Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two Ways

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that there are two ways to live your life: as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is. While there are shades of grey in any situation, I think there's something inspiring about this quote. We can choose to view our lives - the blessings and challenges - through a positive lens, or through the eyes of a cynic. We can choose gratitude over anger. We can live as if everything is a miracle.

Last month, in a period of 36 hours, I integrated two huge new realities into my consciousness, my life and my future. First, I was accepted to Rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In making the decision to apply for, be accepted to, and attend HUC, I was fulfilling a dream that I have had for most of my life. I was thrilled to be admitted to the program and excited to finally take the first steps toward getting the education and experience I needed to become a Rabbi. Opening that letter was an incredibly profound and exciting moment in my life, and one that I was glad to share with so many of the people that I love.

36 hours later, I went in for a check-up at my oncologist's office. It was just a few days past the one-year point since my autologous stemcell transplant, and three months since my previous PET/CT scan that had reaffirmed that my cancer was still in remission. Unfortunately, the scan showed ample evidence of a relapse.

What a relapse means, practically speaking, is that I haven't yet won my battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I am back in chemothrerapy, and most likely will have a bone marrow transplant from a donor in the coming months.

There are two ways to look at this 36 hour period. I choose to see it as a blessing. This is not to say that I am not incredibly shocked, angry, disappointed and full of questions. And it's not to diminish my profound sense that it's not fair that just as my long-term future was taking shape in a way I had dreamed of and envisioned, factors beyond my control have turned my future into a dark and murky question mark once more.

There are also two ways to look at the changes that I've made in the last year of my life. I could choose to look at the decision to cut toxins and carcinogens out of my diet and home environment, and to work to live a healthy emotional, physical, social and psychological life, as a failed experiment. These choices did not save me, did not make the cancer go away, did not help me avoid this fate. I could look at these choices, which were sometimes more difficult and more expensive, and think that it was all for nothing. I choose instead to be proud of the attempts that I made to control the elements of my life that I felt that I could. I choose instead to be grateful to have the resources, access, and support that I needed to make those changes. I choose instead to acknowledge that I did nearly everything that I could do, but that sometimes controlling what few factors we can, will not influence the outcome of a situation. I am making the choice to view the last year of my life as a gift in which I was able to thrive, and embrace life.

When I first heard the Einstein quote years ago, it reminded me of one of my favorite passages from the book of Deuteronomy in the Torah, which Reform Jews traditionally read on Yom Kippur: "...I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life." It's not a request - it's a command. So I have to strive to see everything as a miracle, even when it is difficult to do so, even when a huge blessing and a terrible curse are put before me in a matter of hours.


Becky Froman said...

You inspire wonder and strength, and all my love.
heart, your sister

Suburban Sweetheart said...

Ditto to what your sister said.

No matter how angry or disappointed or shocked or confused you may be - and all are entirely valid, normal responses, I think - you somehow remain positive & full of hope. You DO live as though everything is a miracle, Elissa, & when I'm trying to remind myself to do the same, I always think of three people: 1) my grandmother, 2) Micaela, 3) you. Thank you for constantly reminding me, even when you have no idea you're doing it, to be thankful, be grateful, be wondrous, be happy.

Love you.

Robert said...


The changes you've made are not a failed experiment but a healthy change in lifestyle that has benefited you both physically and mentally. They complement the healthy spiritual approach you're taking and will serve you well during your recovery and beyond.

Rob Lash