Tuesday, December 29, 2009

P.S. I Love You

We're back from Palm Desert now and I'm looking forward to the new year. We had a fabulous trip that seemed to go by very quickly. I got to see my brother and my sister when I was there. Laughing with my sister while watching, "Whatever Works" by Woody Allen, was one of the highlights of my trip. It's probably been over 10 years since we've gotten together and laughed like that.

We've been visiting Palm Springs for many, many years now. I remember the first time, when I was under 10 years old. We arrived by car at night, so when I woke up in the morning, I was shocked and amazed by the mountain so close to our hotel it seemed like I could touch it. We'd drive there from Lakewood and stay at the Oasis Hotel in the beginning. I remember my Grandpa Moey there with us once and how he liked going to this one restaurant for breakfast. Then as we got older, my parents would take us to stay at the Spa Hotel which gave us more light at the end of the day since it was farther away from the mountain.

Swimming all day, laying out in the sun, drinks by the pool, charging everything to the room, massages when I got older, shopping for school clothes on the avenue, restaurants galore - I really had a blessed childhood. We'd go to Palm Springs nearly every year for Thanksgiving or Passover. We joked on Passover that we were going out to the desert to celebrate like the Israelites when they left Egypt.

After I got married and before kids, my parents bought a condo in the Palm Valley Country Club. What a life it's been! The desert was our escape for the 10 years we lived in Hermosa Beach. We've got lots of memories there and photos of the kids when they were so little. After moving back to S. Cruz, we would visit my parents there every winter and spring vacation.

Last year, we missed it completely, due to my blood counts. This year we made up for lost time. I watched as many DVDs as I could every day. My favorite DVD was "Passengers". At the theatre, I saw "Invictus", "The Blind Side", and "It's Complicated". Ate so much I probably gained 10 pounds - Sherman's Deli was my favorite and they even had some sugar-free cakes & rugelach. Got a massage. Sat out in the sun and enjoyed the mountains overlooking the golf course. Took a ride on the tram up to the snow. And hugged my dad and mom as much as I could.

My mom's contemplating selling the place. If she does, we'll probably still go to Palm Springs but just stay in hotels like we used to. It's the best place to unwind and relax. Some people think it's a strange place - plastic. But I've got a theory why so many Jews love that place: deep down, we were made to enjoy a blooming desert.

The only disappointment for me in the desert due to my new body was not getting to go in the hot tubs like I used to. They can cause lymphedema in my arms. When I got the massage, I put my feet into the hot tub but didn't dare go any further. The weird thing is that whenever I look at that hot tub, I remember when I weaned Jason (way too early), and used that heat to empty some of my sore milk ducts.

The other thing I noticed is that on the trip there my right hand swelled even though I wore my sleeves on the plane. Not a huge swelling, but noticeable. It didn't do that on the way home, so I realized it could have been too much trauma to my arm going on a plane so close after getting my arm punctured for the PET scan. It was a good warning for me and made me less sorry for myself about the hot tub.

The good thing is that I'm getting more used to seeing myself flat and am enjoying not having to wear anything. I do think I look better and thinner with a flat chest. So that's encouraging.

I hope you all have a wonderful vacation and a very Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dancin' To Happy News

The call came in from my doc's assistant while I was helping Baily set up last night's party. I knew right away it was good news because the doc had her call instead of him. "No sign of recurrence." And I asked her about the blood test I took for "tumor markers" and my count was 15 when presence of cancer shows at 38 and is usually up to 100. Phew!!!! Then everyone I relayed the message to last night screamed, hugged and danced around with me.

I had such a fantastic time at that concert. I got to drive the lead singer of the 8th Day band to the Vet's Hall and found out he's a Chabad rabbi in Huntington Beach, close to where my parents live. He learned I was their biggest fan in S. Cruz. (Jason says, "their only fan in S. Cruz" but now other people know about them and bought their cds last night.) They sang my favorite songs and I couldn't just sit down and listen. But the songs that really hit home for me were, "Tracht Gut" and "Rain".

"Tracht Gut" comes from a Yiddish saying, "Think positive and it will be positive." It's a saying I've had in my kitchen for over 15 years. The song was written for their sister when she was 17 and was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She's 30 now. One of the lines is, "Met a little boy with big brown eyes, he said, 'Tracht gut vi tzein gut'. Met a little girl who had no hair, she said, 'Tracht gut vi tzein gut'..." (Spelling? I don't know a lot of Yiddish.) You just have to get up and dance to this one.

"Rain" is a similar healing song that includes the Priestly Blessing in Hebrew. I LOVE the words of this song! "Wishes unspoken, desires unknown. A child cries in the darkness of her own. She's wishin', she's hoping, dreaming of a time just to feel a tear of joy. So take this blessing from me as your miracle is born and the answer to your prayer shines tonight. May the heavens swing open, let all your heart's desires rain down on you, rain down on you. I lift my hands above your head, your miracles approaching, your tearful eye, never dry, will yet behold the sunshine and soon, we'll all be DANCING TO HAPPY NEWS...Yivarechecha HaShem v'yishmarechah..."**

Dancing to happy news was my theme of the night. I was so happy. I couldn't stop smiling the entire show! Only Baily knew what this night really meant to me and when I said goodbye to the rabbi, I realized he knew too. He said, "Hashgacha pratis" is a term that the Baal Shem Tov taught. He added "pratit" to the term "hashgacha". The word hashgacha was always used to represent "Divine Providence" and when the Baal Shem Tov taught it, he added "pratit" or "individual". So we all can see our own individual Divine Providence acting in our lives.

I'm still shaking my head in wonderment. How could all of this happen in the same weeks and the same day and only hours before being able to dance to happy news? It's truly a miracle and I feel so blessed! So I found out that when they gave the go ahead for the menorah, no questions asked, Sholmie, the Chabad student center rabbi suggested to Yochanon that he ask his cousin to perform. Shlomie had no idea that I had loved that band for the past several years and had all of their CDs. Yochanon knew that I was wild about that band but didn't know that I had my PET scan coming up and that my results would come that very night, only hours before. This morning I thought, "I could stop writing this carepages after last night." But I probably won't.

My kids were struggling this week, sweating through studying for their PCS finals, so I was worried that they wouldn't get a chance to attend the concert. But Geoff brought them in time to hear the two songs I wrote you about. They didn't stay for the whole concert because Aimee had a headache (been getting them a lot since Halloween and finals) but this morning she told me she wanted to stay longer if not for the headache.

Anyway, perfect time to now fly off to Palm Desert to be with my parents for 10 days this weekend. Thanks again to all of you for standing by to hear my scan results. I hope you all have the holiday of your dreams too.

**The prayer of the Kohanim in English is, "May the Lord bless you and guard you. May the Lord make His countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace." (My dad's a Kohain and so is my brother. The lead singer/rabbi is the son of a daughter who's father was Kohain, like me - I'm the daughter of a Kohain and proud of it. He told me that they are usually very peaceful people and tend to be peacemakers between people. If a couple was in a fight, Aaron would go up to each separately and tell them, "Your spouse really wants to make up but he/she's too embarrassed." Then they would see each other later and make up. I'm proud to be a descendant of Aaron. But his sons played with a dangerous fire (light?) and got burned. I think I've got some of that in me too! So please remind me when I get too happy!!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hanukkah Lights & Radioactive Lights

I've been pretty anxious this week about the PET scan. First I was told I'd be radioactive for 6 hours afterword and should sit in the back seat when Geoff drives me home. Then I was told I only needed to do that if driven by a pregnant woman. So truthfully, I didn't know what to believe.

The scan was this morning and I'll get the results tomorrow. What happens is they give you an IV with radioactive material and some floro-something-glucose. You've been fasting and so the body will send the glucose to the most active cells. That's how they find the bad cells since they grow the fastest.

This week has been one of pondering the connection between ignoring a lump in my breast and ignoring the signs of a scam. In neither case did I do what I needed to do - logically - to protect myself. My behavior is quite scary and my foolishness just shocking to me. What is this denial of reality all about? Why do I do these things? And what am I being a fool about right now that will bite me in the butt later?

That's why I kind of like not wearing my fake boobs lately. Aside from the fact that the only camisole that's comfortable gave me a rash on my stomach, I am enjoying just being who I really am. I also got myself a medical bracelet to protect my arms when I can't. Really, having a flat chest isn't so bad. It makes me look slim.

I like to remind myself of all I went through and to even scare myself a bit with the scenario that my doc will call me and say they saw something in the scan. Believe it or not, the scenario keeps me grounded. It makes me remember what it felt like the first time I was diagnosed. A little over a year ago. How quickly I forget.

There's something about staying in the dark, rather than being in the light of clarity that has to do with my tendency toward denial of reality. But the dark feels like light to me when I'm in denial. I think I've got this fabulous chance to get paid to shop or I've got this fabulous immunity to cancer with all the natural stuff I do. Then I get hit with the light and I find myself radioactive.

Maybe I just don't want to see the dark or believe in it. Do my clients love me because I am so accepting, understanding and boundary-less? Am I in denial about all of them too? I just don't want my blinders to hurt me anymore.

One dark thing I was sure of was those Nazi flags downtown. The rabbis from Beth El got to work on that and the landlord made him take them down. But then we had another battle with the public menorah that raised its head.

A couple of months ago I heard that the "atheists" in town were emailing and calling the rabbi to protest the menorah. He invited them to his house (like all Chabad rabbis do with everyone) and what I was curious about was, "were they Jewish?" Some Jews are not happy with public displays - separation of church and state and perhaps some fears about being thrown in gas ovens. But Chabad wears its Judaism on it's sleeve, hat, beard, tzitsis, and in your face. And no, they weren't Jewish and only one person showed up to his home.

Their conversation was interesting - of course, I had to ask the rabbi, what ever did he say to this person? The conversation revolved around this woman's fear of people believing in things that aren't real and she hopes for the day that everyone will believe in science and only science. The rabbi's response was to say something like, "Well, I'd be afraid if that happened again since people who only cared about science did some horrific experiments on my people in Nazi Germany."

