Many decades ago, I was taught in grade school by a very British English teacher that it was “good form” to have an interesting title that would catch the attention of potential readers. Today, this would be called “clickbait.”
At first, I thought I would entitle my article “I Had Cancer Three Times.” I myself would certainly be intrigued to read about someone having lived through that and being able to share her journey.
But it sounded too clinical, too dry, and I wanted a title that would convey how it had affected me. That’s how I came up with the title I decided to use, as the experience really was a chazakah for me. Not only was I strengthened emotionally and spiritually, but I incorporated a word that’s associated with the number three! A catchy title indeed!
Why be open and share the fact that I had a disease that many people won’t even say out loud, calling it yene machlah or some other euphemism? It’s simple: Hashem has given me an incredible opportunity to turn my medical lemons into other people’s lemonade, and to impart what I feel is life-saving advice to the klal.
Two very necessary actions that can make the difference between living or dying from this nefarious disease—which will statistically surface in 44 out of 100 people, almost one out of two—is to get timely tests like mammograms and colonoscopies, as well as yearly physical exams that include bloodwork, even if you feel fine. Especially if you feel fine. As the (modified) expression goes, “The early bird catches the cancer worm.”
If the results aren’t what you hoped for, try to get two or even three opinions regarding treatment protocols. Whenever I visited Eretz Yisrael, I would ask four Israelis for directions, and if two out of the four agreed, I was likely on the right path. The same applies to medicine.
The three times I was informed that I had cancer were puzzling. I had absolutely no symptoms, unexplained fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches or stomach issues. Could the tests be false positives? Unfortunately, the answer was no.
I was 39 when I was unexpectedly told I had thyroid cancer. Typical symptoms are difficulty swallowing, changes in the voice, or a visible lump or nodule in the neck.
Most people react to this kind of news with disbelief. And then anger. “Why me?” But at some point I told myself, “Why not me?” If I had won a big lottery, would I have complained? What made me so special that I deserved to be spared? I didn’t have less value than anyone else, but I didn’t have more either.