My mother, z”l (zichrona l’bracha, may her memory be a blessing), called it ‘the Big C.’ She couldn’t say its real name, Cancer. That would be too much of an admission of its arrival, of the arrival of this dreaded, unwelcome guest. My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer soon after my wedding. The early years of my marriage and of my sons’ babyhoods were marked by worry about how was she doing, how much longer would she be with us, could we do anything at all to reverse the decree, as it felt to us. The doctor gave her less than two years to live; she lived for more than five. Part of her longer survival might have been due to the force of the chemotherapy. My father’s care for her helped, too. A large part was her own desire to live just a bit longer, to see a few more grandchildren born, to dance at a few more simchas.
Unfortunately, I have been impacted by cancer much of my life. In 4th grade, a dear boy in my class died of this disease. Would I get a lump on my leg, too? I used to think. Every ache and pain for the next few years scared me. There was a little girl whose family had come all the way from Israel to the Boston area so she could be treated for cancer. The little girl lived a few more years, but then she too succumbed. As the years rolled passed, I learned of adults who had died of cancer. A friend’s aunt. A friend’s father. An aunt in Israel.
In my twenties, a friend’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember how warm a woman she was. I loved going to her home on Shabbat, the table spread with delicacies, and her warm smile making me feel welcome. Once, I went with my friend and her family on a hike in Maine. Out in the woods, we cooked hot dogs over an open fire. I remember her mother said: “I never ate these before I was diagnosed. I always avoided food like this (hot dogs). But now, what does it matter.” What a sad, sad day it was when we attended her funeral.
Years later, my friend would blame fat. “My mother made everything with fat, fat, fat,” she would say. What kind of fat wasn’t clear. One can only guess (saturated animal fat at the main course, with hydrogenated fat for dessert? With some rancid, overcooked oils thrown in anywhere?) Her father, too, would be stricken; about a year or two before my mother died, her father died of prostate cancer.
How I got stuck on the cancer and nutrition link and continue to follow this issue is a subject for another post. I can only write so much on this topic without feeling emotionally drained.
But I will say this: remember how my friend’s mother never ate hot dogs before she got sick? I gradually came to the opposite conclusion. Giving up hot dogs wasn’t merely enough. The food pyramid that we are taught about nutrition isn’t enough. There’s a lot to know about nutrition, and all our bodies are different.
In memory of my dear mother, here are some of her paintings.