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Frame of Mind

Frame of Mind

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"These growths are often not malignant," my doctor began after examining me and looking through the results of the medical reports. "However, it can develop into malignancy. It is also uncommon to have, as you do, two growths. I would usually remove them as soon as possible." He paused. "Of course, being that you are four months pregnant, that limits our options." The devastating news was beginning to sink in.

I took a deep breath as he continued. "We could do an emergency operation. However, that would risk premature labor. Alternatively, we could wait until your sixth month, but although that would increase the chances of the baby surviving, it would mean the possible complications of a premature birth. Past the sixth month, I wouldn't recommend any operation."

Dr. Rosman glanced at me thoughtfully. "The other option, which is probably the best route, is to monitor you for any further enlargement, and operate once the baby is born."

I nodded in agreement, as he warned: "There is, however, a danger that these growths may unexpectedly twist or erupt. You would feel a crushing pain. Rush immediately to the hospital. The pregnancy may be terminated.

"There is also another risk that it may grow very large. In that case, we would have to further determine our course of action," Dr. Rosman concluded.

"Think about these options and we'll speak further." He was a caring and competent doctor who tried to convey the news sensitively.

I tried to maintain a stoic expression as I left my doctor's office, but within, I was absolutely shattered.

Driving the short distance home, I refused to release the torrent of tears just yet. Even tears, I was sure, would be unable to wash away the huge sickening feeling stuck in the pit of my growing stomach.

Later that night, I finally permitted the tears to flow freely. In the privacy of my two younger children's bedroom, cuddling at bedtime, I relented. Listening to my young children's breathing grow softer and softer and gazing at their plump, tender, dimpled cheeks, I wondered if I would watch them grow into mature adults. The darkness of the room was my refuge that allowed me to vent my emotions and allowed my mind to consider the darkest, harshest possibilities.

On many more such nights I allowed myself to face the fears emerging from the darkest corridors of my being. During those nights, gazing at my children, I gained a new view on life, on my children and on trying to keep a perspective on my priorities.

It took every fiber of strength and faith not to allow myself to become completely overpowered by the onslaught of haunting thoughts that never failed to terrify me, day or night, during those unforgettable months. Each night as I lay in bed, I wondered if perhaps tonight I would be awakened by the unthinkable occurring.

Of course, my natural tendency to imagine the worst did not help. I had always been a natural worrier, preparing for the worst possible scenario.

My husband, on the other hand, was the natural optimist, who would try to clear my mind of its black outlook. At first I almost resented his attitude, wondering in half seriousness, "Don't you even care about me? How could you speak with such optimism?" But as time progressed, I learned to appreciate his positive thinking and tried hard to incorporate it into my own.

I was fortunate to "coincidentally" come across many teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on faith, healing, and how positive thinking causes positive outcomes, as well as the Rebbe's practical advice that when one finds oneself in a serious medical situation, three experts should be consulted to help determine one's course of action. The Rebbe's teachings, together with my husband's supportive perspective, fortified me to withstand those dark moments when my negativity cast a dark shadow over every arena of my life.

During those months of nervous anticipation, I whiled away my days, taking refuge in my work, my children and my responsibilities. As the dean of a young women's Seminary at the time, there was enough to become involved with to forget my personal troubles.

My students were never aware of the thoughts that passed through my mind every morning as I settled behind the closed doors of my office. Nor did they realize the reason for my intensity when I would teach them a discourse on faith. They never suspected the sickness, or the constant nausea that I felt, nor the gloom that penetrated my being. Nor did they suspect what a balm of spiritual healing the Torah teachings that I taught them brought to me.

During those difficult days I often thought how strange it was that one could be living in such close proximity with another, yet be totally unaware of what he may be facing. And worse, we may even be judging the other by our own standards.

There are fortunate individuals who, when in distress, reach out to others to gain the support they need. I, on the other hand, withdrew deep within myself.

I found it difficult to speak to my parents. My father would have been a natural choice for any other member of our community facing a similar situation. As the communal rabbi, he had given spiritual counseling and direction to so many others in similar circumstances, or worse. Yet to me, speaking to my father, or mother, was too painful. As a daughter, I observed what an outsider couldn't detect — the intense emotion on their faces, the lines of worry around their eyes. I discerned the subtle change in their voices that signified worlds to me.

With this intimate sense of their pain in watching their youngest child go through this ordeal, I found it unfair to burden them further by communicating my feelings or doubts. As a result, I avoided the topic, almost entirely.

