Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Beginning

It’s hard to believe that Stella has reached this point. Sometime in June, when all of this began, they were told over the phone that her scan didn’t look good. The doctor, however, didn’t want to talk about it over the phone and he scheduled a time for them to come in the next day. Josh was going with them.

I wanted to come too.

Knowing me well, however, Josh asked if I was really going to be able to be there for Stella.

“You are absolutely not allowed to break down under any circumstances. Do you understand that?” He asked me.

I said that I thought I could handle it, and that I guessed that I had to because I wanted to be there with Stella – and for Stella.

The day, as you can imagine, was horrendous. I managed not to fall apart (how, after all, could I fall apart when the woman being given the diagnosis was so stoic?) while we met with the doctor.

But I heard his words. He was very clear. The only way to survive stomach cancer in the long term was to have an operation; an operation that wasn't an option.

Then, while Stella and Yarden went to do a number of logistical things, Josh and I sat in the hallway of the cancer ward and waited. When I was overcome with emotion, Josh told me to go to the bathroom until I could pull myself together.

And I sat there on the bathroom floor, sobbing and sobbing and sobbing.

When I managed to stop, I reappeared.

And then the doctor came to speak with us briefly, and his tone of voice and his words, “I’m so sorry,” sent me back to the bathroom.

And I found myself back in that bathroom a number of times throughout the morning.

As anyone who has been following the journey through Yarden’s blog, my own, or Facebook knows, it’s been a very difficult six months.

But somehow – somehow that I truly and totally don’t understand – we’ve reached a time of hope.

Stella’s surgery is in three days on Sunday, January 1.

During her last round of chemo, where we were all a bit giddy (if you can be giddy at chemo) with the knowledge of the change in her status, I revisited that bathroom. And I saw the image of myself curled on the floor sobbing.

And I marveled at how far we’ve come on this overwhelmingly strange and trying journey.

Whatever prayer means to you; however you connect to a Higher Power and to the religious world out there – please do so on Sunday morning and throughout the day Sunday for Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sarah, Stella Frankl, that she may be completely cured through this surgery and resume the life that she knew before this all began in June.


Friday, December 16, 2011

The World Eating Tour and Chance Encounters

"Um, excuse me," she began, "but aren't you Yarden Frankl?"

Looking around the table at us and our forming giggles, Yarden turned to the eager young girl.


"Oh my gosh!" She exclaimed. "I just knew it. And you're Stella," she said, pointing to the other end of the table. "I'm writing an article about the two of you. Tonight!"

And so began our dinner a few nights ago at an out-of-the-way eatery called Pechanka which is nestled in the hills about 20 minutes from our home.

We were out to dinner with the Frankls and another couple on our World Eating Tour for Stella. See, with Stella's stomach surgery scheduled for January 1, we've all (Stella included) made it our mission to help her to enjoy food, and lots of food, before the surgery date arrives.

And with her brief introduction, Rosie pulled up a chair and proceeded to interview Yarden.

And as I overheard what Yarden was saying, I couldn't help but revel at where we have arrived.

Just a month ago, Yarden's story would have been tinged with sadness, with a desperate hope for a miracle, with struggle.

That night, however, as we giggled and teased, we listened to Yarden's story with awe. He explained to Rosie how Stella was diagnosed six months ago with inoperable, late stage stomach cancer. How they had struggled, how he decided to make a fundraising bike ride, and how they kept hoping for good news.

And then, recently, the amazing news arrived that Stella's cancer had receded enough for surgery.

And the atmosphere at the table was celebratory, light, lively.

Rosie listened in awe. She said she was so inspired by Stella, by Yarden's bike ride, by the entire story.

And as she went back to her table, we couldn't help but shake our heads. Stella's story - their miracle - is resonating near and far.

When she finished her meal and was ready to leave the restaurant, Rosie thanked the Frankls again for their time. And then, as she started to walk away, she turned back with open arms and said,

"Just one more thing. Can I hug you Stella? I have to hug you."

And she ran back over to envelope Stella in a big hug and to wish her good luck with the upcoming surgery.

And I looked at Stella, beaming across the table, shook my head and thanked Hashem for bringing us to this miraculous point in the cancer journey.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The End of an Era

I wonder if some cultures have a party, or a ceremony, or something for the day that they nurse their last baby. I could really use one right now.

What a strange feeling.

