Monday, March 4, 2019

Do I love you? Do I WHAT?

Junior Year Abroad 1979 Hebrew University

I love watching musicals! I have watched them on broadway, at our local High School, middle school, camp; you name it. The quintessential musical, Fiddler on the Roof, I have probably seen over 50 times.  It was one of the first musicals my parents took us to see and Tevye was played by Herschel Bernardi.  

All the songs in this production are very recognizable including the dubious love duet song by Tevye and Golde:
Tevye: Do you love me?
Golde: Do I what?
Tevye: Do you love me?
Golde: Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married and this trouble in the town,You're upset. You want out. Go inside. Go lie down.Maybe it's indigestion.
Tevye: Golde, I'm asking you a question. Do you love me?
Golde: You're a fool!
Tevye: I know. But do you love me?
Golde: Do I love you? For twenty-five years, I've washed your clothes,Cooked your meals, cleaned your house, Given you children, milked the cow. After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

On March 4th I will turn 60, I have been married 34 and ½ years to Arthur, who will also turn 60 at the end of the month (on March 29). When you get married at age 25 you don’t really think about what will happen at age 59 if you are diagnosed with cancer.  Arthur and I met Junior year abroad  of college at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He moved to Chicago so I could be near my family and I have to say now, I could not ask for a better partner, husband, father, and friend as we face this next chapter together. Arthur has rearranged his schedule numerous times to be with me at most of my chemo appointments, doctor appointments, procedure appointments and whatever has needed to be done.

He has told me I look good in all my new styles:  my new wig, my new scarves, and even with my shaved head.  I will say that he has been appreciative of all the food you have provided for us whether it came fr, or made sure we could we can eat from a lovely local restaurant.  

Now I can’t say that every day is argument free or without our disagreements, we are married after all.  In fact you can tell how things are going in our family by how many times I am forced to “google” the answer to one of our disagreements.  Occasionally, Arthur will admit he is just trying to make me google answers to our discussions at least once a day.

When I think back my our wedding on September 2nd, 1984, I remember how my professor/Rabbi Nathaniel Stampfer married us in a very traditional service.  I was actually surprised when only Arthur said the Jewish formula of: Harei at mekudeshet li b’taba’at zo k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael ("Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel"). When the bride consents, through her silent acceptance of the gift, a marriage has taken place, even if all other familiar aspects of the wedding are missing.

Vanessa and Arthur September 1984
I was taken off guard when I did not say that exact sentence back to Arthur but instead, Ani L’Dodi V’dodi Li, I am my beloved and beloved is mine.  I am still trying to remember if Rabbi Stampfer asked us if we would love each other through sickness and health. I am pretty sure he said these words to us and I can tell you that if he did not, we have lived out this truth for the past 6 months and feel confident and lucky as we look toward our future.  

Tevye: Then you love me?
Golde: I suppose I do.
Tevye: And I suppose I love you, too.
Together: It doesn't change a thing, but even so,
After thirty five years, it's nice to know

Lital and Cole August 2016

After almost 35 years of marriage, 4 children (one son in law) a fulfilling job and a wonderful life I find myself a very lucky women.  A Jewish greeting to someone who is having a birthday is: Ad Meah V’esrim, (May you live until 120, (the age of Moses) ). I think it is very significant that, for this birthday, if you add Arthur and my age together you get:  Meah V’esrim, 120!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

HGTV and Cancer

Ethan home for Shabbat
I have been watching many different HGTV (Home and Garden TV) shows these past 3 weeks since my surgery.  You might ask… What is the attraction of these shows and why were they so soothing as I recuperate? I think the answer lies in the reality that at the end of the 30 or 60 minute show, whatever started as a mess, or the participants not having a home, ends with a conclusion: a beautiful new home or a new home in a new place that fits the protagonists’ needs perfectly. They call in specialists like plumbers and electricians, and no one can stump them; they always fix the problem before the end of the show.  At the end of every episode, everyone is happy, in a new place and ready to move on with life.

