I came across my breast cancer goody bag the other day. The surgeon’s scheduler gave it to me five years ago, after we reviewed the pre-op paperwork.
You may wonder: “What goes into a breast cancer goody bag?” It’s kind of like, “Sorry you got cancer. Here, have some peppermints and hand lotion.” A children’s service project, it also included two packages of Kleenex and a few other sundries, the Chicken Soup for the Soul Inspirational Word Search, a lovely little book of bible verses, a pink can cooler that proclaims “Hope,” and a sweet, handmade card that said, “Wishing you sunshine, a rainbow and 2 air hugs from me!”
I’m not such a huge fan of pink, but it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I saw it everywhere, from trash cans on back roads to a big pink bow hanging on the car dealership where I got an oil change. I scowled and asked my husband, “Do you think they’d give me a discount if I told them I have breast cancer?”
There was more. A year later, a mammogram found a lump in my remaining breast. Hate when that happens.
“Give it to me straight, doc,” I pleaded.
“Well, if the biopsy comes back negative, they’ll probably want to repeat it,” the radiologist said.
That was Friday. The biopsy was Monday and then Tuesday morning I was greeted with an email.
Two weeks earlier, I had responded to the annual request for Jewish families to host students in their sukkah (hut) during the Sukkot holiday, which commemorates the forty years the Jews wandered in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt. In a reckless mood, I had offered to host up to ten for each of the four holiday meals. Tuesday’s email informed me that I would have eight for each meal.
No. I can’t do it, I thought. I have cancer! But then I got mad. There was no way that I was going to let cancer dictate my holiday plans. The problem was that I was too scatterbrained to plan. I needed a miracle.
Well, it just so happened that I had one: My youngest daughter, Jo, was in East Lansing, helping her sister with her new baby.
It was the best place to be, because nothing is more comforting and inspiring than a baby grandchild. I drove straight there to be with them. While I was there I got the biopsy results. Cancer.
Jo has a lot of experience in helping me bring my cockamamie schemes to fruition. As I drove us back to Ann Arbor, she wrote down the menu and the list of everything we needed. By the time we finished at Costco and our local Kroger that carries kosher meat (including an outrageously expensive turkey), the car was loaded.
The students never knew that I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and that’s the way I wanted it: I would choose who could attend my pity parties. That isn’t to say that I didn’t whip out the cancer card on occasion. Making a “C” shape with my fingers was enough to remind my husband to hand over the TV remote or let me have the last ice cream sandwich.
Sukkot is a time when we are reminded of the fragility of life. We leave our permanent abode and move outside to a temporary structure. But with all that, Sukkot is also a time when we are reminded of our resilience, and how we can flourish in all climates.