Monday, May 22, 2017

Will I be here for..... ?

May 2012, Six Days Post-Op
Five years ago today, on May 22, 2012,I started my recovery.  The prior months were a blur of activity -- the symptoms, the missed diagnosis, the diagnosis, learning about options, decisions, 10 weeks of a chemotherapy clinical trial at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and, finally, on May 22nd, surgery.  The treatment was over, it had largely been in the hands of experts.  Recovery was in my hands, with the help of family and friends.  If five year's passed without a recurrence, it would be official -- I'd have my health back too!  Until then, I'd focus on recovering from the treatment and regaining my strength.

Yesterday, I celebrated this anniversary with a 65 mile bike ride, including my first Boston Brain Tumor Ride.  The recovery has gone well.  The last of my screenings is this Wednesday morning.  If it also goes well, I can finally say with certainty that I have health back.
November, 2016 in Jerusalem, Israel

While I don't recall many of the questions that I had for my oncologist, there is one that is with me everyday.  It came after the diagnosis, and after I'd seen the results of my MRI, showing the damage first hand.  It was the hardest question to ask, "will I be here for my son's graduation?"  The doctor answered with a question of his own, "how old is your son?". 

With Benji on the 2014 Israel Ride
I missed Benji's college graduation, as I couldn't travel during the chemo. Since the surgery, it's been a full five years -- Josh's High School graduation, Sara and Josh's college graduations, Adam and Michelle's wedding, Michelle's graduate school graduation, five more anniversaries, five more Pan-Mass Challenge Rides (with Josh, Benji, Sara, Adam, and my sister in law, Lisa, each joining me for at least one of them, and Josh joining me for all five!), five more Israel Rides (including being able to share the 2014 Israel Ride with Benji!), making Cycle for Survival into a family event, being able to join in the Ride for Food and, finally, yesterday's Brain Tumor Ride. Each moment is a celebration of life. 

On my bike ride home yesterday, I took a detour and rode through Elm Bank.  This is where friends and family were good enough to take me for many of my daily walks after the surgery.   While the walks started with a few shaky steps, they grew to 5 - 10 miles a day over the first 10 weeks.  That allowed me to get back on my bike in time for the 2012 Pan-Mass Challenge:

2012 PMC
I'm mindful each day that my outcome could have been different.  My nephew, Guy Bar-Yosef was diagnosed with cancer at about the same time as me.  Despite his amazing faith, high quality medical care, and overwhelming love and support from his family and friends, we lost Guy to cancer in August, 2013.  
Guy's Amphitheater (top right), Dedicated in his memory on the 2016 Israel Ride
As much progress as we've made, cancer remains a terrible and indiscriminate disease.   On May 22, 2012, I got control of regaining my strength.  Being cancer free, and having my health, I owe to incredible medical care, the love and support of family and friends, and good fortune -- it is a gift I can never repay.

Friday, November 18, 2016

This Never Gets Old

I am still basking in the glow of completing my 11th Israel Ride. It was amazing - this just doesn't get old! I rode just over 280 miles, traveling from Jerusalem to Eilat with 177 riders, 12 chaverim, and over 60 staff and crew. It was the largest group the Israel Ride has ever brought together in Israel, all riding and working in support of the environmental leadership and peace building work of the Arava Institute and Hazon. It was an honor to serve as vice-chair of the ride and chair of Team JNF.

Of particular importance to me, on this year's ride, was the opportunity to help lead the dedication of Guy's Amphitheater, built at the Arava Institute in memory of my nephew, Guy Bar-Yosef, and in honor of the Israel Ride. The amphitheater is a living tribute to Guy's life, work, and commitment to Israel.  The dedication was made even more special by the attendance of Guy's family.

Each Israel Ride becomes a rolling community, working together in support of an amazing journey and the work of the Arava Institute and Hazon.  I was truly fortunate, on this year's ride, to also be joined by my nephew, Michael Eisenberg.   Michael volunteered time away from his professional videography work ( to join the imaging team on the 2016 Israel Ride.  Just wait till you see some of what Michael and the rest of the PR/Imaging team are producing!

The Israel Ride renews my connection to the state of Israel and broadens my understanding of the region, as I meet Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians working towards peace, environmental sustainability, and regional cooperation. I returned home with new insights, new friends, and an exceptional way to stay connected to Israel in the months and years ahead.