Anyway, shortly after the Nazi flag fiasco, we started to hear about the city council telling the rabbi that their permit they've given over the years for the menorah lighting should have contained a requirement to have round the clock security. This of course would have made it financially impossible to have the menorah up. Well, the public rose up to support the menorah and the city council "caved". (BTW, all this occurred around the same time as my article was in the paper - and I realized that the editor protected me by cutting out anything that might have caused more controversy.)

So the rabbi wrote us all an email stating that Chabad was now going to host a concert/Chanukah party in tribute to the overwhelming support for the public menorah. He wrote: "The Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory taught us that when faced with adversity, one must endeavor to rise not merely back to status quo, but to greater heights than before. That way the adversity itself becomes a tool for goodness, by becoming the impetus to greater good than before. Light comes not only after the darkness, but from within it!"

These words were really the theme I had rolling around in my mind all through my diagnosis and treatment this past year. They also remind me of the meaning behind the entire Chanukah story when the Hasmoneans won their battle to keep their religion despite Syrian-Greeks slaughtering pigs in the Holy Temple. On the 8 nights of Hanukah, the menorah increases in light each night while the band that will perform in S. Cruz is called, "the 8th Day": http://www.My8thDay.com - the name may have something to do with Hanukah but I've been told that the #8 is a mystical number because it is outside of the normal 7 days of the week - and represents the miracle that occurred so long ago. The 8th Day band is an Hasidic rock band that has the rabbi's cousin as a member. I've always been their biggest fan in S. Cruz so I think the rabbi is holding this party just for me!!!!

So tomorrow night, I'm looking forward to celebrating more light in S. Cruz at Vet's Hall with the 8th Day band, along with a clean PET scan result. I'll write again this week to report the result to you before we go away for 2 weeks to Palm Desert to be with my parents.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Being Thankful

I really enjoyed this Thanksgiving. It was an unusual thanksgiving because my parents were there. Normally we only celebrate with Geoff's family. So it was nice to have my parents. I also got to see my cousin Shari & her family who were visiting her husband's sister in Monterrey. I loved being with my family for a change. And it was such a treat to be with Shari.

Of course I had to remember last TG when I was unable to eat anything. This year, I was able to even eat some sugar - in the form of apple pie and vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately, I discovered that the sugar didn't effect me like it always had. And now I can't seem to stop eating a bit every day. But, hey, I feel grateful that the chemo cleaned me out like Ajax and now my body seems to be able to handle everything!

Today I went to a support group at Womencare. I've been going to these again. Remember when I went to my first one before going to chemo? Well, I got freaked out and didn't go to another one until 3 weeks ago. The freak out had to do with seeing a lovely, sweet, delicate, gentle and vulnerable woman talk about her chemo not doing anything. I couldn't even go there mentally right then. I needed to believe it was all going to work. I needed to stay strong throughout the entire treatment.

Now that treatment is behind me, I can go to this support group and have gotten a lot out of it. I'm with other women who have walked my same path and understand what it's like to face death. I actually am able to enjoy being with women who are stage 4, etc. I find them empowering and enlightening and understanding. Today, the third time I went back to the group since I've been going again, I was told that the woman who originally scared me had died November 20th.

I have a PET scan coming up sometime in the next couple of weeks. It definitely brings up that fear of death again. So the hardest part about hearing that that woman died was wondering about her kids. I guess I'm not afraid of death really, it seems like it would be a relief of some kind - like going to sleep. But I don't want to leave my kids. I don't want to leave my parents. I would hate to have to say goodbye to any of my loved ones and friends. I watched "Bucket List" before Thanksgiving and couldn't understand wanting to travel or do the things that were on their lists. My list only includes 2 things:
1. Improving my relationships so that I feel love and give love more.
2. Establishing a "successful" practice and enjoying it to the point of feeling good about myself and what I can offer people.

The things that excite me these days have to do with my writing. My article came out in the Jewish Community News and the Sentinel says it should be printed there this weekend. I've posted it online as well and am so hoping that the Jewish moms who need this article will find it. Just today Aimee told me that in her drama class they will do an Xmas play and they went around the room describing their fondest Xmas memory. Aimee didn't say that she doesn't celebrate it. She told everyone that she has fond memories of going out to eat at a nice restaurant in Palm Desert. So I'm glad she didn't feel left out. My kids are too old now for me to come to their class and make latkes and teach the dreidle game, so that their holiday has some kind of presence at school even if no one acknowledges it.

This Thanksgiving, my friend, Andrea's father was downtown in S. Cruz (I can't call the town "holy") and saw swastika flags hanging from two windows. An article about this was published in the paper today: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_13898408 It makes me glad that my article will be coming out soon and I so appreciate this one editor at the Sentinel seeing it's value.

The rebbe of Chabad found me when I was in high school and somehow knew I was on a mission. And I will continue to promote being Jewish with pride and honor. I feel very lucky to be one of the chosen. And I'm not afraid to claim choseness. It's not easy to be chosen for this mission. There is so much darkness. But spreading the Light is what we are here to do and also finding the Light within the darkness so we can uplift it. I believe this is a choice that all of us have - not only those who were chosen to do the job.

I read somewhere on Chabad.org that the gematria of this year in the Jewish calendar spells out the same number as does the number for the promise to Abraham. The only time in the entire Torah that the word "faratzta" is used. It means to spread out all over the world. So the promise to Abraham was that his descendants would spread out over the entire world. To spread the Light. There is no hope for the darkness because the promise was kept. And perhaps this year we will get to see the outcome of this Light being in all 4 corners of the earth. Those dark flags were there for only one reason, for us to see that there is darkness here and to bring Light.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Love My New Office(s)

Enclosing the balcony off of our master bedroom was my present to myself for getting through this year of breast cancer treatment. My first full day in my new office was wonderful! I love the views. When I looked at the dates of my first full day and when I moved in, I realized it was the end and beginning of a new month on the Jewish calendar. I also did some numerology with the other calendar dates & realized I moved in on a Hanged Man day (#12 in the Tarot Major Arcana) and I had my first full day sitting at my desk on a Death card day (#13).

Remember when I went into the hospital? In my stupor, wondering if I was going to make it out of there alive, I kept doing numerology with the room numbers. The number of the room I was in during my pain filled beginning there was the Hanged Man. It made me wonder where I was hung up and stuck repeating an old pattern and trying to get different results.

So of course I thought about the scam again. I'm still working through why that happened. What's really weird is I discovered that the scam happened the very same time on the Jewish calendar as when I fell into the hospital last year after my first chemo. Yeah, it's the yahrtzeit (1st anniversary) of the murders in Mumbai this week, which happened right after I got out of the hospital.

So the pattern I had discovered and conquered in the hospital had to do with giving my power away to authority figures. The pattern I discovered from the scam had to do with my fear around spending money on myself (on the new office) - and seeing Geoff as an authority figure that I had to please if I was going to spend all that money.

I was in a trance when I first gave my neighbor the go ahead to spend money on building the office. All I could think of after that was making Geoff feel ok about our money situation. (And making myself feel ok about spending all that money on myself.) I was in such a trance that I didn't even check out the letter or the check I'd been sent regarding the mystery shopper job. All I was doing was telling myself and Geoff - don't worry! - we've got the money! I've got a new job! We're going to be fine! (If I'd asked him to look at the letter, or asked my bank to do the same, we really would have been fine...)

So instead of $5K for a new office, I got a $9K new office (when you include the $4K loss from the scam) - which is still less than the $10K I was quoted many years ago by a company that specialized in making sun rooms. Doug, my neighbor/contractor was such a great support to me, helping me find windows at such a low price, you'd never believe it. Plus he actually gave me lots of stuff for free that he had sitting around his yard. I am really grateful to Doug for not only helping me clarify what I wanted so I could make inexpensive decisions that actualized my vision, but for giving me the emotional support I needed as well. He is very sweet.

If any of you want to do construction on your home or office, keep him in mind: Doug McCloskey 831-247-2687 - you won't regret it.

I went to the oncologist today. I've got a PET scan coming up. He told me it wouldn't show anything smaller than 1cm. When I asked him if CT scans showed less, he told me that they don't show lymph nodes which are 1cm. I asked him if he's concerned about the lymph nodes and he told me he was concerned about checking to see whether I have anything in my lungs, bones and organs.

So that's where I'm at. And I think it's good for me to be reminded of all of this. My life is precious and could be very short. Spending money on myself and getting a beautiful office just for me is worth every penny - even with the overage based in a scam. I want to make the most out of every day.

I'm also now working out of my friend's office which is another beautiful place that also gives me views of my favorite thing in nature: trees. She offered me this place for free through the end of the year all the way back in August. I wasn't able to take her up on her offer due to my own silly pattern of needing to take care of others while putting myself last. I was worried my clients wouldn't want to travel to the new officel. It took the scam and the need to save money to motivate me to take care of myself and I just love the office and feel so at home there. Both my new offices let me look at trees while I work.

So what's the Death card have to do with my first day in this new home office? Well, remember that the year I was diagnosed was my Death card year? The card symbolizes death & rebirth. Need I say more?

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Wanted To Die

I literally wanted to die last week. It was very interesting to me that the thought even arose considering how I've been fighting to live. But when I realized I'd been the victim of a scam, the reality was too much to bare. I felt so full of shame that I couldn't imagine ever being able to recover from this - let alone have to pay the bank back $4000.

It was last Thursday that the surprise came that the check I'd cashed and then spent at Western Union, sending money to someone I didn't know, was bogus. That was only a week after getting the surprise $4000 check in the mail to start my new business as a "Mystery Shopper". I feel so foolish now thinking about how I went to Safeway and watched very carefully as the clerk looked at my ID to check my signature but not my photo. I couldn't wait to report back to headquarters that she didn't look at my photo!!! I also was so excited that I was getting $400 just to do something as easy as all that. I couldn't wait to complete my "assignment" so I could get another one!

It's really hard for me to admit this to all of you. Just how stupid I was. And even harder over the past several days to remember all the signs I didn't want to see that should have warned me to do a bit of investigation or to at least wait for the check to clear!

Luckily, right after going to the bank and negotiating with the manager so I could pay this off at $500 a month over the next 6 months, I came home to my neighbor telling me how beautiful I am. He was working on the enclosed balcony and after I told him why the police were at our home last night, he told me how stunned he was after reading my last post. I'm beautiful because I have a great attitude and my kids are special and must get that from somewhere.

That's when the real tears started. I'd woken up in the middle of the night and cried but not as much as when he told me what he told me. And then something happened even better: someone was at the door - I had scheduled to do an EFT trade with the only other therapist in town who does EFT and instead of a trade, she gave me two hours of her time with no payback!

EFT works really well when you're in the state that I was in. She helped me release a lot of tears and shame by reminding me how many really intelligent people got duped by Madoff. People I respect. And she reminded me that this scammer didn't get the things that really mean something to me in this life. He couldn't take away my kids or the help I've given to moms. And what helped me take away the shame the most was when she told me that I got led down this fantasy job thing because of all I've been through this year. I was so wanting to believe that my luck finally came through. (I know, I'm alive and that's lucky, but you know what I mean.) She's brilliant with EFT, is so incredibly compassionate and easy to talk to, and her name is Suzanne Lerner. Her website is: http://makeyourlifeshine.com

When I saw Baily, she told me that what happened to me was a "Kapparah for my health". I couldn't remember what Kapparah was until I remembered the plural form, "Kaparot" and remembered the chicken ritual. From http://www.chabadbythesea.com/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/989585/jewish/Kaparot.htm: "It is customary to perform the kaparot (symbolic "atonement") rite in preparation for Yom Kippur.

The rite consists of taking a chicken and waving it over one's head three times while reciting the appropriate text. The fowl is then slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure and its monetary worth given to the poor, or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.

We ask of G‑d that if we were destined to be the recipients of harsh decrees in the new year, may they be transferred to this chicken in the merit of this mitzvah of charity.

In most Jewish communities, kaparot is an organized event at a designated location. Live chickens are made available for purchase, ritual slaughterers are present, and the slaughtered birds are donated to a charitable organization..."

I did feel better thinking about this as a Kaparah. Hopefully something died with this foolish episode and something good instead will come of it.

Already I've been forced to take a look at how gung ho I was to have a different job than I have now. I wanted a magic solution to my difficulties at my job. When my magic solution was a scam, I felt I'd rather die than have to go back to facing the challenges I'm facing right now. Amazing to me that it hits me that hard. My eternal optimism during chemo kept me from the challenges in my work. I just couldn't go there. But ever since chemo's been over, I've hit a wave of difficult clients and situations. Is it the economy? Is it my outlook?

So I decided to do what I love doing and forget about the monetary payout. I don't want a recurrence. I want my work to be enjoyable and stress-free. Remember my money honey? He was not in agreement with me taking the "Mystery Shopper" job. I didn't listen to him and so he left me while I was involved with what I thought was a real money honey! Hopefully he's back now that I'm writing again.

I am writing articles and tweeking articles I've already written. One of the papers I've sent an article to is going to publish it. I haven't heard from the other newspapers, but I just keep writing and emailing. And I've got two articles I'm planning to add to my website.

Maybe next week I'll have some photos, I'm still painting the room and there are a couple construction things to finish. The reconstruction of that balcony and my own psyche are continuing.

P.S. Just found out the scam was in the paper today: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_13753816?IADID=Search-www.santacruzsentinel.com-www.santacruzsentinel.com

Friday, October 30, 2009

Had to Cry Today

I had a good cry. Sobbing. It felt good. It was another layer of grieving the loss of my breasts.

It started with a dream I had where a man, a lover, was touching my scars with gentleness and fondness for me. I became aware again of what I'm missing and how this whole horrible surgery thing really effected me on a deep level. Not only did I lose body parts that meant a lot to me as a nurturer and as a mother but I lost parts that made me feel attractive, sexy, intriguing and alluring. Not to mention the hair loss which also factors in.

Really I've been "powering through" since the surgery and trying to maintain my composure and trying to accept myself as I am. So it felt nice to be able to instead, let down and cry about it all again. Crying brings me more into reality than just pushing myself forward and trying to keep myself focused on the positive.

When I decided to get my breasts removed, it was a decision based on fear. I didn't want those time bombs on my chest. It was also something that my doctors encouraged - especially for the left side. But I couldn't imagine being one-breasted and then worrying about the time-bomb factor with the other side since there had already been a nodule there. What I did was tell myself, well, you won't have breasts anymore but you also won't ever have those sores underneath them after a hot day and you will be able to go bra-less. It will be freeing.

But it's not freeing when you have to wear falsies and put them into a bra or camisole every morning and take them out again and place them into their boxes to sleep at night. They have their own little cradles to keep them in shape. When it's hot outside or I'm just wanting to feel free - like I thought I'd be able to do after the surgery - I can't because then I feel ugly.

When I'm not wearing the falsies, I look in the mirror and hate what I see. My chest looks concave and my belly is round. I don't feel attractive at all. So I feel bound to having wear the falsies to feel good about myself.

This week I listened to a podcast about our relationship with money by Morgana Rae where she talked about your "money monster". Her point is that if you want to heal your relationship with money, you need to look at money as a person you are in a relationship with. My money monster doesn't think anything I do is good enough to get paid for. It's never satisfied with me and is withholding. It also believes that I have to work really hard at something I don't like doing in order to get what I want. It's a man who's old and balding and really skinny with a pointed nose and a pinched face. He's always critical of me - I never do enough or anything well enough.

Morgana says you need to divorce your money monster and get rid of him. Then you need to create your "money honey".

Well, I had great fun with that. My money honey is younger than me, looks really yummy and thinks I'm just the most beautiful, alluring and sexy woman in the entire universe. My money honey thinks I'm hot. My money honey even likes my scars. They're a turn on for him!

I was shocked! How could you like that? But as the dialog continued, I realized where I am headed in the direction of self-love. The appreciation I need to have for myself goes way deeper than my appearance and my looks. My money honey loves those scars, they remind him of the depth of who I am and the beauty of what I've gone through.

I'm still playing around with this and find it entirely enjoyable. He's with me a lot and I ask him for his opinion about choices I'm making. And he's so great, I'll do anything to keep him happy. But it's confusing to me when he says he just wants me to be happy, but he was happy when I was sobbing today. So I'm still in dialog and trying to understand it.

The happier I am, the more I shine with the depth of who I am. But if I'm sad or mad or otherwise upset, he loves me just the same - as long as I stay on my own side. He's with me when I can love myself no matter what I do or how I feel. He's unconditional.

One thing I'm doing better these days is speaking my mind with people I interact with. I'm doing better at standing up for myself and even knowing that I need to, whereas before, I was unaware that I even needed to. Normally I just clammed up and resented the person who hurt me rather than stand up for myself and ask for what I want.

Geoff and I went out for a delicious lunch today at Hawg's for our 21st anniversary. I loved the food and the conversation was really important. I enjoyed every bit of the conversation even though all we talked about was this past year and how it's effected us.

On to better and better years together. May this past year only bring us closer together.

My deck should be enclosed by next week and I can't wait to share photos.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Need Serotonin

"Tishrei 24, 5770 · October 12, 2009
All Teachers

By Tzvi Freeman

In our times, it is crucial that every Jew who knows anything must be a teacher to others. Those who can teach children must teach children. Those who can only teach adults must teach adults.

Those who know alef-bet, must teach alef-bet. Those who know only alef, must teach alef. But all must teach."

By Tzvi Freeman
From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman. To order Tzvi's book, "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth, click here

Even though I really know such a very little bit about Judaism & Jewish Wisdom, I always remember this saying from the Rebbe and have taken it to heart - all who know alef must teach alef. So I share the bit that I know.

But even more enjoyable for me is to share my own experience and my own challenges and my hard-earned knowledge that comes from stumbling through my life. Hitting bottom and facing my own death this year was for me the greatest catapult ever. And that's another thing that I've heard from Kabbalah, that HaShem is found in the lowest of all worlds and the lowest parts of the lowest of all worlds. The lower you go, the stronger is the spark and the higher you can reach. In the same way, the Baal Tshuva is stronger than the Tzaddik.

I hit a very low point again this past week. It crept up on me a bit at a time. Once I recognized it as depression, I was able to not let it take me down too far. It all started last week when I was trying to get the word out about the workshop. First, I noticed not wanting to exercise. Then I noticed I didn't want to wear my camisole with the fake boobs. Then I found myself in bed one morning, not wanting to get out of bed.

That morning, Geoff told me it was October 7th, his marking of my canServersary with the "regular" (goishe?) calendar. Of course, I'd already had my canServersary between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, so I had forgotten about the other date. At first I thought, well maybe I'm feeling like not getting out of bed because subconsciously I know that this is the anniversary of my diagnosis.

But the next day, I found myself getting really depressed about not getting any sign-ups for the class and thinking I should change careers. I also found myself feeling really depressed about the cold weather. And worrying about finances and thinking that my chest is forever going to be tight and the stretching that I do will not help and so I should just give up...

Yeah, I recognized it. The lowest of my lows looks like that. So that made me remember that I had just 2 weeks ago started (stupidly) cutting down on my Celexa. 2 weeks is usually the time it takes to see some change. I had gradually been cutting pills with a pill cutter, thinking that I really shouldn't be taking so much since normally I don't need the highest dose of any pill.

Truthfully, I need the highest dose of serotonin I can get. And when I was in the hospital with chemotherapy induced colitis, I needed the highest dose of the strongest pain medication. So just because I'm sensitive to other things doesn't mean I'm sensitive to everything.

Luckily, Saturday night was my favorite of all Jewish holidays: Simchas Torah. You know me - dancing is one of my things. And dancing this year was the best it's ever been. I was so depressed, I almost didn't go. And until we all started dancing, I was really down. But no one can stay depressed while they're dancing. As I was dancing, a thought passed through my mind, "I made it through this year!" It was the best way I could ever have imagined ending this horrendous year - dancing on Simchas Torah.

I'm so grateful to Bailly and Yochanon for all that they did this year and every Tishrei to host so many parties for an entire month. The last of all of these holidays, my favorite, is something I never knew about until I met them. And for the past 10 years, watching the men dancing with the Torah has been so much fun. We're supposed to be happy and celebrate after Yom Kippur, through Sukkos and all the other holidays all the way to the end, Simchas Torah. And where else can you see men dancing and singing together? Nowhere.

And where else can you dance with only women behind a mechitzah and feel totally free to cut it loose with no men watching? Nowhere.

I saw my friend Sharon there and told her I was depressed about the cold weather. She reminded me that on Shmini Atzeret - which is the holiday right before Simchas Torah - we say a long prayer for rain. After that, in the Amidah (silent prayer) we no longer say a prayer asking for the dew to descend and instead begin asking for rain to fall, 3 times a day until Pesach.

So tonight, I'm excited. The wind is blowing and hopefully we'll have a storm tomorrow. I'm beginning to embrace life again and not resist what is.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Building the Sukkah

"The sukkah reminds us that we are just travelers in this material world."
Excerpt from 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Simon Jacobson. ©Copyright The Meaningful Life Center, 2009. All rights reserved. www.meaningfullife.com.

I decided to buy materials this year that I'll be able to use again every year for the rest of my life, to build a really nice sukkah. One that can hold a few guests. One that my family will like to eat meals in. I plan to get Aimee and Jason's help building it when they come home from school. The best part is, Geoff's brother Paul decided to come visit us this weekend at the last minute.

So I've got matzoball soup, salmon, rice, & veggies on the menu, along with challah. It's going to be late: 7:30pm, so we'll have to rig some light. (Jason's busy with open gym until then...)

"In addition to welcoming friends into our sukkah and eating a festive meal in cheerful company, we also welcome, in accordance with Kabbalistic tradition, seven mystical guests (ushpizin)—also known as the seven "faithful shepherds"—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David...On each of the seven days of the festival, another one of the seven ushpizin leads the group." Excerpt from 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Simon Jacobson. ©Copyright The Meaningful Life Center, 2009. All rights reserved. www.meaningfullife.com.

There is a fantastic Israeli film called, "Ushpizin". It's in Hebrew with English subtitles. I watched it through Netflix - it's one of the free movies you can watch on your computer, if you're a Netflix member. Watch it, you'll love it. It's great for kids too.

Yom Kippur services were really nice and the fast was easier for me than it's ever been. I was thinking that might be because I no longer have a huge tumor wanting to be fed. The message I got from Rabbi Chein was meaningful to me. It reflected my own journey this past year.

Seems like this has been a year of going back to those questions of "who am I?" and "what is my purpose here?" and remembering that HaShem gave me life for a reason. The rabbi's talk hit me right there. We are all shluchim, sent here for a divine purpose. We're given gifts and talents all our own - to make use of and to enjoy.

This world is such a beautiful place. The birds are singing a lot again in the morning. But the weather always turns a bit chilly when the sukkah goes up. Being out there in the cold, so vulnerable in this world, makes it that much easier to remember why we're here and Who sent us and Who is cheering for us to complete our assignments. The sukkah is supposed to be like the booths we traveled with through the desert after leaving Egypt. I hope I have truly left Egypt this year and am on my way to the Promised Land.

I'm supposed to teach a Mothers Have Needs Too class next Sunday through Sutter. I was supposed to teach it in January too but as you know, I was bald and just out of the hospital at the time, going through chemo every few weeks. At the time, of course, I couldn't promote it and so it never happened.

This time, I was able to promote it, but who knows if it will happen or not. I need at least 6 sign-ups for Sutter to want to put it on. So anyway, I'm remembering that the outcome is not in my hands and I've been stressing less about it than I normally do while putting flyers out everywhere in town. If it's meant to be it will be. If not, I'll be wondering what my next divine assignment will be.

Life goes on and I say my Modeh Ani when I wake up in the morning and say the hand washing prayer immediately when I get up. It's an easy ritual that I do to feel I'm doing something Jewish everyday. But I am doing these things with a renewed kavanah since Yom Kippur thanks to Rabbi Chein's connecting all that with rededicating ourselves everyday to our divine mission.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Day of Rest

I don't think the carepages notification system has been working right...so you may find that you are behind by 3 updates...


This past week was really crazy for me. I felt like I was running around and very busy the entire week. Was it just me or did you feel that way too?

If it was just me, I think it's a sign to me about how I'm dealing with this canServersary...keeping busy enough not to feel anything about it. I got Aimee a 12 foot trampoline this week and discovered that my arms didn't swell up with lympedema from putting it together practically all by myself (not to say Techy didn't help tremendously). But then I had the carpets cleaned and boy oh boy, can I tell you how much furniture I moved around and lifted?

My lower back told me last night when I finally got into bed.

What is going on with me? I was carrying around furniture yesterday thinking, "I need to remember I'm recovering...maybe I'll start wearing that pink bracelet with the ribbon on it to remind me." Or do I need to get a medical bracelet to remind me? Or am I just not wanting to face the memory of this past year right now?

Last year at this time, I couldn't stop crying. This year, I can't stop myself from running away from it all. I reach into the top of my shirt and reach down between my camisole and those beautiful fake boobies and feel the scar and cringe. I just want to get on with my life and pretend this year never happened. I want my hair long again no matter who tells me I look great with short hair. But some things are impossible. And I shouldn't run from reality if I want to stay alive. I need to force myself to keep remembering I'm a very recent survivor because all I want to do is run away.

I guess at least that tells you how great I feel physically anyway. I get tired though when I push myself and so I have to force myself to remember I'm a recent survivor.

So I was incredibly happy that today was the day of rest. Since becoming friends with Baily and hanging out with her on Saturdays, I found myself really enjoying the absence of my running on at least one day of the week, every week. Over the years I've cut a couple of things out of most of my Saturdays: the computer & shopping. It's rare that I do those things on the day of rest anymore. And mostly, I only drive when I go to Baily's house.

I used to download and print articles from Chabad website to read on that day so I could avoid turning on the TV. I'd only watch if Geoff turned it on. But since getting sick last year, TV's become my friend and my Saturdays, unless I go to Baily's, consist of sitting in bed and watching TV all day. Not the holiest of habits for the day of rest.

Still, I find the permission to rest irresistible. And so I take it on like the commandment it is. But I am not exactly anywhere close to being traditionally Shomer Shabbos. Maybe one of these days I'll get back to the holy part and get myself to read instead of watching TV. Or get myself over to Baily's where I know I won't do anything but chat and eat and relax.

Tomorrow night starts the Shabbos of Shabbosim (or at least I think it's been called that): Yom Kippur, where we rest from all kinds of earthly pursuits. We fast (which darn, my doctor said I was healthy enough for), and we wear white and hope to achieve angelic heights with the day-long prayers and fasting.

A group of our friends has been getting together to break the fast over the past few years and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again. It's a bit embarrassing - where I've been this past year - and I'm not sure what that embarrassment is all about. Maybe I'm just being shy and don't want attention but I'm sure this canServersary of mine is going to be on the minds of many of my peeps on Monday.

Yom Kippur is the one holiday that nearly every Jew celebrates and so when I was younger, the Temple I grew up in had to rent out a very large church for the occasion. I remember my friend, Nancy and I, sneaking candy bars in the church bathroom because we were "fasting". My kids are going to try to fast - we'll see how well they do. It's not easy - especially if you are home the whole time and not in services. But I won't let them go to school no matter how much homework they will need to make up. It's just that kind of a holiday and schools should be off for it - it's not fair to the Jewish kids to have to make up a day missed for religious purposes.

The liturgy for Yom Kippur is fabulous but towards the end we read about the horrific deaths of our most revered sages. All of them were tortured and it is unpleasant to be reminded of the dark past of our people. Especially when you think if this could happen to the great, holy rabbis, what could happen to a shmo like me? But this is Yom Kippur and this is it's wonderful ability to bring you to your knees, remembering that you are not in control of it all, a Higher Power is, and the reasons that certain things happen is ultimately beyond your puny human understanding. Yes, everyone who really participates in Yom Kippur in a deep way, goes through their own canServersary.

Anyway, I hope you all get a notification of this update and for those of you celebrating Yom Kippur tomorrow night and Monday, I wish you a very meaningful holiday and a very easy fast.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Making Amends

I wrote an update yesterday and usually when I click on "Post", at least 5 - 10 of you appear in my guestbook, showing me you've taken a peek. Instead, only one person showed up. I began to think, "maybe it's been a year and people are getting tired of these updates. Oh well, I'll keep writing just for me." Then I began to realize that maybe no one got the email notice that I'd written a new update...

It's funny how I jump to that lonely place where people are really getting tired of me anyway. Also funny how this Rosh Hashanah for me has been lonely (see previous update that you didn't see yet!) What does it all mean in the grand scheme of things and what does it mean that this happened for the first time in a year of updates? I love looking at underlying meanings of why HaShem brings things into my life.

This is the week of making amends. What does that have to do with these updates? Do I need to make amends with you all?

Maybe I need to write a few things to you.

1. Thanks for being here with me all this time. It does mean a lot to me that you're still reading this stuff. It's helped me to feel good about myself - like I have something to say, something to give and maybe some things that are important to share. I've needed to feel good about myself this past year. This carepages is one of the ways I felt better about myself and how I got through all the self-doubt, guilt and self-blame.

2. If you ever stop looking, I won't notice because there are so many of you. So don't feel bad about it. I understand that this is a long time and I'm over the worst of it and you don't need to continue with the drama of my life. I may also decide not to continue with this writing one day, but for now, it's still healing for me.

3. I'm sorry if I pontificate and write too much about my Jewish thoughts. Or if I act like a know-it-all on that front, I don't mean to. I know so little it isn't funny. And I'm seriously not very observant. I wish I followed more of the commandments, but I'm severely lax in a lot of ways. If I've ever offended you because you're Jewish and have other beliefs about it, I apologize. If I've offended you or made you feel like you should be Jewish but you're not, please know that I know there are many ways to the One and everyone alive has their special purpose on this planet. I don't want to be offensive to anyone and I only want to write about what interests me.

4. If I've written too graphically over the past year about things that should stay private, I'm sorry. It helps me to write the honest truth and it sometimes comes out with a bang. I know we're in mixed company and I have to refer to body parts, etc., and don't want to offend anyone and won't be offended if you can't continue to read these updates because of that.

5. I apologize to anyone who feels that I've written something about them that should have stayed confidential or wasn't written in exactly the way you wished you'd been represented. I realize that could be really embarrassing for you and I'm sorry if I've done that.

Since I can't think of anything else at the moment, that will have to do for now. It actually feels good to get that all out since I had been thinking about them. I so treasure this community and what you have all brought to me over this past year. You have no idea how much you mean to me and have meant to my recovery.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die

Amazing that my diagnosis coincided with Rosh Hashana last year. If you really take to heart what it says in the prayerbook, you get to experience what it feels like to be diagnosed with canCer. (The one with the Big C.) And I think that's the way it should be. Faced with your own mortality, it's much more likely that you'll make the changes you need to make.

Here's a quote from the Oonataneh Tokef, (just in case you didn't get a chance to experience the awesomeness of it):
"All created beings pass before You, (one by one,) like a flock of sheep...and You allocate the fixed portion for the needs of all Your creatures, and inscribe the verdict of their judgment.

On Rosh Hashana they are inscribed, and on the fast day of Yom Kippur they are sealed: How many shall pass away and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die; who shall live out his allotted time and who shall depart before his time; who (shall perish) by water and who by fire; who by the sword and who by a wild beast; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by earthquake and who by pestilence; who by strangulation and who by lapidation; who shall be at rest and who shall wander; who shall be tranquil and who shall be harassed; who shall enjoy well-being and who shall suffer tribulation; who shall be poor and who shall be rich; who shall be humbled and who shall be exalted.

But Repentance, Prayer and Charity avert the severity of the decree.

For as is Your Name so is Your praise. You are slow to anger and easy to pacify, for You do not desire the death of the one deserving death, but that he return from his path and live. And (even) until the day of his death You wait for him; if he will by repent, You will welcome him at once..." from Machzor for Rosh Hashanah, translation by Rabbi Nissen Mangel, published and copywrited by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, order through www.kehotonline.com

Our Machzor is 369 pages long and the services are a prayer workout - a marathon lasting 4-5 hours on Shabbos and holidays - while the Yom Kippur machzor is an all day affair. It's like a 24 hour silent zen center experience only with standing, sitting, singing, and constantly bringing your mind back to the words of the prayer you're reciting under your breath. Tiring, boring sometimes, but I've worked my way up to it and have been able to do the entire thing, following along in the English while the rabbi does it all out loud in Hebrew. Unfortunately, I missed the workout this year.

I did end up catching Aimee's cold and was soooooooo disappointed that I couldn't pray with my peeps. I missed the lovely service on Friday night with the delicious meal afterward and the longer service the next day. Baily and Yochanon set up a tent in their backyard and then invite everyone to stay for a meal after services. Very warm and heimishe. All my friends were there and I was coughing and feeling sorry for myself at home.

Trying to find the silver lining, I realized how much I wanted to pray with everyone and how much that group means to me. I ended up borrowing a prayerbook from the rabbi so I could still pray at home. (I don't own a High Holiday Machzur!) Praying by myself was actually very meaningful. I took breaks when I needed to and really got to focus on the prayers and on what I was saying rather than being distracted.

On Sunday, I went to part of the service and got to hear the shofar and some of the ancient melodies that I so love to hear this time of year. I heard some wisdom from the rabbi's which I loved and got to pray a bit with everyone. After awhile I got tired and left, so I missed my favorite part, the Priestly Blessing:-[ And it was kind of embarrassing to be there since I had to tell people I had a cold when they went to hug me but sometimes they thought I was telling them I didn't want to catch anything from them!

Being sick brought back all the past year and all the times I had to stay away from friends and family. It helped me make an even deeper level of commitment to taking care of myself because I had to face my fragility yet again. I could have prevented this cold had I protected myself better. So it even got me to accept the fact I need to get back on the immune builders and also get a flu shot.

Not changing the subject at all, I have to share with you that I saw a DVD on Joni Mitchell's life history. In my mind, she is the greatest poet, musician, & artist born out of the turbulent 60's and 70's. Her ability to plumb the depths of her pain and come out with clear, raw poetry and music, capturing the essence of universal themes is something I've always admired and loved.

What captured my attention in relationship to all of this is that her life was really a struggle mirroring the woman's movement. She had a child out of wedlock that she had to put up for adoption because she couldn't depend on the man she later married to do the right thing. Then after divorcing him, she became famous and her writing revolved around romantic love vs independence. She couldn't get tied down in a relationship, she wanted to focus on her craft. And because she refused to marry Graham Nash, she did blossom and her best work came out of the depression following the break-up. In the end though, she admits that the most important thing in life is Love. And not romantic love.

It hit me that she missed that Love when she gave up her baby and when she subsequently gave up marriage and family for her craft. Her independence and desire to further her career gave her something really great while raising a child and committing to a marriage would have given her something else. To me that's what this whole holiday boils down to: what's important in life? Career? or family, friends, & relationships? That's the universal dilemma of a woman. How can you develop your own craft and self-care while at the same time, not forgetting the relationships that are really the most important things in life?

When faced with the possibility of dying no matter how much you pray or what you eat or how you think or how much you give or how good a person you are (since we're even told that the angels are judged on this holiday), and knowing that whether you live or die is really, ultimately out of your own hands, what's most important gets really clear:

Our relationships.

And that's what I keep coming back to when I get sick. I don't want to have a recurrence. I want to live and the most important thing that I miss when I am sick is my peeps.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Still Recovering

This week is the last week of internal preparation before the Holy Days start. This year I am much more aware than I ever have been of what's been cooking inside me in response to Elul and the energy available at this time. Last year, at this time, I was mostly just contemplating the need to have a biopsy and worrying about having to get a mammogram. This year it's so easy to look back over the past 12 months and do a reckoning of where I've been and where I am and where I still need to g(r)o(ow).

This week it's all coming to a head and I find myself back to square one: I am in recovery and I still need to take good care of myself and rest and figure out what I need to do - how I need to organize my days - so I enjoy my life. The hardest lesson for me is no matter how much someone else seems to need my help, I absolutely have to say no if it interferes with my self-care.

When I went to the PCS open house last week, I ran into someone who looked familiar and said Hi to me. I said Hi back but couldn't figure out who she was. Later, when I realized who she was, it hit me really hard that I need to remember this past year and not run ahead full-speed trying to put it all behind me. The woman was my chemo nurse.

The Tamoxifen is helping me remember that I am still in recovery. I am tired from it and a bit more anxious and sleepless and pin-prickly from hot flashes while I dance in the morning. My chest is also a reminder that I'm still in recovery and need to sit down and watch TV sometimes and just stretch my left side so I don't develop scar tissue. It gets tight when I don't slow down to stretch.

Looking back, I know that I came through something very scary and just because I'm done with treatment doesn't mean I can steam full ahead and power out like I used to. I don't want to go back to the old me - the one who didn't pay attention to her body and tried to ignore the other physical problems I had. In my old mindset, my pains, fatigue, sugar problems, low immunity, anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraines, were all just something I had to learn to live with since I had no really good solutions. They were also something to be ashamed of...like if I were a better person and had a different personality, then I wouldn't have these problems.

Over the year, I've come out of guilt and into self-love. I still struggle with self-blame on occasion but what got me through this horrendous year was self-love, not criticism. I knew that if I went down the depression and self-pity and fear road, I would just give up and die. Instead, I found myself bargaining with HaShem and saying, "Hey, this is what's really great about me and I have more to give to this world. Let me live."

This carepages and my work with my clients kept me focused on the higher parts of my personality. They helped me to recognize and embrace my strengths. The Celexa helped of course too and I'm so glad I was open to increasing the dosage each time I felt myself spiraling downward. I knew that my positive attitude and my zest for life would give me the strength to beat this thing. I was unceasingly pushing my life force into the future.

Once I finished chemo and surgery, I couldn't wait to run full-blast into that future and found myself back to the old stressed out existence where I wasn't enjoying my work anymore. This Elul has brought me back home and helped me to realize that this the piece I still need to correct. If I let go of fears around lack of money this year, that will sustain me. If I let go of needing to suffer so that everyone else around me is happy, that will be a huge Tshuva. If I can remember to pay attention to my body and lower my stress level and keep up my exercise and increase my consumption of raw veggies, I will be putting this year's scare behind me.

Aimee's got a cold now and I remember how scared I used to be about catching things. I'm still a bit concerned but am more sure that if I continue to exercise, continue eating right, and rest enough to not stress out, I won't catch the cold. So that's my plan for the New Year. I'm still in recovery and need to keep taking care of myself very well. I am a delicate creation and a magnificent treasure and I want to honor that and protect my sense of the sacredness of who I am and what I deserve in this life.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Facing My Limits

Excerpt from 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Simon Jacobson. ©Copyright The Meaningful Life Center, 2009. All rights reserved. www.meaningfullife.com.

To subscribe to this 60 day email, go here: http://www.meaningfullife.com/subscribe/index_60days_subscribe.php

"The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything we see, whether good or bad, is really a reflection of ourselves. If it was not, we'd simply not see it.

This phenomenon is part of a merciful way that G-d has of teaching us lessons in life. Most of us have a difficult time hearing from others that we have a flaw which we ourselves don't recognize. Therefore, G-d sets us up to have a confrontation with a person who exhibits that same flaw in some form. We see it and we say "how terrible." But then it dawns on us that we exhibit the same behavior, though perhaps in different form.

The same is true for positive things. We recognize a positive characteristic in others because we have it in ourselves. If we didn't have any element of it, we wouldn't recognize it.

In other words: You are what you see. And you see what you are.

Many Jews living in Germany in the 1930s didn't recognize the evil of the German people because they had none of it in themselves. They couldn't fathom that anyone could murder them in cold blood. If you are incapable of a crime, it's impossible to imagine that someone else is capable of it.

There are atrocities that we can't even relate to because we're not capable of doing such a thing ourselves.

The same is true for goodness or holiness.

Many of us are cynical because we never met anyone truly holy or truly pure. So we don't believe that it's possible to be that way because it's not part of our own experience..."

I probably shouldn't be copying these things here in my own blog, but I referenced the copywrite, so I hope that works. I just couldn't not include it here. Today this came in my email and it was so perfect for what I'm going through.

This week has been quite an emotional roller-coaster due to a situation I have ongoing at work. It's been the hardest thing I've ever had to face and the perfect thing for me to face, reconcile, and heal. It has everything to do with my own limits, taking care of myself and making a priority out of what is truly important.

What the heck!!? Didn't I learn all this already this year? Yes and no. Right away after finishing surgery, even before I was radiated, I was once again pushing the river until I drowned in it. And it's such an important lesson for me: take care of yourself, you are just out of cancer treatment and not even celebrating your canServersary yet!!!!

Don't push yourself beyond your own sense of safety. That's the lesson. And yes, I've eaten some crow realizing just how much I'm complaining to myself about something in someone that is simply a mirror of my own reasons for slipping up. And truly I got lost because I could not see or believe certain things due to not having those traits in myself.

I loved this article my brother-in-law, Paul sent me:
"My Brain on Chemo: Alive and Alert" By DAN BARRY
I think you'll like it too. It's quite a great article on how easy it is to revert back to our old behaviors and ways of thinking.

The Israeli folk dancing with the kids at PCS this week was great fun. (Nice having the fake boobs too and looking somewhat normal.) Since Aimee & Jason weren't in the class and were so mortified that I was there doing this, I didn't let the class know who my kids were. They seemed to enjoy the dances and thanked me afterward and one asked if I was coming back! Aimee and Jason couldn't believe they really liked it. "They were just joking, Mom!"

So, that's your update. I hope you enjoy your long weekend!!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

I've Got Boobies!!!!

I'm so happy. I didn't realize how much I'd missed having breasts until I went today and tried on some prostheses. Wow! I started to tear up when I felt one in my hand. I hadn't had that feeling in my hand for a long time! They felt so real.

It's crazy. Never before did I ever care about my breasts or think twice about anyone else's. But since being diagnosed, I see breasts everywhere. At first I felt a longing and a sadness just watching TV...cleavage all over the place. Mine were going to be taken from me and I didn't understand the depth of what they meant to me. I do miss them in many ways.

I can't stand to see cleavage these days. It seems like it's the style now - more than it has ever been before. But is it more the style now or is it just that now I'm noticing it more? I never really liked seeing cleavage and only showed my own on wedding day - though I regretted it ever since. Maybe I'm just a prude but it always bothered me to see other women's breasts sticking out of their clothing. It's like, hey, I wasn't interested in what your body looks like, so excuse me, but keep them to yourself!

Now I realize there was something of some jealousy there. Occasionally, I would enjoy seeing cleavage and thought it made someone look more beautiful. So I think I was just jealous and wanted to look as good and knew that I couldn't - or thought that I couldn't. Or maybe I just wouldn't do that to look better...

Wanting breasts is all very new to me...at least consciously. Maybe once I started developing, I never felt the need to want them. They grew and they made me feel beautiful and so I never needed to long for them. I'm realizing how it must feel for women who don't have large ones. Maybe they always feel a longing of some sort. Maybe they always feeling less than.

Beauty is such a weird thing and women have to deal with so much pressure on that front.

Anyway, I'm happy because I don't feel trapped anymore. I don't have to put up with the aftermath of breast canSer as much now. My hair growth isn't controllable but looking busty is.

Someone told me this week that she was so angry after being diagnosed, that she went to yard sales buying plates just so she could break them. She'd have a breaking plates fest and get all her anger out. After it was over, sweeping it all up and throwing it out had a healing effect on her too.

I couldn't relate to the anger part. I don't think I've felt the anger yet. Instead I mostly feel frustrated and trapped in this predicament - mostly just not liking the short hair and the flat chest and the constant worries about recurrence, diet, exercise, ct scans, etc. Instead of anger, guilt hit me hard at the beginning, so maybe I turned the anger inward. I know I gave G-d the cold shoulder which could be as far as I get to expressing anger...of course, Geoff would disagree with that.

The anger will probably come with time since I never thought I'd be happy getting prostheses and look at me now. I'm even wearing them in this hot weather we're having today...but then again, it's just my first day and I can't wait for the kids to get home from school to see the old me! Aimee can put her head on my chest again!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Moon - Elul - CT Scan

I got a CT scan this morning and it showed no metastatic canSer. Just a cyst on one of my kidneys that my dad says means nothing. Still I will see my oncologist tomorrow anyway to ask about it.

The tamoxifen may not be side-effecting me - or not just yet. I am waking up a lot during my sleep lately, but that could just be normal for me. Or due to anxiety over the scan.

I've been listening to a lot of audios on chabad.org about the coming holidays. There are 60 days that start with tonight's full moon - the Jewish months of Elul and Tishrei - that are full of holidays. First Rosh HaShana, then Yom Kippur, then Sukkot, and finally, Simchas Torah.

Of course I'm focusing on the first two holidays in my studies because it's the anniversary of my diagnosis. Geoff calls it my "canServersary". He says it was October 7th last year but I'm just focusing on the Jewish calendar myself, and Rosh haShana starts the night of Sept. 18th this year.

He pointed out that Jason was born on April 7th, Aimee on August 7th and my canServersary is October 7th. (maybe that's when I was reborn) But he forgets that my brother's birthday is Dec. 7th and my dad's is Sept. 7th.

Anyway, Ani Lidodi V'dodi Li is how you say in Hebrew, "I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me". That's a line from a part of Torah called, Shir haShirim or "Song of Songs" written by King Solomon. And the first letter of each of those words spells out the word for the Jewish month that starts tonight - Elul.

This line from Song of Songs represents the tone we start with for the month of Elul when we have both holidays that commemorate the birthday of the world or the creation of man (Rosh haShana) and the day of forgiveness (Yom Kippur). The week between the two holidays is the 10 days of Tshuva - which can be translated as "repentence" or "turning" and is related to the word for "rest" or "sitting" which is its root. Last year I got my diagnosis during the week of Tshuva.

This month, we look over the past year and see how well we did on our mission here and what we need to improve on, spiritually, for the coming year. Rosh ha Shana literally means "Head of the Year". But it's not the first month of the Jewish calendar. It's the 7th. The first month is Nissan - when we were taken out of Egypt.

According to one of the audios I listened to by Moshe New, we look at our relationship with G-d like we do any marriage/passionate relationship. The month on Nissan was like the honeymoon period of any relationship - everything is wonderful and miraculous. The reed sea is parted and we get fed manna. Now, though, is the time later in the marriage - like in any marriage - where you've looked at the golden calf and it looks so much better than what you are married to. And on the brink of divorce, your house is destroyed (Tisha b'Av) and the Temple is no more, and since there is no divorce in our relationship with G-d, you can do one of two things: either leave your house in shambles or rededicate yourself to the marriage.

So after Tisha B'Av comes the new year and you get to recommit to the original plan. Know that this marriage was meant to be and focus on the positive things that you really love and look past all the bad stuff. It's now up to you. Miracles are not going to get you to a good marriage. Your hard work and dedication even when the going gets rough is what brings a good marriage - it deepens the marriage and now it's no longer based on ephemeral things but is more solid. Developing faith & hope during the hard times gets you through.

That's where the concept of "turning" comes in. We aren't being punished for misdeeds - only reaping consequences of our actions. There is always forgiveness. The King knows how He set up this world. We are bound to win some, lose some. No matter how often we fail, there's always forgiveness because there's always the possibility to "turn" and return to our true selves and our true mission. It's a "turning", not a punishment. It's a returning and a resting or sitting because when we are back to ourselves, there is no more struggle. Everything flows when you are coming from your strength (your soul) and your strength lies in what you do well and what comes easy to you - what you are good at is what your purpose is in this life. (Moshe New didn't say that - I'm extending on what I heard due to what I've experienced this year.) And what your purpose is is what the King gave you this life for - you take part in the King's purpose for this world.

I really feel like that's what this year has been for me - a returning to myself, an embracing of myself, a remembering of what my purpose is. And I don't always succeed at that return, but it keeps me going when I "miss the mark" (which is the translation for the word, "sin" in Hebrew). No matter how far we've strayed from our true self (from our soul), there is no way to leave it behind, it is a part of us and waiting for us to come back to it.

So in Elul, the rebbe says that the "King is in the field" - down here with the field-workers. Checking out the work we have to do, shaking hands, listening to our challenges, hearing our requests. On Rosh HaShana we have the (re)coronation of our King. And we have an entire month of Elul to do the repair work necessary to reconnect to being the King's servant.

Another interesting thing I learned from one of these audios, the one from Ruvi New, is that two very important people in Jewish history were born on the 18th of Elul. And remember that 18 is the number for the word that means "Life". So to help us understand what Elul means - let's look at who was born on the "life of Elul":
The Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe who was the founder of Chabad.

The Baal Shem Tov was the person who started Hasidism. He was all about making Judaism joyful and personal. Before him, there was little mention of the soul in Jewish learning. So he also brought the mystical Kabbalah down to the masses whereas before only the elite of the elite were able to study it. The Alter Rebbe was one of the students of the Maggid who was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. He was the one out of all of the students to be sent to Lithuania.

At the time, Lithuania would be the toughest place to bring new information to. It was a huge stronghold of Jewish learning with strong learning centers. According to Ruvi New, the learning in Lithuania was very intellectual and lacking in spirituality. People knew things intellectually rather than making them exciting and personal. Their religious practice was very dry and I think they are one of the reasons so many men threw their tefillin into the ocean once they arrrived in America. The Alter Rebbe was the most intellectual of all of the Hasidic students of the Maggid so he was able to reach these people at their level. He was a prolific writer and wrote a book called, The Tanya, that elucidated deep Kabbalistic teachings but made them accessible to even the lay person. He started Chabad of Lubuvitch and brought soul and spirit to the intellectuals of the time.

Now the last interesting thing and then I'll let you go: If Rosh haShana is the birthday of creation - in fact, the day that man was created, then can it be celebrated by non-Jews? Well, there are some non-Jews, called the Noahides or the "B'nai Noach" which means the "children of Noah", who have asked if it's ok for them to celebrate Rosh HaShana. According to Moshe New, they should be able to celebrate it. Who are these Noahides? They are a group of mostly Christian people who, dissatisfied with their own religion looked to Torah to discover what it says about how to become a "righteous gentile".

Did you think the Torah was only written for Jews? No. Adam was given 6 commandments and then Noah was given the 7th. All of mankind descends from Noah. Google it: Google "7 noahide laws". There is such a group called the children of Noah and there are 7 commandments for all mankind.

Here's a link to a good article on Elul http://meaningfullife.com/oped/2009/08.20.09$ShoftimCOLON_Elul_and_the_Economy.php

And if you want links to the audios I listened to, email me.

I hope you enjoyed all of this as much as I did. Now you know what I'm doing with my new iPod when I'm driving around town! I will be continuing to write about how I see all of this relating to me as we go through these holidays. I just love this stuff!!!!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back From Hawaii

"Menachem Av 27, 5769 · August 17, 2009
Faith in the Dark

Do you only believe when you can see with your eyes? When your prayers are answered and miracles carry you on their wings? Or do you also believe when circumstances fly in your face?

If it touches you to the core, if it is a belief you truly own, if it is as real to you as life itself, then it does not change.

And if it does not change, then you are bound up with the true essence of the One who does not change."

From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; rendered by Tzvi Freeman. To order the Daily Thoughts in book form, go here: http://www.judaism.com/display.asp?cdo=chabad.org&etn=CAIJJ

I've been tired since we came back from Hawaii. The first few days I was there I was tired too, so I think it might be jet lag. But I napped there and got over it quick but I've been running around here. I saw 5 clients yesterday and on Friday, we went to get Aimee's ear's pierced in between my therapy and my acupuncture. (I discovered that I could do something for her without sacrificing what I needed to do for myself - she sat in 2 waiting rooms watching a DVD.)

The fires and breathing in smoke every day since returning home hasn't been the best thing for my health. I wake up with a bloody nose every morning. I've also started the Tamoxifen and felt a slight headache this morning so I'm a bit worried about how blocking my estrogen is going to effect me even though it does make me feel more secure taking it.

Hawaii was beautiful and not too hot and I didn't get any mosquito bites and my arms didn't blow up with lymphodema in the airplane and I didn't get a thrombosis from sitting too long on the plane. These were all the things I was worried about that didn't happen. I was blown away about the mosquitoes because they usually love me so I think that they just weren't interested in my chemo blood.

I felt extremely lucky that we had made the reservations prior to getting diagnosed because I don't think we'd have gone otherwise after the year we've had. Plus, I feel so lucky to have finished my treatment in time to go and have the party before I went. If you want to see a photo essay about the place we traveled to, Geoff wrote a great blog on it: http://www.sunrisesantacruz.com/blog/2009/08/hawaii-did-my-camera-have-to-break/

I also uploaded some photos here.

My highlights:
*Aimee holding me in the water.
*Jason body surfing.
*Good talks with Geoff.
*The Hawaiian butterfish dinner Aimee and I made.
*Napping on the deck (lanai).
*Reading, "The Street Lawyer" by Grisham.
*Aimee's pina colada smoothie.

I did run into some challenges that I didn't realize I'd have. Mostly around the body image stuff. I discovered that I look good in my bathing suit no matter what I think! (Aimee told me to write that, looking over my shoulder as I'm writing this!) And I discovered that my hair looks good all messy or curly and sticking out all over. So that's how I've been wearing it lately. (thank you Aimee for the cognitive therapy - but I do still want to go into the darkness for a moment)

Getting into a bathing suit has been a challenge my entire life. Being in Hawaii, even though 30 lbs lighter, I was still uncomfortable in my body. This discomfort was made more obvious to me because I also had no boobs. When this cute guy came to fix our bed (the frame was falling down), it was apparent to me that I used to depend on those things on my chest somehow to flirt. I never realized that until they were gone.

So as Tzvi Freeman writes, I still believe even when circumstances fly in my face, so I use those uncomfortable feelings about my body as clues to where I still need to heal my psyche. There is a way that I really ignore my body and purposely don't look in mirrors because it's too painful. I don't like to see myself growing old and I don't like to see myself fat and I don't like to see my chest deformed.

There's a part of me that would be so incredibly happy to have some plastic surgeon take my droopy belly and make boobs out of it. More to get rid of the belly than to even get the boobs. I don't really want fake ones with tatoos for nipples. But having a flat stomach for the first time in my entire life would satisfy me just fine.

Better still, if I could practice every day to look in the mirror naked and simply love my body, that would heal me on a much deeper level. And so that is what I intend to do. I believe that is the Higher Plan for me in all of this: Loving my body and treating it with kindness and feeding it with healthy food and fun exercise. And if after trying all that natural treatment for awhile, I still feel awful in my own skin, I will look into plastic surgery because why suffer?

I've been Israeli-dancing-up-a-storm in preparation for a couple of classes I'm teaching at PCS during the first week of school. I love Israeli folk-dancing since it's a wonderful way to physically express my love for my heritage and my people. I can't wait to research it online and print something out for the kids. Their dance teacher is out on maternity leave and asked for volunteers so now all I have to do is narrow down all the dances I have to share.

Life goes on and I need to schedule another ct scan. Yipes! Looking forward to getting a clean bill of health, right?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Getting Ready for Hawaii

It does feel like a completion of sorts this week. Especially yesterday when I walked Aimee into PCS for her "base camp" - back on the old site, breathing a sigh of relief. We made it. We're going to be ok now. (Only my fellow refugees from Natural Bridges fully understand what I mean by that.)

My life definitely coincides with the Jewish calendar. I wonder if this is for everyone and not just for me. Jews are always refugees or exiles. But Tisha B'Av also seems like the end of the year to me and here we are at the end of my year of challenges and growth. In a few more weeks, we'll be at the beginning of the Jewish new year - Rosh haShanah - and I'll be on Tamoxifen and having my diagnosis anniversary. Weird, huh?

I always plan our Hawaii trip - for the past 5 years - around Tisha B'Av. I never want to be traveling during the 3 weeks starting with the 17th of Tammuz (when the Romans breached the 2nd Temple walls) and ending with Tisha B'Av (when the Temple was destroyed). The Romans built an arch to brag about their spoils from the Temple & it can be seen here: http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/titus/titus.html

I listened to an audio on chabadbythesea.org called the Lessons of Tisha B'Av by Ruvi New. http://www.chabadbythesea.com/library/article_cdo/aid/704041/jewish/The-Lessons-of-Tisha-BAv.htm It was so fascinating. But what struck me most was the whole idea of "out of the ashes comes new life". Abraham was told his children would be scattered all over the world and guess what? Here we are. It's all in the Divine Plan - we weren't ready for the first Temple and not ready for the 2nd either. The third is built brick by brick with every mitzvah that we do. The 3rd Temple will be worldwide and not just in Jerusalem. G-d wasn't supposed to only be visible in one place on earth. The plan was for G-d to find a dwelling place in the lowest of all worlds, in every darkest corner.

By the way, did you know that both Temples were destroyed on the same day: Tisha B'Av or the 9th of Av? Other important (dark) events also occurred on the 9th of Av: the incident involving the spies (the breakdown of faith that caused the Jews to wander the desert for 40 more years) and the worst situation for the modern day Jews: the first day of WWI (which some say was the precursor to WWII).

I seemed to have more new clients wanting therapy in the last 9 days of the 3 weeks - the first 9 days of Av. And so I wonder if any of you did too. I once totaled my car during the first 9 days of Av. So I've been extra careful ever since this time of year. I believe that the children who are born during these days are blessings and reminders that we still go on after the destruction. It's not the end. These children, like Aimee, probably all Leos, are full of energy and light and enthusiasm - shedding a brightness during the dark times.

The full moon of Av (the 15th) is a day of redemption and that is the very day that we are off to Hawaii - tomorrow. It was once a day when (the Talmud says) that the "daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards and whoever did not have a wife would go there" to find one. I'm finding myself using every challenge I have with Geoff lately as an opportunity to create a complete recovery for me and in our relationship.

I need to be the boss sometimes and I'd rather not have to fight for that - so I give in and then sit with my resentment. So it's been lots of standing up for myself and not backing down, along with reviewing situations and using "I messages" to state what I prefer happening next time. This is a continual challenge for me and really good for me at the same time.

So I'm almost completely packed and ready to go. We've got a UCSC student house sitting and taking care of Summer. And I had to admit that I really didn't want to give her the job (even though she was the best candidate out of everyone we interviewed). I didn't like her simply because she was so pretty and her boobs were too big. Yes, I was jealous and Geoff just had to show her all his photos and wouldn't stop talking to her when it was time for her to leave. So I've been realizing just how hard it is to have no breasts anymore even though I love it when I'm Israeli folk dancing in the morning and nothing gets in the way of my jumping up and down.

I did get a new bathing suit from the store that I got my hats from. I don't think I'll need to wear anything in it to keep the cups from deflating but we'll see once I get in the water. At least it's cute with a skirt. One thing I am enjoying is the fact that I've packed a lot of tank tops. That's something I was never able to wear in Hawaii before. I fit into a lot of things now that I never could before. So that keeps me going. I'm not young anymore and will never be as cute as that girl who's house sitting and dog sitting. But at least I can be comfortable and make do with what I have and accept who I am. And make jokes to my family and you about not wanting to give her the job. (Even though it's not really a joke but the truth!)

So I'll check back in after we get back - sometime after August 15th. I'll be sorry not to have my computer to see you checking in and reading your comments. Instead, it will be fun to see you all on here once I get back home.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Bat Mitzvah

Aimee's Bat Mitzvah was enjoyed by all. Baily did a fabulous job helping me organize the food (actually, I helped her). Aimee did a great job delivering her speech and Jason was as charming as ever. Geoff was his usual funny self and even got serious a few times during his introduction which didn't leave a dry eye in the room (either from laughing or crying). The rabbi topped it off with an inspiring talk about what it means to be a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. And Geoff surprised Aimee with a DVD like the one he did for me with photos of her life all to the tune of "Golden Lady" by Stevie Wonder.

The food: we had teriyaki salmon, potato knishes, pesto pasta salad, a feta cheese and sundried tomato pasta salad, a caesar salad, a red cabbage salad with garbanzo beans, brownies and cake. We also had drinks and crackers and humous dip and olive dip on each table. We had to ask people to take food home at the end - there was so much.

The clubhouse at DeAnza is absolutely gorgeous. You can see it behind Aimee in the first photo I posted of the event. (all of the photos are posted on the invitation website - let me know if you need the link) The clubhouse has a view of the ocean. Geoff's parents live there which is how we were lucky enough to be able to use the place for the party.

Everyone came in and shmoozed and then we told them to go ahead a eat. Then Geoff spoke and after him, Aimee gave her speech (copied for you below) and then the rabbi spoke. Geoff spoke about the pride and love he has for his children and his gratitude for everyone who was there celebrating with us (around 70 people). He introduced family members and included me at the end - saying we've come out of the darkness and into the light now.

The rabbi's talk clarified why we celebrate the time when a boy or girl becomes an adult and why. The 12 or 13 year old develops a maturity that can understand right from wrong. Once a child can do that, he or she can then become a player in the game of life. The ultimate purpose of life is to build a better world - a place where G-d can Live.

I listened to a talk by his father a few days before the Bat Mitzvah. It is called, "Existence vs Life" and can be found on Chabad.org. He goes through the difference between merely focusing on your own existence and instead, living your life with the purpose of doing for others and for the world. When you are focused on your own existence, things like health, money, jobs, food, housing become important and your life becomes something you live in order to survive. Instead, living your life for the purpose that G-d intended for you - to help others and make this world a better place leaves your existence up to G-d and focuses you on what you are here to do. Very meaningful to me right now.

He explained that this is why we give the toast "L-Chaim" - which means "To Life". And why we give donations and Bat Mitzvah money gifts in multiples of 18. In Hebrew every letter has a numerical value and so the numerical value of the word "life" is 18. Judaism is more focused on this life than on the afterlife.

Anyway, I did get a bit stressed out after the Bat Mitvah was all over. I had to just sit in front of the TV and relax. I even was concerned I felt a cold coming on so I was reminded again that I am still in recovery and need to be careful. After rest and a good night sleep and some Chinese herbs: Gan Mao Ling, I felt better this morning and don't have a cold.

My dreams have been very symbolic lately. I had a dream last night that Stefanie gave me a Yad to write with. A Yad is a pointer that is used in some shuls for pointing at the words in the Torah during a Torah service. Instead of touching the holy scrolls, with your finger in order to keep your place while reading it outloud during the service, a Yad is used. In Hebrew "yad" means "hand". Anyway, I didn't want to use the Yad in the dream because it was too uncomfortable to write with.

But I do need to use that "Yad" because otherwise, I just get too stressed out and it's not good for me to do that right now. So a part of me is really glad that the Bat Mitzvah is behind me now and all I have to still do, that was a plan before the diagnosis, is to go to Hawaii!!! This week is Tisha B'Av and after Hawaii is my Jewish anniversary of getting diagnosed - the week between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur.

Here's Aimee's speech:

Hello, thank you for coming to my Bat mitzvah. I’m so glad you could all make it. I am really proud to be a bat mitzvah. Today is a special day for me and so I am going to tell you a little bit about what a Bat Mitzvah really is and a little something about what interests me in Judaism-my Jewish name. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the food.

Bat Mitzvah means Daughter of Mitzvahs in Hebrew. At 12, girls are responsible for everything they do. So if I do something wrong, my parents shouldn’t take the blame. When the Rabbi asked me what was the most interesting that I learned in my Jewish studies I immediately thought-the story of my Jewish name.

In Hebrew School, the most fascinating thing I learned (besides that Jelly Beans are Kosher) is the story of my Jewish name. My full Jewish name is Chana Yahudit. Chana means graciousness in Hebrew. The story of Chana begins a long time ago in Israel. A man named Elkanah had two wives. One had many children, the other, Chana, had none and her rival taunted her because of it. She cried and cried because she couldn’t have children. Once, while visiting Jerusalem, she prayed to G-d for a child and as she prayed the High priest named Eli watched her. He saw that she was moving her lips but no sound was coming out of her mouth. Since there was no silent prayer at the time, he thought she was drunk and scolded her. She told him that she was praying from her heart and that she had had nothing to drink. “Go in peace and may G-d of Israel answer your prayer.” Eli said to her. The next year she was blessed with a son. That is where we get our silent prayer from. Chana teaches us to pray from the heart. Chana’s prayer was the first silent prayer and we continue to pray in this way today! I hope, just like Chana, I can be gracious and sincere because I want my life to have an effect on our world.

In Hebrew, the letters in Chana’s name are the same as the first letters of the Hebrew words for the three main Mitzvahs of a woman. These Mitzvahs are lighting candles, going to the Mikvah and, my favorite, making delicious Challah. Challah is bread that Jewish families around the world make every Friday for Shabbat. In the days when the Temple was still standing, Jewish families would bake bread and donate a portion of the dough to the priest, like the Torah commanded. This portion of dough was called Challah. Nowadays we symbolically take a tiny piece of Challah and burn it in the oven after saying a prayer.

Challah on Shabbat symbolizes the manna G-d would give us when we were wandering in the desert. Because we were hungry and didn’t have food, G-d gave us manna and it could taste like anything we wanted it to taste like. On Friday G-d would give us two portions to eat because on Saturday, Shabbat, it would be forbidden to gather food, so the manna would not appear; so Friday, we would gather two portions so we could have one the next day. This is why we have two Challahs on Shabbat.

Challah is different from regular bread because you braid it and put egg on top of it to make it shiny and beautiful. I picked Challah as my favorite Mitzvah because I love making it with my mom. She gives me a little piece and I make my own Challah. When I was little I was so proud of myself when I saw the finished Challah I had made. I love the smell of baking Challah. My favorite memory of making Challah was at Hebrew school. We were making Challah and learning how to braid it. I didn’t think I knew how to braid it so I waited for someone to help me. While I waited I started to play with it. Then, I didn’t know how but I just started to braid it. It was so easy I felt like I had braided Challah for years! I was so amazed at what I could do and by the time someone came to help me I had finished. It was a great feeling.

The second part of my Jewish name is Yahudit. I like the story because in it Yahudit is a strong and brave girl who saves the day. It all started in the town of Bethulia. A mighty Greek general named Holofernes, the head of a huge army, decided to make the Jews surrender by cutting off their food and water supply. The Jews were so deprived of nourishment that they decided to surrender after only five more days. Yahudit was the only person to not agree with this plan. She said, “Why do you test G-d, giving him only five days in which to send us his help? If you truly have faith in G-d, you must never give up your trust in Him. Besides, don’t you know that surrendering to Holofernes is worse than death?!” They all agreed but didn’t know what to do to keep them alive. “We must all continue to pray and never despair,” Yahudit told them, “But I have also thought of a plan, I will need your permission to visit Holofernes.”

At first no one wanted her to risk her life in this plan but then finally let her go. Then she tricked Holofernes into eating very salty cheese she had brought and after that drinking some very strong wine. As soon as he dropped on the floor, very drunk and asleep, she took his sword and cut off his head. She also did this to another general. She had saved the Jews. Imagine how brave and smart she must have been to face Holofernes. If we could all be that brave we could accomplish anything.

Well, that’s the end of the stories about the strong women I was named after. I hope you enjoyed them. Before I go, I would like to say a few thank you’s. As I look around this room I see my family and friends. I would like to thank each person in this room from the bottom of my heart for celebrating with me. I would first like to thank my parents. Mom and Dad, you are always there for me when I need you. Mom, you have been so supportive of me in everything I do and are always looking out for me. You taught me kindness, generosity and how to make a mean kuggle. We have been through a tough year and I glad you can be with me here today. Dad, you taught me how to laugh and how to make people laugh. You cheer me up when I am sad and you give me great advice that no one else can give. Jason, you are one of my best friends and a great brother. We have had so many laughs together. You are one of the best siblings I have ever had. Without you my life would be very boring. Grandma Lee and Grandpa Dan, thank you so much for being so generous in everything you do for me and for putting a smile on my face when I walk in your house.. Grandma Shelia and Grandpa Norman, thank you for flying out from southern Califoria to be with me. Thank you for making me always so happy when you come to visit. Uncle Paul, Aunt Wendi, Samantha and Joshua thank you for coming here from Marin, your attendance made this day even more special. Also, a BIG Thank you to Rabbi Yochanan and Bailey for teaching me all I know about my Judaism and for getting me ready for today. Without you this day would not be possible. For All my friends here today, thank you for keeping my life exciting. Thank you for being with me through this tough year and for making me laugh a lot. Friends are really important to me. And to everyone here today, thank you for celebrating with me on my Bat Mitzvah day. I would like you all to all know that each and every one of you is special to me and my family, may we have many more celebrations together!