A Community Of Love

A Community Of Love

by Malki Gartenberg

There are two kinds of survivors-those who wish to keep their diagnosis private, and others who share the news. Initially, I was on the private side; but as time progressed, my secret revealed itself in a most natural progression. I guess I thought sharing my cancer diagnosis would make it real. As my friend’s Dad is famous for saying, “Denial is not just a river in Egypt “. By the time I had no eyebrows or lashes, the gig was up. There was no denying. I no longer recognized the girl in the mirror. I needed lots of love and I needed it now!
There was such an immediate outpouring of love and nurturing, and I drank it up. There’s never a bad time to feel loved. Once I opened my heart and let everyone in, accepting rides, food, visits, lunches and laughs, we all became a community. The Community of Helping Malki Get Better. I learned that I always wanted to be in a warm and loving community, but it took a cancer diagnosis to put aside my independent streak and allow those surrounding me to feed me with love.
If this is how I feel, I imagine there are a multitude of other survivors experiencing these feelings. Thanks to Rochelle Shoretz , we can all connect. I have so much admiration for Rochelle. Instead of burying her head under the covers, which I seriously considered, Rochelle successfully created Sharsheret as a link for all of us to unite and gather strength from one another. Sharsheret was the first phone call I made upon returning home from the doctor on the day my cancer was confirmed. Elana Silber, a friend for 40 years, calmly soothed me while I did nothing but sob on the phone. She connected me to Shera, who has been a constant source of support throughout my treatment. My last week of chemotherapy coincided with the Komen walk. What a meaningful way to culminate the past five months. With my close family and friends by my side, we slowly shpattziered, sauntered, through the streets of Manhattan and Central Park , taking in the crowds and the amazing energy of the day. There was a spirit emanating from every person there; a strength, courage and a determination to fight, support and be there for loved ones. By the time we reached the finish line, I didn’t want the day to end. I felt like I could have walked a million miles with these people.
Someone asked me recently, “What are the correct words to say to a recently diagnosed friend?” My answer was: Just call, visit, but don’t fret over the words. My best messages came from people who understood I couldn’t call back. When they said on my machine, “I’m just calling to let you know I am thinking about you, you don’t have to call back”, I was thrilled.
One more thing before I go: the High Holidays and cancer. This is the first time I really had to go into Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur wondering, “Do I really want to have this conversation with the Holy One?” I remembered davening, praying, last year before I ever imagined I would have a health concern; it all seemed so routine and impersonal. Not this year. I felt there were two of us in the room, G-d and myself. It was scary and I am glad I can’t read the future, because sometimes you just don’t need to know.

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