As soon as Doctor Grossbard and Nurse Audrey came into the patient room they provided me with more good news after their normal comedic routine. More importantly, my white blood cell count went up a little and therefore I don’t need to take the antibiotic immune booster these next few days. Also, but less important, I gained a few pounds! Hopefully this is attributed to all of my physical therapy and not my family’s pesto pasta.
A Full House
Today was the half way point in my treatments. I was joined by my parents, my family friend Frank, and my friend Alison. It was another packed house, which I love because it always helps the time go by rather quickly. I think we were the liveliest bunch in room 13 today. Frank is one of my Dad’s longtime friends and business partners in the garment industry. He provides no shortage of great Italian zest and we talked a lot about the Super Bowl. Alison is a friend of mine who I met shortly after sharing my diagnosis on facebook. A mutual friend introduced us since she is not only a warrior, but also an inspiring survivor of two forms of cancer at the same time. Thank you for being there for me over the past few months. I will proudly be helping her fundraise for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society (LLS) to hopefully become the next Woman of The Year through her campaign teamgreenribbon.com. In honor of the FDA’s approval of a seminal new gene therapy treatment for Large B Cell (Non-Hodgkin’s) Lymphoma she is aiming to raise $373,000 – the cost of one treatment. This 10 week campaign runs from April 5 through June 15 2018.
And so, armed with an entire posse in robust conversation, the room was made complete with my awesome nurse Ginelle who actually happened to be my nurse two weeks ago. As soon as she walked into my room she enthusiastically said, “Hello Ackerbat!” I was so happy that she read my blog and it’s pretty cool that a handful of people have even been referring to me as Ackerbat.
Ginelle put the IV needle in so fast and administered the chemo pushes so smoothly I didn’t even know what was happening. Not to mention she’s a natural at witty banter which helped distract me. The pre-meds again were still hard hitting in terms of nausea, fatigue, and dizziness. It is to be expected at this point. There were plenty of moments where it was difficult to even think straight or get up from my chair. I have strangely discovered that keeping my nose and face glued to a cup of earl gray tea offsets the chemo taste because of the tea smell. The lavender essential oil also helps with the intensity of the other cleaner smells in the room.
When the infusion was over I fell asleep out in the car, and then continued sleeping again at home for a few hours. Along with the other side effects, for me the hardest part of cancer has been the fatigue. You never know when you are just going to be absolutely exhausted no matter how healthy you eat. That being said, a lot of the Torah learning that I have been doing has really helped replace the energy bursts that I used to receive from the gym.
Grapes To Wine
I recall over the past three months of six treatments, my plan of action evolved. Originally it looked like I was supposed to only have six treatments with radiation. Then, it became eight treatments. When I went the hospital in celebration for my fourth infusion thinking I had reached halfway, I was informed that my treatments would need to be bumped up to 12. While that sounded challenging, I tried not to flinch. From all the personal faith I have developed – I just told myself it is what it is. Rabbi David Asher beautifully sums up “two fundamental principles in Jewish faith” in his book Living Emunah, chapter 107 – Hashem is in control of our lives and wants the best for us.
If you read my article “Blessing In Disguise,” my original reawakening occurred within the four days that I was told by the doctors, “looks like cancer” to, “you have cancer.” As my good friend says, in those four days I transformed from an “Ackerboy” into an “Ackerman.” I realized that if G-d could easily give me cancer, then I realized that it must be just as easy for him to help give me the things that I actually want. This epiphany has taken me to the next level by paradoxically shattering many chains of doubt and insecurity in my ego that have held me back in different areas of my life. A real man does not need to conquer the world, he needs to conquer himself.
Why does my most important growth to date have to be through cancer though? Honestly I’m not quite sure but I do love this analogy: My Rabbi, Rabbi David Aaron, said that before we can say a blessing on a beautiful cup of wine at the Shabbat table, the grapes first need to be stepped on and crushed in buckets before being processed into wine. Since I know there is a purpose to the crushing – that gives me joy. It says in Tehilim (Psalms), Psalm 90 verse 3 and 11-12:
3: You subdue a man’s confidence and strength to the point where he is ground down and contrite, and You say: “Return to Me, children of man.”
11: In such a life, who can acquire any understanding of the strength of Your anger in order to feel the awe which You command – and according to the awe which You command, so is the power of Your wrath against sinners.
12: According to the number of our days, short as they are, teach us while they are with us, and then we will acquire a heart of wisdom.
I remember learning in Yeshiva years ago that in Hebrew, the word “sinner” actually comes from the word חטא (which really means “mistake” or “off the mark”). So I’ve made some mistakes, and I may have been off mark, but now is my chance to come back into alignment with Hashem through a rectification of the gratitude in my heart. It definitely hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing over the past few months though. I haven’t always practiced what I preached. However, this blog is my diary. So even though I’m sharing it with the world, when I stumble, I know I’ll be the first person to go back and re-read my own words.
Thank G-d For Your Problems
Another individual that has had a profound impact on my family and myself is a speaker named Gedale Fenster. One of the main themes he poses in his Torah classes is the question on how often we thank G-d for our problems and challenges. When things go well, we might not acknowledge Him or effortlessly just say, thank G-d. When things go bad we might say, wow, why is this happening, why are you doing this to me!? That being said, when this happens, doubt and mistrust enter our mind that there is even a G-d who knows what he is doing which leads to fear, stress, and anxiety etc. I didn’t want to invite those feelings into my life. It felt really strange at first, but the more I spent time thanking G-d for my problems/challenges and literally saying, “thank you G-d for giving me cancer,” things have been looking up and blessing have been entering my life. I’ve found so much strength in this challenge. I can’t explain it. Right now I am doing my best to focus on gratitude and giving. Find 30 minutes to listen to his class called Mind Over Mood.
I feel so lucky to have been receiving so much comfort and support from so many people. I recall talking with individuals who may have been afraid to reveal their diagnosis. Additionally I know people who had to go through this process mostly by themselves. It can be a very scary and awkward thing if you look at it at face value. It’s ok to open up and be a little vulnerable. I am so glad that I have opened up to let so many different people be there for me. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – I’ve never received this much love and light from so many different people. An unexpected gift in the mail, a message from someone telling me that they donated to charity for me, did a new mitzvah, long conversations on the phone, music videos, a dedication, cards, visits, etc. I’m still trying to fathom how to give back to everyone.
While the above is just a glimpse, it is the fruits of progress I have developed so far from three months of listening to classes, reading books, learning with my Rabbi, getting closer with my family, and trying to fathom the greatness of the bigger picture that Hashem is painting for me everyday. The more I let him paint it without complaining why is this green and why is that brown – the more I appreciate it – and the more I want to paint with Him.