Prayers and Swears

On Friday, I was honored to join a particularly devout bunch of swaying, singing, lovely Jewish ladies to witness a mikveh. My friend Kathy, a newer member of the Shitty Sorority, had completed a brutal round of chemotherapy and wanted to mark the moment with this beautiful, traditional “cleansing” ceremony. There were songs (lots of dye-dye-dyes, a Hebrewish-y shoo-be-doo-be-doo), there were bagels (natch), and there was Sharing. We surrounded Kathy and offered her our wishes for health and healing and happiness. And when the prayer circle landed at me, I looked at my small friend, took a deep breath to reaffirm all of the other messages of hope and inspiration, and then just sort of dissolved into a blubbering mess of mascara.

“ENOUGH!” I wanted to shout. And not about the dye dye dyes, although those were plentiful. Kathy has been through enough. Although her neo-adjuvant course of chemotherapy has obliterated her tumor, she still has a bilateral mastectomy on the calendar, and another round of chemo after that. It’s not even close to over for my tiny, pretty friend. And looking at her in her adorable birdie scarf and lovely little shoes, I was mad at Cancer. Fuck you, Cancer. Awash with guilt for angry thoughts in a sacred space, I lamented showing up at the synagogue without even one Ativan coursing through my Christian veins. My anger/fear/PTSD was kindly interpreted as moved-to-tears, and these swaying, dye-dye-dye-ing women held me tighter. I left the mikveh thinking Kathy is going to be fine. These women invoked The Holy Spirit right there in a tangibly Fuck Cancer kind of way. It was pretty awesome. Dye dye dye dye dye dye dye!

The first Sunday in June is National Cancer Survivors Day. I didn’t know this, but suspect Hallmark and the makers of pink things will have this printed on calendars and beeping as Google alerts soon enough. We have a day. And celebrations. Very good people organize the whole scarred, damaged, wigged, but still living lot of us to assemble under tents to laugh and cry with each other, to share our stories, and to marvel at the mere fact our still-here-ness. These Celebrations of Life took place on thousands of campus lawns on Sunday. And on the Harvard Medical School quad, I joined a panel of veterans under a hot tent and spoke (out loud!) about Cancer for the first time.

You’d think after Friday’s Look At the Crying Shiksa debacle, I’d have brought an Ativan to the forum. You’d also think speaking about cancer would be easy peasy for a girl who cannot stop writing about it (and hardly shuts up in general). But it’s not. I get all boo hooey, and then blotchy, and then I’m worried about the mascara, and then I’m chastising myself for worrying about the mascara when last year I didn’t have eyelashes. I was ridiculously nervous, and when the first panelist was a no show, I was up first.

I had planned to read an excerpt from Cancerland, thinking this audience would laugh at those jokes, but at the last minute I added a preface about me, my diagnosis, and a bit of what it’s like to be Mrs. Dr. Bernie Lee. Stupid, stupid Britt. There was no chance of getting through this speech without crying. But when I said Bernie’s name, there was a scattered whoo hooing from different pockets under the tent, which made me so proud to be attached to him, that then I forgot to be nervous. I also forgot to be brief and went way over my allotted time. But this is a crowd that doesn’t care, that wants to hear your story, wants to know your odds and how you’re beating them, wants to celebrate survival, and will tolerate a few extra minutes listening to a short haired girl gush about her husband. The Holy Spirit was there under that hot tent, too… in a tangibly Fuck Cancer kind of way. And it was pretty awesome. Dye dye dye dye dye dye dye!

For those of you who think these sorts of things help (or even that they can’t hurt), please remember Kathy in your communion with The Big Guy. Although poisons are doing a bang up job killing her tumor cells, Cancer wrecks havoc on the soul. But prayer and kindness and love—from a tight circle of Jewish ladies, from hundreds of sweating strangers, from faceless blog readers—these things heal the soul in a beautiful, Fuck Cancer kind of way. If we cannot escape it, at least we can shout potty-mouthed insults at it, and kill its power with prayer and love. And the effect can be pretty awesome. Dye dye dye dye dye dye dye!

Isn't it lovely?

A lovely rendering of a mikveh…

19 responses

  1. ‘Marrying’ prayers and swears will be probably named as not kosher by seriously treating their religion Jews and classified by Christians as not being humble.

    Yes, it sounds cute and very human in your post, but only when we praise/admire/tolerate our weaknesses. It sounds cool and what exactly is promoted today by the media/politics/manipulated systems. As a result, the poorest majority that is fooled around, exploited and feeling too much of arrogance emanating from the richest/networked people that control this world, becomes more religious. It partially explains growing today radicalism and the only/best recipe is: respecting as much as possible religious people and their religions.

  2. On that same day (Friday) I was at my 10 year college reunion, and found out that we had lost a classmate, diagnosed at age 26! Glad you all were there for Kathy and the survivors – it’s great to hear all the good stories of perseverance and odds beaten!

    • I’m sorry to hear about your classmate. That’s why these Celebrations of Life are arranged… so we can continue to share the good stories. 10 year reunion: my wise and funny brother-in-law described the 10 year like this: “Everyone is still lying.” Hope you had fun!

      • Your brother-in-law is very wise…but now we have Facebook which adds an interesting “haven’t-actually-seen-you-in-10-years-but-know-what-you-ate-for- breakfast-yesterday” angle to it. The drinks are slightly better than the fifth, but since 70% either have a small child in tow, or are expecting one, the volume consumed is much lower.

  3. Good for you blotchy girl! You need to be sharing your bravery with more people. Those who don’t read blogs or forwarded emails of links to blogs. 🙂

    • I am flattered immensely any time one of these ditties gets re-posted. You are sweet to insist that people read these things… and it always leads to good stuff. I feel like I’m supposed to be friends with Ilene.

  4. How’s a guy suppose to leave a smart alek response when you’re all moving and relevant and speaking a hard truth. Sheesh. By the way, we Jews “nosh”.

    • Nosh, indeed! And with a really good spread. You should have seen the looks of pity/patience as Shiksa girl was slicing the lox (which is somehow magically already sliced even though it looks like one gigantic piece of flat fish). One of them finally told me to stop molesting the food and had me open the cream cheeses.

  5. Beautiful! I loved this post. Wish I could have been there last weekend to eat you speak.

    Betsy xx

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. Indentify the target…..and then hit it with all you’ver got. Prayer, bravery, chemotherapy.
    Cancer must be conquered.
    Potty mouth excused.


    • Thanks, Marilyn. Sometimes I think I should go back and edit out all of the F bombs. But then there’s a message like this from you, and I know I don’t have to worry about that. xoxo

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