18 Feb CHAI LIFELINE
THIS will absolutely move you (from the words of a dear friend):
Fifteen teens who have survived long and hard battles with cancer returned from Chai Lifeline’s Hartman Family Wish at the Wall trip just yesterday. They had spent an inspiring and exciting 10 days in Israel together with a parent who had cared for them and endured the excruciating pain of being the mother or father of a child with cancer. During Seudah Shlishis, the group gathered for the last time to talk about what they had gained and learned during the trip. This moving letter was read by one of the participants:
What does it mean to be alive?
I still can remember how the yellow-orange liquid would drip slowly, starting in the bag labeled “TOXIC” hanging from the top of my IV pole. Drop by sickening drop, it would make its way from bag into my IV line. I would watch each drop snake through the loops of my tubes until it finally reached the needle that sunk into my medi-port. I knew that each passing drop meant another strand of hair falling from my head, another stomach ache that would lead to more vomiting, another plummet of my immune system, another day that I spent laying in a cold and stiff hospital bed with a blank stare focused on the chemotherapy that destroyed me both inside and out. There are many words that I can use to describe these painfully long and seamlessly endless days; words that would sugarcoat what it actually feels like to be a young cancer patient. The only words that give my hospital experience the justice that it deserves is “dead.” With multiple needles stuck in your body filling you to the brim with chemo and fluids, a bucket at your side should you decide to throw up the eighth time that day, and an IV pole guarding your bedside beeping loudly as if it were pleading for more anti-nausea medicine, there is no feeling other than dead. During cancer treatment, it is near impossible to feel like you are fully alive. It’s as if you are a battery that is only partially charged; it has just barely enough juice so it gets by, but not quite enough to work as it should.
Finally finishing treatment is a glorious feeling, knowing that you no longer have to suffer through the pain and the misery. Personally, I found that after I finished my treatment I was stuck in a bit of a limbo. I had grown so accustomed to the distress of treatment that being let loose back into regular life caused me to think, now what? I thought that once the last drop of chemo entered my blood stream and my IV lines were taken out for good, power would surge through me, and my battery would instantly hit full charge. But I was confused when it actually didn’t happen like that. Every-time I did something fun, I would wonder, is this what it is like to be alive again? I had a lot of difficulty with as I saw coming back to life.
Here in Israel is the first time since my last drop of chemo that I am certain that I am back to life again. As I stood in front of the Kotel, I realized that my Wish at the Wall was not cancer related. Being alive is being lucky enough to have overcome what tried to kill you and strong enough to put it so far past you that there are finally other things in your life to focus on besides the disease that attempted to take complete control of you. Being alive is feeling the wind brush my face and whip through my hair while I ride an ATV bike over a rocky path that leads directly towards the beautiful Israel sunset, a blazing orange orb dipping in between two mountains in the distance. Being alive is holding hands with my mother, except this time, it isn’t because she is trying to take away my pain of my physical therapy sessions. It’s because we want to stick together as we float with ease on the surface of the Dead Sea. Being alive is cruising down the Mediterranean coast in Tel Aviv on a Segway, instead cruising down the inpatient halls of Memorial Sloan Kettering in a wheel chair. Being alive is smiling without realizing you’re doing so, and being unable to stop once you do realize. That has happened to me more in the past few days than it has happened in all the past few years combined.
Here on the Wish at the Wall trip, I experienced more than just some cool sights, landmarks and landscapes. I found the answer that I have been asking myself since the first day of remission, whether or not it was the true feeling of being alive again. From this trip, I am now positive I actually know what it feels like to be vibrant and energetic again, what pure exhilaration is, and how blissful it is to be 100% carefree. I know my battery is now fully charged, and being alive has never felt so good.
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For me, the words (that don’t quite come together in the form of an intelligible sentence) in my mind/heart after reading her words (btw written by a young, 15 year-old-girl) are the following: honest, powerful, poignant, unforgettable, wise, inspiring, true hero, and although she is all these things, the fact that she, along with so many other beautiful children had to endure this kind of “death” (as she puts it), is deeply & impossibly sad. Not the kind of sad that’s explainable in words.
Thank you to this beautiful young girl, and to Chai Lifeline for making the Israel trip, as well as Camp Simcha, a possibility for kids with cancer, and kids who have survived cancer.