Pinktober Guest Post: Aliza Bat-Ami

Pink-to-ber A portmanteau coinage used by many people who live with breast cancer to refer to October, the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is heavily dominated by marketing in the color pink and cute tags like “Save the tatas”. (See Komen, etc.)

During the month of October 2013, I am running guest posts from people with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) or who are closely involved with someone who has MBC. This was the idea of the wonderful Jody Schoger, and I think some other breast cancer bloggers are participating, too.

Today’s post is by my very dear friend Aliza Bat-Ami. This is her third guest post on the blog. You may remember in particular her account of going to the hospital to be with me for my mastectomy, almost ten years ago. Aliza had another close friend with metastatic breast cancer. Aliza is brutally honest about her experience as a fearless friend, or as she prefers to say, “a friend-alongside”. Please give her lots of comment love: she, and all our friends-alongside, deserve medals!

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Like most people the number of people that I know more or less closely who have cancer – mostly breast cancer – is ever increasing. If one has no familial responsibility to the patient, then the natural reaction is to be sympathetic from afar, in fact from as far as possible.  Every time I heard of another diagnosis I have a strong feeling of “there but for the grace of God, go I” – and feel guilt at my relief at each clear mammography.

However things changed when a dear friend, Nina, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

Nina came from a culture totally different from my proactive Western individualism. She was raised to value stoicism and conformity and not to question authority. She was  thus the most compliant patient any doctor could wish for.  Far from being proactive and seeking out the “best” treatments, she determined right at the start to trust God and her doctors. What they said, she did.

At first I just took an interest in her progress not exactly from afar, but not at any cost to myself.   The moment that I was suddenly irrevocably involved was the day when I discovered that her husband, from the same stoic background as herself, was driving her to oncology clinic, leaving her there alone and picking her up four hours late. Neither Nina nor her husband thought this odd but when I heard this I was struck to the heart. (In our language we say that “my heart was pinched” – very descriptive and accurate.)  I couldn’t help it – I was now involved. I didn’t know what I was getting into, just that I had to do what I could.  I started to accompany her to all her treatments, arranging my work so I could do so.

For three and a half years a large part of my life was being with her and her family. It wasn’t only chemo and radiotherapy. We also managed (albeit increasingly small) celebrations of life – driving out to see spring flowers, watching sun-sets, walking by the sea.

Time went by and we observed the decline and disappearance of many of Nina’s fellow patients.  Her reserves of patience and strength waned. Both of us were getting very tired and depressed as the bad days began to outnumber the better days. Only the impossibility of retreating at this stage kept me going – Nina had no choice.

Then came the beginning of the end. I was present at the first visit of the home hospice team when the social worker asked Nina what she felt about the fact that there was no more treatment. Nina replied “Joy”. That reply certainly stopped the conversation!    I was thunderstruck as I finally realized that the end of our journey together was imminent and felt a terrible guilty relief at the thought.

The last three months were in fact mostly as pleasant as could be hoped for – Nina was pain free, if increasingly sleepy. She was never alone and eventually died in her own bed with her family around her. I held her hand as the pulse ceased, and I was glad that she was finally without pain.

At her funeral I thought again – it is over, now I can rest. I missed her and grieved but I had several sources of comfort. Nina had shown me so much about how to live and we had the hope and real comfort of our faith in God. A totally unexpected and unanticipated gift was becoming “in-loco-grandparentis” for some of her grandchildren (especially sweet as I have none of my own.)

Now again I have another good friend with advanced metastatic cancer. My first thought when I heard the news of her cancer was selfishly “not again! I can’t take it”, but then my heart was “pinched” again and there is no turning back. This journey is quite different, with vast differences in character and circumstances, and there are always new lessons to be learnt, as I wrote in a previous posting.

Being a “friend-alongside” of a person with cancer is most definitely not something I chose for myself, but looking back I know that I received so much more than I gave in this journey.