Finally, each Israel Ride is a reminder to me of how fortunate I am to be part of this community.   It is a community that was a constant source of strength and support through my two bouts with cancer.   Scarcely a moment of the ride goes by without me being reminded and aware of how fortunate I am to be riding, cancer free, 4 1/2 years after the end of my treatment.  There were extra special reminders this year, as so many PMC (Pan-Mass Challenge) riders were also on the Israel Ride.  I'm well aware that I am one of many Israel Riders who are riding, in part, in celebration of their survival of cancer and other serious personal or health challenges.  It is a truly amazing and inspiring community to be part of.

I rode the compete ride proudly flying an Israeli flag that included the names of donor to my ride. I also planted a tree, in a JNF forest, in honor of each donor.

I encourage anyone who is interested to sign-up for this truly exceptional journey. To find out more about the Israel Ride, visit the Israel Ride website and be sure to "like" the Israel Ride Facebook Page as more details from the road and photos from each day are still being added! If you want to experience the Israel Ride for yourself next year it will run from October 31 - November 7, 2017. Registration is already open! I've already registered and will, again, ride as part of Team JNF. I hope that you will join me!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Hill/Climb that Had my Number

Tomorrow is the fourth day of riding on the 2014 Israel Ride.  The first three days (about 170 miles, for my group), and a very relaxing Shabbat at Mitzpe Ramon (above), are behind us.

But, the hill that "had my number" came on day three, the first climb after lunch.  It isn't the longest hill (about nine miles) on the ride, or the steepest.  But, it is a tough one.  It runs from Sde Boker to a less known local landmark, the Naftali prison.  And, for the past three years, it's "had my number", I've avoided it.  In 2011, while I hadn't been diagnosed yet, I knew that I was sick, and I opted to take the bus halfway up the hill.  Yes, I had good reason, but mostly it was the hill.  The next two years, 2012 and 2013, I opted for the Shomrim riding group on Friday.  Their route substitutes a beautiful desert hike for "the hill".  I liked the hike (and would recommended it to anyone -- it is beautiful), but I knew the truth.  I was avoiding the hill.

Day three of the 2014 Israel Ride included a new route for the Tzofim riders (the group that I mostly ride with).  We started in Yerocham, rode "rolling hills" about 15 - 16 miles to Golda Meir Park, and then another 15 or so to Sde Boker, David Ben Gurion's kibbutz.  The second leg includes a long, beautiful climb, and then couple of smaller descents into the valley where Sde Boker is located.  It is a beautiful ride.  From there, the next leg of the ride was "the hill".  Or, taking in the hike at Sde Boker.

At the Israel Ride's Rest Stop at Golda Meir Park, a JNF Park
I decided, it was time to meet the hill again.  I suggested that Benji go ahead, and anticipate that I'd arrive at the next rest stop with the SAG vehicle.  And off we went!  First one mile, then the next.  At one point, before the steepest part of the climb, a shepherd was bringing his flock of sheep across the road (this is the Israel Ride!).  I slowed up, not wanting to stop, not wanting to get the crossing before they were done.  Then, it was a pedal stroke at a time, finding a new groove.  Finally, I saw a break ahead in the wall of the hill.   Never has a prison looked so good!   The rest stop, and the peak of the hill, was less than a mile away!

From the rest stop, "the hill" behind us, we pedaled the rest of the route, including several smaller climbs, to Shabbat at Mitzpe Ramon.  

Every ride has it's challenges.  For me, despite whatever other challenges I've been able to face these past few years, this hill had my number.  I'd climbed steeper ones, and longer ones, but couldn't face this one.   This year I faced it...and left it behind.  The hill HAD my number, it doesn't anymore! 

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The 2014 Israel Ride -- Number 9, A Community on Wheels

Registration and orientation are over, the bikes are assembled and ready to go, Benji and I are ready, and the 2014 Israel Ride leaves Jerusalem at sunrise tomorrow.   This year's ride is the largest since 2007, with 165 riders and a crew of almost 50 people.   For the next six days, on routes from 150 to almost 400 miles, we are a community on wheels.  There will be quiet times, cycling through the Negev.  And, there will be our own challenges with the demands of the ride.   But, we will never be alone.

For me, that community starts with Benji, my 2nd oldest son, who is riding with me this year.  While he is a veteran of many PMC rides, this will be his longest ride, and, for sure, the longest time that we've spent together without the rest of the family.  For me, that is very exciting!   I look forward to the time with him, and to sharing the Israel Ride with him.

We are also honored by the support that we've received from friends and family.  Between the JNF Guardian of Israel event in September, which will ultimately benefit the Arava Institute, and the direct donations to the Israel Ride, we have received donations from almost 150 friends and family.   Each donor is on honored on a flag that will ride with us from Jerusalem to Eilat.  We will never be alone!

