by Avigail Rock z”l
This was first published in partnership with The Layers Project Magazine.

A few months after giving birth to my fifth child, I had a conversation with a cousin whose mother had passed away from cancer. She asked me if I did a yearly checkup. I was only 38 years old at the time, and saw no reason to check. “No,” I told her, “I don’t check. I’m too young to do that.” But the conversation stayed with me, and several months later, even though I hadn’t felt anything, I decided to go see a breast surgeon.
During my visit to the doctor, he unexpectedly said that he did feel something. “It’s probably benign,” he said, “but just in case I will send you for a biopsy. Don’t worry about it.” Well, the biopsy came back malignant. The doctor called me in and said, “I’m sure this is something small and it’s nothing to worry about, but actually we need to remove a bigger sample to see what’s going on—I’m sure it’s nothing major, but just in case.”

The findings of the next tests were that unfortunately, all the layers had cancerous cells. “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,” he said, “but we need to see if there’s any lymph involvement.” To all of our dismay, there were 43 lymph nodes involved. People often don’t make it through treatment when the cancer is spread so widely in the lymph system. Now I got alarmed and immediately told the doctor “Don’t say there is nothing to worry about!!!” Instead, he explained that I was going to need to have extensive treatment and that it was worth starting as soon as possible because of the lymph involvement, which as he had explained, not everyone makes it through.

I immediately went home and told everybody to clean up the house. There is no way that they were gonna be sitting shiva for me and have everybody come into a house that is such a mess! I told everybody to start cleaning!

Soon afterward I started with treatments. There were good days and bad days, but overall, thank God, things were progressing successfully.

I was very open about my cancer and its treatment and what I was going through. Hiding it would have been worse for me. It was important to s