Are you there God, it’s me, Stephanie

Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah. For those of you not in the know, this is one of the holiest and most significant days for us Jewish folk. It’s like our Christmas. Except not at all.

Unlike the North American type of New Year, the Jewish one is a touch more serious, with some heavy lessons thrown in for good measure (the Jews love lessons). The idea is that the Big Guy up there opens up his big book of judgment on Rosh Hashanah, and decides whether you’ve been naughty or nice and if you deserve to be written into his Book of Life. If you’re an evil, awful person, then your chances don’t look so good. If you’re a saint, then you likely have a good year ahead. If you’ve made a few mistakes, but are otherwise pretty alright, then you need to spend the next 10 days repenting for your sins and asking for forgiveness and making things right with the Big Guy, before he seals your fate for the year on Yom Kippur.

Okay, so I think that’s a really simplified version and if any religious Jews are reading this, I apologize, but that’s the best I can do right now. Judaism for Dummies.

Challah, i.e. the best part of any Jewish holiday. (photo by Tori Avey)

Last year, we celebrated the holiday the week I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so one might say that there was a bit of a cloud hanging over the holidays. Actually, there was a cloud hanging over pretty much every holiday for the entire past year, and some holidays I even had to bypass completely. So I am looking forward to any holiday where I can sit up, eat some food, enjoy friends and family, and not pass out in the middle of it all.

I don’t think I was really deserving of the past year, and if there is a God up there, I’m pretty sure he got it wrong when he decided what my fate would be for the following year. Unless I did some really, incredibly terrible thing that I have blocked from my memory, but I’m fairly certain that I’m mostly a decent person.

So hey God, if you’re listening, you kind of owe me one. I’ll look past your error this time, since we all make mistakes, and maybe you were just having an off day. It happens. But there is no need to waste time judging me this year. I’ve paid my dues. Please just throw my name straight into your Book of Life. Top of the list.  Let’s try to make this year a little better, a little brighter, and a lot less cancer-filled. Thank you.

Shanah Tovah.

Escape from cancerland

I’m back from sunny, hot Jamaica, and I’d love to say I’m glad to be home, but that would be a bit of a lie. Spending a week where I was pampered and taken care of and did not have to worry about a single thing was quite luxurious. And honestly, I could have used another week. Or year.

This was the first week in nearly a year that I didn’t have to talk about cancer, or how I was feeling. No one there knew about the cancer. I was incognito, blending in with all the other happy sunburned people (sans sunburn, of course – hello, I’ve already had one kind of cancer, I’m no dummy). I got several compliments on my “beautiful hairstyle”, with no one assuming I had lost my hair, but rather that I had just been bold and cut it all off. One of the staff members, an aspiring model, even said it made her want to chop hers all off too. No one had a clue why I was there, or why my hair is so darn short, and I liked it that way. It truly was a break from reality and my life. No doctor’s appointments, no hospitals, no cancer.

I’m not sure if it was the Jamaican air, but my hair actually seemed to grow and change in the one week that I was away.

Of course, cancer wasn’t completely absent from my mind, because I am no where near at that point yet in my mental recovery. I still had some pains that made me wonder if my cancer has spread. And I still felt a smidge of sadness over the thought of my life being cut short, and missing out on moments like swimming in the ocean or watching a beautiful sunset. So many of my happy moments now seem to have this slight shadow of darkness attached to them, and I never realize it’s happening until it sneaks up on me. I hope eventually it doesn’t have to be that way, but I think it will take awhile still. Patience is something I must learn as I navigate this very confusing post-cancer existence.

Two very relaxed people.
Two very relaxed people. And of course, my port/scar prominently on display.
I ate dessert after every meal and did not feel guilty one bit. This dessert featured five different types of chocolate.

Something I also noticed from this trip was that as much as I have changed from my illness, I am still fundamentally the same person. I had wondered if perhaps my life-long fear of flying might have disappeared, now that I have truly been through something extremely scary and feel I have a new perspective on fear and how to face it. But even as I told myself, You’ve been through cancer, a bit of turbulence can’t scare you, I still panicked with every bump and squeezed my husband’s hand until it turned red and wondered how any rational human being could ever think it’s a good idea to be trapped with a bunch of strangers in a tight space, forty thousand feet above the ground. My fear of flight has most definitely not been cured as a result of cancer. Alas, I am still me, same as always.

I got a massage on my birthday in an outdoor cabana, where I could hear the waves crashing and feel the breeze coming off the water. This is my idea of cancer recovery.
I got a massage on my birthday in an outdoor cabana, where I could hear the waves crashing and feel the breeze coming off the water. This is my idea of cancer recovery.

Cake in bed. A brilliant idea which I highly recommend.

For my birthday, on the last night of our trip, my husband bought a wishing lantern for me. You’re supposed to light the lantern with fire, make a wish, and send it out into the sky, over the water. I’ve seen them before and always thought they were so pretty and magical, as they faded into the night sky. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to make a wish. Whether it worked or not, I need all the help I can get, so there wasn’t much to lose. At the very least, I got to see something beautiful, and at the very most, my wish will come true. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

Leaving the beautiful scenery and no-stress vibe of vacation land was very difficult. I began to feel like myself again for the first time in a long time. I even felt a bit pretty, instead of like an awkward looking boy. This week, it’s back to reality. Tomorrow I will be returning to work after a 10-month leave (which I initially thought would only be about one month. I think I underestimated what the year had in store for me. Oops). I will be on a part-time schedule at first and then build up more hours and days each week until I’m back full-time, so as to not shock my system and completely exhaust myself. I definitely have some mixed emotions about returning to work, but I am excited to get back to having a normal routine, and for the welcome distraction. I also have another treatment on Friday morning; unfortunately, not the massage kind, but the cancer kind. So the holiday has come to an end and it’s time to face the challenges of life once more. I am so grateful for the time I had away, to remember how beautiful the world is and how amazing it is to be alive to see it. I will dream of the next vacation, where instead of escaping from cancer life, I can just escape from regular life, like your average stressed-out, tired, burnt out human being, in need of a break. I can’t wait.