Life & Culture

I feel blessed for all the thoughts which poured in after sharing my cancer news

Thoughts and prayers poured into my inbox when I shared I had breast cancer - and they make me feel very blessed


The “thoughts and prayers”— mostly “prayers” — began pouring into my Messenger and inbox from around the world almost as soon I shared the news that I have breast cancer.

To be fair, I was clearly fishing for them. Putting my announcement on social media, I added a hashtag: #KerenEstherChanaBatRuchelPesia. Those who know, know.

“I am praying, three times a day, for you,” wrote a colleague from Israel. “May Hashem watch over and protect you and you should have a full and speedy recovery, Refuah Shlemah,” wrote a man in Canada I haven’t seen since high school.

“Will add a misheberach,” said an American friend from my year abroad, “and I believe you will fully recover.”

Another American friend — our kids went to school together in first grade — said she added me to the list of people she prayed for every week when making the bracha for baking challah.

I could, of course, also pray for myself. I could go to shul, where I have been known to find comfort in the ritualistic mouthing of memorised words, the sounds of familiar tunes, the swaying of my body to and fro.

I even take enjoyment in the mechitzah, which sees all my kids on the other side of it (they are all boys, and we belong to an Orthodox synagogue, so shul time is also “me time”).

I could also, apparently, ask for divine help from my own home. My rebbetzin sent me the link for “Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch.” “Ohel” literally means tent, but in this case, it’s the “resting place” of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994.

It turns out you can send a letter, online, to the rebbe’s grave. “I’ve heard it gets good results,” she said.

But I don’t go to shul, and I haven’t written the rebbe, z”l, and I don’t pray. Not really. Not unless you count my cycling as hard I could and shouting into the wind “Don’t let it spread!
Don’t let it spread! Don’t let it spread!” the day I read that Beverly Hills, 90210 star Shannen Doherty’s breast cancer had metastasized to her brain—a death sentence, for all intents and purposes.

Still, I take pleasure in other people’s prayers. And don’t think it’s just Jews who’ve had my back, theistically. On hearing my news my nominally Zoroastrian PhD adviser wrote to say that he was not a praying person, but his sister, who was, would have prayers said for me at a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu.

The Muslim women in my Nisa-Nashim Jewish-Muslim women’s book group promised to put in a good word for me with Allah.

A lapsed Catholic friend dropped by to tell me that she commissioned a spell on my behalf from a local witch. “We assumed that prayers would focus on your general health and wellbeing,” she added, “so we concentrated on your libido, beauty, and peace.”

I find faith moving. When my dad, who also had cancer (in his seventies, lehavdil), woke up after his surgery, I sat at his bedside and cried.

I cried because the doctors had removed his bladder and prostate, because he had cancer in his lymph nodes, because I didn’t know how much longer I’d have him with us.

He seemed confused by my tears, and I wondered, at first, if he realised what had happened to him. Then I saw that his confusion came from my sadness. “Don’t cry for me,” he said. “I’ll be fine. God is my friend.”

That was my dad. Every morning he bound his arm and forehead with tefillin and prayed to the God who was his friend. He was no perfect Jew, yet he truly and really believed.

I’ve never had my dad’s faith. And there are moments when I’ve felt its absence—like, when I got pregnant for the first time, and I experienced a deep sense of gratefulness, and also when Brenda (Shannen Doherty) made me face my mortality.

I was diagnosed with cancer in the weeks after David Baddiel’s The God Desire hit the stands, making me immediately wonder if I, like Baddiel, was a “reluctant atheist” who found the notion of desiring God a bit like, as he wrote in the pages of the JC, “wanting to win the lottery, or have sex with Scarlett Johansson”. (To be honest, though, she’s not top of my fantasy list.).

But in the end, I realised that my own reticence when it comes to praying allows me to say yes to everyone else’s prayers—Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, witchy.

Bring ‘em on! Because those prayers, wherever they’re directed, are the expressions of love and support of so many people, all over, and that makes me feel very blessed indeed.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive