It was a dreary January day about 15 years ago when my sister called me. She had been at the mikveh: an old one with the thin walls where you could here everything the person in the next room said to the mikveh attendant. She told me that she overheard a woman telling the attendant, that she was 28 years old and had breast cancer. My sister, only 36 at the time, but a bit of a hypochondriac, immediately did an exam and – she found a lump. I told her not to worry – that most of the time the lump turned out to be nothing. But just a week or so later we had confirmation of that dreaded diagnosis.
I was a 27-year-old new mother with a 6-week old baby, and our lives were forever altered.
For 10 years my sister battled cancer bravely, and all during that time I could only associate the mikveh with cancer – the place where my sister diagnosed herself. It was the darkest and scariest place to me; the place I dreaded entering on a monthly basis. It symbolized the unrest and fear that had taken over our entire family. Try as I might, I couldn’t escape the association — the self-exam cards hanging in the shower didn’t help. And even though I knew it was irrational, I was angry at the mikveh. I went through the motions of tevilah in a fog of rote observance, devoid of emotional connection.
Years later – my sister had since passed away – I attended the shiva of that 28 year-old woman who had just succumbed to her disease at the age of 42. I told her sister the story – that because of her sister, my sister found her illness earlier than she otherwise would have. Treatment that was available to her, perhaps would not have been later on. I was so thankful to her sister for this “borrowed time”.
It was only later that it finally dawned on me. The mikveh didn’t rob me of my sister, the mikveh had given us extra years. What brought my sister there on the same night as this other woman? Was it coincidence? Was it fate? I can’t say for sure. But it was the mikveh that on some level enabled her to catch it at an earlier and therefore more treatable stage. The mikveh gave us the gift of time. And now as I enter the mikveh on a monthly basis, I do so with a newly found vitality.
The Eden Center has recently published Breast Health Guides to be hung in mikvaot, worldwide, in Hebrew and English. To receive a copy, email info@theEdenCenter.com