This week was my fourth chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Unlike my third treatment, this one was much easier.
Last time, I remember walking in with a sense of anxiety and resistance. It was a very rough experience. I was in physical pain from the medicine going in along with intense nausea and weakness. That was the first time I had to totally lie down covered in blankets. It was even difficult to speak or focus. The more overwhelmed I was, the greater the intensity of the side effects.
This time I decided I was going to approach treatment a little differently. I’ve been doing a ton of Torah (Old Testament) learning on my own and with my Chabad Rabbi from college, Rabbi Oirechman, over the past few months and wanted to put my thoughts into action.
Of the many things I have been learning, there is an amazing line in Psalm 32, verse 10 of Tehilim that I read recently. This really hit me. It says,
“The wicked man, who like them, chaffs at suffering, has many troubles. But one who trusts in G-d, knowing that all the suffering G-d sends is intended to cleanse and refine him, will be surrounded with love.”
When I walked in to the infusion room I told myself, “G-d wants me here.” Everything comes from Hashem. This experience is meant to bring me closer to Him. Perhaps, I don’t know exactly why I am going through this, but if I can accept it from a place of love, then I can see it as vehicle for refinement and growth. I meditated on this. If I can look at it from this perspective, then I won’t resist – I can relax. For the entire treatment I sat there chatting and laughing with my parents and sister. This was unlike the previous week, where I was anxious, in pain and discomfort.
Throughout my treatments I have been living back with my family. An amazing observation I have seen, is the interaction between my sister, brother-in-law and their kids. Most of the time everybody is lovey-dovey, and sometimes, my sister and brother-in-law are stern and handing down “punishments” when the kids act out of hand. There were two particularly amusing instances I witnessed over the past few weeks:
In the first instance, my 3-year-old niece, was not playing nice with my 2-year-old niece. After the 3-year-old repeatedly transgressed the warnings, my sister put her on the stairs in time-out. After rebuke she told her not to move or she would make her go up to her room.
When my sister turned around, my niece looked over her shoulder, and slowly scootched down one step! In the silent room, you could hear the child’s plop.
My sister warned her again not to move. She did not listen and moved down another step. So, my sister went to bring her upstairs and my niece started screaming. Once she stopped throwing a tantrum and got the message, she calmed down, played nice with her younger sister – and the whole family was lovey-dovey again.
In the second instance, my 6-year-old nephew, opened his stack of Hanukkah gifts to find that he received a pile of books from his grandfather. Amidst the celebratory nature of the evening, he said, “Ugh I hate books. You always buy me books. I don’t like my gifts.” My Dad laughed and brushed off how ungrateful my nephew’s statement was. So, for the next night of Hanukkah, my Dad bought him more books!
These are precisely the ways we should look at our relationship with G-d. Have you ever had an experience in your life where you were ungrateful about something? Maybe in your subconscious you just didn’t realize because you just expect? Have you found yourself in the repeated exact same situation but in different cities, or with different people, or in different jobs, or different communities? Perhaps it’s because we haven’t gotten the message. Over time, the vehicles to get these messages will intensify until we pass the test and move onto a new one. However, sometimes we unfortunately stay stuck in one test for days, weeks, months, and even years.
My sister loves all her children but won’t tolerate bad behavior amongst them. My Dad loves his grandson, but who wants to give gifts when a kid doesn’t appreciate them? Regardless, their love continues to flow because judgment and compassion go hand in hand.
Now imagine that G-d is giving us unconditional gifts every moment of every day.
When I wake up and breathe that’s a gift. Even if I stub my toe, eat my favorite ice cream, feel inspired to draw, get stuck in traffic, or have a pleasant walk to work etc., those are equally gifts too. That’s millions of gifts a day! I haven’t truly paused to fathom all of this, until I started going through cancer treatments. To be honest, I don’t think many people do until they hit a real life altering challenge.
So, when I went for my most recent treatment and accepted the situation as an expression of both G-d’s judgment and compassion, I was able to calm down. I was able to see beyond the current situation for my own good, which brought me comfort.
At times cancer has left me feeling powerless like a little kid on the stairs. It has also awakened a new appreciation and gratefulness for every little detail in my life – even the books.