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Who Will Live

Who Will Live

I lie awake worrying about my upcoming surgery. Will I lose my ability to speak? Will I even wake up?


No one knows I am afraid. I cover it up so well, though there is a pit deep inside of me. At the doctor’s office I ask many intelligent and pointed questions. I read up on all the test results and get second opinions, clearly indicating I understand the issues. My confidence with the entire medical lingo makes it seem that this is simply routine to me. I’ve even been asked if I went to medical school since I can follow the discussions and consultations with such ease.

But no one sees me when I wake up at 2 AM and can’t sleep anymore. When I envision myself on the operating table, knowing that though I will not feel it at the time, an incision is being made and I will surely ache from it when I wake up. I tell myself the surgeon is simply God’s messenger; that it is all in His hands and I have nothing to fear.

Easier said than done. I may say it out loud to others and even in my head, but my subconscious has not internalized this. One of the possible effects of this surgery is damage to the vocal chords. What if I can’t speak above a whisper when it is over? What if I can no longer read a story to my grandsons?

And my biggest fear: what if I don’t wake up at all? Of course, I won’t know it so that seems a silly worry. But am I ready to say goodbye to my children?

I make it all sound very matter of fact to them. I don’t go into all the details, just some basic information. Yes, I tell them the surgery is three hours, the recovery two; that I have to stay overnight in the hospital. But I assure them this is very common, just a blip on the radar. I’ll be back to work before they know it. I don’t tell them I may not be able to speak. I don’t tell them the recuperation can take weeks. I don’t tell them about the other small mass they found that I am not even mentioning at this juncture.

I know that ultimately I don’t have the master plan, but I am still so afraid.

And I don’t tell them about the fear. I have always been the strong one, the one who keeps a clear head in emergencies. The one who has handled family tragedies head-on. I’m the go-to person, the list maker, the one who has everything planned out.

Who will handle this if things go awry? Who will deal with my crisis?

I know that ultimately I don’t have the master plan, that I can only do so much, and the rest is up to Him. I know I should find comfort in this.

But I am still so afraid.

Related Article: Standing Before God

A Few Days before Surgery

The battle between fear and trusting God seems to wage stronger each day as the surgery draws near. A family member tells me they are planning to come to town for a visit next month. Next month seems so far removed from now I can’t even think about it. I tell them we will talk about it soon.

In an effort to maintain some sort of normalcy I cook in advance for Shabbos guests, make shopping lists and try to think about menu plans for Rosh Hashanah. This makes me think about the awesomeness of this time of year – how whatever decisions that were made about my surgery and its outcome were written last year. I hold on to the fact that my doctor tells me she sees no reason not to be optimistic about the outcome of the surgery and I know her to be a forthright and direct person.

But sleep still eludes me.


The surgeon comes to see me right before the operation. “Will it hurt when I wake up,” I ask? He assures me with a smile that it won’t. I know this can’t be true because even a simple paper cut can hurt for a day, and we both know this is far more substantial. But I smile with him, knowing we are both pretending.


I open my eyes in the recovery room. I was right about the pain and the hoarseness. I can’t speak above a whisper and the pain is heavy around my neck.

The surgeon comes to my bedside. “You're cured!” he exclaims. “We found what we were looking for and got it all.”

Despite his earlier mocking of the pain question, I know he is telling me the truth this time. The hoarseness will resolve in time, and the pain will fade in the weeks to come. The worst is behind me.

I come home and start to slowly regain my strength and voice. For the first few days I have no other focus other than convincing myself and others that I am getting stronger each day. I am not used to pampering myself and it is hard for me to accept that I really am not ready to return to normal life yet.

But as the days progress and I can move with less pain, I become more aware of the world outside. I look at the calendar and realize Rosh Hashanah is only two weeks away. I can’t pretend anymore that this surgery was just a blip on the radar that passed with little effect. Last year I stood in shul praying for good health for myself, my spouse, my children and grandchildren. Much like every year before, I tried to imbue my words with meaning and intent. To be honest, my focus was more on the others than on myself. My health has never been in question, where my husband has faced several serious issues in the past. My children and grandchildren are all healthy and I beseeched God to keep them that way. How little I thought of anything looming in my own future.

This Rosh Hashanah, I will try harder to remember the thanks I have for allowing me to reach this year at all.

