Walking THROUGH the Valley of the SHADOW of Death at Passover

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                                       -a note hanging on my bathroom mirror-

So…. please bear with me as this has got to be the hardest blogpost I’ve ever had to write. The past month has been like a fast-moving cyclone, enough to make one’s head spin. But in many ways, we are doing great and standing strong in our faith in the Lord to see us through to the other side. The road has been rocky, but there have been so many gemstones on our path.

Early this past January, I took a rather nasty fall and totally messed up my knee, tearing the meniscus in a couple places and other nasty little bits. After several weeks, I managed to get scheduled for surgery with a great doctor who was the head of the arthroscopic surgery department at Nahariyya Hospital. Before the scheduled operation, I had to undergo a few routine preliminary pre-op tests. My blood markers were a tad elevated and I had been having some other minor symptoms, so was scheduled for an upper and lower GI late last month. My husband, John, and son, Max, also were having some gastro problems that seemed to be worsening, but more on that later. The morning before I was set to start prep for my GI procedure, we received some pretty devastating news from a close relative and we were wondering whether a trip to the States would be necessary. Before any decisions could be made on that matter, I was taken by ambulance to Ziv Hospital in Tsfat in terrible pain. It felt like something had exploded on my right side. Stress???? No. Turned out I had a nice case of kidney stones, with a rather large one nestled snugly in my right ureter. Naturally, the scheduled GI was out of the question for the time being, so we decided to switch appointments John would take my appointment and I would take his later in the month. No problem. Those kidney stones turned out to be a gift from G-d!!! They are yet unresolved and I am on alpha blockers and other meds to dissolve the stones and widen the ureter. But that’s the least of our worries at this point.

Here’s where it gets “interesting.” Three weeks ago Friday, John, who took my appointment,  was diagnosed with a colorectal tumor that turned out to be malignant. By Sunday morning we were at Bnei Tzion Hospital in Haifa talking to the head surgeon, who proceeded to admit him for a week of further testing. We told our Ulpan (Hebrew) teacher, Efrat, who came with us and spent the day with us at the hospital to help with translation. In the meantime, we had already been doing lots and lots of research on the top hospitals and treatment options.

Sheba Hospital outside Tel Aviv is the #1 medical center in the MidEast and #10 in the world. It ranks 4th best for treating colorectal cancers. We had tried calling, but getting an “in” would be a long, slow process. Efrat’s sister’s friend (here you have to know people. They call it ‘proteczia’) worked at Sheba and was able to get us an appointment with a gastroenterologist the next week. That was a major miracle, and I owe a debt of thanks to Efrat and G-d.

John has been incredibly strong and upbeat, and as usual, has managed to charm all the nurses and staff on the floor at Bnei Tzion with his humor and wit. He was showing them pictures of California hospital rooms (you know, private rooms with sofas, room-service, wide screen plasma TVs), wink. wink:

This is most definitely NOT the case in Israeli hospitals, which have wards of 4-6 beds, little privacy, no TVs or phones, and are much more “basic,” shall we say. The bring your own towels, pillow and blanket basic… so it was with great fanfare that the nurses gave my dear husband a gift: his own private room with a view of Haifa Bay!! Actually, it was pretty darned awesome!

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In the meantime, making my way home from Haifa that Monday in the pouring rain, my car completely died – all the lights going off with heavy drag on the car. I pulled over to the side and worked on getting a tow to the garage and a ride back home. Yikes. The tow guy would be there within four hours! I was to leave the keys in the glove box in the unlocked car on the side of the road, lights flashing. Only in Israel. Turned out to be fine. I got a call at 9:30 pm that the car was safely at the mechanic’s. The next morning, I went with our dear friend, Hanan (Efrat’s husband) to the garage to find out it was the gear box in the transmission and would cost about 10,000 shekels to fix. Thats about $3650 USD!!!! But the car had to be towed to Akko, 15 miles away. So Hanan suggested he drive it to the side of the road as the towing company would not pick it up at the garage. The car seemed just fine. So he drove it for 40 minutes, and all was great. Major miracle there and answer to prayer. We think water from the storm had splashed onto something in the engine and shorted the system temporarily. In any event, we’ll take all the blessings we can get.

That Tuesday afternoon(April 2), I went with my friend to the hospital for my pre-op as my knee surgery was scheduled for that Thursday. I desperately needed a translator, because in Nahariyya, the only languages spoken are Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. The English translating apps were not much help either. This is what google translate did with my diagnosis. You just have to laugh!!!!

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It’s a surreal semi-erotic nightmare. But really, really funny!!!! I needed a translator…. all the while seeing if Max could be allowed home on special leave from the army to get me home after I’d be discharged. So glad my friend, Julie was able to come with me. The intern who did my pre-op (Yvgeny) was about as old as Max and spoke Russian and Hebrew only. Really nice guy, but his Hebrew was quite difficult to understand. Thank you, Julie for taking the whole day off to be with me at admitting and handle the paperwork!!!