When I had Matan, someone came to visit me (with a Starbucks latte – yum!) and told me a beautiful thing about nursing. She said that Hashem is so smart. When we have the baby, we really aren’t ready to separate completely, so Hashem gives us this beautiful way to stay connected; to keep the baby with us, if you will, for that much longer.

And that has certainly been my experience.

I’ve been slowly weaning Yakir for a few months now, but I’ve held on to the 5:00 a.m. feeding.

“He still needs it!” I’ve said, with a straight face, when Josh has asked.

“No, really,” I’ve explained, pretending to look frustrated, “I just can’t get him to take anything else during that early morning feeding.”

And then it happened this morning.

I had Eliav pass a bottle into Yakir’s crib to see if he’d take it. Standing on the sidelines, I was assuming, of course, that he would reject the bottle and come into my open arms.

And then he took it.

My heart dropped and I held myself back from taking it away from him.

And that was it.

My last baby was weaned.

Yes, it’s been a long road, and I should be jumping for joy that I’m finally detached (in a little way, at least) from the apron strings. And yes, I hear those of you out there saying, “You never know!” and “There could be more!”

Accidents do happen – but we aren’t planning on them.

At one point, I calculated what I’ve done in the last 12 plus years.

I’ve been pregnant for 60 months. That’s 5 full years.

I’ve gained a total of 232 pounds (give or take a few).

That means I’ve lost 232 pounds (give or take a few).

I’ve nursed babies for six solid years.

This also means that, in terms of my fashion, in the last 12 plus years I’ve either been wearing maternity clothes or nursing shirts. I’ve had six years where I couldn’t wear dresses because I wouldn’t be able to nurse on demand in them.

And, needless to say, I’ve loved every single minute.

Women often talk about menopause as a life-altering experience; as a time of change, renewal and regrouping.

I have rarely, if ever, encountered anyone marking the stage that I’m now experiencing, however.

How bittersweet, how transformative, how awe-inspiring.

I looked down at Yakir’s hungry little face this morning as he devoured his bottle and said to him, “Well, big guy. That’s it. You’re on your own now. We aren’t physically connected anymore.”

And I wiped the tear away before anyone noticed.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Operation Solomon and a Game of Monopoly

It all started yesterday at about 2 pm. Matan got a mysterious phone call asking if we had room to sleep two boys. He answered "yes."

Hmmm....well, ok. Since he had already answered yes, I figured we could scrounge up some sheets and welcome them in for Shabbat. "Um," I asked Matan, "Who is this again?"

Turns out that one of the Rabbis in the Yishuv is the head of a school and he was having 30 of his students for Shabbat. There must have been a mix up or someone must have cancelled, and one of Matan's friends called us to see what we could do.

What they didn't tell us ahead of time, however, was that we were also feeding these kids for both meals! Which, of course, is absolutely no problems whatsoever...with a little warning...which I, of course, didn't have.

So, when I realized that they were eating with us Friday night (two seconds before we sat down to dinner), I jumped to get two more plates and I prayed that we had enough extra food since we usually eat quite lightly on Friday night.

And then, when Yaacov and Oded, two Ethiopian-Israeli 8th graders, cheerily arrived at our door about an hour before Shabbat, all of my stress about accommodating them and feeding them melted away as it struck me just who these kids were.

Let me digress...

After college, I came to Israel on a one-year social service program. The main thing that propelled me towards the program was Operation Solomon. In 1991, Israel airlifted thousands of Ethiopians to Israel in one of the most impressive and awe-inspiring moments of our history.

And I wanted to be part of it.

So, in 1993, when I graduated from college, I headed to Israel to be part of a program that worked with Ethiopian immigrants. I actually lived in an Ethiopian absorption center in Ashdod, babysitting children in the morning and creating after-school activities with the children in the afternoons.

It was an amazing few months and I got to connect with Ethiopians and to learn about their culture, their adaptation and their struggles.

And here we were, in 2011, watching our American-born, Israeli kids talking about the parsha with two Israel-born, Ethiopian boys.

I was no longer the American coming to help immigrants in need. Now, I had become the immigrant (with much worse Hebrew than our guests had!), welcoming them into my home and sharing a meal together.

The moment was not lost on us.

And, of course, we had to enjoy the irony of watching our American-Israeli children playing the capitalistic game of Monopoly with their new-found Ethiopian-Israeli friends, in the still somewhat and sometimes socialist country of Israel.

Gotta love it.