Sunday, June 17, 2007

Where were we (article# 47) 6/14/2007

The last “official” time I published an article in these pages, we were still basking in the glow of a wonderful Pesach. We had turned the corner in getting used to our new environment and had what we hope is the first of many great Yamim Tovim here in our home.

We had devoted a meager couple of hours of our time to expressing our support to the precious Chayalim (“Israeli soldiers”) who stand a post and protect all of us, citizen and tourist alike, by distributing Pesach treats at several checkpoints. However, the impact of that small amount of time still brings cheer to our hearts and reminds us how lucky we are to live in a place where each act of chessed (kindness) is magnified and treasured all the more.

We were looking forward to experiencing the spring and our first Lag B’Omer as Israelis. We were about to enter the home stretch of year one and began to look forward to “YEAR TWO: The Time When Things Actually Begin To Make Some Kind Of Sense.”

Goldie continued to suffer from double vision, but although we cursed it and were annoyed by its affect upon our lives, we were optimistic that it would fade in time and be just another story to tell the grandchildren. We cursed it then – we bless it now.

What can we say? The roller coaster ride that has been year one has at times threatened to overwhelm us and swallow us up. Yet, each time we reached what we thought was “the breaking point” for us, that time when we could really take no more – another messenger was sent from heaven to watch over us and make sure we were OK.

And – to show us that there is no such thing as a breaking point. Each challenge is just that. Each of us has to find it within themselves to put one foot in front of the other and continue to walk along the path that is our lives.

I found it ironic (and a little embarrassing) that two weeks after I had written a (somewhat irritated) article about how confident we were with the Israeli medical system we headed off to America to treat Goldie’s cancer. There I was insisting that Israel’s physicians were equal to the task and then bailing out on them.

However, I still remain confident in the Israeli system. Depending on the illness. Goldie still has her double vision. It is an illness that is almost certainly unrelated to the cancer. She is still being treated by her Israeli neurologist and our American neurologist (recognized as a giant in the field) commented to us what an excellent workup she had gotten in Israel and that we certainly were safe in returning home and continuing diagnosis/treatment here.

However, there is no doubt that coming to America for the cancer was the right move. With a much larger population, the US doctors simply have greater experience and therefore expertise than it is possible for an Israeli doctor to have.

It was a difficult decision to leave, but there is a Rav here who specializes in helping people find the best medical care for their needs. He is recognized as an expert in knowing who the best doctors for each illness are. When he advised us to go to Sloan Kettering, we knew that it was the right move.

According to the consensus of Goldie’s doctors (and certainly according to Hashem’s plan) the double vision was a gift that saved Goldie’s life. Without the double vision we would never have discovered the cancer so early or had an opportunity to treat it.

The double vision is the reason that we can once again look forward to telling these stories to our grandchildren (G-d willing).

It is many of you who we also have to thank for this. When Goldie was first diagnosed, we debated disclosing her illness so publicly. In the end, Goldie decided that we needed all the tefillot (prayers) we could get and that I should ask you to join us in davening for her recovery.

We were blown away by your response. We averaged 15 - 20 emails of support each and every day. Goldie and I read each and every one. In the beginning, I tried to answer each and every one, but after the surgery it became impossible. Please don’t think we didn’t see them or read them. We did – each one.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but we actually got a tremendous comfort and a lot of strength in getting these emails and hearing that people were davening, learning and doing mitzvot in her z’chut (merit). People cared enough to make us part of their lives and be a part of her recovery.

Thank you.

Until we experienced it ourselves, we didn’t realize how powerful even a small act of kindness can be to the recipient. From the former neighbor who brought Goldie flowers for Shabbat when I was in Israel for the weekend visiting the kids before the surgery to the family who was donating blood in the hospital on the day of Goldie’s surgery and came to the OR area because the wanted to say one Perek of Tehillim for Goldie with me and then be on their way to the other former neighbor who (she says) just happened to be in the neighborhood that day and brought me lunch while I waited for news (simply saying “Hi – I brought you some lunch”, giving me the bag and then leaving so that I wouldn’t feel pressured to make small talk) to many many more people who did so much, the encouragement we got from all of you was what kept us going forward the entire time.

