Today is World Cancer Day, a day when people worldwide are focused on cancer, to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
But in my life, every day is cancer day.
Care and concern for my mother, Lori Winer (Leah B’rachah bat Hannah v’Reuven) plagues and inspires me daily. My mom is one of the most giving, caring, determined and lovely people in the world. She is truly an educator in every sense of the word and I am lucky to have her as a mom – and as my best friend.
In honor of World Cancer Day and my remarkable mother, I’d like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned during her surgery and treatment.
It’s not a definitive guide, but it’s become my go-to “How To Be the Jewish Daughter (or Son) of a Cancer Patient”:
1) It’s Okay To Feel Both/And. Have you seen those Ford commercials about and being better than or? As in, why choose “good looking” OR “great gas mileage” when you can have both? Both/and is often more realistic than either/or. I feel both/and quite a bit. My emotions are conflicted – contented that she is receiving what she needs AND overwhelmed by sadness and concern; confident in her care team AND fearful of the intangible enemy. I don’t have to feel one or the other. You can feel one, and the other, and feeling both is totally kosher.
2) Shower the People: One of my mother’s favorite singers is James Taylor and one of her favorites of his songs is “Shower the People.” The song says: “Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna be much better if you only will.” I have learned to surround myself with people and activities that sustain me. I also see the power of connections. Creating a website to keep our contacts updated has allowed for people to share good wishes with her and our whole family. We shower my mother with love, and let others shower us, too.
3) Make Deposits: My mom is the queen of strong metaphors, and this is one of her best. Here is a quote directly from her blog:
I have come to realize that getting through the surgery, recuperation, chemotherapy, etc. will take a great deal of energy and strength. Therefore, I have decided to take this time to build up my physical and emotional strength and work on my positivity so that there will be enough “deposits” in my “account” to support the “withdrawals” that will be taken out in the next few months.
I, too, have learned to put lots of deposits in the account, figuratively and literally. In the last three months, mom and I have knitted over $700 worth of infinity scarves, blankets and ear warmers for our friends. We accept donations for these snuggly pieces, and all of that goes to help families like us in the present and future. We have donated to the hospital caring for my mother, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute; to an organization that supports families during recovery and remission, Living Beyond Breast Cancer; and to a childhood cancer charity near and dear to our hearts, 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave.
4) Go Purple. My Facebook profile picture, also included in this post, is of me and my mother in shades of purple. If you change your profile picture today on Facebook or Twitter, Chevrolet will donate $1 per purpled profile (up to $1 million) for World Cancer Day.
5) Take a Moment for Prayer: While the “Mi Sheberakh“ is a universal prayer asking for a refuah shleimah (complete healing), there is a short, beautiful prayer that I say before she receives a dose of chemotherapy. It is derived from Mishnah Torah B’rachot 10:21, and is the prayer for bloodletting, which modern Jews find as a connection to sustained medicines: Yehi ratzon sheyihiyeh li refuah, which can be translated as “May it be God’s will that this will bring healing.”
I cannot wait to celebrate my mother being cancer-free, and together we will keep working and praying for our cancer-free world.
Ken yi’hi ratzon – may this be God’s will, and our own.
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When we brought our baby son home from the hospital nearly 27 years ago, we imagined many things for his future.
The Army wasn’t one of them.
The Jewish Chaplains Council estimates that there are currently around 10,000 active duty men and women known to be Jewish. My son, Sergeant Harrel Carlton Kimball, is one of those active duty Jewish soldiers.
I guess it shouldn’t have been such a surprise – from a very young age, he insisted on running outside every time he heard a “hoptercopter” in the sky! We got really lucky after basic training; he was assigned to his individual training at a base that had a retired Rabbi serving as a Chaplain. It gave him an opportunity to connect to something familiar and normal during this big transition in his life. Then he was assigned to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, for his home base. He attended synagogue for a couple of Shabbat services and the high holy days in Nashville, Tennessee, about 45 minutes away, and the congregation was very happy to accommodate him!
And then came his first deployment in 2010 to Afghanistan. How does a Jewish mother bless her child before an event like this? The only thing I could think to do was the priestly blessing over him. Much to my surprise, he did not stop me, or even seem embarrassed when others passed us by at the airport. It was a moment I will never forget.
While in Afghanistan, he celebrated the High Holy Days privately, without any service attendance; Chanukah, too, came and went during this deployment, but it was a sheer delight! His buddies rallied around him as he opened his gifts, played dreidel and lit his tiny Menorah.
Since that first deployment to Afghanistan, he spent a year-long deployment in Honduras, and is now considering one more tour in Afghanistan if he reenlists for another year (he is nearing the completion of his six year enlistment). The most common question I get from others is how I cope with the worry. My faith helps. I do not believe my son or I are any more important to God than anyone else, but my faith gives me strength to deal with life.
My hometown rabbi, Rabbi Edward Cohn of Temple Sinai in New Orleans, gave a sermon once that really stuck with me. It was titled “The Jungle is Neutral.” “The jungle” could be the universe, a war zone, mother nature, a bad cell inside a body, a stray bullet, a car accident; his sermon’s thesis was that these things do not happen to bad people as a punishment, they just happen. This is my faith, this is my Judaism, and this is my strength.
Of course, I pray for my son’s safety and the safety of all of our troops. I pray because my connection in prayer with God gives me strength, and because my son knows that I pray, and that gives him guidance and strength.
As an “army mom,” three things have helped immensely:
- Avoiding constant worry.There is no advantage to constant worry. It only hurts the worrier and doesn’t help the child (in this case, a full-grown soldier) you’re worrying about.
- Remembering that anything can happen anywhere. Who is to say that on any given day someone is safer here or there? I wonder how many moms used to worry about their child’s job in a New York high rise. We just don’t know what the future holds.
My son, Sergeant Kimball, plans to finish his military career in early 2014 or early 2015, and then finish college and pursue a civilian career. I tease him that he must then give me GIRLY GIRL grandchildren that I can take to ballet and to get mani/pedis and buy lots of sweet pink things for, after all this army-boy stuff! I tease him that this is my reward for keeping a stiff upper lip, but the truth is, he has been my sweet reward all along. I couldn’t be prouder of him.
Do you know any Jewish soldiers? How do their families navigate deployments and military life?