rushed to the pool, after school.

The coach watched him swim.

When my son got out of the pool, the coach told him, and me, that his technique is good, but that he needs to work on building up his stamina.

That my son needed to work on his endurance came as no surprise. He has not really been swimming since last year.

Last year, mid-year, when I had to switch chemo days from Tuesdays to Thursdays, I had to move all my swimming classes from Thursdays to Mondays. Unfortunately, my son had sayarut (scouts) on Mondays and could not get to the pool on time.

What I was not expecting, was to hear how good his form was.

The style I teach is different from the way the kids on the team swim.  Also, when I see my son swim, there are all sorts of little details that I see, that need improvement.

As my son was swimming for the coach, one of the older kids on the team commented that my son has a strong back (it is unclear if he was referring to my son's back or his backstroke); either way, it was clearly a complement.

Then, the coach noted my son's good technique.

I have been teaching the same form for the last 31 years. Recently, I started wondering if the style I teach might be outdated.

It was so nice to get positive feedback from a serious trainer.

I feel validated.

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

With love and optimism,

Monday, January 11, 2010

What Got Me Out of My Funk?

I was stuck.... for months. 

I just could not shake off that feeling of gloom and doom.

I had all sorts of good excuses reasons:  brain mets, radiation, exhaustion, Bar Mitzvah preparations, family leaves, summer ends, school starts, chagim, flu for weeks.... 

Whatever the reason, I was in a funk.

And I did not like it.

Then, I read about the Middle East Breast Cancer Conference banning Israelis -- well, that got my blood boiling.  After some research, I posted about how Susan G. Komen for the Cure continued to support the conference. (I still owe you all a follow up post...)  Then, when I cross-posted to my former group blog, I got censored! -- that got my blood boiling even more!  I started researching, writing and FIGHTING for my principals. 

Susan G. Komen for the Cure was purposefully misleading the public, and betraying our trust.  I spent hours researched the facts, so I could expose the truth. 

At the same time, women from my group blog, who I thought were my friends, treated me with such disregard and disrespect!  I was so hurt, and so angry.  At first, I tried to show them what they were doing, but their disdain obscured all logic.  No one rose to my defense.  And, when I left, only a few chose to continue their contact with me.  For almost two years, I had deluded myself into believing that these women cared and supported me.  I was furious about their deception, and my own naiveté.

I was fuming over these two injustices.

I had no time for self-pity, and no patience for anything else.

I was Don Quixote and I had my windmills to fight!

After a week or so, I had to put these issues aside.  I was still burning with righteous indignation, but I did not have time to succumb to my fury.

I was no longer feeling lethargic and apathetic.

I had things to do, and I was back on track!

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

With love and optimism,

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Betrayed By My Breasts -- Part III (final installment)

I still needed to learn to live with my body again.
When I was first diagnosed, I desperately wanted to "save my breast."

The lumpectomy left my breast deformed and ugly.  It also did not remove all the cancer.

Once I realized that a mastectomy was inevitable, I knew that I wanted reconstruction. 

I teach swimming; I am in the locker room all the time;  breasts are everywhere.

I am very open about my experiences, but it has always been my choice about when and where to share that information.  I did not want the stares, or the pity.

So, I went to one of the best plastic surgeons in the world (thank God for insurance!!).  I had a skin-saving mastectomy, followed by DIEP reconstruction, using my own tissue to rebuild my breast.  I could still feel sensations on the surface of my skin.  Eventually, regenerated nerve tissue created sensation within the breast as well.  The new breast became be a part of me, not just some foreign object inserted into my body.

But, was that enough?

On the outside, I looked "normal."

No doubt, that felt good.

But it took time until I could look at my body without just seeing all those scars.

It took a while before "the new breast" became "my breast." 

Eventually, the wounds healed and the scars faded.

Once again, I felt "normal."

Normal felt good.

I was done with breast cancer.


My story should end here, but it does not.

Only a few months after I had put cancer behind me, a routine mammogram, and follow up tests, revealed devastating news.

What began in my breast, now resided in my bones, liver and lungs.

I no longer had to worry about my breasts.... I had cancer all over my body.

My journey into the world of breast cancer had only just begun.

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

With love and optimism,

Friday, January 8, 2010

Betrayed By My Breasts -- Part II

I needed to find someone else like me.  Not just any other survivor, I specifically searched for other breastfeeding counselors or lactation consultants, who survived breast cancer.

