The Gift of the Guide

Written by Robin Nafshi, Rabbi of Temple Beth Jacob

This past June, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. While I was only 50 at the time of my diagnosis, it really wasn’t a shock. My father – and his sister – had cancer. So did his mother and his uncle. And I have since learned, so did his grandfather, his mother’s father. I have always taken after my father. Although not consciously, I think I have been “waiting” for a cancer diagnosis for about the past ten years.

I’m the luckiest in my cancer-stricken family. My great grandfather, my grandmother, my great uncle, and my aunt all died from – or from complications relating to – their cancer. My father survived and is doing well, though his cancer was stage 2-3 and he underwent months of intensive chemotherapy and radiation. My cancer, on the other hand, was stage 1, and I required surgery only, with no follow up treatment.

Initially, I had a hard time thinking of myself as sick. My doctors were so optimistic and upbeat. And I take the half-full – not the half-empty – view of life.

One day, just after my surgery, I received a package in the mail from a colleague and classmate who had served for a number of years as a rabbi in the Boston area. In the package was a copy of Blessings for the Journey: A Jewish Healing Guide for Women with Cancer, published by Mayyim Hayyim. I was familiar with Mayyim Hayyim, as I am a rabbi in New England and have been there to witness a number of conversions. But I was not familiar with the Healing Guide.

I opened it and began reading. I could not put it down. The gift of the Healing Guide was that it allowed me to access feelings I did not know I had. I had felt the fear – but I was repressing the anger at my body, the vulnerability, the loss, and the change that occurs when one becomes a “cancer survivor.”

And while I was going to be fine now, I did have cancer, a form of cancer directly related to the other cancers in my family and which makes me a likely candidate for other forms of cancer in the future. The Healing Guide allowed me to wrestle with all that that meant.

After my full recovery, I visited Mayyim Hayyim, immersed in the mikveh, and uttered words of gratitude. I also purchased copies of the Healing Guide. I have given it to two congregants who have been diagnosed with different forms of cancer; they thanked me profusely. I keep copies in my office, always making sure one is available for the next woman who receives the news.

Robin Nafshi serves with joy as the Rabbi of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord, NH. She was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2005.

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