Chemo and Charoset

Holidays are a source of joy but can be stressful in times of difficulty. The challenges are greater when we’re ill.

My husband Les and I aren’t very religious, but we love holidays with their traditions and food. We observe the major Jewish holidays (and a few secular ones) with family customs solidified over decades.

The week leading up to Passover is Spring Cleaning on steroids. Every corner of every inch of the house is meticulously scrubbed and shined. Non-Passover food is eaten, stored or trashed. Regular dishes and small appliances are locked away, and Passover cookware is brought out of storage.

When I can, I hire someone to help with cleaning — but my house cleaner has moved out of town, and I don’t feel like dealing with strangers. Les and I work together, but my chemo fatigue makes my participation minimal. I clean for twenty minutes, take a two-hour nap, and repeat. He does 90% of the work, and for the first time in memory, doesn’t complain.

Only the kitchen is cleaned, and not to my usual standards — but for the first time in memory, I don’t care.

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My regular diet, which is 90-95% vegan, is complicated by my chemo diet of no fresh fruits and vegetables unless cooked or peeled, and further compounded by the Passover prohibition on grains. I question how I can keep Passover and fulfill my nutritional needs during chemotherapy.

In a stroke of serendipity, less than two weeks ago the Conservative Rabbinate overturned an 800-year-old Passover ban on eating kitniyot (rice, beans and corn) for Ashkenazi Jews. The ruling couldn’t come too soon for me. My food horizons seem more palatable.

One of the items on the Seder plate is charoset, a chopped mixture representing the mortar between the bricks made by Hebrew slaves in ancient Egypt. The traditional recipe is apple, walnuts and wine. I can’t drink wine (it further erodes my messed up GI tract) so I substitute grape juice. I peel the apple, which I have never done. The charoset is boring.

Karpas, the fresh green which represents spring, can’t be eaten raw so I nuke a piece of kale. More boring.

The four cups of wine imbibed during the Seder are also substituted with grape juice.

I still can’t eat much, so the big festive meal is replaced by a bowl of matzo ball soup. Les has two bowls of soup.

My throat hurts, so the one person in this household who can carry a tune, can’t sing at all. I can’t speak much, either, so the Seder just includes highlights for lack of a willing reader.

I hide the afikomen in plain sight so the service will end sooner and I can take a nap.

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because tonight I’m one of the afflicted, one of the people I usually pray for.

I end the service with a prayer for everyone who is sick, May they be healed; for all who are hungry, May they have food; for people who are sick and have no health care, May they suffer less; and for people living in war zones and other dangerous places, May they have peace. I conclude with, And may all the assholes stop being assholes.

Les says it’s a good prayer, but the last sentence is unrealistic.

Author: MeredithLaskow

Artist, writer, and unrepentant nerd girl.

16 thoughts on “Chemo and Charoset”

  1. I love serendipity.

    Next year’s Passover will be such a joyful celebration…

    Although it comes about because of a horrific situation, your writing of this whole experience is exquisite.

  2. I think of you very often. And you won’t know that unless I write to you. So, here I am. You’ve had some very good news lately. I latch on that and am seeing you at next year’s Passover celebrations with your wine in hand … Cheers, my friend ❤️ One step at a time, they say. But it seems you have taken a bit of a leap forward right now…

  3. Les is correct but I love your optimism about ass holes.
    Life seems to change on a dime. We cruise along living our lives and then BAM something happens to remind us that we are not in control. We are fragile. Vulnerable. Our soft under bellies are exposed all the time. It’s just a matter of time before something will show us we are all going to struggle one way or another.
    My time for this kind of struggle has not found me yet. I remember Ruth and Chatty and so many others who woke up one day and found themselves saying what the hell happened? Why me? What now? I prayed. For all my friends. For their peace and strength and stubbornness in fighting against their struggles.
    I wish I could hold your hand. I wish I could sit with you and tell you everything’s going to be all right. I wish I wish i wish. You are in for the fight of yr life and you are thinking of others when you take time to share your thoughts and steps along this journey. I am so Blessed to have you as a friend. I look forward every day to read your words. You give me strength. You encourage me even though you don’t realize it. You are so brave. So beautiful. And my hero. Bless you sweet friend. Continue to fight the fight and know that we are all holding you up in our hearts. ??

    1. Dee, I gather strength and joy from the love of my friends. I’m up to a handful of these incidents in my life, and I’m past the point of “Why me?” It is what it is. We fight the best fight we can. I’m grateful for all those who fight, in words and thought and prayers, alongside me.

  4. I give you so much credit. We did nothing this year because we were moving during Passover. We weren’t buying any Passover food because we had to eat what we had so we didn’t have to pack it. First year ever.

  5. Meredith how very interesting to read of your customs during Passover. I am full of admiration that you still have the strength to follow so many of the traditions, especially with your diet.

    It also made me think how important it is that these traditions give our lives a structure, in which we are able to move within – with discipline and respect. So many young modern families forfeit religion and bringing up their children with religion. I don’t think it’s all about belief, I think it’s about these yearly traditions that bring family and people together. How lucky we are to be able to have these holidays to hold on to.

    Happy Passover, Sameach, to you, my friend and to Les.

    And as far as those assholes go…may they lose their ears and just be assholes.

    1. Traditions tie us to the past, to our families, and to the community. It’s important for each of us to choose which traditions resonate and which do not. It’s important, also, to adapt when our lives change.

      Happy belated Passover (Chag Sameach) to you 🙂

  6. Angelika, your observations about the traditions of religion[s] are right on as is your last sentence! Let’s add: may they lose they tongues also!
    Meredith, no one can say you do not try! Love you so.

  7. Meredith, I salute you as a fellow cancer survivor; I didn’t know. (I had breast cancer surgery in Sept. and radiation ending in January.)

    I didn’t even make soup or charoset this year. You went the extra mile and deserve credit, with naps.

    Refuah shlema, wishing you the end of chemo and good health, but not the end of naps.

    1. Linda, when I heard about your diagnosis, I wrote back that I was a survivor. If you don’t remember, it’s because you were under a LOT of stress. Having been through this twice, I’m all too aware of the stress that hits like a brick wall.

      Refuah shlema — I’ve been thinking about you and praying for your health. I’m glad you’re done with radiation.

      Les always makes the soup. One of our yearly traditions is to joke about the quality of his matzoh balls.

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