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|Every year when we sit down to write this letter and ask you to support us in the Jimmy Fund Walk, it is a challenging process. It is difficult to look back and relive some of the worst and most defining moments in our lives. This year, writing this letter is particularly difficult. When we reflect on what we have experienced as a family over this past year, and the role Dana Farber played in that saga, we are overcome with many feelings, but mostly - gratitude.|
As most of you know, around this time last year, Tova was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. She was 31 weeks pregnant with our fourth son at the time. We couldn’t stop thinking to ourselves that this must be a really bad joke, and for two people who don’t particularly relish drama, our lives were turning into a bad soap opera. Everything moved very quickly, and we immediately knew that she needed to be treated at Dana Farber. Dani contacted Dr. Wen, his neuro-oncologist whom he has written about so highly in previous years, and explained the situation. Dr. Wen immediately responded, referring us to Dr. Ann LaCasce, whom he spoke the world of. He was not exaggerating.
Needless to say, while the presentation of Tova’s cancer was not particularly irregular, the circumstances surrounding it - Tova’s pregnancy - were. The high volume of patients that are seen at Dana Farber, and the fact that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is not an atypical cancer for patients to get in their 20s and 30s (their childbearing years), meant that Tova’s oncologist had previously treated a number of pregnant patients, and had worked closely with high-risk OB specialists in this field. As we quickly learned, an unfortunate reality for women who are diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy is that they are chronically undertreated, often by physicians who do not have expertise or experience treating patients who are pregnant, and this lack of knowledge can lead to detrimental effects for patients. Having a world-class team help us weigh our options (none of them ideal) and lend their expertise is one of our greatest blessings.
Thus began a whirlwind of testing, doctor’s appointments, regular ultrasounds, decisions, and the onset of chemotherapy. A careful balance had to be struck between managing Tova’s cancer, her symptoms, her side effects from the treatment, the baby’s delivery via cesarean section, and of course, the health and safety of our unborn child. This took tireless collaboration between Tova’s oncologist, the high risk OB, her regular OB, the neonatal team and the anesthesiologists, and Tova’s team at Dana Farber excelled at managing this complicated situation.
Showing up at Dana Farber for chemotherapy while pregnant was kind of an odd sight, but the team at Dana Farber, from the valet drivers to the nurses, create the most kind and healing environment, and do whatever they can to make you comfortable. Nothing about chemo is fun, no matter how much “Curb Your Enthusiasm” you watch during infusions, but kindness and sensitivity permeate that special place. There is truly no place like it.
Delivery day came and with it, a lot of mixed emotions. A real concern was that Tova would go into labor prior to her c-section date, which would have been dangerous for both Tova and the baby, and would have impacted her treatment schedule. It was a delicate task to schedule the delivery at a time when Tova’s blood counts were at their highest while still giving the baby enough time in the oven. In addition, the impact of some of the chemotherapy drugs on her heart and lungs made undergoing a surgical procedure with anesthesia quite risky. At the last minute, her team decided that she should deliver in the cardiac operating room with an entire cardiac surgical team, and a running bypass machine, on stand-by in the OR. We were so anxious and fearful for the risks to Tova, and the health of our baby, that nothing could have prepared us for the complete joy of giving birth to a beautiful, healthy baby. He looked perfect and took the ride back up to the labor and delivery floor from the bowels of the Brigham skin-to-skin with his mother.
Having a healthy child during this dark and fearful period in our lives gave us the purest form of joy and gratitude we have ever experienced. The love and hope we felt just wiped away so much uncertainty and anxiety. Tova had chemo on a Friday, delivered the baby the following Tuesday, had a porto-cath placed in her chest on Thursday, came home late Saturday night, celebrated Yakir’s bris on Tuesday, and had a PET scan, a lung test, and another round of chemo that Friday. It was an overwhelming two weeks and thankfully, she was able to deliver without delaying her chemo treatment, which was very important to her team at Dana Farber. We named our son Yakir Yeshaya Yitzchak, to reflect how precious he is to us, and the prayer that his arrival would bring with it salvation.
While Tova’s pregnancy might have masked some of her symptoms, it also kept her blood counts elevated and shielded her from some of the difficult side effects of chemotherapy. After Yakir’s birth, she endured four more months of chemotherapy while caring for a newborn and our three older sons. We always knew how fortunate we were to live in such an amazing community in Newton, to work with great people, and to have the most supportive family and friends around us, and when we received this life changing news, we knew we had many people to rely on. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the outpouring of love and support we received from everyone. Both of our employers went above and beyond for us - sending meals, gifts, cards, support, and most importantly, flexibility, so that Dani was able to be at every doctor’s appointment and chemo infusion, and that Tova was able to decide when she was ready to go back to work without any pressure or time constraints. Our families put their lives on hold for us and made themselves completely present - both physically and emotionally - to support us and our kids and to create some stability for them when their lives were otherwise chaotic. Our friends couldn’t do enough for us. They fed us for six months, dropped off gifts, flowers and care packages, had our kids over for endless playdates and outings, checked in constantly and would have moved the world for us if they could. Words just can’t express the appreciation we feel for every kind offer and word we received, and we are still overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and prayers and good wishes. We truly don’t know how we, or our children, would have gotten through this period otherwise.
Thanks to God, and the care Tova received at Dana Farber, Tova’s scans are clear and she appears to have beat this thing (for some reason, we are scared to tempt fate by declaring her “cancer-free” until she has hit the three-year mark). Our gratitude to our family, friends, colleagues and Dana Farber is endless. And so we humbly ask you, o