This is a little overdue, but a few weeks ago I had a very successful second attempt at my seventh chemo infusion. Everything went the way it is supposed to with additional perks along the way. First, I managed to throw myself out of bed at 6am, which felt like a tall task with chemo side effects in my body. I went through my morning prayers and prayed it would be a much calmer and smoother treatment. My parents and family friend Frank were with me.
Seventh Chemo Infusion
After my blood work was drawn, the medical staffer wished me a good day. When I stood up from the chair, as if on cue, Bon Jovi’s “Livin On a Prayer” started playing. “Whoa, were half way there, whoa, livin’ on a prayer!” I happen to love that song, and I also happened to be just past half way. That’s when I smiled, because I realized my life felt like it had just become a music video.
I received great news when the nurse told me that I would be able to substitute the liquid IV Benedryl for its regular pill form. That means I would be able to avoid the horrible burning sensation in my veins and terrible taste in the back of my mouth. Additionally, I was told that Brooke (that’s my sister’s name) would be my nurse administering the infusion. Apparently she is supposed to be the best – and she was awesome! Brooke found my vein so quickly that I didn’t even realize she put the needle in. Five sippy cups of apple juice, three water bottles, and one neck massage later, we were finished.
On the way home I was looking at the photos from the day and reflecting on what I wrote previously. Going through treatments, when I feel disconnected on the outside, I have to ask myself what are some things that connect me on the inside? One of my friends recently revealed the following awesome fun facts to me about my name that I never realized. Rafael Moshe ben Shulamit literally means healing.
Piecing My Name Together
He wished me a good Shabbos and a רפואה שלמה (refuah shlema – meaning a full healing) to רפאל משה בן שולמית (Rafael Moshe ben Shulamit). He pointed out that the Hebrew root letters in my name Rafael Shulamit includes the same root letters as Refuah Shlema. Also, Moshe composed the first document prayer for his sister Miriam’s recovery. According to ravkooktorah.com, “when Miriam was stricken with leprosy, Moses beseeched G-d to heal his sister, saying a remarkably brief prayer: ‘Please G-d, please heal her” (Num. 12:13).’”
Very cool! This was such an AHA moment for me and spurred the idea to tie in other areas of my heritage and history for self-empowerment.
In Jewish practice, if someone is very ill they will add the name Rafael (meaning “G-d has healed”) to a person’s original Hebrew name. Since many people have asked me, it is important to note that Rafael Moshe ben Shulamit is my Hebrew name from birth. Rafael was not a name that I needed to add once I started going through chemo.
So like Rafael, I have found strength in this name to get through my physical pain.
Like, Moshe, I’ve looked back on the times throughout my life where I needed to step up to the plate and be a leader. Moshe was the leader of the Hebrew people who did not necessarily run towards the opportunity to lead the Hebrews out from bondage in Egypt. While I do not have a stuttering speech impediment like Moshe had with his words, on many occasions, I have stuttered and doubted myself in my mind. I have thus been forced to dig deep and learn to trust in my abilities in the face of new callings and reaching new heights.
Like the name Shulamit (from the Hebrew root word shalom meaning peace), I realize that G-d has given me the inner strength to unravel my own inner constrictions so that I can learn to heal myself from within.
Just Pick Up and Go
An additional perspective on who I am can be found in my Bar Mitzvah Torah portion which is “Lech Lecha.” This is the third portion in the book of Genesis. G-d tells Abram “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1-2).
Abraham and his wife Sarah were pioneers, and I see their journey in my life and my family.
I remember picking up and moving from Brooklyn to Florida when I was a little kid with my family. I was a part of the grand opening and first four-year graduating class in my high school. I remember deferring college at The University of Central Florida last minute to go to Israel for a gap year instead. There, I was a part of the first year at Yeshiva Orayta in the Old City of Jerusalem. Subsequently, I applied, switched from UCF, and accepted to Florida State without being able to first visit the campus since I was living in Israel. After college, I remember packing up and moving on a whim to rural suburban Virginia to start my first full-time design job. Then, I remember packing up and moving to DC to become the first in-house designer at FDD. And most recently, I unexpectedly took a shocking leave from work and the life I knew, because of cancer.
More importantly, my Bubbe and Zadie (great grandparents in Yiddish) were named Avraham and Sarah. They came to America from Poland right before the beginning of the Holocaust. My great grandfather Avraham was riding the train home when a group of men attacked him. They held him down and shaved off half of his beard in humiliation. At that point with the rising anti-Semitism, they knew it was time to pick up and leave. My grandfather left first and after making enough money, brought the rest of the family over too. While his incident on the train was brutal, this rude awakening turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It saved our entire family for generations to come.
So like Abraham in my Bar Mitzvah portion, I grappled with both accepting surrender as well as a willingness to embrace radical change. I know what it’s like to leave things behind and just get up and go. There have been instances in my life where I thought I was being uprooted. Looking back on how it all played out, the course of events clearly showed that I was actually being sent. As I slowly began to adopt this purposeful mindset of being sent to fulfill a mission vs. being uprooted in frustration and confusion, things began to make more sense. It became easier for me to pioneer each phase of life’s grand journey with less hesitation.
In each instance I encountered incredible challenges followed by powerful growth. Even with all of my prep-work and research, there was still a strong dimension of doubt, uncertainty, and hesitation for where I was heading.
In spite of such opposing forces, my willingness to just throw my hat over the wall first and then go and get it has served me well in life.
My cousin JJ is currently a year one student at Orayta. I was sent this video of his siyum (the celebratory gathering at the completion of a Torah study book/text) in honor of my refuah shlema.
Becoming Who You’re Meant To Be
The Holiday of Purim recently passed in which I found similarities to my circumstances. In a nutshell, the story tells of a Jewish Queen named Esther who hides her Jewish identity throughout the story only to reveal it to the King right before his minister named Haman plots to kill the Jewish people within Ancient Persia. She had to lift her veil, proclaim her Jewish identity, and make a bold move to save the Jewish people before it was too late. If she did not embrace this identity, then death and destruction would have fallen on an entire nation. Her Uncle Mordecai told her, “For if you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source.” In that moment she snapped into action and did what she needed to do. She approached the King, revealed she was a Jew, and that his minister Haman had an evil plan to kill her people. At the end of the story, history records that the Jews were saved, and Haman was hung on the gallows reserved for Mordecai. Funny enough, G-d is not mentioned even once in the entire story.
In an eerily similar fashion, when the doctors told me that I had cancer, I too wondered what do I want to make of my life and just where was G-d? After some introspection, it was as if I actually heard Mordecai’s voice. I feel like the initial findings pre-diagnosis were G-d’s hidden way of saying; There is too much greatness in you to share with my world for you to keep going at this pace. I need you to become the person I want you to be. You must get your act together and live up to that potential or face the consequences. I’m giving you this scare to help expedite the process. It is because I love you and want the very best for you. I think it’s same way that a parent reprimands their child to encourage them to learn, grow, and bring out their best. So as soon as I was diagnosed with cancer, I started working on myself right away. My life depended on it!
I remember many years ago I went to a Tony Robbins conference with my Dad. There was an exercise where participants had to “step up” and “make their move.” There are moments in our lives where we have to get going, embrace who we are, and assert ourselves with everything we’ve got. Once we feel comfortable doing that, the rest is history.