Burning the Cancer Shirts this Passover

close up of bonfire flames with orange sparks flying in the air against black background

In August 2022, at the age of 44, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma.  A double mastectomy, three corrective surgeries, and 30 rounds of radiation later, I’m nearing the finish line in my treatment plan, which will ultimately take nine full months to complete. This week I met with my breast surgeon for a six-month follow-up visit. While her role in removing my cancer was substantial, her role was over on what became my day 1. The visit went well and she declared me healthy, though it’s still difficult to think of myself as being cancer-free. During my radiation treatments I cut large holes in a handful of shirts to allow my armpits to breathe during the most painful parts of treatment. Though they brought me comfort at the time, I knew I could never wear them again. But simply throwing them out didn’t feel like an appropriate response to what I’d been through. So this morning, instead of burning bread for the ritual of biyur hametz, I set fire to what I call my “radiation shirts.” The tradition of burning the bread symbolizes that we’re getting rid of every last bit. And just like we say a prayer for the bread we burn, I said a prayer declaring my house free of cancer, for today, and hopefully for forever.

“All cancer or anything cancer related which is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

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