Many blessings

By Cantor Joyce Dumtschin

As many of you know from an article in The Observer that was published about a year ago, last September I underwent a stem-cell transplant. I had been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow cancer, in November 2009.

By the end of last summer, a transplant was seen as the best treatment option. I spent five weeks at the James Cancer Hospital at OSU in Columbus, and Irwin and I spent another two months living in student housing so we would be close to the hospital.

Unfortunately, the transplant was not successful. In addition, about 30 percent of MDS cases progress to acute myeloid leukemia, and I’m in that 30 percent. Treatment at this time consists of “managing symptoms,” which means regular blood counts and transfusions of red blood cells and platelets as needed. I’ve told my doctors that I don’t want to hear about a timeline, and that I only pay attention to the numbers that I like.

In speaking with congregants over the years who have lost a loved one to a long-term illness, I’ve observed several things. On the one hand, it is painful to see a person get sicker over time and it may be hard to remember that person as he or she once was. On the other hand, there is plenty of time to plan, to share memories, and to express emotions that might remain unspoken when death comes suddenly.

I’m not planning on dying anytime soon (not on my schedule), but now that I’m the one with the extended illness, I see something else. I hesitate to call cancer a “gift,” yet in a way it has brought me many blessings. High on that list is the caring and support of the Dayton Jewish community.

You have sent cards, made phone calls, left voice messages, and sent email — not always answered personally, but I’ve kept them all. You have provided meals for both me and my family; I have been continually impressed with the variety of chicken soup, chili, and brownie recipes.

You have posted messages on my CaringBridge site and emailed me jokes and funny YouTube links. You have been “walking buddies” and driven me to and from the hospital for transfusions. You have sung with me and prayed with me and mentioned me on your Mi Shebeirach lists. You have given me much-needed hugs, both real and “virtual,” and an impressive collection of hats, scarves, and pajamas.

Some of you made the trip to Columbus, donned surgical masks, and visited when my physical condition was rather precarious. Others stayed overnight with me so that Irwin could take a much-needed break. Some of these gestures have come from close friends, and others from people I barely know. I have been touched by them all, sometimes overwhelmed, and for these, I thank you.

The Talmud says, “Do not separate yourself from the community.” I’ve been lucky to be able to continue many of my daily activities; my main limitation is that I have to either stay away from crowds or wear a face mask when my immune system is down.

I have about 2 inches of thin, wispy “chemo hair,” wear special contact lenses instead of my usual glasses to protect my eyes from Graft vs. Host Disease (a transplant side effect), and look slightly different due to weight loss and medications. So you might not recognize me right away. But thanks to you, I continue to remain part of the community and hope to remain so for a long time.

May we all go from strength to strength.

Joyce Dumtschin served as cantor of Temple Beth Or from 1998 to 2011.

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