As some of you know, I have been getting radiation treatments for cancer these last two months. When growing up no Jew said the word "cancer." If you said it accidentally, you'd have to spit two times into the wind. Jews used to say, "Does Mendel have the C-word?" I was one who never said the word as I didn't want the 'evil eye' to inflict me or anyone else for that matter, the threat of catching the C-word.
So, here I was going to the Cancer Center at Cedars with some reservations. Not only do you feel apprehension going to the building but, to make matters worse, the cancer patients are asked to take the elevator to the lowest level. (As if we didn't feel low enough!) So, here I was walking in with my wife, Jeff, holding me up and making sure I would not back out and run away. So, what would I find in the Cancer waiting room?
We walked in and there were many people waiting to be called for either radiation or chemotherapy.
We sat and waited to be called. I noticed that people didn't interact or speak to each other. It's as if everyone was doomed.
I started talking to the guy next to me. "Are you okay?" I asked.
"Couldn't be better," he answered.
"So, if you don't mind me asking, what are you doing here"
He said,"I brought my friend ...he's the one with cancer."
The friend's name was Lorry - short for Laurence. His friend was Leo who lived in Bishop. They had been friends since the 5th grade and Leo drove in every week, slept over his house and took him to the Cancer Center. The weekends he'd go home to his wife and family. He was performing the highest degree of a mitzvah. I reached out and hugged him.
Then I asked out loud, "Who else is here with a friend? Patients who were in wheel chairs and others who were ambulatory, raised their hands. So, I went to them and asked "How they were doing.?" All of them told me they were doing great.
There was a guy who was sitting alone ear phone attached to his ears and wearing a cap that had seen better days. He didn't look up at me which was fine as he looked like a prize fighter who lost more of his fights than he won....if, indeed he won any.
I walked away to speak with other patients who didn't look as ominous.
I was called for my first session. I went to a room with a few lockers and picked out one. I put my clothes in, put on a hospital gown and started walking . As I was walking down the corridor, I thought of all those prison movies when the convicted killer was walking down the last mile. I expected convicts to be singing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot Comin' For To Carry Me Home," accompanied by a con playing the harmonica. When I reached the room a technician took me in.
There were a few people there waiting for me to take off my shoes and hop on to a table and stay still. "This is my first time I told them, so be gentle."
Justin, Andre the Giant and Valery, all in green garb, were standing around the table. They marked up my stomach so that the radiation would be set to hit the markings. I told them that if those markings were indelible I wouldn't be allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
They smiled and once again told me to be still.
"Did you drink water?" I was asked as my bladder had to be full. I did. As I lay still they left because they didn't want the dangerous radiation rays to impair them. I asked if I could go with them to the other room. No one answered. I was there about ten minutes with lots of machines swirling over my head. They returned to the room when the machines stopped and told me that would see me the next day.
I made sure to remember their names because the next day I wanted to become more friendly as they had my life in their hands.
The next day, there were three other people administering the machines. I found out their names.
But, I am ahead of myself. As I left the locker after collecting my clothes, the guy with the ear phones and cap called to me in a raspy and unclear speaking voice. "Hey" he said, "Is this yours?"
He was holding my IPhone I had carelessly left on the bench in the locker.
I took it and wanted to thank him but he was on his way out.
The next few days I became acquainted with a few more people and gave blessings to everyone.
By then they all knew I was a rabbi and accepted the blessings graciously.
I saw the guy with the earphones and funny speech pattern the next day and the next. I heard one of the nurses on the floor call him Mr. Brown.
A few days later as I was walking into the radiation room, Mr. Brown was walking out. "Good to see you," I called out. He looked at me, smiled and gave me a thumbs up.
The following day as he was walking out of the room and I was ready to go in, I told him my prayers were with him and that he was going to be okay.
He came over to me and extended his huge hand. We shook hands.
"Thanks for your prayers," he managed to say in a raspy and uneven voice.
The next day was to be the last of his treatments. I found out that Mr. Brown had cancer of the mouth. I waited for him in the waiting room after we both had finished our treatments. There he was with his earphones.
I wished him luck and told him once again that he was going to be okay and soon we would get together and have long talks with one another.
He threw both arms around me and hugged me tightly. Without saying a word, he turned and left. That was one of the most gratifying days of my life.
Every day we pass over people in our lives. You don't have to stop them but offer a smile and nod indicating that even though the world seems to be crumbling around us, have faith everything is going to be okay.