I concluded last week''s blog post by noting that I was scared that I had melanoma. Let me end the drama: I don''t have melanoma. I have a benign “thingy” that may require the excision of a little more skin or simply more follow-up. That’s great news!
All week long, as pathologists interpreted and re-interpreted my biopsy results, I worried that my emotions might start to sink. But it didn’t happen. My mood never declined because so many well-wishers gave me support. So many people contacted me that time didn’t permit me to respond to each one. I’m grateful to every one of you.
Last Saturday in the synagogue, I began to feel the caring intensely. As you may know, part of the Sabbath liturgy includes scriptural readings. In the middle of the morning prayers, the "gabbai" (the warden who ensures that services run smoothly) asked me to chant a passage from the Book of Jeremiah. I respectfully declined, explaining that just last month, I’d had several opportunities to act as cantor while commemorating the death of my father (yahrtzeit). I requested that he offer the privilege to someone else.
He emphatically refused. The gabbai informed me that several other congregants had insisted I perform the duty. Thrusting a large bible into my hands, he encouraged me to pay attention to the prophet''s final verse (Chapter XVII: 14). Having had no time to prepare, when I reached the final part of the passage, my emotions were indeed overcome by the plea, "Cure me Lord and I will feel healed, save me Lord and I shall attain deliverance, for You are my salvation." Tears kept me from continuing to sing. I felt so touched to think that other worshipers, knowing my situation, had wanted me to enunciate such powerful words on their behalf.
But the kindnesses that I received were, by no means, only religious. Several workmates who classify themselves as devout secularists told me that they were sending me good vibes. I confess that I felt great energy from the positive spiritual vibrations.
And then there was a surprise. A friend, well really more of a colleague – if not an outright professional rival – came out of the closet (his term) last week to tell me he''d been reading this blog regularly. I have twice debated him at international oncology meetings, most recently in front of an audience of approximately 850 people. "Get well soon Ben," he emailed me, "mostly so I can kick your ass again in a public forum!" In the same anatomical spirit, a buddy, who’d heard about the biopsy results and felt somewhat traumatized by my vivid photos, posted last week, remarked, "I’m thankful for many things in this process, including the fact that the suspicious lesion was not near your butt."
I think it''s great that the responses to my ordeal encompassed a comfort level which invited levity and left little room for self-pity. I was moved that a number of readers shared their own battles with cancer and several told me that they would find a melanoma surveillance program for themselves and other light-skinned members of their family. Such input infused the whole experience with added meaning and ended any doubts I had about revealing my story.
Above all, my experience has humbled me. I think I’d somehow come to sense that I’d become immune to developing cancer. There was a strong element of self-reassurance in this stance – that, of all things, a tumor could never befall me. But why such folly? Because I''m an oncologist? A good guy? Because the knowledge I''ve acquired created some sort of protective armor? Obviously, no one is invincible and this is an important lesson to re-learn.
I began last week''s blog post by saying that my life changed because of all this. The outpouring of support and the continued self-reflection that it engendered made me realize that for once, I was right.
Until next Monday, Shalom.