Saturday, January 31, 2009

Trying to believe

Ma gadlu ma'asecha ya
M'od amku machshvotecha....

How great are your works Ya (G-d)
How very deep are your thoughts

There were several times during Sisterhood Shabbat this morning that I actually felt a physical tingling sensation throughout my body, something that doesn't usually happen to me at shul. I don't know if it was being there praying with so many women; the English readings, which were very moving; or the community I felt with the women who had worked together on the day. But it was very other-worldly.

The speaker, Rabbi Dr. Analia Bortz, was amazing. I don't remember so much of what she actually said, but more her presence was amazing. She sang these words (above) and talked about prayer, about G-d, about women and prayer, but more than that, she embodied prayer. Her presence felt prayer-ful. I am typically very cynical about prayer, but I was touched by her.

Also, when the rabbi announced the mi'shebeirach for cholim (the prayer for the sick), a whole line of people formed. There is a lot going on right now in the community, sickness both physical and emotional. I remembered reading something recently about how with the Torah open, there is a space open to the Divine, and perhaps those prayers will actually make it up to G-d. I was also reminded of someone once telling me how when a bride and groom stand under the wedding canopy, that there is an opening to G-d in that moment, and that some actually give the bride notes of supplication to G-d. Awesome.

Ma gadlu ma'asecha ya
M'od amku machshvotecha....

How great are your works Ya (G-d)
How very deep are your thoughts

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How Bostonians behave in snow

This moving graphic of snow storm behavior in Boston cracks me up! Be sure to click on the red circles!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jon Stewart on the One Week Anniversary: Obama

Just watch the first minute or so...I'm right there with you, Jon!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ladies in waiting

The phrase "ladies in waiting" has been on my mind lately. I recently had a string of similar conversations with friends who a) are Jewish b) are in their 40s, and c) who have family members who had breast cancer. They all spoke of "waiting" or "anticipating" that breast cancer would happen to them someday, similar to how I used to feel before my diagnosis.

This is different from the kind of waiting that you do in the waiting room at the mammography center. There, you are with a group of women, all waiting for the results of their mammogram. The anxiety is palpable. Everyone is still clothed in one of those awful hospital gowns, the kind that never seem to stay closed. Either your breast is hanging out, or your shoulder, or your belly. Everyone is reading, or trying to read, or watching bad TV, or just sitting and looking miserable. Every now and then, the nurse calls out a name, and someone goes out of the room to learn their fate. That waiting is awful, but it's more of a group awfulness.

This waiting, that I'm describing, is a gnawing, anxious, personal waiting based on real experience. These women have seen the suffering, have experienced women who die from breast cancer. This is not theoretical. This is real. And they know that their chances of getting breast cancer are real.

This whole thing makes me sick.

It just isn't fair that so many of us have to sit around, living our lives with the terrible thought lurking in the back of our minds that we are at a very real risk for breast cancer, or another type of cancer. That we are just waiting for this to happen to us, and that there is a very real chance that it will.

It just sucks.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Israel, Gaza, and ethics

I haven't written at all here about the recent war between Israel and Gaza. The response by liberal Americans (of which I am one) and of the international community has been one of horror. In particular, on Facebook, which I consider to be a fairly good indicator of what people are thinking (well, maybe just people like me), two "friends" who are Jewish men, neither of whom I would characterize as particularly religious but who identify in some way as Jewish, were posting regularly about the horror they felt about the situation of the Palestinians. It was sad for me to see these posts, not because I didn't understand how they felt, but because I felt they weren't seeing the whole story. I actually responded to one of the posts at one point, trying to give some of the background, some context, and somehow, that comment wasn't heard.

Then the war ended as quickly as it began, and we've been hearing less about it (on Facebook and other places). The new Obama administration is more on peoples' minds and in the news.

But today, at shul, the Rabbi chose to talk about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and their code of values. Very interesting choice of topic. He wanted us to know, he said, the grounding, the basis for the actions of the IDF, before we could actually think about how they responded in this particular situation. So he was giving us some background. (Interesting approach!) Here is a link to some of what he presented to us.

I think where he is going with this is: Hamas doesn't have a code of values (although I did find this online). Or rather, their value is: destroy Israel at all costs. So there isn't a basic framework of trying to fight ethically (whatever that means), trying to preserve life during war (if that is really possible). I suppose you could say: what does it matter that there is an ethical framework to the IDF? The end is the same. Lots of people die. Who cares about the framework? But I think his point will be: we do care. And it does matter.


