Six Months and Seven Weeks
Six months. That is how long it will be until my next appointment with Dr. Keyzner, my transplant doctor at Mt. Sinai. I had an appointment with her last week, four months since my previous one, and all is well. My blood work indicated that some of my blood counts are normal, a few are a bit below normal, but none are cause for concern. Again, it was good to see the nurses, doctors and others that I have gotten to know on the third floor of the Cancer Treatment Center at Mt. Sinai during the past five and a half years. One nurse showed me a video of her 11 month old daughter taking her first steps!
Seven weeks of eye drops: I finally had cataract surgery on both eyes. The world is a much brighter place now, except when I have the eye drops that need to be put in my eyes for seven weeks. I can even see my computer screen and read without glasses, but I need them for distance vision! I haven’t gone without glasses since elementary school.
Fifteen Minutes Reduced to Two and A Half Minutes – and Notes on a Lifetime
Last month I mentioned that I was going to be interviewed on a webcast. I spoke on Patient Power about how I decided to have a bone marrow transplant. It took three years and the progression of my blood cancer to bring me to that point. The webinar lasted about forty minutes and I was on about half of it, with the other half devoted to a discussion with Dr. Joachim Deeg, an expert on blood cancers, who discussed many medical issues. A few weeks later the webinar was edited and placed on Patient Power’s website. My twenty minutes or so had been reduced to about two and a half minutes. The rest contained the remarks of Dr. Deeg. Now I have personal knowledge about being left, “on the cutting room floor.” My remarks are in the beginning and the end of the webinar. If you are interested it is at
There was one remark of Dr. Deeg that I wish he had not said. He was asked about the expected life span of bone marrow transplant patients. I recall that I asked Dr. Keyzner about this about two years ago when I was doing financial planning for my retirement. How long I might expect to live would affect how I managed my investments. She said that my lifespan would probably be not as long as others my age. I Googled life span and put in my variables, white, male, nonsmoker, age and the total was, as best as I can recall, about 84 years. I left it at that. On the webinar Dr. Deeg said that bone marrow recipients could expect that their life span would be “30% shorter.” Did I need to hear that? How long will I live? I don’t know. I hope for many more years. I know it is the knowledge and skill of my doctors that has kept me alive to now. Whether my years are many or few, I hope I am able to fill them in the future as in the past, using and developing my God-given skills, and aptitudes for my family, my friends and my community. I sometimes think of the well-known story of Rabbi Meshulam Zusha of Hanipol of Anipoli (1718–1800), who said toward the end of his life, “When I get to Heaven, I will not be asked, “Why weren’t you like Moses?”, or “Why weren’t you like Abraham?” The angels will ask, “Why weren’t you like Zusha?” Did I live up to my full potential?
I have been granted skills and aptitudes encoded in my genes. I did nothing to deserve them. I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to work with them and refine them. When I decided I wanted to become a rabbi, I had the innate abilities to work with to fulfill that dream. Two and a half years ago I was given a second chance at life. I hope I use the rest of my years for my family, my friends, and in the community to inspire people with my teaching, to work against racism and prejudice with the Committee on Community Relations, and expand the reach of transplants to heal those with blood diseases working with Be The Match.
Was it really almost fifty years ago?
A friend and mentor, Rabbi Stephen Lerner, z’l, died last week. He was the installing Rabbi when I began my years at the West End Synagogue in Nashville, and attended the Gala when I was honored two and a half years ago, near the end of my rabbinic career at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel. I wrote the following to his family:
A chance meeting with Steve Lerner, z”l, may his memory be for a blessing, changed my life. In 1971, I was a volunteer draft counselor one evening a week at the Quaker Meeting House on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, advising young men about their options under the draft law. During the day I was teaching in Bedford Stuyvesant at a high school for pregnant teenagers. It was my alternative service as a conscientious objector, having been granted that status by my draft board. One evening, Steve came in to learn about draft counseling because he was about to set up such a counseling center in his congregation, the Town and Village Synagogue in Manhattan. For whatever reason, he was assigned to sit in with me. He noticed I had a copy of one of Elie Wiesel’s novels with me and we struck up a conversation. I had begun to read and study about Judaism at that time. I did not have much of a Jewish education as a child, and through my discussions with Rabbi Morris Goldfarb when I was an undergraduate at Cornell, I began to learn more. Steve soon became a friend and mentor to me. He suggested books for me to read about Judaism. When I told him that I had forgotten how to read Hebrew, he taught me. He was very generous with his time, meeting with me on Sunday mornings at his synagogue. We studied Torah together. I recall that on the day after Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z’l died, Steve put a stack of Heschel’s books on his desk and spoke of what Heschel had taught him. One day when we were talking on 14th Street, and I was wondering what I would do after I finished my two years of alternative service, he suggested that I pursue my interest in Judaism by studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the main educational institution for Conservative Judaism. It seemed very unlikely to me given my lack of knowledge and observance at that time, but as they say “the rest is history.” He saw a potential in me. I also learned from Steve about working with potential Jews by Choice. He converted 1,800 people to Judaism during his career and allowed me to tutor some them when I was a rabbinical student. During this last year when we spoke we kept hoping to meet for lunch one day. That will have to wait for olam haba, the world to come. Sometimes you search for the right teacher and sometimes the right teacher finds you. I was so fortunate that my meeting with Steve happened some fifty years ago. I will miss him greatly.