I felt there was something special, and ironic, about being a breastfeeding counselor and having breast cancer.

Surely, someone who spends so much of her time talking about breasts, and handling breasts, must have a particularly hard time dealing with breast cancer.

I worried about my ability to continue counseling breastfeeding mothers.  Would I be able to provide the same level of support?  Should I resign, as a La Leche League leader, from our local organization?

I was not ready to close off that part of my life.

I spoke with other leaders from my area.  They encouraged me to listen to my heart, and embraced me when I chose to stay.

Today, I still sit on our area council and assist in our local district.  I also continue to counsel mothers by phone and in person.

Other leaders, who know me, know that I have breast cancer.  I do not share that information with the mothers I help.

I never did find another breastfeeding counselor with whom to share my experiences.

That need passed.

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

With love and optimism,

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Betrayed By My Breasts

I breastfed all my babies.  You don't even want to know for how long. 

Once, in the locker room, a woman criticized me for bringing my little boy in to change, accusing him of staring at her breasts.

I was polite, of course, but I did point out that as a breastfeeding mother, with many breastfeeding friends, my son saw breasts all the time.  To him, breasts were for feeding babies.  That this woman thought a six year old boy would be looking at breasts in a sexual way is just sad.

"Breast" is not a "bad word" in our home.  Even after I stopped nursing my kids, I volunteered as a breastfeeding counselor.  (I still do, though I am far less active than I once was.)

I talked about breasts ALL the time.

So, when I learned that I had breast cancer, I felt betrayed by my body.

Breastfeeding lowers the incidence of breast cancer, both in mothers and their babies.  I breastfed ALL my babies, for a LONG time.  How could my breasts betray me like this??

My breasts were a source of life.  My children lived on breast milk alone for anywhere between 6 months to a year (depending on the kid).  Even after my kids started eating solids, breast milk was their primary source of nutrition.  Later, it was a valuable supplement for them.  When they were breastfeeding, my children almost never got sick.  Breast milk was the elixir of life!

How could my breasts turn from a source of life to a threat of death??

How could they contain cancer???

I did not know how to look at my body anymore.

My body had betrayed me.

My breasts had betrayed me.

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

With love and optimism,

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


"I could help you with this," she said, eyes scanning my overflowing counters.

I followed her gaze. Clearly, I could use some help.

But, could I accept help from someone a did not know, a friend of a friend, who already showed her kindness by cooking a meal for my family?

"I helped E organize her kitchen," she continued, persuasively.

Like a flash, I remembered E telling me how her friend helped her organize her kitchen after she moved. At the time, my first thought was "wow, I wish someone would help me organize my kitchen...."

Now, here she was, this enthusiastic stranger, offering to help me.

I could hear Moshe in the back of my mind, pushing me forward, encouraging me to "just say 'yes'!"

So, I did.

The next time she walked into my door, I felt caught up in a whirlwind of activity.  How could one person have so much energy?  I did not know.  But when she left, only a few hours later, my kitchen counters were clear.

She is one of the angels God has sent me.  She comes when she can, sometimes as often as once a week. 

She loves to clean.

She is not judgmental. 

She is kind, generous, energetic and patient.

She came today. 

Once again, our counters were overflowing.

I have been trying, for several days, to clean off the counters on my own.  I made progress..., but not much.

I do not know how she does it. 

By the time she left, our counters were clean.

"It was nothing" she says, as she breezes out the door, arms loaded with papers, bottles and jars to recycle.

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

With love and optimism,

Monday, January 4, 2010

Finally Over Jet Lag?

I spent the last two weeks in bed, resting.

When I mentioned to my oncologist that I was still so tired, he looked at me like I had fallen out of the sky.

"You just got back from two weeks in Disneyworld!" he told me, as if I did not know.

I guess I needed to allow myself a bit more time to recover.

I am definitely feeling better this week!

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

With love and optimism,


I wrote this on November 20th, about two weeks before we left.  I forgot to post it.  Better late than never!

A wise friend (and family member) suggested we "Leverage the anticipation—which is often as exciting as the actual event—and let the kids go on the websites or buy the books and ask them to plan out the two weeks. That’s a great part of the experience as well."

It never occured to me to involve the kids in the planning.  I hope there is still time!

