Karen Cortell Reisman in 2012

I’m ecstatic if I can help anyone going through a cancer journey.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month here is a re-print of a short speech I gave about overcoming the challenges of chemo … that has resonated with many.

Background

When my synagogue asked me to deliver a short sermon on Yom Kippur on finding spirituality in the oddest places, I immediately said “yes”. FYI – Yom Kippur is the Highest Holy Day in the Jewish religion. This sermonette was presented to 1000 congregants.

Sermonette

My oncology nurse, with a nasal-breathy-sweetsy voice – which is a bad combo on any day – said, “Karen, once you start chemo, you’ll be better. You’ll get into a rhythm and enter a calmer phase of your illness.”

Here’s what I wanted to say – or rather YELL –  in reply to Nurse Nasal/Breathy/Sweetsy, “Are you kidding me? Why don’t YOU sign up for chemo! You are crazy.”

Here’s what I actually said – or rather DID – just smiled, wanly. You don’t want to bite the hand that needles you.

But I felt like biting. And screaming. And cursing.

A bit of context here. At the start of 2012 I walked into a regular annual mammogram looking pretty good and feeling great. Nine months later – after one lumpectomy surgery, 16 weeks of chemotherapy, 33 radiation treatments, and 101 doctor visits – I walked out of a bad-aqua blue treatment room bald, tired and puffy.

My one-sided conversation with Nurse Nasal/Breathy/Sweetsy occurred just after my successful surgery. She chirped, “Well, if you don’t have any questions, we’ll see you next week for Round One of chemo.”

I finally spoke up – too stunned to say much. “Ummm, can I drink a spot of scotch during these 4 months of treatment?”

“No,” she responded with noticeably less breathiness.

Then I began to cry.

Do you get the picture? I was NOT happy. With her. With my situation. With the realization that I might get chemo-brain/fogginess and rival Yul Brenner for hair bragging rights.

No hair, no control over my life and no scotch. And I wasn’t feeling too spiritual either.

Then I got a letter from Rabbi Debbie Robbins. She wrote, “Dear Karen, My thoughts are with you. Here’s a prayer, called The Dew of Life, which might help you as you go through this journey. You can recite this prayer when receiving chemotherapy. It’s adapted from the Annual Prayer for Dew recited on the 1st day of Passover.”

Who knew?

“Dear G-d —  the prayer begins —

Droplets of LIFE – flow gently mending the hurt in this body.”

Oh.  —  Chemo was not droplets of doom. Chemo was droplets of LIFE.

“Dear G-d —  the prayer continued –

Droplets of BLESSINGS – come gently fetching a year of goodness.

Droplets of DEW – heal gently, softening this hard place of blessing.”

I tucked this prayer into my “Cancer – Yes I Can” Calendar of endless appointment dates and notes – and it traveled with me throughout the rest of this journey.

As instructed, I recited the Dew of Life prayer at the hospital every time I got chemo.

And I transitioned.

No longer did I think of chemo with expletives preceding it. Chemo is/was the DEW OF LIFE.

As our Service of the Heart states, any place can become a holy place.

For me, Sammons Cancer Center Baylor Hospital during chemo treatments became a holy place. This prayer – soothed, supported and strengthened my reserve.

And speaking of cursing… Nurse Nasal/Breathy/Sweetsy was right and she really was lovely. My journey did calm down during that phase and I stand here, exactly one year later, feeling great and grateful.

I conclude here with the Dew Of Life Prayer conclusion, meant for all of us as we enter into our new year:

“Dear G-d –

Droplets of Dew – come for a blessing and not a curse,

Droplets of Dew – come for life and not for death,

Droplets of Dew – come bringing plenty and not emptiness.”

Amen

Karen’s Dedication

Today’s blog is written in memory of Susan Dedmon Miller

Karen’s Request

Be proactive. Get annual mammograms, PSA tests, whatever you need to stay on this side of good health. At one point in my journey a doctor said, “You’re a poster child for mammography.” When you think about it, who wants to be a poster child for anything? But I don’t mind being a poster child for you.

* Photograph taken by Sally Baskey, my roommate at our 2012 National Speakers Association Convention, just before donning my “badass” wig (according to my daughter). Thank you, Sally, for making me pose for this pic. Just remember, I let you use the blow dryer first.  Note: this is the ONLY pic taken – sans wig or scarf –  during this journey. 

Author: Karen Cortell Reisman is Founder of Speak For Yourself® , a communication consulting firm, and the author of 2 books on how to communicate. She lives in Dallas, Texas and is grateful to have a symmetrical head.

© 2021 Karen Cortell Reisman, All rights reserved

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