10 thoughts on “Pinktober Guest Post: Aliza Bat-Ami

  1. I read your words through tears, you are a beautiful human being and I want to thank you for speaking so honestly about your thoughts. I do not believe that your initial inner response to another friend living with MBC was selfish. I believe our first instinct is that of self preservation. You continually break free of your own instinctive protectiveness to lay your heart out for your friends. Truly remarkable, you are. Thank you for sharing your story, I am living with MBC, you help me understand some of the things I take in surrounding my own circle. Friend-alongside is so very fitting.

  2. I had stage IIB cancer but, I find myself entrenched with those who have Stage IV, maybe because my mother recently died of metastatic breast cancer or potentially because I know how easily I can become part of this group. I find my interest razor sharp around their emotions. Often I question this but, find myself gravitating toward this regardless of those I meet who are affected. Don’t really know what to make of it, maybe it’s about how we view the disease and I draw closer correlations, not sure.

  3. dear aliza,

    thank you so much for telling your story – one of such compassion and empathy that truly has touched my heart. I believe that loving hearts know other loving hearts, and that somehow the universe helps us find one another. the gifts, both given and those received are all entrenched in love. their richness and the ripple effect they produce speaks to the most lofty aims of humanity – a friend-alongside, so beautiful.

    I am so very sorry for the loss of such precious friends I know you treasured. being able to enter the circle of life vs. death and be another’s champion, pay witness to their suffering, and do what one is able to in order to ease their way is not always easy. but as I read your touching and heroic account of the things you have learned, the gifts that have been rendered from each experience, it all seems so meant-to-be. I wish you continued fulfillment and hope that you do all you are able to be good to yourself – it should all come back to you a thousand-fold. I sometimes think we are so lucky that angels walk among us, and what a blessing it is that we can be angels, too. Enjoy those wonderful grandchildren!

    much love and light,

    Karen, TC

  4. Aliza,

    I am very moved by your love and friendship. To allow your heart to be pinched without bursting is one of the most courageous acts, the act of compassion under sad and painful circumstances. And you have done so while being aware of the shades of gray. The situation isn’t all good or all bad. There is light and dark in nearly all things.

    Thanks so much for sharing with us,

    Elizabeth

  5. What a ministry Aliza has – to love and comfort! I tmay have been almost ‘by default’ the she found it, but it is a vital one, and would be so treasured by those she walks alongside.
    Blessings and prayers
    Maxine

  6. Dearest Aliza,

    Your sense of unconditional love is immeasurable. I was honored to read your words. How blessed Nina was to have such an unwavering friend. In my religion we call what you did for Nina and your other friend/s, a mitzvah. A selfless act of kindness without regard to self. It was also a mitzvah to hold Nina’s hand while she was called home to Hashem. Not many people have a special person in their life during a crisis moment or time period. Maybe, I believe, this is the gift Hashem has given to you.

    May many more of G-ds blessings and gifts be bestowed upon you, Aliza.

    Best Lisa
    Caregiver to my beloved, Bill – stage IV breast cancer, there is blue in that dreaded sea of pink.

  7. Some of my most amazing caregivers over this long haul have been people I barely knew before? they are as busy, if not more, than anyone else. But they are called to be there and all I can say is, thank god, because they (aka YOU) make the path more manageable for me!
    Xo
    warmly, marcy
    http://livinglydying.com/

  8. Aliza

    Your post is well spoken and eloquent, but raw in the power it conveys.

    I know you have experienced this first hand, because I have too. Once, with my mother, who thank God is in remission and remarried and happy and well. The other with a very dear friend who has taught me much more about life and living than most anyone I’ve ever known.

    Thank you for sharing and for doing the very hard work of giving to those who need it most.

    Greg

  9. Aliza,
    It is obviously a gift you have. The love and compassion you showed Nina as you walked beside her in her journey was very moving and touching. I had to chuckle when you said “oh not again.” but that each journey is different with different circumstances.Thank you for love you show.

  10. Aliza,
    I cried as I read this. May God bless and reward you for your compassion, for being there. In Proverbs it says, “but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” You are that kind of friend.

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