I hope to post more from the road, and share some of the excitement and good fortune of having the opportunity to participate, with Benji, in the 2014 Israel Ride.  

For now, this brief note is just to acknowledge the moment, and thank everyone who has supported and encouraged our participation in this ride and the good work that it supports.  I hope that each of our supporters can one day personally participate in the Israel Ride.   In the mean time, you are each part of the 2014 Israel Ride.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Guardian of Israel Award, Remembering Guy Bar-Yosef

I had the very special privilege this week of being honored by Jewish National Fund and the Arava Institute with the 2014 Guardian of Israel Award.   JNF and the Institute presented the award at a wonderful luncheon at Elm Bank, on September 21st.  My goal is that proceeds from the event will be used to build a new outdoor classroom/amphitheater at the Arava Institute, on Kibbutz Ketura. The amphitheater will be named in memory of my nephew, Guy Bar-Yosef, and in honor of the Israel Ride. To reach my goal, and build the amphitheater, we need to raise a total of $100,000.  We are almost there, but not quite.  I hope that you will consider contributing.  The link for contributions is: 2014/new-england-guardian-of-Israel

Several people have asked that I post my comments from the event.   They are below.

Guardian of Israel Award
September 21, 2014

Thank you.

This is an honor that I should be accepting on behalf of many people in the room, as you have helped to make possible any of my achievements. 

Fran, Adam, Sara, Josh, Benji, and Michelle.    You are patient with my commitments, supportive of my love for Israel, and, at the most challenging time in my life, you were with me each step of the way.  I was never alone. 

My Mom, Lori Gordon.  You’ve been my most steadfast supporter, and your husband, my stepfather, Rabbi Morris Gordon, always encouraged my love for Israel.

I’d like to thank Howie Rodenstein and Paula Reckess for organizing and co-chairing this event, along with my family and friends who served on the organizing committee.  Thank you!

The staff and board of Jewish National Fund is passionate about what they do, proud of the amazing work of JNF, and outstanding to work with.  Sharon, Sara, Debi, and Rami, you make it fun to be a volunteer and board member.
The staff and directors of Friends of the Arava Institute, Hazon, and the Israel Ride have made the Israel Ride an amazing, life changing event for nearly a thousand riders and for the people and organizations that it supports.   And, in particular, I want to thank David Rendsburg and Branwen Cale.   David, you’ve been patient with me as a very squeaky wheel, and you are ever attentive to the details of making the Israel Ride a success.   Branwen, you fully embraced the growth strategy that we developed for the Israel Ride.  You are the professional staff leader that we needed to move forward these past two years. As some of you may have noticed, Branwen extended the start of her maternity leave so that she could be here with us today.

One reason why the Israel ride has such an impact, is that we see the results of the Arava Institute’s work.  We learn about projects that alumni are working on.  More important, we learn from their example.  The alumni are from a diversity of backgrounds – Jewish, Christian and Muslim, Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian.  They have built a strong community, committed to co-existence.  The lesson of the Israel Ride is the unity in their community, and the better future that they represent for all of us.

As you know, we are raising funds to build an outdoor classroom and amphitheater at the Arava Institute.  The amphitheater will be in memory of my nephew, Guy Bar-Yosef, and in honor of the Israel Ride.  I’d like to tell you a bit about Guy. 
Guy was born in 1973 to a liberal, Jewish, Israeli family.
Guy was an explorer.  He traveled the world in search of his own spiritualty.  In one of many discussions with his grandfather, Rabbi Morris Gordon, Guy realized that that the lessons that he was seeking all exist in Judaism.

Guy became a devotee of the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the 18th century founder of the Breslov Hasidim.   Two lessons stand out – the importance of community, that “there is no despair in this world” – reflecting a devout faith in G-d, and a belief there is a reason for everything.

Guy was a popular tour guide.   His impact was summed up in this note from a young adult on a birthright trip:
“When I got off the plane and saw you, with the big kippa and payot, I thought ‘oh no, what are we in for?’   After your initial greeting to us and a couple of jokes, I knew we’d be OK.  After the ten days we spent with you I want you to know that if I learned nothing else, I learned not to judge a Jew by the length of his payot.” 

Guy made Israel and Judaism alive and vibrant.  He believed in “Unity in the Community”.  He instilled a sense of belonging to something great and spiritual in everyone he met.