And here I am, almost a year later, wondering how my prayers might have been different if I knew what was in store for me. When I stand in shul this Rosh Hashanah, I will still pray for the continued health of those dear to me. But I will also try harder to remember the thanks I have for allowing me to reach this year at all. I know that everything is in His hands. I know that the outcome of my surgery could have been different if that was what was intended.

I fear that as the months go by and my scars heal, I will forget how close I came to not reaching this Rosh Hashanah in good health. It is easy to become complacent when things are going smoothly. My challenge will be to remember the battle scars as the year moves forward, and to conquer my fears with the faith that if I do my part, the Almighty will surely do His.

September 8, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Keila, September 11, 2012 12:45 AM

Experience the situation

I related well to how you express your emotions. Feeling scared but not letting anyone know. I had a serious illness as well but I did not want my parents or anyone to worry about me. I would always pretend that I was fine, although, my doctor reported otherwise to my parents. In retrospect, the experience was a huge life changing lesson for me. I come back to that time often and realize how much I have grown from it, although it was such a difficult time in life. I think the hardest part was the loneliness - I would act as if everything was fine and as though I was feeling fine, but secretly I was so scared and physically weak. Another important lesson I learned is that it is appropriate to let yourself feel, to not hide behind a contrived sense of well being - but to experience what is happening and to express to someone that you can trust. I did not, and I often reflect on this - and wish I would have just let myself be... and feel what was going on, rather than pretend that all was fine. Tha being said, being sick and being afraid inspired me to live life more meaningfully.

(4) Reuven Frank, September 10, 2012 1:08 PM

Shanna Tova

As a cancer survivor, I relate to your experience. Certainly, not the same; but, at least with a little more familiarity perhaps than some others. As such, firstly, I REALLY appreciate your forthrightness. I just wanted to say to you, and whomsoever else might be reading this, that what I “promised G-d” in my Rosh HaShanna “resolutions” that year after the operation was to start doing all the things I had promised my self to do “some day.” I’m not saying it worked, or it was a good idea, or whatever. I’m just taking this chance to tell whomever I can, that it’s a shame to wait for some “life crisis” to look at things differently. It’s my opinion that if we all looked at Rosh HaShanna for one of the reasons of what it was MEANT to be, we could ALL start now, without having the surgery. Shanna Tova to All. -Reuven

(3) Deena, September 10, 2012 9:21 AM


Really beautiful and inspiring article. Thank you so much for reminding me of how real the judgement on Rosh Hashana is.

(2) Melanie Vliet, September 9, 2012 5:12 PM

G-d Is Good--Every Time!

This past May I learned of the gene mutation to which we Jews are subject, which can cause breast and/or ovarian cancer. Having survived breast cancer twice (in 1996 and 2006), I wondered if this was the reason--especially since my mother, of blessed memory, had survived ovarian cancer (the second of her three cancers). When I followed up on the information, I learned that I was a good candidate for the blood test (no surprise) and that, should I test positive, I should consider pre-emptive surgery to remove the at-risk parts before cancer could strike them! In June I learned that I was positive for the mutation. In July (I waited until summer school was over, being in my last year of law school) I gave up not only my ovaries but my fallopian tubes, uterus (where my mother's first cancer had been), and cervix. In August I had my second mastectomy--and began my fall semester. I knew how gracious G-d had been in getting me through my two cancer adventures with minimal discomfort and disruption to my life and trusted him to do the same this time. My July surgery, which was laparoscopic, was a breeze. My recovery from the mastectomy has not been as perfect as the first time, but I'm getting there (tomorrow it will have been four weeks ago--and the other seven weeks ago). We worship and serve a living G-d Who knows and cares about every aspect of our lives and has the love and power to get us through whatever He permits to come our way. Just look at how amazingly he orchestrated my summer! I learned of the mutation from a friend who wasn't telling me because she thought I might have it but in order to explain a decision she had made to donate to the American Cancer Society. I looked into it only out of curiosity--not dreaming that what I learned might result in surgery. G-d knew before I was born that I would have the mutation, and he timed my finding out about it perfectly; next summer I wouldn't be able to handle such news, as I'll be preparing for and taking the bar!

(1) E. Deutsch, September 9, 2012 3:56 PM


This is a very meaningful, well-written article. Something to keep in mind as we approach Rosh Hashanah!

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