by Noreen LeibsonNoreen Liebson

It began in water. Floating, tumbling, supported by the nurturing fluids sent with love from my mother to me, her little embryo. Grew to love and fear the water. No longer able to able to breathe without emerging from its depth. The water, my first home, became a place I continued to love, but not a place I could live in. No longer could I stay beneath its surface without rising in need of air.

It began again in water. This time it was the frozen water of snow and ice. The power of the water brought down trees. The power of the water brought down electrical lines. We were without power for four days. So much can happen in four days.

Four “episodes” aka cognitive seizures, on the first day: “What are they saying to me? Why can’t I understand their words?” Day two, ventured into the medical world, maybe I should see a neurologist. No appointments. Day three, a seizure happens while driving, no more driving for 6 months. Day four: find neurologist. Day five: taken by ambulance to MGH – mass on frontal lobe. Brain surgery… radiation… chemotherapy…

Returning to the water: marking a year living with brain cancer. I returned to my first self. No clothing, no make up, all my jewels set aside. I stepped into the waters of the mikveh without any fear. I would immerse myself and not worry about my breath, my spirit. I found myself curling into a ball, like the not yet child of my mother. I floated, I tumbled, I went round and round. I didn’t need to come up for air. It was as if my prenatal self had kicked in and I was breathing through my skin. Round and round I tumbled, no pressure anywhere on my body. Complete release, a total letting go.

I emerged from the mikveh with a sense of rebirth. The waters once again held me close and gave me all that I needed for that moment. It has been over two years. I continue to remember the mikveh as a turning point in my life. Learning to live within the paradox, to breathe with no effort. Gliding through a beautiful yet challenging world. Flip by flop, drop by drop, I surrender to the peace.

Noreen Leibson is married and has two daughters in their twenties. She lives in NH and does the long commute to Brandeis where she is the Faculty Leader of Delet/MAT, a graduate program for teaching in Jewish Day schools. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor during the ice storm of 2011.