Right after the sound of the Shofar ended Rabbi Marcy Greene’s Yom Kippur service on Sept. 30, 2017, she found out she had breast cancer again.
Only it wasn’t a relapse. Nine years after doctors at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center vanquished her Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer with grueling chemotherapy and Herceptin treatments, a new form of cancer had appeared in her remaining breast.
Greene’s oncologist took no chances, ordering an immediate round of chemotherapy beginning in November 2017. It proved so toxic she almost died. Doctors were forced to end treatment in January and sent her to Seven Acres in March, a skilled nursing facility, where they hoped she could recover well enough to withstand a mastectomy.
Greene lay at both M.D. Anderson and Seven Acres for months, unable to eat or even respond to visitors. Gradually she felt herself slip away.
“I reached a point where I couldn’t fight anymore,” she said. “I was too weak and I was very frightened because I was concerned about my children’s well-being, and my grandaughter’s.”
But the Rabbi in the dying mother remembered Deuteronomy.
“Like Moses, I really felt that my time was ended, and it wasn’t that I was fearful of death — I was fearful of leaving unfinished business on earth, and that was hard. But I realized, as Moses did, that I could be comfortable with the fact that my children could manage on their own, that they would rise to the occasion created by the circumstance of my death. I guess the word of advice that I have is to treasure and enjoy your children, but remember you are a role model for your family and loved ones. The greatest gift you can bequeath is to teach them to stand on their own two feet.”
With her mind at peace, Greene’s body began to inexplicably heal. By April, she was well enough for surgery. Then this:
“Afterwards, the surgeon asked me if I were a saint. I said wrong religion. But why are you asking? And he waved the test papers in front of me and asked, ‘Well, can you explain to me why you stopped chemo and you have no evidence of cancer in your body?'”
Greene will continue maintenance chemotherapy after this year’s High Holiday services end. She hopes her own name will be inscribed in the Book of Life on Sept. 19 and offers advice for those who hope their names make the book as well.
“There’s a very powerful prayer called Una Tanna Tokef,” she said. “Prayer that is very poetic but in graphic terms expresses the uncertainty with which we all live, never knowing when our time is up. There’s a very famous line about prayer, repentance and righteous actions. We’re all going to die, but if we live a life based on these three principles, the decree is somewhat mitigated because you lived a life that is meaningful and well-lived.
“You don’t want anyone to say, ‘what a waste.’ We pay rent to live on this planet with our moral and ethical actions. We can’t live on this planet indefinitely, but we can leave a good legacy behind, one that shows you made a difference in the world while you lived here.”