Lital helping me to Marie Kondo my closet
When you have cancer, if only everything could be “fixed” in 30, or 60 minutes.  If only all your specialists and doctors had the definitive answers for you, and if only shiplap and exposed brick kept your white blood count steady.  I have all the faith in the world in my doctor, who is also my surgeon. We have discussed the options that I can take and here is what my show will have in store for the next month or so:

Wednesday, February 20th I will have chemo again, just like the 3 chemotherapy sessions I had in December.  I have elected to not use the digni cold cap anymore and, like the Property Brothers knocking out non-structural walls, the top of my head will be more “open-concept” as I  lose the hair that I have left in the next month, never mind my eyelashes and eyebrows. After this week I will have another port put in my abdomen and I will begin a regimen of IP chemotherapy. I’ll spare you the details, but in HGTV terms… We’re eliminating some unnecessary pipes, as we update this house’s plumbing.

Intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy (from The American Cancer Society)
In IP chemotherapy, the drugs cisplatin and paclitaxel are injected into the abdominal cavity through a catheter (thin tube). Giving chemo this way gives the most concentrated dose of the drugs directly to the cancer cells in the abdominal cavity. This chemo also gets absorbed into the bloodstream and so can reach cancer cells outside the abdominal cavity. IP chemotherapy seems to help some women live longer than IV chemo alone, but the side effects are often more severe.
Even after research and talking with my Doctor I am not sure how I will react to this new protocol.  Hopefully my “house” will be fixed and everyone will love it (not list it)! Yes, I know people think this house has good bones and a good heart. That’ll stay the same while , we get rid of the danged asbestos...  If I need a specialist or 2 I will not hesitate to call them and make sure to make some adjustments. And if the general contractor can’t get his plumber and inspector here on time there’s gonna be hell to pay. I will go into this next stage with strength, your good wishes, and Chip Gaines’ toolbelt/my usual optimistic outlook on life.  

February 10

If you want to visit just give me a call.  Please remember that this form of chemo compromises my immune system, so I appreciate phone calls, and if you want to visit, please call before you get in your car. We’ve all loved all the meals you have sent, along with the flowers and well-wishes. All of us can’t thank you enough; your care has really increased our curb appeal (that’s an HGTV joke, really not sure if it makes sense)  I will not be out in big crowds, but feel free to call me. Stay warm and hopefully the snow will stop soon!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

What a long strange trip it has been. Jerry Garcia

At Devil's Lake, Wisconsin at the top!
Mosh Bet 18
Last summer when I spent 2 weeks at OSRUI my unit took tiyulim, trips, every other week. These are not trips to the museum, these are rock climbing, hiking, biking, and canoeing trips. I went on the rock climbing trip with more than a dozen high school aged chanichim, or campers. These trips take a lot of preparation and planning, which falls on the shoulders of our madrichim, or counselors.  Everyone must work together to make it a successful tiyul. We cook together, hike together and of course hang out together. I had a good time. I especially enjoyed hanging with all the campers. We talked about the books they are reading, games they are playing, and how they can get cool stickers for your water bottle. In hindsight, I was pretty anxious for this trip, but in the end, everything turned out great. Without the support of the madrichim and even the chanichim, I am not so sure I would have such a positive outlook on this journey.

As I get ready for the next part in my cancer treatment, I realize there is connection between my camp journey and this new, slightly more medical, journey.  Next Tuesday, January 29th I will have surgery. This comes at the halfway point (as best we have planned) of my cancer journey, following 3 rounds of chemotherapy. There’s not a bone in my body that would claim this journey has been easy, but  with the support of many people working together, these past few months have been a little more bearable. Just like our madrichim took on the responsibility of planning, many of you, reading this blog today, have taken on the task of cooking meals, sending thoughtful cards, and making sure I get in my walking. In this next, surgical, stage I will have a  full hysterectomy and perhaps a bit more.

Someone asked me if I was afraid of what I’m about to go through and the answer is “no.” I am, however, anxious as I look into the future. I am a person who is used to planning, controlling, and then doing some more planning.  But as I prepare to let go of some of that, I know, once again, that I will have the support of those who have helped take on various responsibilities over the course of this journey. It will not be easy to just let go, but after talking and conferring with other people who have had this surgery I know that is what I need to do.

