I have experienced both hope and despair. In my life, they are inextricably intertwined with each other. I have come to understanding that I must celebrate both life’s low points as well as its high points.

I have heard on four separate occasions, “Joel, you have cancer.”

I have struggled through the impact of hearing those messages as well as multiple surgeries and follow-up treatments. I have experienced impotence, incontinence, fatigue, inability to walk, severe memory and concentration deficits, depression and significant pain.

Somehow, even during the worst, I managed to discover moments, places and, most important, people who fill me with delight. I learned how to see through the clouds so that everything seemed clear and beautiful.

My synagogue’s former rabbinic intern, Rachael Bregman, gave a sermon which included a story about a bicycle race in which she she participated. She hit a pot hole and found herself hanging upside down from her bike pedals. A fellow racer (competitor) stopped and helped her right herself and get back on to her bike.

She went on telling us that we all need to learn how to dust ourselves off after we experiences a spill and continue on our way. There are times we need to ask for help and there are times we need to give help.

I have learned a lot about my cancers but most important, I have learned how to get up, brush myself off and thank God for what I do have.

I have also learned to ask for help and I have found an important role in helping others brush themselves off and continue on their journey. I have replaced the unanswerable question, “Why me?” with a much more important question, “What next?”

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW