Shana tova

by Hilla Duka


This week was the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, and though I don’t normally fuss much unless my dad’s around, this time it felt important to celebrate. It also happened to coincide with me being half way through treatments, also worth celebrating. It’s a whole new year, 5775, and I hope so much that it will be a sweet year, a year of better news, than last year. As is traditional, we dipped our apples in honey, and I might have prayed more fervently than usual for a sweet, happy year for all of us.


Rosh Hashanah is followed by ten days of atonement, and though I’m not religious, these days have always held a special place in my heart, mainly because they make so much sense to me. The days that follow new years is a time for reflection, looking back on the year that passed, on your actions. It’s holding yourself accountable for the mistakes you’ve made, and apologising to the people you’ve mistreated. The idea is that god enters the names of those who will live on new years, but gives people these ten days to change his decision. If you’ve atoned, repent, and done good deeds, he can still change his mind and put your name down for the year to come. Needless to say, this year the holiday holds a new meaning to me.


So these past few days, I’ve spent looking inwards, trying a bit harder than other times to align who I want to be with who I am, how I want to act and think and behave. I’ve changed so much in the past few months, it’s sometimes hard to even recognise myself.


Thankfully I’m now past the most horrific days of treatment no 5, my strength returning, my head clearing, and the nausea gone for this time. I luxuriate in the energy returning to my body, in the fact that I can do math in my head once again, and that I can follow a conversation from start to finish once more. Everybody always says it’s the small things that matters - who knew they were right? My heart fills with gratitude when I think that I will have almost two weeks of feeling this well before it’s time for my next round.


It seems my reaction to the chemo is different for each time, strangely enough. This time, I felt affected almost as soon as I left the hospital, my head drowsy and drugged, my body weak and toxic. Usually so far, day one and two have been fairly easy on me, but this time I was quite broken down. Day Three, the dreaded Day Three, came and went, and perhaps because I was already so affected, it didn’t seem like the worst Day Three I’ve gone through.


I try to take some comfort in knowing that I’m half way now - I’ve managed five treatments and I’ve another five to go. I still haven’t heard of anyone receiving as many as ten rounds of chemo, the maximum I’ve heard of are six. When I consider how much these five turns have altered me, it does leave me a bit fearful of what I’ve ahead of me. How much will the next five treatments take, how will they change me? What kind of person will I be when at last I’ve done all ten courses?


And as one always does at the beginning of a new year I’ve made an effort to be extra healthy. I’ve started to make super icky drinks, ones with celery, cale and beetroots and stuff in them, and I do feel like I have way more energy now than before. It might just be the fact that my blood counts are better, or maybe the drinks really do help. In any case I’ll keep drinking them, anything I can do to help my body have the best possible chance to fight. And ironically, physically I feel better now than I have all year, even way before I got the diagnosis.

One of the best things anyone told me since I found out was “Accept the diagnosis, not the prognosis”. I try to live by that, though it’s sometimes harder than other times. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense - I don’t feel like I’m sick, and I know that I’m strong, so why shouldn’t I be different? On the other hand, it’s very hard to ignore when you read how long people with my kind of cancer lives. And while on one hand you have to stay positive, you also have to get used to idea of dying, to try to wrap your head around it. It’s a balance hard to perfect, how much to believe and stay positive, and how much to accept. I’ve promised myself to try to let these thoughts be while we’re away, to simply enjoy the moment, and not think too much. I don’t know how well I’ll be able to do it, but I will at least try to only be present in the moment, to create some happy memories for all of us.


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