Cancer Patient Who Beat the Odds Confronts the Prospect of Returning to Dust

When the author was young, she thought it was terribly depressing to be a transitory being. After she grew up and fell ill, she understood that the secret of a meaningful existence lies in a consciousness of dust.

Hani Weinroth
Hani Weinroth.
Hani Weinroth.Credit: Kobi Kalmanovitz
Hani Weinroth

Glad to meet you, my name is Hani. I’m 33, married to Dov Weinroth, and mother of Shira, 11; Shlomo, 10; and Naomi, 8. I lead a pretty normal life day-to-day, am dealing pretty well with having a job, at the expense of the children, children at the expense of a spousal relationship, Sunday migraines and a surplus of a few kilos from last fall’s holiday season.

Besides all the regular stuff, I’m a dosit – a religiously observant woman – from Bnei Brak. Not that that’s relevant, but maybe I’ll elaborate on it another time, if the opportunity comes up. Apropos “if the opportunity comes up,” with the emphasis on “if,” I also have cancer. I know that now, with the word “cancer,” I’ve grabbed your attention, but believe me, cancer is not in the least bit interesting.

To get you up to speed, I’ll say that when I was diagnosed with a progressive disease, the prognosis was six months to two years. Six years have passed since then, packed with everything good, vacations, end-of-school-year parties, holidays, birthdays. And chemotherapy – biological, hormonal and all the rest of it.

When I was a little girl, my father asked whether by chance I had some change to give him. I gave him five shekels from my savings fund. The next day I went to him and said, “Daddy, you owe me five shekels.” He looked at me from head to toe, fixed his gaze on me and said, “I don’t owe you anything, daughter of mine,” and handed me a 10-shekel bill (regards from Golda).

That’s how I grew up. Knowing that my father didn’t owe me anything. Not Dad, not life, not the children I raised and not the body that serves as a home for my spirit. Every Golda that happened to fall into my hands, I felt like it was a windfall. Today even more, I feel like a person who cheated in the game and got another round.

The last time I saw my doctor, I told him that we were celebrating Shira’s bat mitzvah in October 2015, and he was alert enough to ask the right question: How is it and why is it that we were celebrating a bat mitzvah at the age of 11. (Girls in Israel usually celebrate their bat mitzvah at age 12.) I said to him, “Doctor, I don’t know whether I will be alive in another year.” He smiled at me and said, “A year is possible. When you celebrate the original date, invite me, too.”

And I, fool that I am, asked, “Doctor, will you also come to Shlomo’s bar mitzvah?” The impressive physician put down his pen, stared at a point on the ceiling and started to count on his fingers and mumble to himself. I heard fragments of words, and my heart pounded dangerously. My husband and I fell into a terrified silence, and after a minute that felt like an eternity the doctor sighed, looked at me apologetically and said, “Listen, this isn’t pleasant, but I don’t think so. I can’t promise you that I will be alive in another three years.” After that I added his name to my prayers.

Speaking of prayers, at Rosh Hashanah we recite, with fear and trembling: “Man’s origin is dust and he returns to the dust. He obtains his bread by the peril of his life; he is like a fragile potsherd, as the grass that withers, as the flower that fades, as a fleeting shadow, as a passing cloud, as the wind that blows, as the floating dust and as a dream that vanishes.” (Translation of “Unetaneh Tokef” prayer by Morris Silverman, from his High Holiday Prayer Book, 1939).

When I was young, I thought it was terribly depressing to be just dust. If I am like dust, what value is there to my loves, to my dreams, my fears, to the poems I wrote?

There was a period in which the knowledge that, from the perspective of time I am a transitory being took away the point of living. Afterward, I grew up and became ill – or, more accurately, I became ill and grew up – and I understood that the secret of a meaningful existence, of a life infused with eternity, is a consciousness of dust.

When you understand that you are a fleck of dust you don’t kill people just because they don’t agree with you, you don’t even mock or insult them. When you live with a consciousness of dust, you do not judge, do not condescend and do not expect that only what you want will happen. When you live with a consciousness of dust, you understand that everyone here is a guest for a short time, that in a twinkling we will no longer be, and that what remains is all the rest. The rest includes fulfillment and love and happiness and creativity and prayer and friendship, and that is sufficient and satisfying.

A good, healthy, long life to everyone.

Hani Weinroth is a parent facilitator and a developer of psychoeducational programs at the Hosen Resilience Center, in Ramat Chen.