The months passed slowly.

Thank G‑d, little Yisroel Pinchas was born a robust and healthy child in the late summer months without any complications.

A new school year had begun, and with a newborn at hand, time went by in a blur of activity, too busy to even stop to contemplate. My surgery was scheduled for soon after the holiday of Sukkot. I had hoped to recuperate quickly and be back in school, at least on a part-time basis, soon after.

Divine Providence ordained differently, however. My strength was not sufficiently regained and Dr. Rosman delayed the surgery several more months.

We scheduled it for the next seminary break, right before Chanukah. Dr. Rosman suggested that instead of conventional surgery, we should try a procedure whereby the growths could be removed through the insertion of a small needle. It would be less painful, recovery would be easier since scarring is much smaller and I could be out of the hospital in one day. This sounded like a brighter option.

I was wheeled into the operating room with a prayer on my lips. Several hours later I awoke only to hear the news that I would soon be released.

Dr. Rosman had inserted the needle to withdraw the growth and probed the area. But, miraculously the growth had vanished!

I was convinced that I had experienced my own personal Chanukah miracle. After all, my own name is Chana Yehudis, the very names of two of the heroines of the Chanukah story.

For the first time in a year I could actually relax. An open miracle. No growth. It was gone.

For some reason, a nagging thought in the back of my mind still gnawed, but the euphoria of the moment silenced it as I fully rejoiced in my Chanukah salvation.

Unfortunately, the miracle did not last more than a couple of months, when another test showed that the growths were indeed exactly where they had been. Strange as it was for the doctor not to have seen them, the problem remained.

I remember discovering at the time, that though we make our own calculations or theories about why situations happen as they do, ultimately we are mere pawns in a greater Master Plan, that is well beyond our control or comprehension. All we can do is accept that Plan and have faith in it.

Spring was already in the air, a time usually reserved for rejuvenation and growth. I had a bouncing, adorable baby at home, but this dark cloud remained over my head. Surgery was scheduled for the summer months.

At the crack of dawn, my husband and I drove to the hospital. Waking while it was still dark, and driving through the deserted streets felt like morning before Yom Kippur, when we awake early to do the Kapparot ritual. I remember gazing at the blooming trees and contemplating how today would be my personal Day of Judgement.

My eyes brimmed with tears as I thought of my sleeping children. On each of their cherubic cheeks I had squarely planted a tender kiss as I had tiptoed into their room, earlier that morning. For their sake, dear G‑d, I prayed, make this successful.

I tried to be cheerful, but of course the mood was a solemn one. I could sense the lines of anxiety on my husband's features as he calmly reassured me that things would work out fine.

Preliminary testing had been completed and I was wheeled to the waiting room. To calm our nerves as well as to occupy us with something spiritually constructive, we began studying Torah.

The Chassidic discourse was discussing the mystical dimension of the oil used to light the Menorah in the Temple. The Torah describes it as "the oil of olives crushed to provide light." Kabbalah explains how just as the olive unleashes its oil by being crushed and squeezed, the highest levels of spiritual attainment are achieved through crushing pain and suffering.

The nurse came to wheel me into the operating room and my husband smiled at me reassuringly. I tried hard to focus on the last words he had taught me, just as the oxygen mask descended over my face and my world went blank.

I don't remember much of the blur of the next few days in the hospital. I was on painkillers and groggy most of the time. But, I do remember my immense relief in hearing that the growths that had been inside of me for so long had finally been removed. Both, thank G‑d, had been benign and, several days later, I was able to return home to my family.


Common wisdom asserts that hindsight is always a perfect 20/20 vision.

For over a year and a half, something negative, but nevertheless, benign, cast a dark shadow on my life. What should have been a joyous time of pregnancy and birth became instead a time of terrible worry, anxiety and fear, largely because I allowed it to be.

While this is, of course, easy to write in hindsight, it is also a lesson that I know I need to cultivate.

Life is full of negative experiences-things that really don't belong, and shouldn't be there to bother or upset us.

Some of these experiences are more benign than others.

But whatever the cause, and whatever the situation, how much we empower these circumstances to disturb the joy of our lives is largely our own decision. We do not control the circumstances, but our frame of mind is something that we ourselves construct.


Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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yup Texas November 29, 2014

faith oh, what hindsight does! if only we knew why we were in bad situations, then it would'nt be such a bad situation. it is no good hoping for what can't come, so we must keep praying and keeping firm faith, like you did. Reply

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