1 Month.Old Can.Tur Herself Over From Tummy To.Back Microhistory: BC to AD

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Microhistory: BC to AD

Because I like history so much, I have decided to write about it. Not from my first love — from a historical perspective, I mean — medieval European history or my second love, Russian history. Not even from the bloodiest day in American history, the Civil War battle of Antietam, which should have brought the Union cause close to victory, but in an inconceivable mess resulted in a strategic tie that breathed at least two more years of life into Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. No, the history I want to write about is micro-history, that is, MY history. More specifically, I want to analyze, evaluate and discuss my recent battle with cancer and the meaning and consequences, if any, of that experience.

BC which the title refers to is Before Cancer (or Before Chemo if you prefer) and AD stands for After Deconstruction. These concepts and their meanings form the bulk of this essay.

But first, the main facts: On February 28, 2005, just after my family had returned from a ski trip to Lake Tahoe, I woke up around 2:00 a.m. with an unstoppable case of hiccups, followed by an almost unbearable attack. stomach ache. An ambulance took me to the emergency room at Lenox Hill Hospital, where doctors diagnosed a “perforation or hole in my abdomen,” possibly from an ulcer. They had to operate immediately to save my life, but were hoping the surgery could be done laparoscopically to be as minimally invasive as possible. When the anesthesia was administered (for which I was deeply grateful), I had no way of knowing that everything up to that point was bc for me.

A day or two later (my memory is still a little hazy on the chronology of this period), while still heavily drugged but able to speak and concentrate, I was told what the rest of my family already knew: that I had a poorly differentiated stomach cancer known as linitus plastica, a cancer that, oddly enough, is more common in young people and most common in Japan. The cancer had been removed, along with my lymph nodes, and lab tests were underway, with results coming in a few days. Just a few years earlier, my beloved mother-in-law had died of stomach cancer, so I suppose I could be forgiven for a certain lack of optimism at that moment.

My recovery from the surgery (which was not only non-laproscopic, but actually involved removing every millimeter of my stomach and attaching my esophagus directly to the intestine) was surprisingly quick and quite satisfactory, but as I was just leaving the hospital, my surgeon told me that the lab work had confirmed his worst his fears: that the cancer had invaded my lymph nodes and that even though he had removed them all, the potential for metastasis was high. He told me that the life expectancy without treatment was about three months, and that with aggressive treatment I might last up to two years (although he had rarely seen that). In so many words, he suggested that I get my affairs in order and prepare myself mentally for a journey of no return (with all due respect to my believing Christian brothers, even He whom they believe has returned was only a short visit away).

This conversation with my surgeon marked the beginning of my AD experience. I expect it’s a more or less common experience for anyone who’s been told they have a terminal illness, and it forces you to think beyond death (myself, that was the easy part for me), but more importantly, a world and a future where he doesn’t have no share. Suddenly and without warning I found myself crying. Not about death. Not from suffering. Somehow those things didn’t seem real, concrete or even important to me. But it was rather devastating to me that I could not go to colleges with my younger daughter as I had done with my older daughter; about not being able to dance (and what’s important to me, be the Pope) at my daughter’s wedding; I couldn’t attend my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah in Israel (then ten months later). And finally, that we can’t visit all the places around the world that my wife and I had promised each other that we would one day.

All these considerations are undoubtedly disruptive. The views I mentioned were terrifying to face, but strangely, strangely liberating at the same time. Everyone…my friends, family, colleagues and law partner told me not to worry about anything but getting better. I grabbed it and immediately felt freed from the shackles of my career, the need to pursue professional success and make money (which I later paid dearly for this extended vacation from reality). My wife and I, along with my brother-in-law, who had (God bless him) flown in from Israel at the drop of a hat, and a few close friends, had begun surreal conversations about emergency planning, including its desirability. the immediate sale of our home, the establishment of various insurance funds and the like. My older daughter had been asked to fly home from college without telling me why. I was told that my younger daughter, who was usually not given to emotions, had been crying into her pillow for several nights straight. My wife put on a brave show – she is Israeli, after all – but was clearly devastated. The rest of my family, my mother, brother, sister, aunts, cousins, along with my family, by marriage, in Israel and their families, reacted as expected: with varying degrees of concern, disbelief and fear.

In the meantime, I mercifully operated on plenty of opiates to control the post-op pain. It also helped with my mental pain, and I was able to experience through the fog the thought that I was about to begin a battle for my life, which at the time seemed like I was unlikely to win.

