THE GIFT OF LOVE
Leaving the doctor’s office, I climbed into the car and started down the winding parking ramp. Breathe, I reminded myself as I replayed my conversation with the physician moments before.
“See how the white here turns gray there and when we turn it this way, the opposite is true? That’s the bone marrow. This should be that color and it’s not.” His voice faded for me as he described the things it could be but probably weren’t. I heard clearly, “…of course we won’t know for sure. That’s why we need the biopsy. It’s easiest to go into the shoulder so we’ll do that and grab a few cells. Then we’ll know for sure and when we do, we’ll go from there. Of course, there’s a chance it’s something else.”
A chance it’s something else. I’d been trying to track down for a year what was wrong. This was the one year anniversary of finding out my husband of 38 years had leukemia. I had jokingly remarked then that we’d been together so long we were sharing the disease, I had the symptoms but he had the diagnosis.
I looked up and spoke aloud, “If this is how it’s going to be, You have to watch over my children.” No denial for me. I went straight to bargaining – I was good at that. It’s in the DNA. Abraham Aveinu (our father) haggled with God over whole cities. Jacob wrestled for a blessing. Moses argued about taking a job. Surely, it was ok for me to request a little attention for my family.
In a few short weeks, I had gone from pain to preparing a bucket list. Upon returning to my physical therapist for a recurrent shoulder pain, he requested an MRI. The MRI led to a complete body bone scan and now a bone biopsy for probable bone metastases.
With Thanksgiving coming up, the procedure could not be scheduled for a week. Somehow, I had to get through the holiday weekend. I was determined not to spoil the holiday for everyone. I wouldn’t say anything. That resolve lasted about thirty seconds after my getting off the plane. At the airport, my sister was too perceptive.
“It’s been a long day.”
“Ok, but what’s really wrong?”
I caved. After insisting I could not leave the family gathering without telling everyone, she also agreed to let me reveal it at a time of my choosing.
Thursday was a hustle and bustle of last minute shopping, cooking, cleaning up, and setting the table. Part of the family participated in the annual city race and my 70 year old brother-in-law came in first in his age category. Friends and more family arrived for a splendid Thanksgiving meal, followed by games and music, smiles, laughter and love.
Gathered around the kitchen table, I shared the news Friday morning with my family: siblings and siblings-in-law, nieces and nephews. My children and husband already knew and one dear friend. After the initial stunned reaction, the love and support that flowed was beyond sustaining. Then came offers to be donors, to come to take care of me if needed, to be available day or night for calls and support, the love was palpable. So much so that the third generation, just over one year old, 4 ½ and 7, picked up on the energy. They danced and gave out hugs to everyone.
That evening was filled with good food, laughter, cuddling and hugs. The 4 ½ year old drew heart pictures for all the adults and requested letters back, to which we all complied. Notes filed with blessings and love and hugs and thanks were written back, allowing everyone to find a place of gratitude.
I finally convinced my son, who had driven 400 miles to be with us and would need to drive back the next morning, to get some sleep. Towering a foot over me, he was at once my little boy and my right hand guardian. I drew power from the near commanding, “You’ll be fine,” from my eldest sister as we hugged farewell. It was an echo of mom’s, z’l’* , “I won’t hear of it. You’re going to be fine”, when at age ten and sick with rheumatic fever, I had asked if I was going to die.
Anticipating the 5:45 AM flight home, I spent the night on the couch with my second sister, talking in whispers the way we used to do as kids. Holding hands, we fell briefly to sleep before the alarm woke us to final hugs, tears and well wishes.
My brother drove me to the airport. There are big brother hugs and then there are big brother hugs. This big brother hug anchored me like the roots of a tree.
The morning of the biopsy came and my daughter drove me to the hospital at 5:30 AM. She escorted me through the halls of check-in and preparation, staying with me until the nurse came to take me for the procedure.
“Don’t worry about elevated vitals,” explained the nurse, “it’s normal to be anxious.”
“I’m not anxious,” I replied. “However, my daughter might need something.”
Facing one more, large, ominous machine, this time with my arms velcroed down so I would not move during the procedure, the last thing I heard before succumbing to the anesthetic was, “You really aren’t anxious. Your vitals are terrific.”
A few hours later, I was back home resting, thanks to my daughter. By evening, I was back to being mom, sending her home with chicken soup and knadlach to help her recover from a cold. Now there was nothing to do but wait for results. And so we did. We ALL waited.
If love and laughter, prayers and wishes can bring about miracles, I had a miracle. The reports showed no traces of cancer, no tumor, nothing of consequence to worry about. During the following weeks, I learned that scans, lab reports, symptoms of various minor illnesses and a few anomalies had converged to appear as one life threatening disease. I could go back to physical therapy and try again to heal. This time though, I would have the added strength of my entire family helping me.
Emails, phone calls, Skype calls went out to everyone. We cried, we laughed, we offered long distance hugs. I had been given the greatest gift one could know in their life time. Surrounded by family and friends, blessed with their support and their caring, I was encased in love and carried on the wings of Shechinah.
Chanukah is a holiday that celebrates the miracle of a battle, the miracle of light and the miracle of continued faith through daunting times. With the blessings of the first Chanukah candle, I knew that my miracle had arrived early, wrapped in the gift of love. Now, every morning, I awake with a new appreciation for life as I recite modah ani, I give thanks.
* Zichrona livracha: may her memory be a blessing