What I now know is that I will be in the hospital for 3-7 days and that I will be recovering at home for well, let’s just say, a while. I have known since the beginning that there would be more chemo in my future, but I’m working to accept that I cannot control the chemo plan will take shape. I am planning, however, to be at camp this coming summer, and with the support of my various teams I know I will make a recovery to work with my madrichim, chanichim, and faculty in Kallah Gimmel 2019!

Here are some other things I do know (I have to be in control somehow!):
Me in the wig
I have a wig now and wear it for special occasions, including leading t’filot, services, or going to parties.  I can’t imagine it will be that comfortable in the summer in the “natural air conditioning" of 600 Lac La Belle Drive we all love.

I still have some hair, but I am not sure the cold cap is in my future. Even with all the support, it still does not change the fact my head is set to a temperature of 32 degrees for about 7 hours! I will keep you posted.  

I continue to work at Lakeside and volunteer for both OSRUI and ARJE and thank everyone who has been so supportive as I make my way through this cancer journey. Not only do I love the work I do, it has been the distraction I need so that my life is more than doctors appointments, tests, and time in that cap.

On Tuesday we will post on our Lotsa helping hands site and will give updates.  My whole family thanks everyone for their support and will let you know when I am home and seeing visitors.  I know that I have your prayers and good wishes as I go into surgery.

To bring this full circle… When I went rock climbing in the summer I was very happy to get to the summit and even happier to get back to the campsite.  Just like I was ready to be off the mountain and back in camp, I will be happy to have the surgery behind me next week and look forward to saying Birkat HaGomel as I enter my journey of recovery. To this, you may ask, ‘what is benching Gomel?

Birkat Hagomel (pronounced beer-KHAT hah-GOH-mel), sometimes known as “benching gomel,” is commonly said after recovering from serious illness but can also be recited in gratitude for completing a dangerous journey.
This blessing for deliverance is typically recited in the presence of a minyan, or prayer quorum, often in the synagogue following the reading of the Torah.

Birkat Hagomel in Hebrew (courtesy of Sefaria)

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם. הַגּומֵל לְחַיָּבִים טובות. שֶׁגְּמָלַנִי כָּל טוב

Birkat Hagomel in Transliteration and English Translation

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-gomel t’chayavim tovim she-g’malani kol tuv.
Blessed are You, Sovereign of the universe, our God, ruler of the world, who rewards the undeserving with goodness, and who has rewarded me with goodness.
After the recitation of this blessing, the congregation responds:
Mi she-g’malcha kol tuv, hu yi-g’malcha kol tuv selah.
May God who rewarded you with all goodness reward you with all goodness for ever.

We will let you know when we are benching Gomel. Just as your assistance along this medical journey has been indispensable, your prayers along this recovery journey will be just as important.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Gratitude and Privilege and in Hebrew Hakarat Hatov and Z’chut

Ethan's graduation University of Wisconsin, Madison 2018
Wednesday, December 19th was my 2nd round of Chemo.  All went well. I am still wearing the Digni Cap during chemo, which freezes my head to 32 Degrees. It is not comfortable to say the least, but at the same time I am grateful for this new cooling technology, which helps to save your hair.  My goal was to have hair for Ethan’s graduation and I did. At my hospital I was able to participate and use this machine because a donor gave money for women to participate without having to pay out of pocket. I know that otherwise it would have been a very costly proposition. That’s a privilege I am benefiting from. For many other women, that kind of privilege would just be a dream.
This is how I feel all day during Chemo!

I have become so much more aware of my privilege, my Z'chut in other ways throughout my cancer journey. I live close to a wonderful hospital which I can access, due to my health insurance.  As I read in different online groups, I have realized that other women with cancer can not always afford their treatments, or pay their doctors’ bills. It is a terrible feeling to read these stories and recognize that a twist here, or a twist there and I could be in those women’s position. I don’t believe that in American, in 2018, that this should be a reality, but it is. What these same people must have gone through before the Affordable Care Act, I can’t even imagine. Thanks, Obama.

