January 31, 2020
Strategies for Sisterhood Success: An Unexpected Journey Through Cancer

by Vanessa Ehrlich, RJE
Director of Lifelong Learning at Makom Solel Lakeside in Highland Park, Illinois

It has been a little over a year since November 2018 when I wrote this blog post :

“I wasn’t sure what to call my blog about having Ovarian cancer and here were some ideas:

She Has a Touch of Cancer : From John Green's Fault in Our Stars and before that Shakespeare: a little dark
Ovarian Story : Nah
Ovari Serious Announcement : Not the right tone
The Blog That Shall Not Be Named : Yes, for Harry Potter fans
Belated Announcement : One of my favorite made up idioms”

In the end I wrote blog posts that kept my community up to date on my condition, teaching about Judaism, and of course using as many Hebrew terms as possible. I should probably skip to the end and tell you that I am now in remission -- I have a preventative infusion every three weeks and most of the time feel pretty good.

I am a Jewish educator in the suburbs of Chicago and have worked as a congregational educator for over 30 years. I was diagnosed last year at age 59 with this insidious disease. Ovarian cancer both has a high rate among Jewish women, not unlike breast cancer, and a high rate of recurrence. I am happy to report that I am BRCA negative, but I firmly believe that as time progresses, scientists will discover more and more different BRCA genes.

There are a few stops on my journey that make this a Jewish story and tells quite a bit about me. This begins with my love of Jewish summer camp. Each summer I serve on the faculty of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Olin Sang Ruby Institute Camp in Wisconsin. As my treatment (which included chemo, surgery, and more chemo) progressed, I realized that going to camp was my number one short-term goal. I needed to get to camp for a different type of treatment. The good news (if I may say so myself) is that I served successfully on faculty last year and I am already signed up and ready to go for summer 2020! My time at camp helped me come to terms with living with cancer as a chronic disease, and as many of you already know this is more commonplace. But I view this with great hope, and I endeavor to live life to its fullest, taking nothing for granted.

After camp, I searched for more life-affirming activities and realized that I wanted to immerse in the mikvah. I had never been for myself but went with my daughter in 2016 before she got married. I had been to the Community Mikvah in the Chicago suburbs as a witness for many conversions. I thought it was time to take a dip myself. When my doctor told me I was in remission, I chose that time to go. This ritual was a very emotional and cleansing one for me. I would recommend others to consider it.

My journey this past year has not been an easy one, but it was one full of hope and blessings. My family and I are so fortunate to be a part of many communities. It was our communities that provided meals, visitors, cards, and good wishes which helped us through the year and challenging moments. Now in two months’ time I have the ultimate moment to which I am looking forward: I will become a savta , a grandmother. In Judaism, when you hear someone is pregnant you wish them: B’sha-ah Tovah , may it come at a good hour. All the hours are good for me, and should I have a recurrence of this cancer I know that I am armed with information, have great doctors and a supportive community, and a growing family to help me get through it.

This article is part of WRJ's " Sharing our Stories " series where Reform/Progressive Jewish women in North America and around the world share personal stories of sisterhood, spirituality and social good – in an effort to help us create connections and better understanding of each other, our shared values, goals and challenges, to share what we have in common as Reform/Progressive Jewish women, and also explore our own unique identities as citizens of different cultures .
Want to share your story? Join the conversation! Communities around the world would love to hear from you. Please  contact WRJ Board Member Karen Goldberg for more information. 

b y Lori Motis

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