I met Marina in a women’s dancing class.

We shared similar backgrounds. Marina was born in Moscow, and when she was 13 years old, her mother, Irina, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Irina passed away four years later when Marina was just 17.

Marina was deeply influenced by her mother’s illness, feeling her own mortality and worrying about a possible genetic predisposition towards the illness that took her mother’s life.

Marina married at 19 and three years later moved to the United States. Soon after immigrating to Philadelphia, she had a baby girl, whom she named Irena after her mother.

Life was challenging for my friend. Marina became a single mother when her daughter was just 4 years old, and a year later, little Irena was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. For years, Marina dedicated her every moment to helping her daughter navigate her formative years.

As Irena became more independent, Marina rebuilt her life and excelled in a career with a prominent pharmaceutical company. Just as life seemed to become stable, at the age of 46, Marina went for a regular checkup and was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

Marina called me right away to share her news.

During our conversation, Marina explained that all her tests were now pending results and that there was nothing else to do but to wait. Perhaps this was the most difficult of all tasks: to wait. I understood my friend’s agony.

She knew that I would understand her yearning to pray. In her moment of darkness, Marina was feeling a deep connection to her heritage. I suggested that we make a trip to the Ohel in Queens, N.Y., the Rebbe’s resting place.

I have gone to the Ohel many times in the past during the most challenging moments in my own life. This was the place where I allowed myself to be most vulnerable, allowing tears to freely roll down my face in deep prayer and contemplation.

Praying at the graves of the righteous has been a Jewish custom all throughout the ages. The Talmud teaches that Caleb, one of the spies sent to inspect the Holy Land, left the rest of the slanderous group to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. He prostrated himself before the cave in prayer, “My fathers, plead for mercy for me that I be saved from the evil designs of the spies” (Sotah 34b). In the merit of the righteous, whose grave is being visited, the dead ask for mercy for us in Heaven (Ta’anit 16a).

As we were driving to New York’s Old Montefiore Cemetery, Marina and I spoke about the Rebbe’s unconditional love, his teaching of Torah values and his unimaginable determination in the face of challenges, both personal and generational.

When we finally arrived at the Ohel, we saw people from all walks of life reading Psalms and praying. The Rebbe’s resting place that he shares with his father-in-law—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe—became a space where people from all types of backgrounds beseech G‑d for salvation and mercy.

Marina recalls: “It was terrifying to be diagnosed with the same illness that took my mother’s life.

“At the Ohel, I lit a candle, placed a handwritten note on the grave of the Rebbe, and spent time reading Psalms and simply crying in prayer for my life.

“I will never forget that evening. It is an indescribable gift to have a place to come to when you are in desperate need to be heard. And I know I’ve been heard!

“When we were done, I felt both joy and hope, as well as a deep understanding that the world has a Creator who runs it in accordance to His plan. My visit to the Ohel gave me the resilience to go on, fighting for my life and strength to overcome fear, panic and pain.”

That evening, before leaving the Ohel, Marina decided that regardless of the difficult road ahead, she would fight for her life with every fiber of her strength. Marina and I also committed to returning to the Rebbe’s Ohel a year after this visit. We pledged that our second trip would be a celebration of Marina’s victory over her illness.

Until then, Marina made a promise to herself that she would remain positive about her future and not succumb to fear. Her commitment to keep an optimistic mindset was something that the Rebbe was very passionate about.

The Rebbe was even sensitive to the effects of one’s choice of words. For example, he refused to use the word “deadline,” which warns of “death,” and spoke instead of a “due date,” which has an association of birth and the creation of new life. When he was asked about a hospital in Israel, the Rebbe insisted that the hospital change its name from the common Hebrew term “place of ill” to “place of healing.” The Rebbe knew that this seemingly subtle change of expression makes a tremendous difference.

In the months that followed our Ohel visit, Marina had aggressive treatment that included chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and hormonal therapy. She lived through that challenging year as a true warrior, staying true to her commitment to think positively and have faith in the best possible outcome.

As she explains, “Eventually, that very difficult year came to an end. As promised, I was ready to make my gratitude trip to the Rebbe.

“During my most grueling procedures, I reminded myself that I promised I would return to the Ohel. I am grateful beyond words that I was able to fulfill this promise.

“Just like the first time, Sofya and I drove to the Rebbe’s Ohel. I was overwhelmed by emotions of gratitude. We once again lit the candles and were immersed in prayers.

“In my heart, I felt the Rebbe’s love and that fueled me with a commitment to embrace each day with renewed positivity and meaning.

“I cherish those two Ohel visits: the one before I knew what lay ahead and the one after, when I was given another chance at life.

“I left the Ohel with a warm feeling of the Rebbe’s support during a very challenging year. I am grateful to be alive.”

About 10 years before her visit, Marina received a Jewish name, Rochel Brocha. She chose the name Rochel after our matriarch who was known for her selflessness, unconditional love and unwavering faith. My friend, Rochel, is an example of inner strength. She lives her life with gratitude, seeking out opportunities to do good, to make life better for others and to transform the world into a more wholesome environment.

Marina’s journey reminds me that life is the greatest opportunity granted to us.