In the meantime, John was in Bnei Tzion having CTs, MRIs, bloodwork, and the like. Also, I couldn’t have done it without my amazingly awesome friend, Gali, who took me to the hospital the morning of the surgery and stayed with me until late at night. Translating, praying with me, telling stories, fetching the nurse, helping me in every way imaginable. She was there waiting through the surgery and met me in recovery. She brought me food and drink. And lots and lots of comfort. How can I even begin to thank you for taking a whole day off work to be with me?

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My friend, Paula, who is the liaison for Anglo parents with kids in the IDF has been a tremendous blessing. She has been working nonstop behind the scenes to arrange Max time off to pick me up from the hospital that Friday morning, and then to pick up John later that same morning. We were in separate hospitals 40 miles apart. Paula has also been working to arrange meals and places to stay when we trek down to Tel Aviv, as well as working to coordinate Max’s leave for his upper and lower GI, further testing for highly suspected Crohn’s Disease (which runs in the family), and other support for when we need it.

Great news: my knee surgery was a tremendous success!! All the bone shards removed, the knee cleaned out, the meniscus repaired. Hallelujah! We spent last Saturday melting in the much needed rest of Shabbat. Then it was a two hour drive first thing Sunday morning to meet the doctor at Sheba outside Tel Aviv. Baruch HaShem, Praise the Lord, Dr. Shmueli turned out to be not just a gastroenterologist, but the head of gastro oncology at Sheba. To put it mildly, she’s the best!!! Another unexpected miracle. She was able to answer many of our questions and started to assemble her team of the best radiologists, surgeons, dietitians, alternative therapy doctors, social workers. All paperwork would be processed immediately. That’s another miracle for Israel. Most things take weeks and months to process here.

After spending all last week running from one clinic, hospital, and lab to another for all three of us – Max is having his preliminary tests run on his days off – John and I are headed to Sheba tomorrow. From the looks of it, not 100% sure of the exact timeline, but John will begin six weeks of chemo and radiation on an outpatient basis. After a rest of a few weeks, and the tumor has shrunk, he will have surgery, followed by more chemo and radiation.

We are also looking into alternative therapies in conjunction with the above protocol. We have begun a strict juicing regimen for all of us of organic, raw veggies: beets, carrots, celery, chard, ginger, lemongrass, etc. to feed the mitochondria and keep the body nourished and nutrient-rich. Never before have I imagined this, but Israel is the leading country for cannabis research for cancer. I have contacted the head of the department at Technion University in Haifa and am consulting with him on a regimen that juices the raw plant to extract turpines, a chemical found to have great success in shrinking these nasty tumors.

But above all, and most importantly, we have a profound faith. In the Bible G-d says, “Put me in remembrance of My Word that I might perform it.” So we are doing just that. We are soaking in Scripture, davening or praying, and standing in faith for a complete miracle, nothing less. And what better place to be but here in the Holy Land? He said He would be with us in the midst of our troubles to deliver, rescue and heal us. We believe Him. He said to call on Him in the day of our distress and he would deliver us. We forget none of his mercies: he rescues our life from destruction; heals all our diseases, ransoms our life from the pit. We believe Him. He says in Exodus 15:26 “I am HaSham, your healer.” Tehillim, the Psalms, are absolutely wonderful. I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I will not falter.  Also, he asked life of You and You gave it to him; life and length of days. Trust in the Lord and the mercy of the Most High and he shall not falter. (Psalm 21). G-d is a refuge, a strength for us, a help in distress, very accessible.Therefore we shall not be afraid. I take refuge in Him until desolation PASSES. The passages just go on and on. He sets before us blessings and curses, good and evil, life and death. Therefore, CHOOSE LIFE that you and your seed shall live!!!!! And of course, yea, though we walk THROUGH (we’re not staying we’re just walking through … a bunch of crap, but we’re getting through) the valley of the SHADOW (shadows are not real, just shadows) of death, we fear no evil for G-d is with us. Yishayahu (Isaiah) 58 proclaims, “My light shall break forth as the morning and your health shall spring forth speedily. My righteousness shall go before you. The glory of Ad-nai will gather you in.” We are already gathered in, just waiting on the rest to be fulfilled.

We are in a good place. We have the best of care and a lifeline of great friends to support us at this time. The outpouring of generosity and kindness of people has been nothing short of mind-blowing. The Milzmans have agreed to care for our little doggie without asking questions. They’ve been helping in countless other ways without our having to give tons of details. So far, we’ve only told a tiny handful of people, because we wanted to share the news with our families first before wild rumors started springing up on social media.

John and are are totally united in every way. We are learning the importance of living in the moment, savoring each moment together. Of seeing the little miracles along the way – and there are lots! Of being thankful for EVERYTHING!!!

At this time, I ask for prayer. NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE. Emails are okay, but our time is more than limited. We will be making the two hour travel each way, five-six days a week for therapy, so most likely, we will be more than exhausted. But we will come out of this trial stronger, and shining gloriously. And please REFRAIN FROM COMMENTS AT THE END. JUST JOIN WITH US IN PRAYER. I’ll keep you posted… Thank you so much!