What I am about to share is something that I have been public about since 2017. Only because of a change in circumstances have I found the need to, once again, talk about my battle with cancer. Although Federation leadership and professional staff have been ‘in the loop,’ I felt it was time to share more widely. I have always felt that communities tend to rally in times of difficulty and crisis. I welcome your prayers, good wishes, and vibes that will, undoubtedly, help me and my family get through these trying times.
In August 2017, I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Hearing those words from the doctor devastated my family and me. Yet we were uplifted to learn – just the next day – that the tumor appeared to be localized and had not yet spread. In that moment, we went from the lowest low to one of the highest highs, marking what was one of the most traumatizing weeks of my life.
During those early difficult days, I held my wife Laura and hugged my beautiful and precious 8-month-old baby Eleanore. I was not fearless. I was not courageous. I was terrified. But I was also clear about another thing. From day one, I believed that I would survive and beat this insidious, microscopic invader.
My confidence cemented as I was met with support from loving family and friends. I felt connected to communities all over the country, spanning many decades of my life. My wife would no doubt be both my defender and my angel, caring for me while showing our daughter what real love and strength is. Eleanore would make sure I focused on the present and warmed my spirit with her smile, great sense of humor, and budding personality.
The experience reminded me of a vast and loving support system that would stand squarely with me during the subsequent months. We were flooded with hot meals, cards, prayers, good thoughts, and vibes that carried our family during treatment, which included six weeks of chemotherapy and five weeks of daily radiation at the same time. The treatment protocol ended with a rather dramatic surgical intervention after which the surgeon proclaimed I was “cancer free,” detecting no residual tumor.
Unfortunately, at a routine part of my medical follow-up just 3 months ago, the doctor detected what they were concerned was a recurrence of the cancer. The subsequent biopsy and scans confirmed that 1) it was, in fact, a recurrence of the cancer/tumor, and 2) fortunately, this stubborn tumor had once again decided NOT to spread anywhere else. Clearly, and despite all the good results from - and scans since – my treatment/surgery in the fall of 2017, a tiny microscopic swimmer must have gotten away and found a 'new home.'
Like the good patient I am, I do what the doctors say and have been going through a treatment plan that so far has included four bi-weekly infusions of chemotherapy. I will likely undergo another 4-6 weeks of chemo and radiation to get me ready for an eventual surgical intervention. We are confident in our oncology and surgical team at UCSD and know we are in good hands.
While I am an eternal optimist, this has all been very frightening. My wife, Laura, is amazing, and I am so sad that she has to, once again, shoulder this incredible burden. We are grateful that Eleanore is now in pre-school at the San Diego Jewish Academy and part of a wonderful and warm community. We are also grateful to be so close to family in LA. The Jewish Federation staff, lay leaders, and donors have already been an incredible support system to my family and me. It is worth noting that our Federation work has not missed a beat. I have wonderful colleagues, as well as dedicated board members and volunteers, who have stepped in to help as needed to and to make sure Federation’s priorities are addressed unimpeded. And fortunately, I have tolerated the treatment so far and feel strong.
While this story continues to unfold, know that we are optimistic that I can beat this once again. I'm sure you will understand if Laura and I are not responsive to the many expressions of support and concern we receive, especially as we sort through everything and fight like hell. And, hopefully, this will be the last round of fighting, once and for all!
You never know when you are going to need Federation until you do. Since this ordeal began, I have become a beneficiary of a vital Federation program – our Jewish Community Chaplaincy program. I meet with and speak regularly with our phenomenal Community Chaplain, Rabbi Ralph Dalin, who provides counseling and support to individuals during times of loss, stress, and difficulty. It is humbling to call oneself a ‘client’ in this setting, but more than that, I am so grateful to have this resource that is available not only to me, but to my wife, who has also spent time with Rabbi Dalin.
If you feel compelled or interested in following my journey, you can register here. If you are the praying type, my Hebrew name is 'Mee-Cha-El Ben Tziporah." All good wishes are welcomed and appreciated!