The Week I Had Cancer

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By: Shoshana Goldberg 

A little over two months ago, I was having some severe abdominal cramps, and my stomach started to really bother me. I was young, with no other health concerns, no history of gastrointestinal issues, no family background of these kinds of issues, and a semi-healthy diet. I thought maybe I had developed a touch of colitis (which I knew about from a friend), so I made an appointment to see a GI doctor. After talking to me and examining me, she ordered a colonoscopy for the following week, which I tried to talk her out of (I mean, seriously, who wants to have one of those?).

I am so lucky.

The day before the colonoscopy, I had to stick to a liquid diet, and then, in the evening, came the dreaded prep. I won’t lie, I almost threw up, but I got through it. My husband drove me to the surgicenter, holding my hand while I sat next to him, terrified about the procedure. They put me to sleep, and I didn’t feel anything. When I woke up and was ready to move around, the doctor sat down with me and my husband and told us the worst news we could receive - she had found a cancerous tumor in my colon during the procedure. I had cancer.

I am so lucky.

My GI doctor immediately put me in touch with a local colorectal surgeon, and I scheduled an appointment for the next day. We went to the appointment hoping to get answers - what would I have to go through, when would I be having surgery, would I be able to continue working, what was my prognosis??? Unfortunately, the surgeon didn’t have nearly enough information to answer any of my questions. He ordered blood work, a CAT scan and a procedure to determine the exact location of the tumor during the following week, in order to gather the information needed to plan what course of action I would take to fight the cancer in my body.

I am so lucky.

I had the CAT scan on a Friday afternoon, just a few days after being diagnosed. The objective of the scan was to see if the cancer had spread to my liver or lungs, which would make my prognosis more serious. I had a procedure scheduled for the following Monday, so I assumed I would receive all my results then, and then I would finally know what I was going to have to face and when. So I settled in for a quiet Shabbos, trying not to think about having cancer.

I am so lucky.

Around noon on Shabbos afternoon, as I was setting the table and about to sit down to lunch, I heard a knock on my door. My two sons raced to the door to see who could open it first. Standing on my porch, to my complete surprise, was my GI doctor and a man in scrubs, who quickly introduced himself as my surgeon’s partner (my surgeon was out of town for a conference). After receiving the CAT scan results late Friday night, and finding a pinhole perforation in my colon wall, my surgeon and his partner realized that I needed to have surgery immediately. They tried to call and text me, but understood that due to Shabbos, I didn’t have my phone turned on. They felt it was too urgent to wait until Shabbos was over, so they came to my house to give me the news and take me to the hospital to be prepped for emergency surgery.

I am so lucky.

So, while my husband stayed home with our boys, I was driven to the hospital and went into surgery. Alone. Terrified. Before I was put under, I asked my surgeon, “Is there any chance of me not making it through this surgery?” His reply was, “None. I have been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never lost a patient in this kind of surgery.” I gave a sigh of relief, then the anesthesia took over. Through the next seven hours, my surgeon successfully managed to get the entire tumor out, along with my inflamed appendix, and an ovary right next to my colon. He was able to leave me one ovary, so that if I wanted to have more children, I would be able to.

I am so lucky.

I spent the next five days in the hospital, getting mobile, beginning to eat and gaining the strength I needed to be able to go home. My mom flew here right away to help take care of our boys, wonderful friends came to visit me in the hospital, my husband was by my side the whole week, and messages of caring and support came pouring in from everywhere.

I am so lucky.

On my last day in the hospital, my surgeon told me news that brought tears to my eyes—fifty-two lymph nodes were removed during surgery. Every single one of them was negative for cancer.

I am so lucky.

My family was showered with help while I was recovering and unable to drive for the next month. Friends, neighbors, shul members, and families from our kids’ school made dinners for us for an entire month after my surgery. Friends offered playdates and ran errands for us. People sent flowers and cards and knitted scarves. People visited and checked in with me daily to see how I was doing.

I am so lucky.

My two boys had amazing, understanding and incredibly loving teachers who went above and beyond to be there for them, and for me. When my boys had rough days, the teachers just showed them more love.

I am so lucky.

I have an amazing boss and an incredible team of people that I work with who have been very supportive. I have the kind of job where I can work from home when I need to, so despite being home for a month, I was able to keep up with everything, and I didn’t have to worry about my job security or parnassa.

I am so lucky.

My husband has been there through it all; he has done so much driving to appointments, making lunches, running errands, grocery shopping, and making sure the kids had the one kind of yogurt they would consent to eat. Holding my hand while I cried, helping with whatever I asked for, and stepping back when I needed space.

I am so lucky.

After undergoing genetic counseling and testing, I found out that I have no genetic markers of cancer. This means no one really knows why I got cancer, but it also means I can’t pass it down to my children.

I am so lucky.

Due to the fact that the surgeon got all the cancer out, no lymph nodes were affected, and the cancer did not spread to any other parts of my body, I don’t have to undergo chemo or radiation. So, effectively, from the time I received my diagnosis until I had surgery, I had cancer for a week.

I am so lucky.

I have learned so much from the past two months. I have learned how to be there for someone going through a tough situation. I have learned to listen. I have learned that sometimes, a little message asking, “How are you doing?” can go a long way. I have learned that being supportive of another person’s choices is important. I have learned that advice is not always what someone needs.

I am so lucky.

Now, of course, there are no guarantees. I will have lots of doctor’s appointments and follow-ups and blood tests and scans for the next several years, and for the rest of my life. It COULD come back, though thank G-d, the odds are heavily in my favor.

I am so lucky.

It feels weird to say that I am lucky after receiving a cancer diagnosis, but I can’t help but see how lucky I have been, how many bullets I have dodged, how much support, help and love has been showered upon me. And I can’t help but say—

I am so lucky. 

 
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Shoshana Goldberg

lives with her husband and two sons in Baltimore, Maryland. When she isn't corralling her wild men, she works in the finance industry.

Rochel Lazar