Looking Back // My Journey through Cancer and Beyond

As Told To Shifra Klein

It all started when my son was born. My husband and I wanted to name him after my father, z”l, who had been niftar a few years earlier, but we were hesitant because my father had been ill for a long time, his body riddled with multiple cancers.

We sent a family member who lived in Eretz Yisrael to ask Rav Chaim Kanievsky if we should name our son after him or give him an additional name.

“Add the name Refael,” Rav Chaim advised. We thought that he had misunderstood our query. We sent back a message clarifying that my father no longer needed a refuah as he was no longer alive. Should we name the baby after him if he had been sick for so many years?

Again, the answer was, “Add the name Refael.”

We consulted with our rav, who told us, “If that’s what Rav Chaim said, do it.”

Refael Shlomo gave us boundless joy, until one-and-a-half years later, when I started feeling a little out of sorts. I was constipated, losing weight and there was occasional blood in my stool.

I went to the doctor, who ran a battery of tests, all of which came back fine. But I wasn’t fine; my instincts told me otherwise. I returned to the doctor a few times, but he remained unconcerned.

I knew a thing or two about medicine, and given my symptoms, I was knowledgeable enough to request a colonoscopy. I scheduled it for after summer vacation so I could squeeze in that joyous time with my family without any sinister results hanging over my head.

The day before the exam, besides having to fast, I was given MoviPrep, an awful-tasting liquid laxative that thoroughly cleanses the intestines. This way, the gastroenterologist has a clear path. I had to stay near a bathroom the whole day because the laxative flushes out the system entirely. At one point, I noticed that the fluid I was expelling was red.

“Is that normal?” I asked the doctor the next morning with dread.

“No,” he answered, ushering me into the exam.

During the colonoscopy, he took several biopsies. Normally, one is put to sleep, but I wanted to be awake and alert to see for myself what wasn’t normal, despite the pain.

I eyed the screen suspiciously. It wasn’t necessary to be a medical genius to notice the huge blockage in my colon. The doctor couldn’t even get the camera past it.

“Let’s go back to my room,” he said somberly. “We’ll talk there.”

I was diagnosed with colon cancer. The doctor said it appeared to have been there for two years, which was around the time my baby was born. How prophetic Rav Chaim’s cryptic advice turned out to be. Apparently, I was the one who needed a great refuah.

What followed was a dizzying rundown of treatment options. I might have been across the desk from the doctor physically, but I wasn’t there; I was curled into myself, too devastated to hear more, leaving my husband to find out what would happen to his 30-year-old wife, the mother of our family.


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