Friday, January 23, 2009


So today I went for the genetic testing that I probably should have had done a long time ago: the test for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2, the breast cancer genes.

Way before my diagnosis, I got a letter from the hospital where I received my most recent mammogram. The letter said something like this: due to your background and family history (i.e. you are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and your mom had breast cancer at age 48), you are at a higher than average risk for breast cancer, and you might want to consider this test. The thing is, if you get a positive on this test (i.e. a mutation in BRCA1 or 2), you are definitely at higher risk for both breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and the only prevention is a bi-lateral mastectomy (to prevent breast cancer) and an oophrectomy (to prevent ovarian cancer). To put it bluntly, they remove your breasts, and take out your ovaries. And who wants THAT?

So I avoided the test. But now I can't avoid it. Because I already have breast cancer, that means my chance of recurrence is already higher than average. If I have the gene, it will be even higher. So I need to know. But I don't really want to know.

The genetic counselor was a very nice young woman, and she took my family history. There is a possibility of a mutation of the breast cancer gene from BOTH sides of my family, something I hadn't realized. It could be on my mother's side because of my mother's breast cancer, and it could be on my father's side because his first cousin had breast cancer. She showed me how the gene could have passed through the men on my dad's side. Scary.

Also, the other things I hadn't realized, is that if I do have the gene, my brother needs to be tested because it could be passed onto HIS kids. And it even could affect J (my son) by increasing his chances of male breast cancer or prostate cancer.

So I really, really, really want this test to come back negative for mutations. Really.

So I wait. Again. Three weeks for these results. That will be after my surgery. The fun never ends...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blog for Choice

It's Blog for Choice Day once again, on this, the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This year, it's just 2 days after the inauguration of President Barack Obama (it still gives me a thrill to say President Obama!). That means that, as in 1993 when President Clinton took office, President Obama will quickly blot out the Global Gag Rule. I've written before about how clearly I remember that day in 1993, when I was working in family planning, and we had twisted ourselves into pretzels trying to do our work under that rule.

So, this year, we have been asked to respond to this question: What is your top pro-
choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress?

My greatest wish is to see comprehensive, sensitive, age-appropriate sexuality education instituted in schools throughout the U.S. Kids should start to learn from an early age the right names for their body parts, have their questions answered in age-appropriate ways about how babies are made, how their bodies work, how to critically look at the inappropriate sexual messages in our society. When they are in elementary school, they need to learn what changes their bodies will go through in puberty, about periods and wet dreams and body odor and all that jazz. And then, as young teens, they need to learn about sex, and birth control, and abstinence, and NOT abstinence, and relationships, and everything that goes along with that.

That is what I think should be the top priority.

If kids grow up with healthy attitudes about sex and pleasure and their bodies, and feel good about themselves, they won't have sex at such young ages, they won't get pregnant at such young ages, and there will be less need for abortion. It's as simple as that.

P.S. Here's a list of everyone who's blogging for choice!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Something I don't have to worry about

Whether my neckline is modest enough or not. (click here to see what I'm talking about)

Jewish women don't have enough to worry about, they have to worry about their necks showing? We're not talking cleavage here; we're talking about necks.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Barack Obama is our president now. Watching the inauguration on a large screen in a conference room at work was a bit surreal. But it's done. He's sworn in.

His speech was solemn, realistic. He said:

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
I get the feeling that he is looking forward to the challenges ahead. I wish him well.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Does prayer help?

Since my diagnosis with breast cancer (still very weird to type that), many people have told me that they are "praying for me." I find this a) comforting, and b) disconcerting. Comforting, because it's just nice that people care, and that they want to express their caring by praying to whoever it is they pray to. Disconcerting, because I don't know if I really believe that prayer is really going to help a whit.

I read Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People years ago, and I do find comfort in the thought that while G-d isn't sitting up there controlling day to day life down here, G-d is supporting us through whatever hard times we are having.

On the other hand, I don't know if I really believe in G-d. And even if I do, I doubt G-d had anything to do with this cancer, and whether I will or will not recover from it.

So there.

But back to prayer. So in shul, there is a time, during the Torah service, when the rabbi says if anyone knows of someone who is sick, to come up and give him the name of this person, and the rabbi offers a prayer for healing (a mi shebeirach) and recites the names of all the people who are sick. I always feel a bit weird during this part of the service. It isn't really very Jewish to ask G-d for anything; at least, that's how I was brought up. So this whole asking G-d for healing thing seems pretty strange to me.

