The idea of a miracle always made me uncomfortable. So many tragedies happen, so many prayers are left seemingly unanswered. I always considered myself a believer, but sometimes the sad endings affected me, and made me question those beliefs. That is, until a miracle happened to me. My own experience shook me up, and I can see that despite what I sometimes perceive as G-d ignoring us, He is always watching and listening, and helps us more than we know.
One of my lowest times happened in a waiting room. As I sat at the doctor’s office waiting for my appointment, a lovely nurse named Chris came out. She asked me how I was doing, we exchanged a few words, and walked away. Chris was cheerful as usual, although on this visit, I sensed something about her demeanor that was extra caring (even for her). As she walked away, I wondered why today of all days she took the time to talk to me, and to look at pictures of my son. That’s never happened before. A nervous feeling ran through me.
This was a follow-up appointment after having an ovarian ultrasound. I came in for a routine ultrasound, and instead of receiving the usual call saying that everything looked normal, the nurse on the other end said that the ultrasound looked abnormal. My right ovary was generously enlarged, and I needed to schedule a follow-up appointment with my doctor. He was out of town, so I would have to wait an entire week before I could see him. Having had a family history of cancer, I couldn’t wait, I quickly scheduled an appointment for a second opinion with another doctor on the following day. An emotionless nurse performed a second ultrasound and promised that the doctor would call soon. The doctor called later that afternoon saying that in fact everything looked normal and even though the right ovary is significantly enlarged, he didn’t see anything wrong with it. In addition to that, the CA125 blood test (a test for cancer markers) also came back with very low numbers. With a deep breath, I was able to let go of some of my anxiety. I would be able to enjoy Shabbos without this hanging over my head.
Sitting at my doctor’s office waiting for my follow-up visit a week later I replayed that in my mind, trying to soothe myself. The second doctor would have told me if something was wrong. After Chris walked away, and twenty minutes of waiting, I was finally called in and the doctor, herself, performed a third ultrasound. She didn’t say much until she was done. Once she completed the scan, she said, “Your right ovary is twice as big as your left. There appears to be a mass which has characteristics that are highly suspicious for a malignancy. The best thing you have going for you now is your age. It is very unlikely for a woman your age to have ovarian cancer, but we still have to investigate further to find out what it is. You have two options, schedule a surgery or wait and rescan. The surgery would be done laparoscopically, I will do my best to remove the mass and save the ovary, but looking at the mass on the ultrasound, it is very unlikely.”
All this information was thrown at me while I was still in my hospital gown. The word “surgery” hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t respond or process all the information. I just cried. The doctor tried to be sensitive. She advised me to think everything over and call her with our decision. Chris rushed back into the room, and said in the most caring way, “Our ovaries do weird things, we don’t know what this is yet, don’t worry we’re going to take care of you.” She actually did make me feel a little better. I walked out of the office, knowing that I had a big challenge ahead of me.
I had to decide how to deliver the information to my husband, how to continue being a mom to my 14-month-old son, how to continue living with this information. I cried a lot. The only images I could see was not being around to watch my son grow up, seeing my husband struggle to move on and juggle life. I’m only 32, I thought. In my mind’s eye, I remember watching a friend lose her life to a very rare cancer at age 30. These things happen to regular people. I begged G-d to please take this terrible decree away from me. To please make life go back to how it was before, boring. Boring seemed so great now.
It took many conversations with my husband, Rabbis, friends, but I finally I collected myself and decided to try and deal with each challenge individually as it came. Step by step. I tried not to look too far ahead. My goal was to continue living a normal life. Taking care of my baby, working, and trying to be a good wife. I knew that I couldn’t change the situation, but I could change the way I dealt with it (even though I felt that I was failing miserably most of the time). My name was put on davening lists locally and in Israel at the Kotel. I couldn’t believe that I became one of those people, on a list, that needed tefillos for a Refuah Sh’leima.
I emailed my Rabbi, asking him how to keep moving forward during such a challenging time. His response was, “Only VERY recently, I too had a BIG scare. My response was to tell myself that it is an opportunity to strengthen my trust in God and that I did not want to feel a failure on Rosh Hashanah, by which time everything will IYH have worked out fine.” Instead of feeling bad for myself, I can focus on my trust in God, and working towards being a better person for Rosh Hashana. What a selfless perspective, I thought. I wish I can get into that mindset. Rosh Hashana was two months away.
The next six weeks were full of ups and downs. The ups were getting test results that pointed us in the direction that the mass seemed to be benign. The downs were seeing the mass still there on each ultrasound and not shrinking. After speaking with numerous doctors, we set a date for the surgery. September 18th. The day came. Help with the baby was arranged. My husband and I drove quietly to the hospital.
As they prepared me for surgery, I prayed that the mass be benign and that I should just come out of this nightmare healthy and able to live a normal life. We were aware that the “best case scenario” meant that I walk away from this most likely without an ovary, but cancer free. We prayed that G-d let us go back to living a normal, boring life.
As I woke up from surgery, still feeling the effects of the anesthesia, my doctor said “everything went very well. No cancer!” That’s all I remember.
After a few hours, my husband was allowed into my room. The doctor told him that when they went in, they saw right away that the ovary that appeared to have a mass was partially twisted. It looked like a mass on an ultrasound, but it was in fact a torsion. All they had to do was untwist it and everything shrunk back to its normal size.
I could not believe what I had heard. God had not only listened to my prayers, but answered them in a bigger way than I could have ever asked! As Rosh Hashana comes closer this year, I have the same goal as I did last year, to be a better person, a better Jew, a better believer. I have to consciously tell myself every morning that not only does He listen, but He cares. Facing Tishrei, I will have gratitude and love for the past year that He gave my family, for the immense gift of health. There is no taking for granted the simple things in life anymore. Everything is a miracle!