Nov 19, 2008

We're Getting Personal.

There are those days, when no matter how hard you try, your eyes continuously turn toward the sky -- shamayim -- also known as the heavens in some circles. When you get a call from an insurance company informing you that you have a substantial outstanding medical bill to pay and that if you don't pay soon, they'll send you to a collection agency, even though you never got any statement, and eventually they back down and dish out "sorry about all this" when you say "I'm a poor graduate student." Then your hair lady leaves work early so you have to have a stranger trim your tresses and a class you love insists on moving at the speed of light for the sake of finality and not for the sake of education and your given tasks that are tedious and menial that others were supposed to do but suddenly grew far too busy to do. Oh, and then there are bank fees because the bank wrongly cashed a canceled check that they knew was canceled but deposited anyway. So you turn your eyes toward the sky and all you can do is pray. Of course, at this point you know this "you" is me, and I'm not usually one who turns to G-d only in the bad times. I prefer to look to G-d in the good and the bad, because I'm not a fair-weather Jew. But days like today -- where when it rains it pours -- I look to the sky, despite how illogical it is. Above us is the atmosphere and space and we have the pictures to prove there isn't immediately above us some fluffy white expanse of heaven with G-d hanging out in some cherubim-laced throne. But I look anyway because the celestial bodies of the sky are comforting and sing of the luminaries G-d placed so near (yet so far).

And? ... the doctors think my father has lymphoma.

I've been accused many times of being way, way too personal on my blog. People often ask me how I can possibly talk about as much as I do or divulge all of the details that I do. Don't I want anything to be sacred? Anything to be private? Isn't there a single thing that I want to be just for me, just for my own personal enjoyment? I guess it might be misleading since I do blog about so many personal things, but I don't write about everything in my life. I leave my love life out of it, I leave personal one-on-one friendships out of it. I write about me, myself, and I. And I think that's fascinating and I guess a lot of other people do, too.

The thing is, people love stories. At our most basic, we as individuals want to relate to everyone around us on some level. We cling to the tiniest bits and scraps of information that make us alike. And it's healthy, it's good, it's right. We're meant to figure out ways of living together with one another and we love to hear the stories of our peers because we can see ourselves in those stories. So, I tell stories. But the thing is, they're all real and they're all personal and they're all coming from the most deep trenches of my heart.

So this one. This story. I was sitting at Texas Roadhouse, enjoying some homemade chicken fingers and fries when the phone rang and my father, who I knew was getting a CAT scan and some tests today, informed me that he had news. He asked me where I was and if I wanted to talk. "I don't want to ruin your dinner," he said. That, of course, was a sign that something was very much not right, and I carried myself off to the ladies room, plugging a finger in one ear and pressing the phone tight up against the other to muffle the sounds of Toby Keith and Garth Brooks blaring over the loudspeaker (why is the music always louder in the bathroom than in the restaurant?). It turned out mom was on the phone, too. They both talked me through it: gall bladder needs to be removed, it doesn't work anymore, can live without it, must eat bland foods, swollen lymphnodes, caught it early, need a biopsy, will take when gall bladder is removed, chemo, therapy, oncologist, appointment on Monday, and the best part of it all? "If you have to get cancer, it's the best kind to get."

Currently, there are more than 400,000 people in the U.S. living with lymphoma. It's one of the most curable cancers, or so one website tells me. There are a lot of websites. I could read them all, but I won't, because I'm tired and my eyes are dusty and I'm just beat. And, of course, I can't see the sky anymore because I'm inside where it's warm.

I try not to be a fatalist, and I try to be an optimist. There is no better way to live life. And I'm not asking for pity or sympathy or regrets or "I'm sorrys." But sometimes, when everything is going so well, so perfectly, you wonder when life's big tragic nuggets of crap drop on you. I mean, in the long run all the money stuff seems stupid and piddly compared to the real news of the day. So chances are good I won't be extending my trip to Israel. Chances are good that I'll be using that money to pay off a doctor's bill and buying a ticket to fly back to Nebraska to spend some time with my family while they figure things out. Israel will still be there for the next however many years of my life, and I'll go back again and again because it calls to me. But so does my family, and this is pressing.

Until then, well, I'm going to sit around and bargain with G-d the best way a suffering soul knows how. Asking without intent to receive, but reminding G-d of all the ways my father has suffered in his life and how I think he's had about enough already. Losing both parents before the age of 11, bypass surgery, shitty CEOs who money-grubbed and drove his job into the ground, being emotionally battered. Unlike everything that I was able to fix before -- disputes, money troubles, car troubles, family troubles -- I can't fix this. This is something that the rock of the family just can't do. So, for now, I'll hope that maybe, just maybe, the biopsy comes back negative and we can all go back to living our lives the way that we know how.


Tuvia said...

I am so sorry about everything that happened. If there is anything you ever need (big or small) please never hesitate to call me. I am always here when you need me.

Rivkah said...

I am so very sorry to hear this, Chavi. :( I hope the biopsy comes back negative, but barring that, I hope the doctors are able to treat your father and he recovers swiftly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chaviva:

I've never read your blog before but came across a tag on the Word Press Dashboard because I saw the word lymphoma and it's a bit of a trigger word for me so I had to investigate.

There's no consolation really after hearing such news. I think that the news that a loved one has cancer is much harder on those who are close to to the person than on the person with the cancer.

When you're the diagnosed, you get all practical about next steps and that's where your focus lies. Surgery, chemo, taking the drugs post chemo, eating only cooked foods, paying attention to what your body is telling you so you don't overdo it, etc. The smallest details become weirdly absorbing.

It's the people who love you who get carried away into the world of scenarios, and that's a hard, scary world in which to be. So do your best not to go there. (It's hard, I'm sure, not to.)

IMHO, you're taking exactly the right approach. Discuss the matter early, often, and extensively with G-d and spend time with your family, just because.

But don't focus on fixing anything because there's nothing you can fix. You have to just take the time to be, and to let your Dad be, and to be with your Dad not because he has cancer, but just because you love him.

And for what it's worth "If you have to get cancer, it's the best kind to get." is the universal meme with lymphoma. (And it's a pretty hilarious one in a grim sort of way.) So it must be true, right?

May G-d give your Dad, you, and those who love him the strength for the journey.

Daniel Saunders said...

I am also very sorry to hear this and I hope the biopsy comes back negative.

Kate said...

My father had lung cancer when I was younger -- I understand this pain & fear all too well, the worry that comes with being a daughter who cannot fix the man she looks up to the most. I am, of course, saying a prayer (or a few) for your dad & for the rest of your family & hoping that the biopsy comes back negative. Hang in there...

chaviva said...

Daniel, Kate, Rivkah, Tuvia ... I want to thank you all for your comments -- they mean so very much to me. And in times like this, friends -- be they far or near -- are so important to hold close.

@Anonymous You've given me a lot of kind words and definitely some perspective on the situation, and for that I am truly grateful.

shavuatov said...

I am so sorry I wasn't around at the time to respond to this, Chavi. I am also truly sorry to read the news. I will be thinking of you and will include you all in our Shabbat prayers this week.


David said...

Can we say a misheberach for you dad . . . ?

chaviva said...

@Rachel It's absolutely fine and thank you for your prayers. The more, the more peace of mind I can maybe garner.

@David It would be so kind of you to do so. His name is Robert Edwards.

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