People visited me both in the hospital and later, at home during recovery, in droves. I simply don’t know how I could have survived without the support of my family and friends both here and in Israel, and especially the support of my friends and people I only considered acquaintances at my synagogue in Kehilath Jeshurun. New York along with a professional staff of rabbis and others who visited, called, wrote and prayed for me. Cousins ​​in Chicago emailed their yeshiva friends to put my Hebrew name on their mi-shebeirach (prayer for the sick) list and my daughter’s Chabad Rabbi in Buffalo along with my own New York Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, please continue to pray for me regularly. I can’t even imagine how anyone survives such an experience alone, but I know people do. Part of the deconstructing experience was realizing how much I meant to people in a way I wasn’t fully aware of, but also how much they meant and still mean to me. The support of these countless people has kept me healthy as I try to take friends and family less for granted.

After doing a lot of research, both myself and friends and family members, I started interviewing oncologists and narrowed down the field to two. Both reviewed my files and ran tests on me and, to my surprise and immeasurable relief, informed me that they strongly disagreed with my surgeon’s prognosis. They agreed that although my type of cancer was serious and indeed life-threatening, surgery combined with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy gave me good reason to hope for a full recovery. After deconstruction comes reconstruction. I had the recommended treatments and am 14 months AD, as far as my tests can tell, cancer free. I attended my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah in Israel last January and have taken my daughter on several college visits. As for whether I dance at my daughter’s wedding or go on a “big world tour” with my wife, that is very much in God’s hands. I don’t know and can’t know if I’ve won this thing, but I do know that if there’s more adversity from this disease, I’m going to go down and fight.

Now the difficulty lies not only in being alert to the return of my illness. Of course, that goes without saying. The trick is to take the lessons it taught me about priorities from this experience and live by those lessons. Easier said than done. The path of least resistance, of course, now that the immediate threat is gone, is to go back to the old patterns of BC thinking that focused on making money and material pursuits: nice house, nice car, nice clothes, expensive vacations, etc. My personal relationships, BC, were certainly important to me, but just as much (I’m a little embarrassed to say) stem from a chronic and childish need to be loved, admired and accepted, as from more altruistic motivations. AD, I still like nice material things. If anything, I’m more interested in nice clothes now because at 165lbs (80lbs off my all-time peak) I have the physique to look a lot better than I used to in casual clothes. But I’d like to think that my love of material things is now in a bit of perspective. I approach those wishes more in a Carpe diem way than as goals in themselves. As for my personal relationships, I try to appreciate my family and friends more. I don’t always succeed, as my wife above all can testify. After all, rebuilding (especially MY rebuilding) is very much about “working”. But I keep in touch (email makes it very easy) and I’ve gotten a lot closer to people I’ve known most of my life. I find myself in the synagogue daily. Many around me do not understand what they see as an obsession, but it is enough for me to understand; I NEED to have a daily conversation with the Almighty, both to thank him for my recovery so far and to ask for it to continue. Furthermore, it is a mechanism for seeking the well-being of my family, friends, Jews, my country, the State of Israel, and humanity, all of which have now become infinitely more important to me. I don’t know of a place where one would hope (or dare) to place such a large order.

I am working hard to rebuild my professional life. My illness and resulting inability (or unwillingness) to focus much on practicing as a lawyer in Year 1, AD, cost me and I have to redouble my efforts just to get back to where I was. I’m going to do that and a little more. Fortunately, I have recently joined a company where some of the partners are old friends, supportive, professional and understanding. I have no doubt that I will not land on my feet. Fortunately, I’m also very good (sorry for the obscenity, but it’s time for the truth) at what I do. I serve my clients and potential clients well, and I am lucky to be able to represent them.

So can cancer really be good for you? It seems like a stupid and ultimately maybe a stupid question. But the answer, I think, is that it can be, provided of course that it’s one that you can recover from. That’s clear. Less obvious are the beneficial qualities of the lesson or lessons that can be gained from such an experience. Of course, I can only confirm with my own experiences. I now have a second “birthday” on February 28th, the border between BC and AD

Even a fleeting glimpse of the angel of death can teach us something about priorities if we are observant enough to learn the lesson and wise enough to “walk” constantly. May God grant me both strength and perspective.

Warren R. Graham

Copyright 2006

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