There are so many people to whom we are incredibly indebted.

Goldie’s brother David and his wife Marcia, who literally welcomed us into their home and made us feel so much a part of their normal household. David worked together with me in researching Goldie’s illness (which is so rare that it occurs in less than .5% of all new lung cancer cases) and went to every doctor’s appointment. He worked tirelessly in making sure Goldie got the right care and was an excellent sounding board with whom to weigh our options.

My parents unbelievably dropped everything and with less than a week’s notice flew to Israel to be with our kids and make sure the house functioned. For five weeks. I am sure it was incredibly difficult (six kids are an impossible enough task when you acquire them one at a time, no less so when they are suddenly dumped in your lap). My brother and sister checked in on them regularly, coming by the house to make sure all continued to be well.

Chaia Broderick (who was also running her own home single handedly while her husband Nesher worked in America – welcome home to Nesher who finally made the permanent move to be based in Israel last week instead of commuting) and Daniella Rudoff made sure that there were meals in the house (and continue to do so), that the kids were at all their activities and doctors appointments and that there was always a helping hand available if one was needed in our absence.

Our former neighbor (a pathologist) who took his time to analyze the slides and make sure we had an accurate diagnosis as well as come to see us in the hospital right before Shabbat and give us a very unofficial pathology report (the official one came in the following Wednesday) that allowed us to have a special Shabbat in the hospital.

Satmar Bikur Cholim and Chai Lifeline who made sure we hade food in the hospital (especially the Shabbat packages).

Food from neighbors in Bet Shemesh. Neighbors calling to see if my parents needed anything and keeping an eye on the kids for us. Tehillim groups worldwide. Special Tzedaka events in Goldie’s zechut. Special learning done for Goldie’s zechut. Hafrashat Challa (separating the challa).

There is no way to say thank you for everything that was done. We only ask that you channel those energies and make the special mitzvoth, davening and learning a permanent part of your lives. And continue to include Golda Susya Bat Shoshana in your tefillot for a complete recovery from her surgery as well as the double vision.

The weeks we were in America really shlepped on us. There were sometimes days that went by between appointments and we were very focused on continuing to educate ourselves on her tumor. We spent hours in the Teaneck library translating all of the hospital reports into English for our doctors.

I was in Israel for Lag B’Omer, but Goldie missed it. We missed Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim and Shavuot. We missed so much (especially our kids – skype can’t replace a good hug).

Chaim and Chaya (the oldest two) were totally awesome! OK, so they might have stretched the rules here and there in our absence, but they literally threw themselves into helping Bubbee and Zaidy and watching the littler kids. The pressure on them was enormous. Eema and Abba gone for six weeks, Eema with a serious illness and still having the fortitude to keep the other kids moving in the right direction while still struggling themselves in adapting to a new language, culture and reality.

The kids continued their phenomenal progress in our absence. The night after our return we went to Parent Teacher conferences for Aliza (grade 6) and Batya (grade 2). Aliza’s teacher was so encouraging and we felt real pride in hearing how well she has acclimated and that her language skills are so strong that one would think she has been in the country for several years instead of several months.

Batya’s teacher told us that Batya is doing well, not just for a new Olah or even someone who has been in country for several years – she is doing as well or better than native born Israelis. What else could we have asked for?

All the kids have worked hard (and continue to do so) to acquire Hebrew (OK – not Chaim) and acclimate. They are thankfully doing very well socially (so far) and are really very happy.

Chaim took his GED and takes great pleasure in announcing that he is “all done” in High School now. Here’s an idea for you – send your kid to Israel for a one year program to get a GED diploma. The tuition (even though it is private and much, much more than anything anyone else pays here in Israel) for the year is maybe 60% of what you are paying there AND you totally skip 12th grade (and its tuition)!