Through this all, I have worked to avoid acknowledging privilege as an exercise in guilt. Instead, I would rather express how grateful, Hakarat Hatov, I am for everyone and everything around me. I am grateful for all the support I have gotten from my family, friends and extended communities.  I had a delicious hot meal on Wednesday night, given by Denise and Jeff Goldberg, and Michelle Mutter and Rich Leonard after a long day spent with Arthur in the hospital. Wednesday morning my book club was graciously led by Lori Sagarin. I only hope they will still like me after being with such a professional. This Shabbat we look forward to a dinner from Cantor Arik Luck, Rachel Greenberg-Luck and their family! (to Sign up to help us out check out:

Special thanks to my sister, Wendy Shanker for coming in from St. Louis to make sure my parents and I are doing OK.  This blog would not be as well edited without Lital and Cole and this week they do their editing from Europe: Paris and Brussels.  Friends and family from far and near have checked in on me with a regularity which makes me feel so loved and cared for.

Fun weekend!
Cancer is not something anyone wants to hear or have as a diagnosis.  It is not a club you want an invite to, but it has been a reminder of what we too often take for granted. And even more importantly, it has shown me in real time that my family extends far beyond our Shabbat table. I am grateful to live among such family. Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Journey begins

It has been a whirlwind week, so I thought I would bring everyone up to date.  First chemo was Wednesday and it went well. I don’t have enough praise for all the nurses, CNAs  and other hospital staff who helped me through this first day of firsts. I wonder, is that a Shehecheyanu moment?  I will add some prayers next time I am in the chemo chair. We certainly add Shehecheyanu to the first night of Hanukkah which was Sunday December 2!

Shehecheyanu: Blessing for Beginnings
This blessing expresses gratitude for experiencing a new or special occasion, and is said whenever we do something for the first time in a calendar year. It can be recited on calendar milestones (for example: a birthday, the first night of each Jewish holiday) and other “firsts” (for example: tasting a new fruit, eating vegetables from your summer garden, wearing a new item of clothing, starting a new job, and dropping your children off for a new school year). (And I guess at your first CHEMO?)

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higianu laz'man hazeh.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

The most challenging part of chemo for me, so far, is the  Digni Cap. It is a new technology I am trying out. Here is how it works:
Scalp cooling is a proven approach to reduce chemotherapy-induced hair loss that has been used successfully by thousands of patients worldwide. They cool my scalp to a freezing 32 degrees. There is a built-in security sensor to ensure my scalp temperature always remains above 32° F/0° C.  
Freezing in in my Digni Cap
The cap was donated to the hospital by a former cancer patient. Putting on the cap lengthens my chemo by about 2-3 hours.  My motivation for trying this is for my youngest son, Ethan’s, graduation. He is graduating December 16th from the University of Wisconsin with a B.S. in computer engineering and computer science.   Hopefully, the Digni cap will allow me to still have hair for this special (shehechiyanu) moment and will be sure to share pictures! If after graduation I find the digni hat a little TOO challenging I may go without out next time.  For now it’s on!

It is still business as usual outside the hospital. I am working at Lakeside, doing a little walking to keep up my strength and taking care of myself.  Next chemo is after graduation and we will see if the steroids will again course through me like they did last week.  

The response to my blog and my news has been overwhelming.  I am so thankful for all of my communities and of course my family as it will take a village to shepherd us through this journey.  Our lotsahelpinghands site has already brought us dinners which are not only helpful, but delicious..  There will be more dates added as time goes on. If you have trouble with this site you can email Lital directly and she will help you out.

Many of you have asked for my Hebrew name to add to your  Mishaberach lists.  Here it is:

ונסה בּת משה לאה ויהושע
12-2 at Lakeside with Cantor Katzman
Vanessa Bat Masha Leah V’Yoshua.  It’s a long story on why Vanessa but that is for another post.  

I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me and I hope to get back to you over time.  I love reading your beautifully written messages and it certainly raises my spirits. Ok, sometimes if I read too many I cry, but it’s still so beautiful to read.  I look forward to seeing you, running into you and hearing from you.

Chag Urim Samaech
Have a wonderful Hanukkah!

