From Destruction Comes Healing
Nothing about my story is typical. Results from my 2018 23andMe test revealed both my genetic history and also that my father who raised me was not my biological father; rather, my next door neighbor was. Imagine! And then in 2021, shortly after my father passed away, I got COVID and was diagnosed with stage 2, HER2+ breast cancer. I was an Irish/English woman, living with cancer, making sense of my genetic story whose life was about to change in ways I couldn’t imagine.
I felt destroyed. I lost my health, my hair, my eyebrows, my “friends,” my job, my savings, and mostly, myself.
Nevertheless, I was determined to make the best of the situation and my time.
After my diagnosis, while exploring links for cancer resources, I found myself on Sharsheret.org – The Jewish Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer Community. I thought “oh well, that isn’t me,” but then I read a little further and learned that Sharsheret serves people who aren’t Jewish, so I reached out. At the time, I couldn’t have known how Sharsheret would help me turn everything around.
The Pillow of Support provided physical and emotional comfort after my surgery, the Best Face Forward kit, which addresses the cosmetic side effects of cancer, helped me look more like myself, the Financial Wellness Toolkit and other resources informed me and guided me. Perhaps most importantly, my social worker provided me with a listening ear and a safe space; she accepted me as I was and helped me along my path.
During my first conversation with my social worker, I mentioned that I had talked with a Rabbi about converting to Judaism over 20 years ago. My wheels started turning. Maybe now was the perfect time for me to study and convert! I had the time. I started attending online classes and learning how to read Hebrew. I reached out to a local synagogue in Cincinnati for more resources, and though I was invited to join services in person, I didn’t feel comfortable going out – I was still in treatment and I didn’t have eyebrows or much hair.
It may sound trivial, but not having eyebrows was traumatic for me. My Sharsheret social worker told me that through the BFF2.0 program, through which Sharsheret provides financial subsidies, I could undergo microblading for free! I felt like a piece of my life was returned to me.Nearing the end of treatment, I started a new job. Instead of going to medical appointments, I started working full time, going to synagogue services on Shabbat and taking more classes about principles of Judaism. I received a class assignment to do a brief presentation about a Jewish person who inspired me. Without hesitation, I chose Rochelle Shoretz A”H, Sharsheret’s founder. I shared her story with my class, highlighting all that she had accomplished in her brief life, helping others while she was on her own cancer journey. She said she was going to “live every day.” I, too, am going to live every day. Cancer is not the worst thing that has ever happened to me; in many ways, it helped me change my life for the better.