Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Four Questions

Passover begins in two months, and unfortunately since Aunt Flojo will be away, she and my dad won't be able to sing their seemingly nine-hour sequence of songs at the seder: Adir Hu, Echad Mi Yodea, L'shana Ha'ba'ah, and of course Chad Gadya (One Little Goat). I will likely be the youngest at the seder, as usual, and thus will be the one to wash my hands countless times and be expected to chant The Four Questions in Hebrew. I forgot how to chant them ten years ago and will either follow the lead of others, or mumble.

Many people diagnosed with cancer ask, "Why me?" but I didn't, and as a survivor I've found other more worthwhile and potentially scientifically explainable questions to ponder:

  1. Why does cancer metastasize in some and not others? (Personal: Why did my cancer stay localized even after waiting six months to see a doctor after my initial bout of pain?)
  2. Why do some people respond to treatment, and others don't? (Personal: Why did my tumor die and shrink after only one or two cycles?)
  3. Why does cancer stay in remission for some, but not others? (Personal: In case Cancer holds grudges against its doubters, I'll refrain.)
  4. Why do some survive and others perish? (Personal: Why am I still kicking ass and taking names?)
These answers may all be out of the realm of human knowledge, but I'm confident that if anyone can find them, it's Mr. Obama.


A few years after my diagnosis, a boy at my congregation was diagnosed with the same rare cancer. I'm guessing he's eight years younger than I am. Because I rarely went to Temple services, and generally avoided anything or anyone having to do with cancer, I couldn't point the boy out in a lineup. His family knew exactly who I was, though, and based on my experience with a different boy when I was in Minnesota for my transplant, he likely saw me as some kind of role model.

I'm sorry to say that days ago my mom told me his cancer came back in his brain. My mom was distraught and asked me what she should say to him and his family in a card. "I don't have a clue what to say. I've never written one of those before," I said.

A few years ago I was presented the same opportunity to reach out to a different person from Connecticut who was my age and had battled my same cancer for many years. The cancer reached his brain no less than five times, but he fought on. Hamburgers' family knew the cancer guy's family, and on many occasions Hamburgers asked if I wanted to write something to him. I declined. My excuse was that back when I had cancer, I didn't like getting words of encouragement from others, so why would I dish it out?

Because I was being a self-serving pussy, I failed to recognize that I usually enjoyed getting props from my peers; it was the cards and talks from people much older than me that I disliked. When Hamburgers told me the guy passed away, I felt like a fucking loser, like I could've done something. I could've told him how absurdly brave he was, and how he garnered my ultimate respect, and that there was nothing comparable to what he had been through, but at the very least he should've gotten quality time with the female celebrity of his choice, so long as it wasn't Drew Barrymore because Drew Barrymore sucks.

It's time for me to man-up and reach out to this teenager I've never met, but knows exactly who I am. I just don't have a clue what to say.