Friday, November 28, 2008

In Mourning Today

I did go into Thanksgiving with a miraculous chemo result to be grateful for and yet immediately went into terror over the attack of Mumbai. Today I am in mourning for all the lives lost but especially was touched deeply by the loss at the Chabad House there. I learned that the rabbi was first cousin of the rabbi in Monterey and those evil, inhuman monsters left both he and his wife and those who were visiting them, bound for another world. More of their story and photos of them can be seen here:

So I want to share my story of how I am connected to Chabad and why they mean so much to me. When I finally get to tell the story of the hospital experience, the first thing you'll learn is why I believe my Chabad Rebetzin, Mrs. Bailly Friedman saved my life.

Some of you know I grew up with 2 Jewish parents in a Jewish home where we kept Kosher (2 sets of dishes/silverware - separated into milk and meat & my mom bought kosher meat), we only celebrated the Jewish holidays, we had a Shabbos dinner complete with candles, wine and prayer on Friday nights and many times attended our Temple services that night. I'll never forget my dad's Shabbos presents when we were really little!

We attended a Temple where my siblings and I were bar mitzvah - which included learning Hebrew and leading an entire prayer service and reading from the Torah. We definitely had a good Jewish education thanks to my parents.

Despite all that we did, I felt a strong spiritual yearning and connection that wasn't tied to Judaism at all. In fact, I felt like I was able to learn all kinds of different religions and get something from all of them (which I did later in college). I was a bit anti-semitic now looking back because I didn't understand why I had to be different from everyone else and being Jewish really didn't mean more to me than this spiritual sense I had that was more New Agey and not really connected to anything.

Then I was introduced to Chabad. A friend of mine in high school and I were discussing spirituality and she said, well if you really want to get a great hit of spirituality, you've got to go to a farbrengen. What's a farbrengen? She tells me, it's where lots of rabbis sit around and drink vodka and tell stories.

So one night, we went to a farbrengen. I must have been 14 or 15 because I don't think we could drive yet. I'm not really sure. But this was a total mind blower for me. I saw rabbis that I didn't know still existed, with beards and black hats. The stories they were telling us and each other hit me with a truth I never heard before.

My friend and I were invited to spend Shabbos with a young Chabad couple. It was the first time I knew about what it meant to really do a Shabbos complete with all the rituals for an entire 25 hours and how much that gave to the experience. I felt like I had finally found a way to connect with Judaism in the way I was thinking wasn't there in that religion.

Unfortunately, being young, I was soon off to other things in my life but never forgot about that experience with Chabad. It wasn't until years later and having my own little children, that I found Chabad again - when we lived in Hermosa Beach. And when we moved back to Santa Cruz, I made sure to find Chabad again and felt like Bailly and Yochanon were sent to S. Cruz just for me. They ended up moving here only a few months after we did. And their kids were my kids ages, so Bailly and I hung out together and became great friends and I and my kids learned soooooo, soooo much from them that we'll never forget.

There are Chabad houses all over the world. These people have what's called, mesiras nefesh (look it up, it's a great term). They sacrifice everything and go out to live in places that have nothing that they need to practice their religion which is very rigorous and requires sometimes going out of town to get food and other things along with having to send their children away when they are still little to get the education they need. And why do they do all this? For people like me! Wow!

So when I heard that the Mumbai Chabad house made the ultimate self-sacrifice, I just wanted everyone I can touch to know how much Chabad means to me.

If you are Jewish and so inclined to say a mishaberach for me, my full Hebrew name is Chaya Ruchel bas Shoshana Fruma. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fantastic Result

Well, I went through total hell from my first chemo - the hospitalization included. But when I went to see my surgeon today he said my tumor has shrunk 60-70%! In his 30 years of practice, he's never seen a result like that after only one round of the chemo.

I love my surgeon - he keeps me focused on the positive. And believe me, there's still lots of negative body reactions I'm dealing with....

My friend Bailly took me shopping for head coverings today and she really helped me pick out stuff that would look good on me. I'd have been lost without her. She's my rabbi's wife, so she's quite familiar with head coverings!

Something interesting she told me is that she's not going to call me "Allison" anymore and instead will call me by my Hebrew name, Chaya. Which is so appropriate for my success in this journey - Chaya means Life!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wondering About Me?

On the 7th day after chemo, when my immune system was shot to nothing and all the fast growing cells in my body were dead (including those lining my digestive tract), bacteria overgrew and attacked my colon. I went into the hospital for a week. It was quite an experience. I may write more about it later. But for now, I just wanted those of you who didn't know, to know what was happening. I got released from the hospital today and am so happy to be back home and feeling on the mend.

Got My Hair Cut

I had brushed through my hair before coming home and so much of it came out it was really just another devastating thing to have to deal with. The next day it was completely matted, like I had never brushed it at all. I was not sure if I had the energy to deal with my hair today but I did and am so glad. Geoff took me over to Supercuts this morning and they give a free cut to chemo patients! So now I have a really cute bob and it uplifted my spirits tremendously. I didn't want to have to deal with head coverings and such yet. So I'm very happy. (I just couldn't shave it all off yet, with all I've been through and I thought that this way, the kids would ease into my having no hair very soon.)

And I get to go to the acupuncturist today and asked my friend Rosey to drive me there and back. I just feel too weak to drive myself. So I'm feeling really taken care of today and so happy to be out of that hospital.

Can't wait to write you all about my hospital stay because it was a real challenge but a great learning experience as well.