A few days before Yom Kippur this year, I swallowed my tamoxifen pill, the last in the bottle, and tossed that bottle into my recycling bin. Tamoxifen is the most commonly prescribed medication for women who have had estrogen receptive breast cancer. When I started taking this daily pill in September 2009, following 7 months of treatment including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, it was commonly prescribed for women for five years following a diagnosis. That protocol changed; I was prescribed tamoxifen for ten years.
Ending the decade long morning ritual of swallowing that pill, full of its benefits and potential side effects, just before Yom Kippur was a meaningful reminder to me to not take for granted that I get to wake up each day in a healthy body. The gift of stretching under the covers, finding my shoes, rubbing my yellow lab Hank’s tummy, peeing, grabbing a sweatshirt, taking Hank out to do his business, making coffee, opening my computer. I’m here to do all of that and face what the day brings because when I felt a lump under my arm ten years ago, I went to the doctor and was fortunate to emerge from treatment with a great prognosis. As a friend said at the time, “You’d be more likely to get run over by a Septa bus than die from breast cancer.” It was, and remains, a comforting thought.
Which brings us to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jewish people, thought of generally as our most somber day, when we repent communally for what we’ve done wrong in the previous year. We chant communal confessions, fast from eating and drink, call out to God, Avinu Malkenu, to forgive us, make promises that we’ll do better in the coming year. We hear the decree: some will live, some will die. Death is the great equalizer; we chant this knowing that there is no guarantee that we’ll be here, in the same seats, at this time next year.
In the Reconstructionist synagogue where I pray, services look somewhat different from a traditional Yom Kippur; participants have an opportunity to write a personal confessional before services and they are read, anonymously, from the bima during services. While some Jews beat their chests with a small fist, our leaders show us how to touch our hearts and feel it opening as we pray. I lead services for children and focus on how we can be helpful instead of hurtful; I tell the story of…