To Inspire & Be Inspired…

With a glance at my calendar I quickly compute a number of dates and times with my finely-tuned “breast cancer calculator”.  In just a week it will be my 1-year “anniversary” of the day my life changed forever. It was early last November when I walked into my OB-Gyn’s office for my yearly pilgrimage that I smugly referred to as my “healthy” check-up.  I was simply there to check the appointment off my “to do” list. My mid-wife conducted a breast exam, not so different from the self-exams I did each month, and felt a suspicious lump. This, of course, sent me rushing for a guided mammogram, ultrasound, and surgical biopsy. The good news for 90% of women is that they are told they have a “benign” mass.

For me, I was not so lucky. But I tend not to think in terms of luck, nor does it feel particularly Jewish to use this terminology. How does one grapple with words like “luck” and “blessings” – especially when those words and ideology permeate the cancer world. But as I struggled, as a rabbi with a certain life outlook to bring understanding to my diagnosis, I needed to ask – where does goodness and blessings dwell within the harsh realities of cancer?

As we know from Judaism’s most poignant plea for healing – the MiShebeirach prayer – each of us is a complete and complex whole.  As many of us have sung Debbie Friedman’s lyrics:

Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leimah
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit
And let us say, Amen.

So it was up to me to figure out the ways to aid in the healing of my “spirit” and to find a r’fuah sh’leimah– a complete and whole healing. Some ways were obvious and I returned happily to my “go to” activities that were already important to me:reading, exercise, yoga, and connecting with others on a deep and personal level.  Yet just 6 weeks ago I added another “event” that greatly impacted not only my spiritual healing, but that of my family members, who joined me and thousands of others in Central Park to form”Team Tuckman NYC” for the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Walk. I begged my plastic surgeon to let me walk as it was only a few weeks after my reconstruction exchange surgery, but something inside of me just knew that I had to be there!
Wearing black & hot pink “team” t-shirts designed by my husband, we proudly displayed the following quote on our backs –

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference” -Winston Churchill

I know somebody else who firmly embodies and lives this in her daily work with the Susan B. Komen Foundation.  Nancy Brinker, who will be honored in December with the URJ’s “Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award”at our Biennial event, fulfills this saying.  In her quest to educate women world-wide about Breast Cancer she has chosen to honor and remember her sister, Suzy, who died of this disease.  Instead of giving into despair about losing a sister and a best friend – she made the choice to be a blessing.

I have learned that one’s attitude is very much a choice.  Just this past Yom Kippur we read from the Book of Deuteronomy which lays it out straight for the Jewish People.  Life is filled with blessings and curses, but you – the Israelite community – choose life! This is the Jewish way! This is what God wants from us, therefore, we should want it and choose it for ourselves.

I am looking forward to seeing Nancy Brinker speak at the 2011 URJ Biennial. I know she is very deserving of this award and recognition, as she has personally brought light into my own life and my own healing from breast cancer. I look forward to meeting her at Biennial and having the opportunity of thanking her in person.

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Rabbi Vicki Tuckman

About Rabbi Vicki Tuckman

Rabbi Vicki Tuckman is the Rabbi and Director of Jewish Life at URJ Camp Harlam, one of the Reform Movement’s 13 overnight camps, in Kunkletown, PA. In addition, Rabbi Tuckman will begin serving as the spiritual leader for Temple Micah in Lawrenceville, N.J. in the next few months. She and her family are currently proud members of Har Sinai Congregation in Pennington, N.J.

10 Responses to “To Inspire & Be Inspired…”

  1. avatar

    Vicki, You are an inspiration to all of us. I see how you conduct your life and we all need to learn from you.

  2. avatar

    You are one amazing gal, and you look wonderful! You are so right about attitude, one has to be positive and never give up! Proud of you Vicki! Much love!

  3. avatar

    Honored to be a part of Team Tuckman.

  4. avatar

    Rabbi Tuckman continues to inspire us. Many of her followers on her CaringBridge blog have seen her tremendous strength which has helped many of us to remember to Choose Life! She shares it so simply: “That is the Jewish way!” Absolutely!
    Vicki, thanks for being so open about your journey and modeling for us how to deal with the chaos that challenges us by always choosing life.
    May you go from strength to strength.

  5. avatar

    Once again, Vicki, you continue to inspire with your words and actions
    Although we weren’t with you in body, we were there in spirit!

  6. avatar

    Amazing article, Vicki! You are an inspiration to all of us.
    -Rebecca Schwarz

  7. avatar

    Thanks for sharing your words and your journey. To quote from this past Shabbat’s parsha: Ve-heyeh b’racha – May you (continue) to be the blessing!

  8. avatar

    Dear Vicki,
    What a wonderful article. You have such a wonderful perspective on life which has been an inspiration to so many who have read your words. Your writing and positive attitude are incredible gifts which you have chosen to use so well. We love you, Janet and Howie

  9. avatar

    Love it!

  10. avatar

    Vicki, thank you for this beautiful piece sharing your struggles and journeys, with such a triumphant and honest conclusion. Honored to know you!

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