… And we’re back.

Well, here’s the column. NOW I can go on. 😉

How I spent my summer vacation

By Neal Ross

Monday night, I told Ann, “When I go back to work tomorrow, the medical hell of the past three months will be only a memory.”

And so, amazingly, it is.

I?m not trying to minimize it ? two isolating months of cancer (diagnosis, surgery and recovery) followed by an unexpected month of incapacitating, thyroid-related vision problems. But before you ask, I?m fine now. (As fine as any of us can ever be, anyway.) The cancer was treatable, the surgery was successful, and the more horrifying (to me) thyroid condition is, so far, responding to steroid therapy. I?m indebted to the 21st century?s remarkable medical technology, which can often see inside our bodies, find small problems before they mushroom, and occasionally fix them. I?m also indebted to, and grateful for, the unconditional love, support and care I received from so many of the people reading this. But I wouldn?t still be here without Ann, who heroically dealt with everything I dealt with during the last three months ? plus the crushing mixture of helpless frustration common to family caregivers everywhere.

Let?s face it: if you?ve been there (and you might have; the cancer club is getting bigger every day, except for the part that?s getting smaller), you know. If not, I can?t really tell you. And that?s kind of the point of this column.

One of the first things I learned this summer was the power of the unexpected. When Ann and I “got the news” on June 18, her first reaction was emotional. Mine was simultaneously philosophical (“Well, I guess I can use this experience in a few years after I finish rabbinical school”) and absurd (“I wonder if cancer patients get a discount at Denny?s?”).

That sort of floored me; I expected shock, fear, even hopelessness. So the second thing I learned was to pay attention ? for the first time in my 40 years ? to how I actually felt, and why.

Now, as I rejoin the world outside my apartment walls, I feel simultaneously deeper and more shallow. Deeper, because I understand more than I did three months ago. More shallow, because I better understand the limits of my own understanding.

Part of the depth is that I am mostly seeing the whole horrible affair as a gift rather than a curse, since I learned so much from it. And part of the shallowness is that after three months of talking about little else than “How are you feeling today?” I can barely bring myself to write another word about it.

I was terribly lucky ? to have such a loving community to help Ann and I through all this; to have access to competent medical care; and, to put it in firefighters? parlance, that everything was “light smoke showing” instead of “fully involved.” Not everyone is so lucky. Who knows ? I may not be next time, if there is a next time. But luck is only part of the equation.

Four days before my cancer diagnosis, I wrote a column about my two favorite modern Israeli sayings ? “zeh ma yesh (that?s what it is)” and “y?hyeh b?seder (it?ll all be okay).” Back then, I said these phrases were two intertwined halves of a healthy world view ? unsentimental pragmatism and unfounded optimism. Both sayings served me well during the past three months, and I expect them to do so in the future.

That could change at any moment. Meanwhile, I?m keeping my eyes and heart open to what this moment looks like. And I guess I?ll see what the next moment looks like when I get there.

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