Noam Nagar: The journey

Nagar loves to write, using his passion for language and the tech world to run his "Livali" blog since 2005.

Noam Nagar 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Noam Nagar 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rounding the Eilat mountain roads as they completed the one-day ride from the Tel Aviv region, none of the cyclists laughing at the jokes, songs and encouragement shouted by Noam Nagar, their leader, could have guessed his secret. The 39-year-old wearing the red helmet and sunglasses cajoled them to push on, just when it seemed like they couldn't make it. None of them knew that months later they'd be called upon to help Nagar on a journey he's still making. His marathon had started seven years before, when a melanoma was first discovered in his eye. He'd returned to his old love, biking, in 2004, but the melanoma kept returning. "I wanted to live as normal a life as possible," he recalls, sitting in his Rehovot apartment. "I'd ride 300 km. over a weekend after having had an operation the previous week." Nagar, a teacher and computer instructor, also loved to write, using his passion for language and the tech world to run his "Livali" blog since 2005. So it was only natural to include his battle against the disease alongside entries on love, listening to Phil Collins while in a car, his father's having hanged Eichmann and other diverse topics, all in beautiful Hebrew, some in verse, but with one element left out. He was "sick," he'd write, but "I didn't ever say I had cancer." His health continued to deteriorate, however, and in June 2007 his eye was about to be removed when a miracle happened. Ahead of the operation, a CT showed Nagar had a growth in his brain. "Suddenly it wasn't just a matter of operating on the eye, but also the brain. My response was that Friday I was going to ride to Mount Hermon with my tallit and tefillin and I would go to the top of the mountain and pray." In his July 11 post, he writes of that moment: "We leave the hospital and I think to myself: 'I've got to do it! I've got to climb up to Him and speak to Him. This time He can't say He didn't hear, because I'm going to get as close to Him as I can!" The entire trip was filmed and parts of it included in Nagar's blog, as are many video clips. The next night, the doctors performed an MRI. "It turned out that the growth had disappeared. I was thrilled. It was crazy. I can't tell you how it felt. They couldn't explain it," recalls Nagar, married and the father of two. "In my blog, my message then was that there is always hope... And I'm always one to stress that everything is for the best... I laugh about my situation, I poke fun at it. For me, it's another chapter in my life that I can learn something from and move on." But more difficult challenges still lay ahead - the cancer persisted. After starting Abirei Eilat, in which he led one-day bike trips from the center of the country to that city, he discovered a growth on his face. He had ridden the entire way even though he had cancer in his liver, lungs and brain. It was time for a new approach, to his life and the blog. "Even though I wanted to go on living a regular life, I just couldn't ignore it anymore... I knew that what I needed more than anything else was emotional support. I figured my body would have its fight, but I understood that if I wanted to get a lot of emotional support I had to let people in on what's happening with me. The time had come to open up; to tell the whole story from beginning to end." He called the March 10 post "Megillat Hahayim," opening with a quote from Deuteronomy encouraging man to "choose life." "I HAVE CANCER!" he wrote in large black letters, before telling the whole story, explaining it to his legion of friends who were already readers. Describing his physical and emotional pain, he explained he'd written it all "because I need you!" The response was incredible. "I am reading what you wrote and crying," read one talkback from "Livestrong," a reference to cycling champ Lance Armstrong, whose own bout with cancer has inspired Nagar, a huge fan. "I am in a similar 'movie.' I am also facing a serious illness... Be strong. You definitely chose the right path. Hugging you." "I knew that the computer has power, that the Internet has power," he says. "I was surprised by how much this time... I wanted a certain kind of help, and I received a thousand times more... it transcends global boundaries and reaches everywhere." Nagar was once observant, and his posts still have what he calls "a sense of belief - I couldn't be as optimistic without it." Around Tisha Be'av, before the cancer worsened, he'd written a post about how his personal "sanctuary" had been defiled, and needed to be kept shut. Now he has come to understand "that blocking the entryway [to his inner life] is not what we must do." He spent hours mixing in video, the sound of the shofar, onscreen verses and music to a September 23, 2007, post, showing his group's ride to the Western Wall on the eve of Yom Kippur. Wearing a checked kerchief on his head and a red biking outfit, he can be seen leaning against the stones, where "I told Him thanks, thanks for everything He did for me, and I'm still thanking Him." His posts also reflect a black sense of humor like that of many bloggers facing illness. His description of his first radiation treatment played on two meanings of hakrana (radiation and a film screening), noting he'd been invited to a "hakrana bechora" (premiere) with himself as the star. He considered posting a video of his final treatment on the blog, but worried it might upset some readers. Nagar's upbeat approach draws from Armstrong's book. "He writes there that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to him. You don't understand at first what he means, but it turns out that there are things that really help us, and sometimes a serious blow can help us in a way that we don't see at first." "In the end, it turned out that I also helped a lot of people," he says of his initial appeal for support to his readers. "Someone wrote me: 'You gave us a new way of looking at things.' Another wrote: 'My brother had this happen to him; now I know how to take a different path.' Wow - people were suddenly looking at things differently, and what a pleasure to see that they could look at things optimistically despite everything." Now that the blog's a part of various forums and Web sites, he's had to beg for patience from readers he has no time to answer. "Right now I need to get well," he declares after a round of radiation and chemo, but promises he will write when he can. Meanwhile, he encourages others to make blogs part of their own journey in coping with their illness. "We focus on the physical, we're weak, we feel lousy and we don't notice that it's our emotions that are pulling us down. And even when I was sure I was going to die, I always tried to smile so as not to let my emotions drop for a moment... It's important to pass on what you're feeling, to share it. If you can't write, talk. Tell someone. Don't close it off to people... At the same time you are gaining strength from them, they are gaining it back from you." Taking another page from his hero's book, he recalls what Armstrong's mother wrote. "She wrote: 'It doesn't matter what happens; it's what we take with us from each event.' And that's my message to others: Don't look back. What was is over. What's important is what lies ahead and what we do with it. That's what we have left. Crying about the past doesn't help. And that's what I take with me." While meeting Armstrong, due here to inaugurate a national bike path marking the country's 60th anniversary, is one dream, he has another quest: qualifying for a Paris bike race he almost made before his illness forced him to quit. "I have one goal - to get to Paris in 2011, "he says, "and I will do everything I can to get there."