Chaim’s team is in the flag football league playoffs and are one game away from the championships.

There is so much more that I could say about the last few months and our incredible journey here in Israel. We are thankful that Hashem has gotten us to this point and we continue to look forward never backward. Sometimes you feel His tap on your shoulder and feel His presence in your life. We have felt much more than that. There is no question for us that He continues to watch over us and that his kindness in making Goldie sick with one illness in order to expose the other illness is His way of openly showing His active involvement in our lives and the fact that His grand plan not only exists but that we have been granted an unbelievable gift to see it in operation and catch a glimpse of His work.

We look forward to continuing to share parts of our lives with you and hope that you will visit us here in Israel (be it for a vacation or relocation) very soon.

Mazal Tov to (5 Towns Jewish Times publisher) Larry and Esta Gordon on the birth of their grandson, born to their children Malkie and Moshe Hirsch. May the parents be zocheh to bring him to his Brit Milah and may the entire family enjoy only Yiddishe nachas from him.

Shalom! Welcome Back to Israel! 5/31/2007

After a very busy few weeks and nothing but the best care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, Goldie and I were given the authorization to (finally) return home and we did so last Sunday.

Goldie has been recovering well from her surgery. Boruch H-shem, the tumor was completely removed and the operation went well with an excellent result. Without too many unnecessary details I will simply say that the type of cancer she had was extremely rare, and that she has an excellent prognosis for a full recovery without the need for any further treatment.

As I begin to collect my thoughts and we return to our normal everyday life, I am struck more and more by the extreme kindness that we were blessed with in Goldie’s being stricken with double vision, an ailment from which she still suffers and we hope to have a complete recovery from in the near future. Without this ailment, which our doctors feel was totally unrelated to the cancer, we would never have discovered or dealt with the tumor.

The list of “it just so happened” events are too long to count. “It just so happened” that the regular neurologist for our health plan was out of the country and we had to go outside the plan to a different neurologist when the double vision first came on. The result? This doctor, against the opinion of most of the other physicians kept pursuing the diagnosis and inadvertently discovered the tumor.

“It just so happened” that Goldie’s brother has experience with helping a relative who has lung cancer. The result? We had a directory of physicians, experts in the field to consult with and knew from the get go who would be the best choice, since all the research into the doctors had already been done.

“It just so happened” that Goldie’s brother was a chavruta (study partner) in Israel with someone who currently owns imaging centers and literally opened the doors to us when we first arrived and were having complications in getting the initial scans approved by the insurance company. The result? We were able to provide the doctors with the necessary information to aggressively move forward and schedule the surgery much quicker than we had any hope to expect.

The list goes on and on. But, perhaps most importantly, “IT JUST SO HAPPENED” that through these pages and the internet that we had exposure to literally thousands of people. The result? Goldie was the beneficiary of thousands of peoples davening for her complete recovery. She had hundreds of Tehillim groups and Shmiras Haloshon groups praying for her. Several Yeshivos had their students saying Tehillim in her Zechut (merit) every single day. There were people taking upon themselves additional personal mitzvot and dedicating them to her zechut.

Clearly, there is no such thing as “it just so happened”. As I have written before, the experiences we have had in coming to Israel and acclimating to our new home have repeatedly shown us that there is no such thing as a coincidence or happenstance and that there was clearly a reason that we needed to have all these things in place for us.

The hundreds of emails and messages we got from everyone were so supportive and so encouraging to us that we were confident and hopeful that H-shem would answer these tefillos with a cure and recovery for Goldie, and we know without a doubt that each and every person who davened, learned, did an extra mitzvah or whatever they personally could do was a significant part of Goldie’s recovery and we are extremely grateful to all of you for making us a part of your lives and prayers.

Of course, she still has a long recuperation from major surgery ahead as well as what we hope is a diagnosis and cure for the double vision as well. So we ask that you continue to think of us and daven for a Refuah Shleima for Golda Susya Bat Shoshana and all Cholei Yisrael.