So I am. I probably could use some healing right now, and even if I don't believe in it, people I know do believe. So there are a bunch of prayers going up to G-d right now with my name in them. Not sure how I feel about that. Yes, I do. Both comforted, and a bit disconcerted.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"The why"

I haven't been focused too much on why this happened to me. Deal with it first, then deal with the why, is how I'm feeling these days. But we, as a society, need to be interested in why so many women get breast cancer. Cures, treatments, aren't enough: we need to prevent it in the first place.

So here are some things I've found on "the why":

State of the Evidence 2008: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment

Breast Cancer and the Environment from the Silent Spring Institute

Mass. Breast Cancer Coalition's Science and Research Links

Causes, Prevention, and Environmental Links from Breast Cancer Action

Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation (not really about "the why" but she is just so amazing...)

More soon...

Friday, January 16, 2009

2-1/2 weeks

Surgery is scheduled, but not for 2-1/2, almost 3 weeks. Now what do I do?

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Would you tell people in the grocery store? No, I would not tell people in the grocery store.

Would you tell people in CVS? No, I would not tell people in CVS.

Would you tell people while picking up J from school? No, I would not tell people while picking up J from school.

I would tell people in shul. I would tell people at work. But I would not, could not, tell people in the grocery store, or at CVS, or while picking up J from school. It's just too awkward and weird.

(apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Evidence of J

I know this is going to sound very weird, but I just received access to my medical records via a new online service called PatientSite (that's not the weird part). I looked up my records for my current problem, but also, right there, were the records from the ultrasound and CVS procedure we had when we were having J tested prenatally for NF! It really was just about 10 years ago! Look at this!

Approved: MON FEB 1,1999 3:45 PM
Procedure Date:02/01/99

For some reason, I'm finding this very moving. It was really hard going through that CVS procedure and not knowing whether we'd continue the pregnancy or not. But somehow it all worked out. And here I am, 10 years later, kind of in a similar place. Maybe, once again, it will all work out?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I'm afraid I've been silent for a number of weeks (or maybe just a few weeks... a few days?). I've written a bunch of posts but haven't posted them. The thing is, less than a week ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It's been quite surreal. And I haven't known what to write. I don't really want this to become a "breast cancer blog." On the other hand, I don't NOT want to write about it. So I haven't known quite what to do.

It's all very strange because all along, I've known that I would get breast cancer. My mom got it when she was just about the age I am now. I had my son late. Being an Ashkenazi Jew puts me at higher risk. Somehow, I just knew.

And I was right.

So now I/we (because it is happening to my family as well) are going down this new road... I have been to the Beth Israel/Deaconess in Boston more times in the past few weeks than I have in my entire life... Today I met with 3 docs who are going to be my lifelines. It was a long day, but a pretty positive one, overall. I met with a medical oncologist, a breast surgeon, and a radiation oncologist.

So now I know that I have invasive ductal carcinoma, that I am estrogen and progesterone receptor positive (which is good), HER2 negative (which is good), that my tumor is about 2-3 cm large and is operable and I can have breast conserving surgery (a lumpectomy). If my sentinal lymph nodes come back okay, I am eligible for a genetic test that might show that I can do without chemotherapy, which would be excellent. My greatest fear is the nausea that comes with chemo (I was a very nauseous person when I was pregnant with J). I still have a few things to deal with, such as genetic testing for the BRCA1 and 2 mutations and what those results might mean, but overall I'm feeling more positive than I have in weeks. And I writing here. And that, in and of itself, is a good thing.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Technology and love

I'm watching "You've Got Mail," that romantic 1998 flick with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. They are conducting a relationship via email (hence the name of the movie) and don't realize that they are rivals in the book selling business. It's a sweet movie.

But what's really funny is watching Hanks and Ryan, circa 1998, only 10 years ago, booting up their primitive laptops and logging onto AOL, listening to the connection take (whee EEE eee) and then waiting for the the infamous line, you've got mail!

Boy, has technology come a long way.

On the other hand, there's a scene where they are both online and Hanks sends Ryan an IM, or at least, a primitive version of IM. Embarrassingly, I haven't used IM until just this year, while on Facebook. So it's interesting to see that they had it back then.

And I'm typing this on a laptop. Using wireless.