The Israel Ride and the Arava Institute ultimately reflect that same belief in “Unity of the Community”.  You’re all familiar with the ride.   You’ve seen the photos, it is beautiful.  You’ve heard the stories, we have incredible crew and staff. But, the real secret is the community that we become a part of, and lessons we learn from our fellow riders.

For me, one of those lessons came on the Shabbat morning of my first Israel Ride, in 2005.

Another first time rider, on the ride with his son, told the story of what it meant for him to be doing the Israel Ride one year after cancer surgery.  He spoke of what it meant to:
  •          Be alive
  •          To be challenging himself
  •          And to be giving back

In 2010, that story helped me give my first cancer a “lower case c”.  With the support of my family, it helped me navigate my surgery and recovery.

In 2012, we learned that I had a much more advanced and aggressive cancer.
Over the next eight months, as I went through aggressive chemotherapy, surgery, and starting on a road to recovery, my family and friends, and the Israel Ride community, the people in this room, were there for me every step.
  • When I was too weak to walk, you sat with me or offered to walk for me.
  • When I started to walk, you were by my side, guiding the way
  • And, when I was able to ride again, you were my training wheels.

You were there for me on a journey that no one should travel alone.

Shortly after I started my treatment, Guy was diagnosed with leukemia.  I felt like we were in parallel universes.  Mine in Boston, and Guy’s in Israel.  Through his treatment, Guy’s family and friends were always by his side.  People he had touched, through his work as a guide, reached out to him, and prayed for his complete recovery.  When he needed a bone marrow transplant, there were donor drives across the world.  Marrow sampled from those drives continues to save lives today.  Guy’s faith and spirit never faltered.  

There is no despair in this world. 
We prayed for a miracle.  I hoped that the good fortune that had found me would find my nephew too.

Sadly, it didn’t.  In August of 2013, Guy passed away.

I hope that this new amphitheater at the Arava Institute will continue Guy’s lessons and impact.  I hope that it will be a classroom in which they build a community that is excited and passionate about Israel.   I hope that it will be a place where, in the midst of conflict and distrust, people will remember that “there is no despair”, and will to work to build a better future together.  And, for Guy’s young children, family, and friends, I hope that it will be a place where they find that his spirit and vitality live on.

I thank all of you for being here today, for this award, for your generosity and support, and for your commitment to Israel and to building a better future.

Friday, January 11, 2013

We did it!

The post below was written November 11, 2012, less than a week after the 2012 Israel Ride -- sorry for the long delay in posting it.  I didn't post during the ride, not because I didn't have a lot to say, just that I couldn't find the words to say it.   It was a very special week.

* * * * *
I pedaled into Eilat last Monday afternoon, about 275 miles after leaving Shavei Tzion, on Israel's northern coast.  That ended a journey that I didn't think would be possible this year, and I am truly fortunate to have completed.

I can't begin to express what it meant to me to do the ride this year --  words can't describe it.  As I prepared for the ride, and for each of the 275 miles that I rode in Israel, all of the friends and family who have reached out to me these past months were the wind at my back.  You made sure that I was never alone.  Thank you for all of your love, encouragement, prayers, and support, I truly appreciate it.

The photo below was taken at the beach in Eilat -- I'd come a long way in the 5 1/2 months since my surgery!

I am already registered for the 2013 Israel Ride.  One thing that I've learned this year is that we never know what tomorrow holds.  That said, I look forward to riding both the Israel Ride and the PMC again next year.  Unlike this year, I hope they won't be 'miracle rides', or impossible dreams, just good rides for great causes.  That would be exciting!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Transitions II, with the wind at my back...

It has been over seven months since I wrote my first blog post, Transitions, about bladder cancer. At the time, other than aggressive treatment, I didn't know what the future held. I also didn't know what it would be like to write about cancer, to share my experience with others. As you'll recall, I wrote that I was much more comfortable writing about the excitement and joy that I get from something like the Israel Ride. Cancer  is scary. 

Still, I wanted to try to share the journey. I did that for myself.  I thought keeping a chronicle might help and that it could be a useful way to keep my friends and extended family informed, without phones and sometimes difficult conversations for me or my immediate family. I'm tremendously glad that I made that decision. It lead to an outpouring of support, prayer, love, and good wishes from generations of friends, and some strangers too. Each of you has been with me these past months, helping me through each stage of the process, giving me strength. You've truly been the 'wind at my back'. I've been very fortunate. 

