By Ilene Bloch-Levy
I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma two years ago. MM (as it is familiarly called) is cancer of the bone marrow. It is a very individual disease, and unlike other cancers has no international protocol. While there is no cure (yet) for the illness, it is eminently treatable. I am in treatment at Tel Hashomer Hospital, Tel Aviv, which, unfortunately, has become my second home. (I say unfortunately because who wants to have a hospital as your second home.)
I am an involved and engaged MM patient with the medical staff and all the associated ancillary services. I am constantly reading about the disease, receiving research abstracts and generally asking a million questions of everyone to help me better understand what is happening to me, and trying to figure out what I can do to help in the process of treating the illness. I have also been upfront and forthcoming about my illness with family and friends near and far. Yet, I recently learned a new life-skill which I hope I can translate into helping others.
My professional work is behind the scenes, so my reluctance to attend a Chanukah party-workshop at a place of employment where teams from both offices would be gathering and sharing is understandable. Attendance was mandatory, which forced me to put aside my reluctance and, instead, put on a happy face, as they say.
Hard to believe, but the main workshop, after mingling and eating time, and a D’var Torah, was floral arranging. My heart went out to the men. After all, outside of my husband who knows more about flowers than anyone I know, I couldn’t imagine what the other men would find engaging about floral arranging.
The workshop leader has three decades of experience, and bills herself as an “expert in healing and rehabilitating through the use of flowers.” It’s a mouthful, I admit. She gave us tips for arranging floral centerpieces (snipping flower ends, mixing in greens, inserting the stems in the sponge, etc.) while concomitantly integrating her knowledge of the significance of colors and the unique healing powers inherent in flowers.
I was distracted and impatient. Choosing the minimalist approach in arranging my flowers, I completed my assignment well before anyone else. No place to go, nothing else to do, I of course began to think about my illness, which is as much a part of me as any other part of my body. After all, it has insinuated itself throughout my body and lives inside of me 24/7.
After completing our floral arrangements (bravo to the men) each participant was required to randomly select a card from a deck about flowers (placed face down). Mine was an iris. Two qualities associated with the flower were listed under each photograph.
I half-heartedly listened to the others as they shared how they identified with the qualities listed on their cards, with most tying the qualities to their work experience. (Remember this was a workshop sponsored by our place of employment.) Then I looked at mine. Two words were listed. Flowing. Connectivity. It was my turn to share.
So, when the floral expert called upon me, I suddenly focused on the task at hand, cleared my voice and looked around the tables. I said that I’ve learned two of life’s seminal lessons during the past two years of my life.
One: the need to accept things as they are.
Two: the need to remain connected with those people who make a difference in my life and who are important to me.
I felt the silence around me as I finished speaking, but, I also felt a genuine desire to incorporate my life’s lessons into the other participants’ lives. These are not lessons exclusively for cancer patients. Perhaps, after all, this was my brief instructive workshop for them.
Ilene Bloch-Levy was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in March 2012. She grew up in New York and made aliyah in 1986. She has 6 married children, and her husband has 3 married children. They both enormously enjoy a gaggle of grandchildren. A freelance copywriter, Ilene lives in the Shomron. According to her, “One of the joys of working in Israel is that Israelis get the important things in life; during my treatments and hospitalization, all of my clients patiently waited for me to return to work.”
[Editor’s note: We are grateful to Ilene for sharing some of her personal experiences with the SPP community, and are confident that her thoughts will help strengthen and enlighten the readers. Her views are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of AACI’s Shira Pransky Project.]