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Like Gloria Steinem, I’ve found my elephant to ride . . . this article is it

Photo Credit: Mandy Goldberg

Influenced by a quote of feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem – purportedly expressed on her 80th birthday – when asked what she intended to do to celebrate this auspicious date, she said, "I am going to Botswana to get out of Dodge and to find an elephant to ride! "In a sense, I have found my elephant to ride. It takes the form of this article and it will take me too out of 'Dodge' or away from the reality of living with a sword of Damocles hovering over my head, since I was diagnosed a few months ago with some weird and unusual form of cancer that is playing havoc with my equilibrium.

Side effects from treatment have rendered me particularly emotional and easily reduce me to tears. I find myself needing more time to renew my minimal energy by lying on my back gazing at the ceiling than I have done since my teenage years, when I remember wasting hours imagining when and where I would meet the handsome knight in shining armor who was going to ride off with me into our future of everlasting magic! While not galloping by on a frisky steed, I did meet the man of my dreams and life has been an exciting adventure and continues to thrill and delight me. But with age come loss and illness and many unexpected changes and concessions to adjust to. And yet, if one can maintain an open mind, the magic is still there and that is what has motivated me to share some glimpses of those with you.

Within days of completing my first intensive chemotherapy session, I was shattered to realize that chunks of my thick hair had begun falling out. Rushing off to buy a wig, I was advised to have my hair cut short or shaved off before fitting a suitable wig. My daughter asked the young hairdresser who has a salon at our street level if he could come up to our apartment at his convenience to do this task for me as she saw how distressed I was at the thought of going into a salon with a reasonable head of hair and walking out bald. Duly arranged, Gidon the hairdresser arrived, settled me near a mirror and within minutes had shorn my hair to a quarter of an inch all round, cleared up the pieces on the floor, and wrapped his tools into a handy bag. In my best practised Hebrew, I thanked him and asked what I owed him for the job. "You have allowed me to do a mitzvah for you. I just wish that you should recover and be well. I refuse any payment whatsoever. "I did mention that I have become very emotional. Believe me, that young man was out of the front door before I had time to dry my tears.

Chemotherapy treatment is dependent on the state of one's blood at the time it is to be administered. My second session was delayed for a few days, which necessitated me being admitted to hospital on a Thursday. Family and friends did visit, which was a great comfort and help while I was connected to the phials of medication on the adjacent stand. My roommate was Russian and spoke Hebrew too, but since she couldn't understand English we were silent partners for the days we spent there together. I felt very sorry for her as she had no visitors all Thursday or Friday morning. Friday afternoon, however, that changed. I was delighted to see a younger woman sitting at the end of her bed and they were chatting away. After a five minutes stay, the visitor rose to leave and to my surprise came to the end of my bed and started talking to me in Hebrew. I explained my minimal understanding and she switched to English, wishing me Shabbat shalom, and presented me with a little plastic container holding a sweet muffin.

With a bit of encouragement, I heard her story. It is certainly worth repeating. The child of Holocaust survivors, Rivka was born in Israel in the ma'arbara (temporary tent encampments) that the family was sent to when they arrived in this land as refugees. She grew up and was educated in Israel, but then explored many parts of the world looking for meaning in her life. At 30 years old, Rivka's journey brought her back to Israel, where she found exactly what she had been searching the world for. She was enfolded in a caring, religious community. She married then but six years later, 23 years ago, Rivka had not yet conceived. She and her husband went for guidance to a learned rabbi, a tsaddik of their religious community. He told them to involve themselves in some mitzvah connected to the very sick and assured them that their wishes for a child would come true. They decided to bake cakes on a Friday morning to distribute amongst the patients of the oncology ward of Ichilov Hospital, which was situated near to where they lived, in order to sweeten Shabbat for the ill.

Now Shabbat is really not a day that one would wish to spend in hospital. There are few visitors, it is very quiet, the minutes drag into hours and the day is long and tedious, but every bite of that piece of cake brought a smile to my face. Rivka told me she fell pregnant two months after starting to bake and has kept up the tradition every Friday for 23 years, in gratitude for her wonderful daughter who this year blessed them with their first grandchild, a little boy who was given the name of the tsaddik his grandparents had visited for advice those many years back. So the mitzvah continues to bring its blessings to her growing family and joy to so many patients in the ward.

If you believe that there is no such thing as coincidence but that every move is guided by a greater power, it would explain why one day I shared a lift in our apartment block with a young man who was visiting his parents. He knew of my illness and handed me a card with his friend Galit's telephone number on it, explaining that she was a trained yoga therapist and would be happy to talk to me about her work, as I might find it useful. I did contact her. Having been a yoga enthusiast years ago, I was fascinated by the term 'yoga therapist' since I had never heard of such a practitioner before – and I am so pleased that I followed it up. She was trained in Europe by Indian therapists and she taught me new techniques for complete relaxation plus some very useful pain-relieving exercises personally adapted to me at my age and stage of flexibility.

Cancer is, generally speaking, a long journey to travel, often a roller coaster ride The treatment offered is not a one stop ride and from the perspective of a patient, the support, prayers and good wishes of family and friends are invaluable. Challenged by the many changes that occur, it is not always possible to remain positive, and there are times when we need to have the space to mourn the loss of good health and endless energy. Then there are other times when the sun shines behind some dark clouds and the silver linings are what catch the eye and rekindle hope and courage. Life is truly worth living and if you keep looking out the window, you will see the wonderful sun as it rises to herald another day. Try and live in the 'now', one day at a time and if you keep an open enquiring mind, you never know what interesting people you might meet on your journey or what valuable lessons are still out there to be learnt.

Comments regarding this feature can be addressed to the editor who will forward them to the author for personal consideration or response

 

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Saturday, 01 October 2022

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