I've written that I thought of this time as having three phases -- chemotherapy, surgery, and, hopefully, recovery. I was excited to get to the third phase, recovery - that put 'things' back in my hands, the work of the doctors was largely done! I was blessed that the chemo and surgery were so successful that I could approach recovery "cancer free". At the beginning, that was not a foregone conclusion. All we really knew then was that the cancer was very advanced, 'pervasive' throughout my bladder, but, hopefully, still contained within my bladder. We also knew that I would probably be bladder free after the surgery, not necessarily cancer free. It is still difficult to write or believe that I am cancer free. I suspect that comfort only comes with the passage of time, lots of time. Cancer casts a long shadow. 

I have not written a lot on this blog about "recovery". Not that there wasn't a lot to write about, but it was something that lent itself better to short posts and updates on Facebook. That is good -- it is because the recovery went well, I made consistent progress, and had no major setbacks. There have been challenges, but not the meta-challenges that I struggled with after the initial diagnosis, chemo, and surgery. By comparison, the challenges were mundane. I stabilized and, with the help of others, began the work of getting my strength and energy back. I had a long way to go. I was in a wheelchair just weeks before surgery, and my first post-op accomplishments were measured in feet walked (or body functions regained, but we won't go there!). For weeks, things as basic as taking a shower were exhausting. I had twice weekly visits from home health. While helpful, they were so tiring that I did not even try to get any other exercise on those days. But, progress was steady. With the help of friends and family, I was regularly walking our block, about a mile, within a few weeks. By seven weeks, I was walking 6 - 10 miles/day. At eight weeks, July 17, I finally was able to get back on my bike for a short, chaperoned, ride. And, the first Sunday in August, I was able to ride 50 miles on the "family" route of the 2012 Pan Mass Challenge. I made good progress! Throughout, the prayers, love, encouragement, and support of family and friends has been a constant source of strength. You've truly been the wind at my back! 

The past month or two has been part of a new phase, one that I originally thought of as part of "recovery", but it is very different. I'll call it reentry. It is not about getting my strength and energy back, but of getting comfortable and finding my place back in the community and at work. It is about returning to "normalcy", or new-normalcy. It started slowly, as groups or crowds were overwhelming. Among friends, large groups were too emotional for me to deal with, not among friends, large groups were just scary.  Fortunately for me, some friends just knew this, and they invited me to small gatherings, easier to participate in. Others shared conversations, then walks, and then bike rides (yea!) with me, helping me not just recover my strength but also start to get more comfortable with myself again. 

I'm not sure that things will ever be back to "normal" -- at best cancer leaves a long shadow, and life without a bladder has it's moments as well, but we've made good progress on reentry. In the community, it was a long way from only being able to deal with people one or two at a time, to being able to again be more active at our Temple and with JNF, and to helping lead our Temple's Israel Appeal this year. Finding and keeping my voice in front of about a thousand people was a major milestone for me. It was only possible for the steps that came before it. Similarly, I've taken on a new position of responsibility for the Israel Ride, as vice chair of the ride, and I've resumed my full time responsibilities at work. This isn't recovery, it is reentry -- reentering the community, re-'claiming' some of my former responsibilities and joys. 

In a few short weeks, I'll return to the original reason that I started this blog, almost four years ago -- the Israel Ride! After learning my cancer diagnosis, and what the treatment would entail, I didn't expect to do the 2012 Israel Ride. In fact, at points during chemo, it hurt to even think about it. My first kernel of light came when a friend from prior Israel rides said that she would be riding in my honor. That got me focused, as much as her ride would mean to me, finding the strength to do the ride myself would mean even more. A few weeks ago, my doctor said "yes, absolutely" when I asked if I was healthy enough to do the ride. I was in! On November 5th, I will pedal into Eilat on the last day of the Israel Ride.  It will have been five months and two weeks since my surgery, and almost six months since the chemo left me in a wheelchair. I've never been alone. Each of you as been with me, the wind at my back. Thank you!  We will pedal into Eilat together.

I am thankful to have these past months behind me.  I pray for my friends and relatives who are currently struggling with cancer.  I've been truly fortunate, I hope and pray that they are as well.

My next post will be from the 2012 Israel Ride!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Remembering my father, Milton Eisenberg

Today is the first Father's Day since my father, Milton Eisenberg, passed away -- about 10 years after he was first diagnosed with cancer.  The dignity of my father's own fight with cancer has been an important example for me over these past months.  

A few years before he died, at the suggestion of his wife, my father took the opportunity to write down some reflections on his life, lessons learned, and his perspective on the miracle of life.  His wife, Su, shared those reflections at the memorial service for my father.   On this Father's Day, and in appreciation for the lessons he shared with us, I've repeated them his own words.

