by Chanale Schusterman – winner of the Candle Lighting Writing Contest
The doors to an evil world were opened to me this week with a big bang and a blow of trumpets. Hospitals, doctors, tests, blood, and medicine greeted me with total somberness. I had once thought I never would have to meet them so now I tried to detach myself from reality. A little bump on my neck had taken my life on a leash and the only thing I could do was follow. I had officially been introduced to Hodgkin’s cancer.
I just had a horrible conversation. It was a conversation that really made my situation slap me in the face. I finally felt the cancer was something relating to me that would actually affect me for the rest of my life. Until then I had decided to just not think. I went to Dr. Williams with my husband to make a plan of action. Instead I sat and cried without shame, like a child. The doctor politely left the room until I calmed down and my husband could call him back in.
The doctor sat back down and said as sensitively as he could, “I think we all know why we are here since I have already given you all the information I could get. Therefore, we can get straight to the point.” I was able to calm myself at that point so he could continue normally. He said, “We really must have a plan of action to make you whole and healthy again.”
My husband neatly answered in my stead, “When is the earliest time we can start?” We both realized we wanted this situation over and done with as soon as possible.
The doctor took down a calendar and all three of us leaned over it. Tapping on the boxes, he said, “Today is September 6th, we can admit you into the hospital on the 8th and start the first round of chemotherapy on the 10th.” My husband thought about it and I just sat there. We agreed. Dr. Williams wrote something in his calendar and that was that.
I felt more at peace now that I knew I was on the road to recovery. The doctor quickly destroyed my excitement by warning me that the chemo would make me feel worse than I do now. He told me no matter the amount of physical or emotional pain, in the end it will be worth it a hundred fold. I knew he was right.
We continued discussing side effects and how I would feel throughout. We talked about the procedure and preparation. After I understood everything thoroughly Dr. Williams told me the appointments he had available on September 10th. I decided to think rationally this time. I decided on six o’clock pm until eight o’clock pm so that right after I could go straight to sleep without problem.
It was the morning of the 10th when reality hit. My husband came to visit me that morning and we were discussing my upcoming chemotherapy. In an hour I was going to be prepared. For now my husband would prepare me emotionally. We talked and he calmed me down. As he was about to leave, he casually remarked, “Your chemotherapy is during the time I will be going to shul, so I won’t be here, but I’ll come back later.”
After he left to go home I thought it over and realized how bad this was. I realized the reason my husband would be going to shul was for Friday night davening. When my husband was going to shul Friday night I was always lighting Shabbos candles. My brain slowly unraveled these obvious facts. This meant that my chemotherapy would be during candle lighting time. I didn’t know what to think.
How could I destroy the holiness of Shabbos? How could I prevent light from coming into the world? On the other hand, how could I not get better now? But how would I change around the schedule, in this hospital that ran like clockwork? Why did I have to make this decision? I wished I was a little girl who could run to her mother to figure everything out for her. I continued to think.
My life right now revolved around my disease. I knew I would be so glad to let my life revolve around better things. If the only way to change that was doing chemotherapy how could I not? Yet how could I do it during candle lighting; that was my time to renew, to feel totally loved by Hashem and to spread my light. It was my time of glowing. Behind my hands I felt Hashem close to me and I knew how much I was worth to the world. How could I give that up? I knew I couldn’t. I knew that even though right now my life wasn’t in my hands, this fight was the one thing that I would take into my hands. This would be my fight.
I felt the power in my bones and I went to find Dr. Williams.
I found him in his office and got right to the point. “Friday night I am scheduled for my first round of chemotherapy.”
“Yes, I am aware it’s coming up soon. We actually should start preparing you in another hour.”
I interrupted quickly, “No, you will not be preparing me in an hour.” Fiercely, I continued. “I have realized it is at the start of my Sabbath which is my time to connect to G-d and to spread light in this world.”
Shocked, he replied, “I’m sorry, we cannot change the schedule in this hospital merely because of cold feet. Many people feel nervous beforehand. We are here to get you better and without these rules set in place we cannot do that.”
“NO, you don’t understand. These two minutes of candle lighting will help me with more than an hour of chemotherapy!”
He looked at me skeptically. “Well anyway, no lighting candles in the hospital. The schedule is packed very tightly and we cannot and will not change anything.”
“I will not be available in an hour. I’m sorry, that’s it,” I said as I turned to leave, not even registering the first thing he had said.
I think at that point he realized how passionate I was and told me he would arrange the schedule change.
I went back to my room and cried from the strength the confrontation had taken out of me. I was mulling over the conversation and realized something he had said in a ‘by the way’ manner. Dr. Williams had said that no candles could be lit in the hospital. I should have realized beforehand. Emotions ran through me. I didn’t know what to think or do now. I had won my fight for the change of schedule for almost for no reason. I knew I couldn’t fight against this next hospital rule. Hashem would have to figure out the next one. I put everything in Hashem’s hands and went to sleep.
I woke up an hour later. I looked at the calendar and saw candle lighting time was getting closer. I was in a wonderful mood. A half hour later my husband came back with food my mother had prepared and other Shabbos necessities. I was so happy to get it. I put it all away and talked to my husband for a little bit until he left. I took a nice long shower that refreshed me in a way I hadn’t felt in a while. I wanted to make the room more Shabbos like so I cleaned it up and put my flowers in a more visible place. I still had a little bit of time after so I decided to explore the hallways of the hospital.
I started walking aimlessly until I got to the elevator. I entered, turned, and moved to press the button to the right floor. Subconsciously skipping over the first few floors, I pressed the button to the 6th floor. The elevator went up. The doors opened and I started walking around. A few nurses were working silently. I looked at the bulletin board in the corridor and just walked silently, observing and thinking. All of a sudden I started. There was a girl in the hallway sitting in a wheelchair that literally blended into the walls. But the oddity continued. She called me over. “Miri, I must tell you something.” I walked over, curious as to how she even knew my name.
“I heard you talking to Doctor Williams the other day and I want to tell you something. I admire you so much for doing what you did. You really fought for you. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do that. I am recovering now from my last round of chemo, I hope that will be the last forever for me. I want you to know if you are strong enough to fight to light Shabbos candles you are strong enough to get through your sickness and get better.”
Her powerful words reverberated through me very strongly. I thanked her and turned to the elevator. I stood in the elevator without pressing any buttons for a few minutes, deep in thought. I then descended and decided instead of musing over the problems I had I would bring in Shabbos early. That way I could enter a time that had no worries, just rest.
I walked to my room and started my last minute preparations. I took out the electric Shabbos candles from the bag my husband had given me. I plugged them into the wall and placed the arm chair in front of the candles. I turned the lights off in the room. I walked towards the cold plastic candles and switched them on. The room was lit up. I waved my hands three times and feeling breathless, I sat down with my hands still over my eyes. I prayed.
“Hashem, you are the owner of this world. You control everything that happens. You have given me my wonderful family and I am so happy. But why have you given me this illness? Hashem, you are wonderful, but this illness causes me so much distress. I want to get better, I need to get better. Hashem, please give me full health again. More importantly, bring us to Moshiach. I know then that everyone will be cured.”
After my tearful tefillah the candles seemed to brighten. I felt Hashem holding me. I knew Hashem was on my side. I now knew that Hashem would give me total health. I felt a peace wash over my body as I started to sing Sholom Aleichem.