April 10, 2009

Liberation and cancer

At Pesach, the season when we remember our liberation from slavery to freedom, I still feel enslaved to cancer. My friend Josh expressed it so eloquently in his blog post:
Beginning Round 2 at this Sacred Moment

I quietly began my second cycle of Sutent yesterday when at 10:30 am I swallowed a small brown capsule. I thought how this little act is so full of symbolism of this season of Passover. Tomorrow night we’ll break off a small piece of matzah and take a bite, remembering our heritage, our slavery in the land of Egypt, and our freedom today.

For me I’ve become a slave to my cancer. For the next month I’ll take this pill and deprive myself of good health in order to kill the bad cells. And we were once slaves in Egypt. So too we deprive ourselves of chametz or leavened bread for the next week to remember the miracles G-d did for us then.

Even though I know a harsh battle awaits me, I feel blessed by a miracle. These past couple weeks have been good. I’ve seen the lesions on my scalp improve. Besides the visual clues of smaller scabs, it used to be that I’d wake up in the mornings with a pillow dotted with blood. It’s good to see the case rather clean these days. The tumor on my back, which we radiated, heals as well. Those tumors we can see at the subcutaneous level feel smaller in size and still look bruised and damaged. I believe it is cancerous cells dying instead of multiplying. Yes, I’m hopeful that this is the right medicine for me at the right time. And this miracle is not lost on me.

But we as humans do need reminding of the miracles of life. The Lord did great things for me. That I see today with a reprieve from my ailments, which I will not forget. So too did He do great things for the nation of Israel. That is something we recall each Pesach. For we are frail, forgetful creatures. We need to be reminded. This holiday reminds us that we all can say we are slaves to something and each of us can find ways to declare ourselves free.

In brushing up on this holiday, I reread the story of Passover as I try to do this time each year. Following the burning bush, G-d convinced Moses of his convictions and his ultimate power by having Moses put his hand to his bosom. Out came a diseased hand. G-d told Moses to put it back and his hand was healed. Two weeks ago my hand was covered in blisters; now it is free of blemishes.

When I sit at the Seder table tomorrow night I will share with my kids the story of Passover. I will tell them how G-d did great things for each of us. We will discuss what it means to be slaves versus having our freedom. I will even speak of my battle with cancer. And I will say how each day is a miracle.

No my battle is far from over and it’d be with haste if I declared any success in my fight. Tests and time will tell. And no I am not one to go overboard and preach new found revelations of health and hope to all of you. I will still wrestle with my own beliefs, which puts me in no position to tell you what to believe. That’s never been my style. I think each should come to their own theological conclusions.

Do I keep this same belief in G-d when the chips are down too? Will I feel so strongly when the cruel cards of illness appear and nothing makes sense in the abject suffering of my loved ones? I think so but I do allow myself room to investigate my thoughts. Yet at this point, over years of hardships, I must say my belief in good times as well as bad remains steadfast.

And so yes, even if my health deteriorated over this season, I still must say miracles abound. I see it each day in my kids and their rapid growth and knowledge; in my wife and her undying love; and in my family and friends and their strength and commitment. That I am alive to witness all of this, is a blessing in and of itself.

Lessons from the Seder table should be remembered throughout the year. We are taught to question, to look for meaning, and make our own symbols. We remember the bitter, hard work of our ancestors and know we were once strangers in a strange land. So we must welcome the stranger. We spill wine from our cups of joy to remember that G-d’s creatures suffered by His hands. (Even as I feel hope, I know other cancer patients suffer without any.) And finally, we pronounce our work not done – not until Elijah returns and we spend next year in Jerusalem. Thus we must remember to keep working for a better world.

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