Blessings for this Cancer Journey

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In November 2004, the Sixth Day Group, a group of thirteen women gathered at Mayyim Hayyim; some were cancer survivors, others were caregivers and health care professionals. They had each wished for a specifically Jewish, spiritual guide to the difficult journey through treatment and its aftermath, and decided to join together and create one. For three years, they met to talk about their experiences, share information, and assemble resources. Blessings for the Journey is the result of their hard work and commitment.

by Aliza Kline, Mayyim Hayyim’s founding Executive Director

I learned about my diagnosis of DCIS breast cancer on March 1. It was the eve of my oldest daughter’s 17th birthday – Ela was born when Mayyim Hayyim first opened. I was on parental leave when we opened our doors in May 2004.  I have had several flashbacks to that stage of my life – to learning for the first time how to really integrate uncertainty into my daily experience.

Before I was pregnant with Ela, I was pregnant for just under 8 weeks before learning that the pregnancy was not viable. I remember having sonogram after sonogram hoping for a heartbeat, and feeling how surreal the experience was from being told I was pregnant to being told I wasn’t. When I got the results of my first biopsy I had that same surreal sense – the radiologist could see something that I could not. I went from not having cancer, to having cancer without feeling the difference in my body. Throughout the last 14 weeks I have vacillated from feeling so present, connected in my mind and body, to feeling like a foreigner in both.

When Carrie sent me Blessings for the Journey and I read the first chapter, which so wisely acknowledges that I am on a journey I did not choose, just as Avram and Sarai were, I felt seen and held. I remember Friday mornings of Mayyim Hayyim’s Sixth Day Group of sharing stories, strategically mapping out a new resource that would create for others what each group member needed to create for themself.

The book is rich, soothing, and like everything created by Mayyim Hayyim, anticipates the needs of the reader. Every page I found myself nodding and tutting, whispering, “yes, exactly.”

I have shared my journey so far with my daughters, now 12, 14, and 17, my lovely husband Bradley, more family, friends, colleagues, my staff, my board members, and even key stakeholders for my work. I have found solace in the text in this book as well as a reminder by my friend Rabbi Lisa Goldstein of the text from Maariv Aravim blessing, the evening service: which depicts nature’s daily transformations and identifies God as the entity that golel ohr mipnei choshech, v’choshech mipnei ohr (“rolls light away from darkness, and darkness from light”). This gave me permission to be in the darkness and know the light will come, and then to enjoy those moments of good news, and appreciate that they may be liminal too.

There’s much “good news” – my cancer was caught early via an annual mammogram, the biopsies, lumpectomy and my recent course of radiation are doing their work, identifying and removing the malignant cells. The BRCA genetic testing came back negative.

I had my procedures on Fridays whenever possible, so that Shabbat can be a time for healing, slowing down and being extra gentle to myself.

Over the last several years I have learned more about myself, practiced more mindful meditation, studied more Hassidut, and most importantly, learned to speak to myself in more loving tones. During the painful biopsies, or waiting for results, or holding still during radiation, I “mommy’d” myself.

Thank you to the Sixth Day Group for modeling such generous, loving, open, vulnerable leadership in creating this resource.

While in Boston for a bat mitzvah, my girls and I made an appointment at Mayyim Hayyim. When we arrived, we sat in the Education Center, the same room that the Sixth Day Group met in week after week. We took time to write out our personal kavanot. I wrote:

I am coming to the water as a gift to myself

To welcome the waves

To soften my body

I immerse not to mark a final ending, but to soften this transition

To gently acknowledge my new identity – my membership in the community

of women who had breast cancer

of parents caring for family during the pandemic

of those who struggled to being a good friend, partner and professional

Mostly, I immerse in thanks to God, Havaya, for holding me now – and always

V’hu Haya / V’hu Hoveh / V’hu Yihiyeh b’Tifarah (God was / God is / and God shall be in glory)

I am so thankful to the Sixth Day Group guiding me on this journey. Yesterday I completed my radiation treatment. I hope to care for others as you have cared for me.

You can get your copy of Blessings for the Journey, a Jewish Healing Guide for women with cancer, here

Aliza Kline is the Co-Founder and CEO of OneTable. At a time when many feel isolated and disconnected from Jewish life, OneTable creates new ways to connect with each other, time, and community by linking Jewish wisdom with modern technology. Aliza is also the founding executive director of Mayyim Hayyim and has devoted her career to re-imagining Jewish ritual open to the full diversity of the community. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her partner Bradley Solmsen and three daughters.

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