by Ronna Benjamin
A little over a year ago, just after a “clean” mammogram, my primary care physician found a lump in my breast during a routine physical, and insisted on the ultrasound that saved my life. Countless women who have been through this sort of thing know what happened next: the biopsy, the agony of waiting for test results, the MRI biopsies, the final diagnosis (for me, invasive lobular carcinoma), coming up with a plan, telling the kids, mastectomy, chemo, losing my hair, radiation.
When I had finished my chemo and was just about to start radiation, I ran into a friend at synagogue who had been through a serious bout of cancer years ago. He told me that some of the hardest parts of my ordeal might be in the weeks after my treatments had ended.
I was surprised by this. After all, I could see the proverbial light at the end of the radiation tunnel, and I was looking forward to everything being over, getting my hair, as well as my life back. My friend explained that the months after treatment were not hard on the physical body, but they were the hardest on the mind. Why? For the first time since diagnosis, I would not be taking any positive action to get the cancer out of my body. And it is hard on the mind to take no action.
So, how does one get the cancer out of one’s mind after it has purportedly left the body? What action can you take to clear your mind when the treatments are over?
For me, that was the purpose of my immersion in the mikveh. I needed to do something– mark the moment spiritually so I could think of myself not as having breast cancer, but as having had breast cancer.
I am not a “God” person—not terribly pious (some might say I’m a skeptic), and I was surprised at how emotional I felt as I started the ritual cleaning; I could not stop crying. I loved taking things slowly, immersing in the living waters which felt strangely felt-like in texture. I loved how much the staff guided me through every step. And most of all, I loved having my friends, family and rabbi just outside, and hearing their prayers for me. And I loved the fact that I got to thank them for the love that they had shown me.
I don’t believe that there are magic cures for anything. But I do believe that mikveh immersion was a moment when I started to think of myself as a woman who had breast cancer. It was a deeply emotional and positive experience. The rest will just come in time.
After 28 years of practicing law in Boston and Brookline, Ronna Benjamin is now a partner and managing editor for the popular online magazine, www.betterafter50.com. Ronna writes a weekly (mostly) humor column about topics women in their fifties are concerned about: adult children, aging parents, anxiety and body image, and most recently, breast cancer. Ronna is a native Bostonian and loves to sail away with the husband she adores and her three adult children.
Click here for more information about “Blessings for the Journey: a Jewish Healing Guide for Women with Cancer.”