Ohm

om_ohm_aum_symbol_square_sticker_3_x_3I’ve long been one to defend the rights of all cancer patients (and everyone, for that matter) to self-identify with whatever language makes sense for them. I certainly won’t judge those who identify as victim or survivor. But I know many, many patients – especially metastatic patients – who loathe the war analogies. Yet I haven’t been able to reject them out of hand. I think, in part, because sometimes this disease does feel like a battle and that I’m fighting for my life and in part because it has become so engrained in our collective psyche that we don’t really have much to replace it with.

But during last night’s restorative yoga class, which I really wanted to skip out on, things started to make sense. Unfortunately it meant my mind was racing throughout the class, but if that leads to clarity, so be it.

I don’t know how cancer came into the studio with me, perhaps the news of a friend starting hospice and another prepared to die. In death language becomes even more important. We risk blaming the patient for not fighting hard enough or losing the battle. I know what I don’t want said about me, but I’m not sure what I do want said.

So in that yoga class…the room is dimly lit, my eyes are closed and hands open, I breathe. Breathing is good… The instructor tells us to surrender our bodies to the earth, allow gravity to pull us down and hold our weight.

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Enough Already…

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I don’t mean to kvetch – REALLY I don’t! I generally believe the universe is benign, that bad luck is just bad luck, that bad things happen to everyone – not just good people, and that no one is out to get me.

And yet…

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When Faith Falters

faithFor as long as I can remember my primary identity has been grounded in Jewish community. From summer camp to youth group, that is where I first felt I belonged. So much so that I went on to minor in Judaic Studies in college and focus on Jewish Communal Service in graduate school. Most of my 25-year career has been spent serving the Jewish people, and I have always felt lucky for the chance.

While Jewish peoplehood and Jewish faith are not the same things, I’ve generally taken my faith for granted. I work in a synagogue, after all.

When I was first diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer I felt the warm embrace of both the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. My community could not have possibly been more supportive and I never bothered to think through the distinctions. My connection to them was synonymous with my connection to God. I was grateful for the many prayer groups across the county who held me close, to the strangers who would never know more than my name, but petitioned God on my behalf anyway. And our faith seemingly prevailed. Despite the unpleasantness of chemo and a long, long surgical recovery, I was “cured” and able to leave breast cancer behind me, stronger for the experience.

Today, as a metastatic patient from whom mortality cannot be hidden, I’m less sure. My faith’s teachings are admittedly vague on the subject on afterlife, favoring a focus on what we can and must do in this life over speculation about the next one. We have this time, it seems to say – make the most of it. Enjoy it, but do good things, too. Not because you’ll get credit for it later, but because it’s the right way to be. So after all these years of serving the Jewish community, of trying to do good things, what’s left? I understand I may not die of breast cancer, but I will unquestionably die with it. And as each treatment fails me, my faith is a bit more compromised.

Are God and heaven and hell just human constructs designed to make us feel better, safer, about the mystery that is dying? Are they real in the absence of evidence, in the same way that we can’t see or capture the wind? Or perhaps they exist only for those who have faith. I don’t believe my faith will heal me, as much as I wish it could. Wonderful, saintly people have died of illness, and evil people have lived long and prospered. It’s impossible for me to believe in an interventionist God in a world like that.

Ultimately I believe, with rare exceptions that range from Hitler to the Dalai Lama (yeah, don’t see those two in the same category very often, do you?), that we mostly try to be good, and we succeed and we fail and we go on. I have friends, mostly Christian, who urge me to have faith. I understand why – from their perspective faith is the key to heaven. From mine, if there is one, it is good deeds. And I guess I believe that actions do speak louder than words…

But it begs the question of faith. As the lives of some many fellow bloggers and twitter friends are prematurely stolen from us, as my own health falters, do I have faith?