ME Eulogy Notes For Su Kim
Dear family and friends, thank you for being here today.

I asked my husband to help me write his eulogy when I still had reason to hope that his end might be some time away.  I wanted him to look back on his life while his mind was clear and he was in a happy state.  He said this was good thinking, and agreed to put some of his thoughts on paper for me to share with you today.  This is what he wrote:

“Human existence is a puzzle. We are born helpless.  If we have a normal life, we mature into self-sufficient beings with remarkable bodies and minds able to accommodate almost every sort of physical, intellectual, moral and emotional challenge.  As we grow old, we become helpless again and need the same kind of support as when we were children.  Then, inevitably, we die. 

“As intelligent beings, we cannot avoid speculating about what dying means, especially when we are asked to help compose our own eulogy.  The question we ask is the same one that has perplexed mankind for all of its existence:  Is death an annihilation or do we have souls--independent spirits--that live on long after the body has decayed?

“I used to believe that death brought with it the Day of Judgment when God decided who among us would enter Paradise.  I had only the vaguest concept of what Paradise might be like and was keenly aware that modern science contradicted any notion of an eternal disembodied spirit.  Nevertheless, I was convinced that at the end of our lives on earth, a just and demanding God would be obliged to reward virtue and punish evil.  Later, when I learned something about Buddhism’s belief in reincarnation, I began to think that the choice confronting us was not between Heaven and Hell, but between Nirvana and a renewed experience of birth, old age and death. 

            “My belief in a Day of Judgment gave me more concern than comfort since I had reason to doubt at the time that I would be among those fortunate enough to be chosen for Paradise or Nirvana.  I remember thinking that to have any chance of redemption, I would have to do something so noble before I died that even God would notice. I prayed that God would give me a long life so I could make amends for my many shortcomings.

"My concerns changed after I met Su.  I began to focus much more on the mystery and wonder of my life in the here-and-now and less on what would happen to me in the hereinafter.  The miracle of life on Earth became more important to me than speculations about the possibility of an after-life or another life. 
“We exist as tiny specks on a planet suspended in the cosmos as part of a vast solar system kept more or less in place by forces we can measure but cannot see.  Most scientists tell us that the world began with a big bang and that our Earth evolved during a multi-billion year process of adaptation into the diverse, intricate, precarious, and extraordinary place we inhabit.  Others believe it began about 6000 years ago and was completed by Almighty God is just 6 days.  Between these extremes are a multitude of beliefs too numerous even to catalogue.

“Whatever the case, I began to focus less on what would happen to me after I die and more on how I came to exist at all.  I realized that the whole idea of human existence was miraculous and that we must all be eternally grateful to whatever or whoever allows us to dwell in this earthly Paradise for whatever span of years we are given.  Personally, I have no hesitation in thanking God for this privilege, whether or not He also has endowed us with immortal souls or unending cycles of life.

“Every life, of course, is unique.  I know that I would not count my life as such a blessing if I didn’t have Su to share these last years with me.  I lived through two failed marriages before I met Su, which may be one of the reasons I appreciated her so much.  I do not blame anyone but myself for what went wrong since, as I confessed to Su many times, it took me a long time to grow up.  My effort to be worthy of her made me a better person.  Su gave me the chance I needed to redeem myself in this world, not the next.

“The Rabbis, and other religious leaders, like to say that God wants us to suffer to ennoble our character.  There may be some truth to this.  We know that Beethoven wrote the Ninth Symphony and other great works when he was totally deaf.  It is hard to imagine a more devastating ailment for a musical genius.  We know that Van Gogh, suffered all his life from depression and maybe that is what we see in much of his art.  It may even have been the spark that made his work unique.

“Personally, I think the Beethovens and Van Goghs are exceptions.  For most people, suffering is embittering, not uplifting.  It saps our strength and our will.  It diverts us from constructive endeavors.  In my own experience, a life that enjoys a share of this world’s blessings is much more likely to be fulfilling than a life tormented by pain. 

“Fortunately, I was blessed with good parents who did their best to spare me from hardship.  They were immigrants from Russia, which they fled to escape the Cossacks and pogroms.  They were hard working and proud to be Americans and did their best to help me make the most of my life in their adopted land.  I was doubly blessed because I also had a stepfather who embraced me as warmly as could have any blood relation.  A parent’s love is precious, but is love based on blood ties and tinged with the vicarious pleasure that comes from the success of one’s offspring.  Maybe that is why I appreciated my stepfather’s love even more than my mother’s or my father’s.  If it is possible, I know he is still caring for my mother and looking out for me.