For weeks, I have been reluctant to get excited about the trip.

What if something happened?  What if the trip fell through?

I just could not bear the through of dealing with everyone's disappointment.

So, I qualified everything, with "nothing is definite until we have our tickets."

Well, now we have our tickets and I am finally allowing myself to get excited! 

The kids are totally into it.

A few nights ago, my eldest gazed at me with her sparkling eyes, "I am so excited!"

I smiled and responded, "I am even more excited than you are!"

After a brief "no, you're not"- "yes I am" exchange, my eldest looked at me with a glint in her eyes and asked, "Are your friends making you a kufsat haftaot (surprise package) with all sorts of fun stuff in it?"

She had me there.

"You win," I conceded, "but I'm still really excited!!"

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

With love and optimism,

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Math -- More Humor

My husband is the more patient of us.  So, I was grateful when he volunteered to help our youngest daughter study for her math test. 

After a while, he called for my help.  As a kid, he never had the patience to do long division, so he found it difficult to instruct our daughter.

Pleased that I could help, I slowly walked our daughter through the steps of long division.

After she understood how to solve the equations, Moshe asked her how she can check her answers, to verify that they are correct.

Without missing a beat, our 11 year old answered, "with a calculator."

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

With love and optimism,

Saturday, January 2, 2010

"You are so strong!" -- Humor

A friend once told me

When someone says: “you’re so strong,”

What they really mean is: “your life sucks and I’m so glad I’m not you!”

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

With love and optimism,

Friday, January 1, 2010

My friend, Chanie Oysh

One of the things I love about my support group, is that the women come from all different religious backgrounds. 

We are all religious Jews, but that is where our common denominator ends.

One of the good friends I made in the group, Chanie Oysh, was from Chasidei Belz (I think).

She often called me once or twice a week to talk.  I always enjoyed our conversations and felt enriched by her friendship.

We were both diagnosed with brain mets around the same time.  But her situation was different.  She had beens experiencing symptoms (slurred speech, difficulty moving her arm) for several weeks before her diagnosis.

Knowing what I know, from the questions I asked my oncologist about my own situation, I was scared for her.

Before I left for our trip, I called Chanie.  I had not heard from her for a week or two (I'm not sure how long; I lose track of time), and I wanted to touch base before I left.  Each time I called, her daughter told me she was resting.  I did not manage to talk with Chanie before I left.

When I came back, I wanted to call her.  Something told me I should check how she is doing before calling her home.

So, I called MT, another woman from our group.  (I wanted to ask her for a ride to our meeting that night anyway.)

MT told me that Chanie would not be participating in our support group any more.

I did not understand her meaning.

Then she told me;  Chanie passed away during the week before Chanukah.

At first, I was upset that nobody told me earlier.  Then I realized that we were already out of the country, on vacation.

How could I have been surprised?  I do not know; but I was.

I felt like I entered some surrealistic dream.

The last time I spoke with Chanie, she seemed much better.  How could it be that this strong, powerful woman was gone?

I thought of our original group. Blimi, Esther, Yehudit, Tzippy, Pia, and now Chanie are all gone. Six out of ten.  There are only four of us left: TK, MT, LE, and me.  Can that be? 

No. I almost forgot MC, from Dimona.  She only participated in our first group; the commute (3 hours, by bus) was too difficult for her. We did meet up last year at Beit Natan's winter retreat.

The four of us have been together for over two years. 

I love these women.

I do not want to lose any more of my friends.

(Thanks to Renee, from Circling My Head;  Her post, about her friends from her original support group, and their passing, helped me confront my own feelings.)

Postscript: ....and then there were four....Following this post, a friend from the group called to let me know that Mazal Chaya, from Dimona, also passed away before Chanukah.  There really are only four of us left....

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

With love and optimism,

Proud Mom and The Pirates of Penzance

After the performance, a friend asked me how I felt about the show.

I did not have to think twice about answering:  "like a very proud mommy!"

My eldest daughter played one of the Major General's daughters and it was so much fun seeing her on stage. 

She is a talented actress with a beautiful voice and she had a wonderful time being in this play.

It is true, she missed some school, but it was such a positive experience for her.  She gained far more than she missed!

Seeing her up there, on the stage, so beautiful and talented, I was just bursting with pride! 

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

With love and optimism,