June 16th, 2013
The Shehecheyanu blessing (Hebrew: שהחינו, “Who has given us life”) is a common Jewish prayer said to celebrate special occasions. It is said to be thankful for new and unusual experiences. The blessing has been recited by Jews for nearly 2000 years. It comes from the Talmud. — from Wikipedia
During the six months in between my diagnosis in September 2009 and the day I got re-staged after my mastectomies in March 2010, I pondered my mortality on an almost daily basis. My oncologist was never less than honest with me, so I knew the facts on the ground.
If the chemo didn’t work, my stage III aggressive cancer gave me a 10% chance of being alive in 5 years. We wouldn’t know how well it worked until they surgically removed the cancerous breast and did a pathology study of it.
When she gave me this dire news, one of the first dates I calculated was my eldest daughter’s bat mitzvah, about 3 1/2 years out.
I needed the chemo to work. If it didn’t, I very likely would not live to see that day. If, despite failed chemo, I managed to hit the outside range of the life expectancy and make it to that day, I would very likely be seriously ill: the mom doing a hora in a wheelchair.
When I suffered side effects, when I really felt like I could not continue after the allergic reaction in the 4th dose, when I thought I could not endure any more assaults to my poor system, I would think about these odds and how much I needed to change them, and I would climb back in the chemo chair and subject myself to another round of hell.
When my pathology report came back, I was re-staged as Stage I, dramatically changing my prognosis. My 6 cm tumor had melted away to less than 1 cm, giving me a 90% chance of living 5 years.
Last weekend, I got to see the day that frequently preoccupied my heartbroken ponderings of my mortality and inspired me to persevere.
The prayer referred to at the start of this post, the shehecheyanu, is one that we say any time we feel gratitude for a moment, particularly for firsts.
I had been told by other parents that I would not believe the unbridled joy and pride of seeing my daughter through this first rite of passage.
They were right. In addition to my awe for the young woman she is becoming, I felt like the day was one enormous shehecheyanu. I did not take my presence for granted. Alongside the joy and pride I felt in my daughter, my heart was overfull with gratitude. Throughout the weekend, the prayer would play like a soundtrack in my mind, bringing tears to my eyes.
Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
And to this I say, Amen.
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