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Spark of Hope

December 5, 2010 | by Leah Gebber

Cancer I could laugh at. It was remission that was so difficult.

“So we’ll see you first night Chanukah, then, Ma?”

First night Chanukah? “Huh…”

“Did you forget the annual Chanukah party?”

“Forget? ‘Course not!”

Faker, I berate myself as I put down the phone.

Chanukah is in two days’ time, I calculate. I can buy paper ware this afternoon, after the doctor’s appointment and the pharmacist. But this evening I have to give myself a shot —even if I take Paracetamol beforehand, I know I will be feverish and weak. Weaker than usual, that is.

I open my kitchen cabinets. Catering for three couples and six grandkids... I shake my head. Impossible. I begin dialing my daughter’s number. But something stops me.

Aren’t you thankful to be celebrating Chanukah with your family?

Of course I am. I take paper and pen and begin writing a list. This Chanukah party will be the same—no, better—than every other year.

After all, it will count as personal Thanksgiving of sorts. The last six months have been a rollercoaster ride of surgery and chemo and side effects and drugs and hospitalizations. Seven weeks ago, the pronouncement was made: remission.

Remission. What a beautiful word. The relief, the celebration. We walked out of the doctor’s surgery on a cloud.

Remission is a wonderful place to be, but it doesn’t explain the tears that gather so easily in my eyes.

While I’ve been ill, spring and summer have passed and winter has come. And with the coming of winter, beauty itself has gone into hibernation. Remission is a wonderful place to be, but it doesn’t explain the tears that gather so easily in my eyes. And what about the weakness, the exhaustion, the agonizing feeling that I am a burden, that life itself is burdensome?

“But you’re over it now,” my children smile, silently asking permission to release the worry, to return to the rhythm of their lives.

“Of course,” I lie. “I’m fine.”

And now, a Chanukah party —“like every year.”

But it’s not like every year.

The table is laid, but there is still too much to do. A salad, with my special garlic dressing; blintzes for the grandchildren; whipped topping for the cheesecake. A Chanukah party like every year.

But I am tired, and my left arm feels like it belongs to a dull-eyed mannequin.

Scoop out the grated-potato mixture, drain the liquid, shape them, slip them in the pan. Hold the handle of the pot with one hand, turn the half-done latkes with the other…

My left arm is clumsy now, and I grab the pot at an angle. It flips up into the air, spilling a golden stream of half-fried latkes and bubbling oil down onto the glossy tiles. I jump back, just avoiding the scalding liquid. Leaning over the greasy mess, I extinguish the flame. Then I turn my back on my false efforts and, wiping away a tear, sink down onto the couch in the living room.

Outside, the flower garden has wilted and died and my heart twists in pain. Just a few months ago, it was a paradise of color and beauty, planted by my friends in honor of my first homecoming from the hospital. When I had been admitted to the hospital, I knew I would miss the planting season. For the first time ever, my garden would be bare. Just another sacrifice cancer demanded. When I finally hobbled back into the house on my daughter’s arm, sniffing the familiar scent of wooden furniture, open windows, and fabric softener, my joy was made complete by my friends’ unique gesture. For weeks they had planted and weeded and watered—and cared—until my garden became a place of splendor.

Now, the garden is desolate; the torpid ground lies bare. The splendor, now, has died.

Inside me, as well. Where is the fighter that everyone admired?

It is easy to laugh at cancer, I have discovered. It is not so easy to laugh at remission. For what is left of me now, of my life? A regimen of drugs—with their side effects—that I have to take for the rest of my life. Check-ups, scans, X-rays. A left arm that doesn’t quite do its job. I am a desolate garden filled with dead flowers.

Related Article: My Five Weeks with Cancer

In the Midst of Battle

The family is sprawled on the couches, grandkids playing on the floor, food remains litter the table.

“Did you know that Chanukah was only established a year after the miracle of the oil took place?” My husband loves obscure facts.

“They lit the menorah in the middle of the battle?”

“Yeah, I heard that.” Typical. Nothing gets past my son-in-law. “But even when Chanukah was established, the war was still being fought. Apparently, it went on for years.”

My ears prick up. “So when they lit the menorah, they were still in the middle of the battle?” I ask.

“Uh huh.” My son-in-law launches into a long explanation of the history of the Syrian-Greek empire, but my attention wavers.

My gaze falls on the flickering orbs of orange and yellow that have pride of place by the window. The silver menorah gleams, a flash of reflected light. Outside, night has fallen. Darkness.

I close my eyes, imagining the very land we are sitting on, here in Israel, two thousand years ago. I imagine the hope, the faith of those families who, a year after the miracle took place, fashioned a rough Menorah and kindled the lights, not knowing the outcome. Not knowing if the war would ever be won, if salvation would ever come. Lights of faith. Lights of hope.

I stare until my eyes blur with tears and a spark enters my heart. A spark of hope, despite the blackness of the night, despite the coldness of the winter. Hope for whatever the future will bring.

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