“My stepfather, despite his own limited education, made sure that I would get a good education at a fine university and law school.  I was a good student and had many wonderful teachers; one in particular named Milton Konvitz who I admired above all.  My education helped me to a successful career.  One of my earliest mentors was Judge John Danaher, a kind and thoughtful man who taught me that accomplishing anything worthwhile required hard work and dedication.  As a federal prosecutor under Leo Rover and Oliver Gasch, I learned that however much we are taught to love the sinner, there are truly evil people among us who must be separated from the mostly good people who inhabit the earth. As Minority Counsel of the House Committee on the Judiciary and then as Administrative Assistant and Counsel to Senator Keating, I had an opportunity to work on the civil rights legislation that did so much to remove the legal barriers to full citizenship for black-Americans.  I worked in the Senate while Barry Goldwater, who commanded my Air Force Reserve Unit, Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey and many other well-known figures were serving in that body.  I respected and admired most of them, but this experience taught me that the most popular people are not always the most admirable and that even the most esteemed of our Nation’s leaders are not much different from the rest of us.  Finally, as a trial lawyer with Fried Frank, a large and successful law firm, I learned that because of my education and experience I could hold my own in the company of some of the best lawyers in America.

“It was a very satisfying career and allowed me to live a life beyond any wish I had for myself.  And I know it would not have been possible if my stepfather and my parents had not given me the support and encouragement I needed.   

“After I married Su, I became a stepfather to her children Omar, Princess and Dominique.  I tried to honor the example of my stepfather by embracing them as he had embraced me.  There were difficult times, which only made me appreciate my stepfather even more, but I hope they and my own children know that I wanted the best for them always.  My daughter Beth and my sons Justin, Jon, David, and Seth have given me many wonderful grandchildren.  Su sees my reflection in several of my grandchildren, particularly Brian Patrick, Justin and Michelle’s youngest.  While I don’t know if my soul will live on, I have no doubt that some of my genes will survive in them and I pray that it will be only the good ones. 

“All our children are good human beings, the highest praise I can give them.  The advice I give them is to treasure every day of your existence and to do your best at every task you face.  I do not believe in living life to the fullest in the sense in which that expression is often used.  More important when you look back on your life are the unselfish things you have done, the love and support you have given to others, and the sense that you have made the most of your talents and opportunities. I have learned that growing up is the work of a lifetime and that we should strive to continue growing until the end of our days. 

“I know that when my life draws to a close I will be sorry to say goodbye to our children and grandchildren, to the adventures that await future generations, to Verdi's and Puccini's operas, to Beethoven's and Mozart's symphonies, to Shakespeare's plays and Whitman's poetry, to Michelangelo's and C├ęzanne’s masterpieces, to Dickens' and Fitzgerald's and Tom Wolf's novels, to revising my own never to be published novel, and to the good movies Hollywood occasionally produces.  I will miss the everyday things like reading the newspaper in the morning while drinking my first cup of coffee on our balcony, the sight of the dogwoods and azaleas coming into bloom every Spring, the view of the Potomac River from our breakfast table, the awesome display of every shade of nature’s colors before the leaves gently fall to the ground, and the occasional blanket of snow that covers the city and the silence it brings with it.  Most of all, I will miss my Su Kim who has done so much to ennoble my life and to bring joy to every day we have been together.  If there is a heaven or a Blissful Pure Land, I cannot think of anyone I would like more as a companion for all eternity.

  “Yes, I am sorry to be leaving this world and the pleasures and rewards it has given me.  I do not leave it mournfully, however, for that would be showing ingratitude for my time on Earth.  In truth, I feel blessed to have been chosen from among all of Creation to live in mind and body as a human and in the best of all nations, the United States of America.  It is life, not death, that I regard as the greater miracle and I say thank you God for allowing me to be part of this world.  

“Goodbye and may a loving God bless you always.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Day After....Post-Op

Two weeks ago today I was at Brigham and Women's Hospital.  It was the day after my surgery for bladder cancer.  Over the prior several months, throughout my chemotherapy and, especially over the prior several days, it was the day that I had been waiting for -- the day after.   It was the day for me to begin to focus on recovery.   I could put my fears & anxiety about the surgery behind me (I was still here!), and there was no additional chemotherapy in the plan.  Unlike the prior few months, the remaining challenge was relatively concrete -- heal, rebuild my strength, and work towards getting back to my life.  Yes, there was uncertainty about cancer, and whether we were finally ahead of it.  But, on the morning after the surgery, I was looking forward.  I was happy to be alive....still am!

