Let me tell you about one of the best gifts I ever received. Picture it. It’s not too large. About the size of a golf ball. It was amazing. As soon as it arrived, it began pulling my whole family together like never before. I felt so loved and appreciated. I was able to recalibrate what’s really important in my life and it redefined my sense of spirituality. It even came with a coupon for an eight-week vacation with nothing to do – just accept flowers from all my family and friends to go with all their good wishes. You’re probably wondering how you can get it. Is it on Amazon? Is there a waiting list? The cost: $55,000. I’m not sure you would want it but, as for me, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s name? Cancer.
It began with some strange symptoms: extreme itching, strong pain when swallowing any alcoholic beverage, night perspiration and a dry, discomfiting cough. Weird. I was only 28. My conversation at that age was not supposed to center around how I was feeling but I couldn’t help it. I felt like an advanced hypochondriac. When my friends saw I was about to start up again, they went into ‘nursing home visit’ mode, admiring my stylish cane and the like.
I was an aspiring medical student. Yet I didn’t think of these symptoms as being serious. Just weird. Then came the golf ball. It appeared in my neck. A large lump. A large lump of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage 2. The first moment was one of relief. I was not a hypochondriac, after all. On its heels came the realization that I had cancer. CANCER! I was 28 and I may never see 30.
Helpless. That‘s the word that described my initial thoughts. I had thought I was in control of my life. I made the decisions. Didn’t I? Now I felt like an unseen hand had reached out and was pulling me along a path I had not chosen. But the Hand was gentle. And it was leading me along a rich, rewarding path. I let it lead me. And I began enjoying the scenery. Those same teasing friends and relatives became so solicitous. They really cared. I felt so loved. So cherished. The Hand forced me to re-evaluate my life. The trivial fell by the wayside, now recognized as foolish drivel while the previously taken- for- granted aspects of life became front and center. Spirituality elucidated every moment. Now, when death became a reality, for the first time ironically, I felt really alive.
Relating to other people underwent a drastic change. At social get-togethers, I sat there encased in an aura of tragedy which blocked normal conversation like the figurative Iron curtain of the former USSR. My situation affected my friends’ lives, forcing them also to re-evaluate. Then came the advice. I knew it all came from a place of real caring. Some of it, though, was strange. But being the subject of Hafrashat Challa events made me feel good. Safe. Protected. And there were many of those.
I met some wonderful people from Ezer Mizion who offered help from every angle. There were the rides to and from the clinic with drivers who bent over backwards to make things easy and pleasant for me. And there were those sympathetic Ezer Mizion volunteers who brought meals and snacks to whoever was staying with me during my hospital stays. Professional therapy, fun trips that brought some sunshine into my life, even a summer vacation from scary thoughts at Ezer Mizion’s Summer Camp for Cancer Patients and their Families were all part of the Ezer Mizion package.
I’m ok now. But I’ll never be the same. If you asked me now whether I would have wanted this gift, my answer is a most definite yes. Next time something hits you unexpectedly. Something you didn’t want and feel you’d like to push away. Stop and think. It may just be a gift.