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The Heartbreaking Loss of Life
July 09, 2018 – Shira Zwebner
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The Heartbreaking Loss of Life

How do you stay positive when surrounded by death and dying?
PUBLISHED July 09, 2018
A native New Yorker, Shira Kallus Zwebner is a communications consultant and writer living with her husband and three children in Jerusalem, Israel. Diagnosed in 2017 with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, she's fighting her cancer battle and blogging about the journey at

I didn't want to get out of bed this morning. I feel like I'm surrounded by death and dying, as the news of my cancer friends losing their battles filters through to me in my post-cancer life. This morning, I just wanted to stay in bed, pull the covers over my head and sleep.

But it's impossible. Depression for me doesn't manifest itself that way, I've never been able to just sleep away my grief.

"I want a Mommy break today," I tell my husband.

But a Mommy break means I still needed to reassure my daughter as she had an, "I hate all my clothing" meltdown while brushing her hair, applied sunscreen to my eldest while reminding her to take her cell phone and drink lots of water at camp, and held the zoo map for my son as he described in detail his camp trip to see the monkeys, flamingos and kangaroos.

By the time my husband and children left the house for the day, I was tidying up the dining room and preparing my daily vitamins. I went back into my bedroom and made our bed, washed my face and brushed my teeth and got dressed. I made my morning juice, a cocktail of celery, carrots, beets and red apples. While drinking my morning juice, I filled up my watering can and took it out to my balcony. Softly singing, I watered my lemonquat and kumquat trees, noticed the sprouting leaves of my newly planted radish and parsley, picked some ripe cherry tomatoes and emptied the watering can in to a bed of flowering zaatar and thyme.

I've found that my new routine has enabled me to not think about the past seven months of intensive chemotherapy. Fueled by wife and Mommy guilt, I've jumped back into life's responsibilities. The painters are coming tomorrow to right a palette mistake made years ago on my bedroom walls, while I've tackled decluttering my house with a vengeance. I'm back to working seven-hour days and have been plotting out healthy meal plans, weight loss strategies and daily exercise programs.

But at night, when I can't sleep, I find myself scrolling through my Instagram feed as proof that my cancer battle was real. In disbelief, I run my fingers through the course stubble on my head and trace over my PICC line scars during conference calls. Aside from mild skin irritation and lower than normal stamina, my cancer journey is like a bad dream.

I found out about the death of one cancer friend during a chance encounter on the streets of Jerusalem. My friend's chemo partner was walking with her toddler grandson and I stopped her for an update. I was shocked and saddened to discover that my cancer friend had passed away three weeks earlier. Another friend is losing his battle slowly; the man he once was is disappearing into the folds of his now oversized synagogue suit. While a third acquaintance lost his life after only three rounds of chemotherapy.

As I mourn their losses, the enormity of my own proximity to death is overwhelming. I shake my head and try to push those thoughts away so I can continue to function in my daily life. Often times, I'm gripped by such heart pounding fear of reoccurrence that I struggle to breathe.

"Stay positive," my family and friends coach and encourage.

While the power of positive thinking might help me cope with my own cancer journey, it's inadequate when dealing with the heartbreaking loss of life.


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