Benji posted a brief update, on my behalf, when I came out of surgery safely.  Since then, I've thought about writing several times, especially since last Monday, when I got home from the hospital.  Of course, thinking about writing, and having the focus and energy to write are two different things.  This afternoon has been good, more energy than the past few days.  A good time for an update!

First, some of the important (and good!) details:

  • the surgery went well.   I was in the OR for about six hours, and came through healthy enough to go straight to a regular room, instead of intensive care.   My surgeon described the surgery, with the expected complications, as "text book".
  • the key decision, the choice between a "neo-bladder" (internal) and a urostomy (external), was made by the surgeon during surgery.  In a key area, there was not enough salvageable tissue for the neo-bladder, so we went with the urostomy.  As I've written before, that was something of a relief for me.  The urostomy will take some getting used to but, for me, it beats having a lot of complications from a neo-bladder.
  • And, the best news came last Friday morning, about 10 days after the surgery ... all of the biopsies taken during the surgery came back negative!   This confirms what we saw in the last MRI, that there is no sign the cancer spread beyond my bladder.  There are no guarantees with cancer, but that was wonderful news.  I'll be monitored closely, but this news makes it that much easier to focus on healing, and the future.
To all of you who have been thinking of me, praying for me, and, in so many ways, helping care for me these past months, you've carried me a long way - the chemo and surgery are done, and the biopsy results are as encouraging as I could ask for.   Thank you!!

May 28, Checking Out!
My six days at Brigham & Women's went well.  I was in the urology ward, where the nurses, care assistants, doctors, and others were all very attuned to my needs.  My big surprise was coming to fully realize how extensive a surgery this was.  I'd been referring to it, and thinking of it, as a bladder surgery.  No small task, but contained.  Of course, I thought of it that way even as I described it as including removing a section of my intestines and building a replacement (internal or external) for the bladder.  A few of the staff on the urology floor described it to me as the most extensive urological surgery that they do.  For me, the truly unappreciated part was that this was intestinal surgery too -- and that it would take a bit to get my intestines working properly again.  Somehow I thought I'd mostly be focused on the incision healing, and the wound around the urostomy.  I've since learned better.  In any case, with me up and walking every day, and some signs that my digestive system was beginning to work again, they let me know on day #5 that I would be discharged on day #6, May 28th.  I appreciated that day's notice, as I took the news with mixed emotions -- it is still the early days of my recovery, and there was a lot of comfort in depth of care at the hospital.  Being home, even with the care of family and friends and regular visits from home health care, would be an adjustment.   

I've been home since May 28th.   Seems a long time, though I haven't quite settled into a new routine yet.  The advice from one of the home health nurses was pretty straightforward -- focus on rest, then hydration/diet, and exercise, in that order.  I'm doing well on rest!   Some days, even little things (e.g., a shower) can take a lot of energy, and leave me ready for a nap.  On days with warm weather, I've been good about getting out for short walks (emphasis on short!).  Short visits are energizing!  Still not eating much, until the digestive system settles down -- I expected pain/discomfort from the wounds that are healing, definitely didn't anticipate that it could be trumped by digesting food!  So, I've mostly been on a liquid diet, though I've tried a few more solid foods.  I'm trying to take it easy, and focus on the adjustment to my new parts (I keep a few spares around), healing, hydration, starting to expand my diet, and, as the weather improves, getting back out for those walks.   No need to focus on all those things at once, or without an occasional nap in between!

Perhaps the hardest thing is not the healing, but the missed moments -- Josh graduated from Prozdor (the Jewish high school supplement at Hebrew College) this past Sunday, Benji graduated from McGill, in Montreal, on Tuesday, and Sara comes home from six months in Israel this Saturday evening.  I missed the ceremonies (unless you count text messages) for Josh and Benji, and probably won't be at the airport to greet Sara's flight.  Shucks!    On the other hand, the whole family (Fran, Adam, Benji, Sara, Josh & me!) will all be here on Sunday.  Considering all that's transpired over the past few months, that is a bit like having Thanksgiving come early this year!

It is good to be home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Post-surgery Update

The surgery today went as planned and David is recovering well. We were originally told he would be in the ICU for a few days but he's doing so well that that's not necessary. He's being moved into a private room until he is well enough to come home. More updates coming in the next few days.