Who doesn't love Radio Hanukkah?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

It's hard to give this post a name

Coming up with a headline for this blog has been a challenge. Below are some of the names my family and I thought about.
Last day of  Lakeside's Religious School 2018 with my children

She has a touch of cancer:  From John Green's Fault in Our Stars and before that Shakespeare: a little dark
Ovarian Story: Nah
Ovari Serious Announcement: Not the right tone
The Blog that shall not be named: Yes, for Harry Potter Fans
Belated Announcement: One of my favorite made up idioms

There probably is not a “right” choice for naming a blog like this and I can’t exactly bury the lead, although I have tried.  So here it is, I have ovarian cancer, which was just recently diagnosed. On a Thursday, I went in for a CT scan due to some pain in my abdomen.  A young doctor in the ER looked at the report and urged me to make an appointment with my doctor as soon as possible. He was adamant. I saw my doctor the next Monday and she said I should make an appointment with a gynecological oncologist.  That's when it sunk in. You don't see an oncologist just for abdominal pain, nor do they send you to one on a whim. The following week was filled with more appointments, more questions, more answers, and finally with Arthur in the doctor’s room with me, that’s when we heard the diagnosis.

Yes, it is  cancer; It is treatable; It might come back, but we will continue to fight it. My doctor was incredibly positive. He felt certain there will be even better treatments in the next few years; and we certainly hope there continues to be more treatments available.  
We don't realize how many people live with cancer as a chronic health issue.

Along with the diagnosis, I have struggled with a way to share this news with all my communities, friends, and family.  This blog is a good way to reach out and, of course, do some teaching. Who doesn't like to add some teaching, especially Jewish teaching? You all know I do.
A few FAQ's in my case, you know that I always get down to the concrete:
• I will have chemotherapy and then surgery. • Surgery, which may be in January, will be followed by more chemotherapy. • Don't google everything, it may not pertain to me or my particular case. • I will continue working and building our Adult Education at Lakeside-Solel in the years ahead. • I look forward to leading my book groups, leading services and Bible Study occasionally and helping B'nai Mitzvah with their D'vrei Torah.

When you teach, you should also have extra resources in your lesson plan. Here are some resources I do recommend:
  • Sharsheret, a Jewish organization which has just opened an office in Chicago, reaches out to women with breast and ovarian cancer. Click on the link for more information.
  • Did you know there are special makeup classes for those going through Cancer?
  • Find out more about your Jewish genetics from the Sarnoff Center.  You will hear more about this in later blog posts from me!
  • Take a look at the cancer wellness center website which is located in Northbrook and in different areas around the country and has educational classes and great resources.

Traditionally Jews recite the following prayer from our siddur daily.  From the Talmud: Eilu d'varim sh’ain l'hem shiur, These are the things we can do without measure:

1. Honoring father and mother,
2. Deeds of loving kindness,
3. Early arrival at the study-house, morning and evening,
4. Welcoming guests,
5. Visiting the sick,
6. Welcoming the bride,
7. Accompanying the dead (for burial),
8. Devotion in prayer,
9. Making peace between people
10. And the study of Torah is equal to them all because it leads to them all.
(b. Shabbat 127a)
People have already asked what they can do for me and for our family. You can see that visiting the sick is in the list above and many of you will have questions about everything that is going on. To answer them proactively, we will be posting on this website and I invite you to check in for a status update via the website which has a a meal train or by this blog. For those who want to reach out to me directly, the best way is through my email.  As much as I like to be in control, I know this journey is out of my control and I am doing my best to adapt and go with the flow. I am grateful for all my friends and especially my family.  I might not always be my upbeat self, but I look forward to hearing from you.
It is not easy for me to tell everyone about my medical status.  I hope to reach out to many of you over the next few days and weeks and touch base. I have also noticed that many people say to me that “they are so sorry” when I give them the news. That has consistently struck me as a funny response as you have done nothing and I have done nothing and we have nothing to be sorry for.  Talking with Ethan we settled on a response to the news that makes more sense from our perspective: I’m here for you. I know in my heart that you are all with me and my family.  
Lital and Cole's Wedding August 2016
Beyond your words, another way of supporting me through this journey is through fulfilling these other obligations outlined in Eilu d'varim sh’ain l'hem shiur: going to services, studying, and committing deeds of loving kindness.  That would make me just as happy, so please be sure to email me with the mitzvot you enjoyed the most!