I remember when my mother in law was diagnosed with mesothelioma. In the months before she died we would have long conversations of faith. She had, once, believed in life after death, and had a notion of it being good. As her death approached however, just when she probably needed it most, her faith was gone, or at least well masked. She came to believe in nothing. I’ve always hoped in her final days, when she no longer had the strength to talk on the phone, that she found what she needed.

Which has me wondering what I need. Would this path be easier if I were a true, unquestioning believer? Would I find comfort in “knowing” what to expect after I die? Perhaps, if I could ever really move from thinking to knowing, a move the skeptic in me is likely to never make. In the end, it always takes me back to the very beginning. Within hours of being diagnosed the first time my anger at what this would mean for my loved ones burst forth. Never mind me, I’ve done bad things in my life. We all have. But to make my loved ones suffer for my actions, the unanswerable question always remained: what could Zach, at the tender age of three, have done to deserve this. That, in the end, confounds my faith; I have not found a way to put my trust in an unjust God.

I figure I have lots of time yet to work this one out…

The Measure of Time

CalendarLast week saw yet another CT scan and, unfortunately, some progression: albeit slowly, my cancer is growing again. And so I am now looking at my third-line treatment. I must admit, its all a little surreal. I was going to be that girl who got years on each successive therapy, denying to odds and beating down the doors of a ripe old age. Strike that – I AM going to be that girl, just not the way I planned.

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Cleaning out the Cobwebs

I must admit, I have been neglectful of late and it’s gotten a bit dusty around here. As it is wont to do, life took over. The cobwebs aren’t just virtual, though – they are metaphorical as well; it’s pretty dang dusty inside me head of late! So here’s a quick update of what’s been keeping me busy:

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NaBloPoMo 4: The Gift of Time

That coveted extra hour of sleep that comes each fall! I always have such high expectations. And like today, they are usually dashed. It was especially frustrating since the focus of my thinking between midnight and 2 AM, when I finally fell back asleep, was “at least I can sleep in…” Yeah, that didn’t happen.

We all want more time…more years in our life, more hours in our day. And it seems to me the more “convenient” our electronics make life, the more we try to cram in to each hour, and the more time we need. I am busier and with less “down time” than ever, and I know I’m not alone. I also know this probably isn’t good for me, or any of us. Demands are greater, attention spans are shorter and frustrations come more easily. Oh, but if we just had more hours in a day…

Judaism has the antidote for this. Our sabbath (Shabbat) begins at sundown on Friday, and we set the tone by lighting candles and reciting blessing for every-day things that we might otherwise take for granted. Once the candles are lit traditional limits our activities quite dramatically. Jewish law says that, just as God rested on the seventh day, we too must refrain from work. There are thousands of years of thought on what “work” means but here are some highlights: we can’t write, we can’t carry things (including money), we can’t create things and hardest of all in today’s electronic age – we can’t spark a flame. That means we can’t turn on a light, or a television; use a computer, or a cell phone. We can, however, read a book, visit with friends, play games with the kids, join our community in synagogue, go for long walks…

Of course not everyone (myself included) follows all of these rules, though many strive to. 

But here’s the great irony – you know that extra hour? In Judaism it comes every week. Shabbat is a 25-hour day, since it ends about an hour after sunset on Saturday. And while I may not be strictly observance of how I use this day of rest, the message that my extra hour goes here, when I should be tending to myself and my family, rather than when I am running errands or at the office.

So if YOU had an extra hour, and hour set apart, defined by different rules – an hour not about getting things done, but about slowing down and just being, how would you use it?

White Fire on Black Fire

ImageThere has been a great deal of talk about the power of WORDS in the breast cancer blogosphere lately; articles by AnneMarie and Marie are just a few examples, as well as an older one by Nancy. In my response to Marie’s post, I mention that attitude matters as well…

Judaism has a long and rich tradition of interpreting and reinterpreting the text of the Bible and other important books to make sense of them in today’s world. The first five books of the Hebrew bible are called Torah, and are written by hand on a parchment scroll in black ink. It includes our most ancient stories, and instructions as to how we live according to God’s will.

What does this have to do with fire? Or cancer?

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