Stella’s Army — Can You Help?

by Yarden Frankl

July 24th, 2016

Hey Stella’s Army,

I am posting this in hopes that someone will be able to help Esther get the cancer drugs she needs. I know her personally and she is a wonderful, kind neighbor, much loved by her/my community of Neve Daniel. Her post has gone viral and it should until she finds the medicine she needs.

Please share.

Thank you.

–Yarden

Shalom. My name is Esther Caplin, from Neve Daniel, Israel.

After a year of treatments for stage 4 breast cancer which has spread to my liver, my oncologist decided to put me on Ibrance (with Faslodex) providing me with a free 3-month supply of Ibrance that he had obtained from a former patient.

Unfortunately, Ibrance is not one of the cancer drugs supplied on the health plan in Israel and my oncologist hoped to use the three month period to assess its effectiveness on me and to try to acquire more of the drug from Pfizer on compassionate grounds.

While the Ibrance has succeeded in halting the spread of the cancer, the request to Pfizer did not work out. As buying the drug was not a viable option, I began a search in my support group (Inspire) for women who were once on Ibrance and since moved to a different treatment, the idea being that some people have Ibrance that is no longer being used. I was successful so far in obtaining enough pills for two more months of treatment.

I am asking you to please spread the word – if you know anyone who was once on Ibrance and wishes to donate her left over Ibrance pills, please contact me at esther.caplin@gmail.com

As I see it, the unused medicine eventually will be thrown out, but for me, every 21 pills means another month of life.

Thank you so much for passing this on to whomever you think may be able to help me.

In appreciation,
Esther Caplin

 

Saved by the Yellow Jerseys of Alyn

by Yarden Frankl

July 19th, 2016

31423_1387729867555_3978911_nI’ve been doing a lot of mountain biking lately. Usually, I find myself on beautiful, desolate trails and ride up into the hills as the sun sets. (Yes, it does get dark and that can lead to problems, but that’s for another post.)

Yesterday morning, for some reason unknown to me at the time, I grabbed one of my old Alyn Jerseys and threw it in my bag.

The Alyn Hospital is a children’s rehabilitation hospital. They provide all different types of treatment for kids who have survived terrible car accidents, terror attacks, and other traumatic events, as well as kids born with severe challenges. (They actually do a whole lot more, so click on the link above.)

They do great amazing work with these kids. But that costs a lot of money. So every year, people come from around the world to participate in their 5 day bike ride to raise money to help these kids. Good people get to go on a great ride and kids can get the treatment they need. It’s a win-win.

Before Stella got sick, I went on the ride 5 years in a row. I loved every minute and saw more of this country than most Israelis. We road up hills, through valleys, in the rain and the sun, and I got to know a great bunch of riders.

I also collected a lot of yellow Alyn jerseys, most of which sit in my closet. But yesterday, without thinking, I took one with me.

After work, I was eager to get right on the bike. So even though I noticed the back tyre (that’s an Australian spelling BTW) was a little low, I decided just to ignore it. Yeah, I know. Like riding after the sun goes down with sunglasses. (Again — that’s another post.)

Twelve kilometers from your car is not where you want to have any problems that make your bike unrideable. Of course, that’s where I decided to put some more air in the tire (I can’t help it, back to American spelling. I am a patriot) using an old pump that had not been used in years. BTW — the purpose of a bicycle pump is to add air into a tire.

My pump worked on a completely different principle. That pump actually took all the air out of the tire. Maybe that would have come in handy if I had found my tires had a bit too much air in them and wanted to take some out.

But that was not the case. So after using this wonderful pump, I found that I no longer had a bike that was hard to ride. I now had a bike that was impossible to ride. (And a pump that was not going to make the situation any better.)

But I tried anyway and was not making much progress when I turned the corner and to my surprise, I met up with about a dozen folks wearing the Alyn yellow jerseys. (Remember those?) A few of them were old friends I hadn’t seen since I “retired” from riding. In no time at all, we had pumped up my tire, and I joined them for a fun ride.

Even more amazing, this was a group that was made up of local riders and young people who had been treated at Alyn. One young woman I rode with had been hit by a car four years ago. She had a traumatic brain injury and needed extensive therapy. At the time, the idea of her riding a mountain bike was simply not realistic. But she, and the rest of the riders did just great.

I know what it’s like to have to dig really really deep to find strength. I have been there — in the middle of the night when your hope is sapped and you feel the darkness closing in. I know what it’s like to want to quit — more than anything else. I have been on ultra marathons when my legs felt like giving out. And I have had to face the prospect of raising my children without their mother.

You know, I really feel sorry for people who have never been placed (or placed themselves) in situations where the only thing they can rely on is that buried reserve of strength that we all have deep down.

When Max completed his three day try-out for an elite Army unit, I was very proud not just that he had accomplished the ordeal, but that he now had an experience he can fall back on whenever life seems to get hard — or even impossible.

But when someone suffers serious injuries that prevent them from walking, talking, eating, etc — that ordeal is every day — every single day. You don’t get to cross the finish line and relax when every day life gives you more fences to climb, more kilometers to pass.

So for me to see a group of people who should not have even been walking — riding mountain bikes in the Judean Hills — it was truly remarkable.

Yes, Alyn riders helped me out with a little thing like a flat tire. But what Alyn riders really do is help kids with really big problems get the care that they need.

And I would take my hat off to them, except my hat is a helmet and it’s a really bad idea to take your helmet off while mountain biking.

Yarden Frankl, Neve Daniel

I’m back

by Yarden Frankl

July 14th, 2016

photo-18Hello.

It’s been a long time since I posted.

But it’s time.

Long before this blog became a chronicle of our struggle with cancer, it was a place where I could make observations about the wonderful insanity that characterizes the amazing country where I chose to move. It was also the place to write about all the wonderful adventures I embarked on — from running ultra-marathons to crazy mountain bike rides.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets about the direction the blog took. Through CrossingtheYarden, we connected with friends and even strangers around the world. We raised hundreds of thousands of shekels to pay for Stella’s medical treatment. In the ride from the Hermon to Neve Daniel, we did our best to try and make the chemo room at Shaare Zedek a nicer, more comforting place for those brave, wonderful people making war on an evil, relentless opponent. Go Stella’s Army!

But this blog did so much more. This blog was how I met Gilly. A friend had shared that awful, final post before the end. She was moved and reached out to me. A few years later we are joined by an unbelievable cosmic bond of shared experiences, outlooks, and hopes for the future.

But I have already said all I can say about that chapter of my life. Every day I think about Stella and speak to her. But every day I also think about Gilly and how both of our lives have been turned around. No matter what happens during the day, we both can come home to a tidal wave of love.

I didn’t write for a long time for several reasons. How can I go from writing about a life and death struggle to telling funny stories about getting a driver’s license or sitting next to a naive, left-wing student who didn’t realize what he was getting in to when he said he had not had the opportunity to “meet a settler” while on a 12 hour flight? The Committee for Peace, Justice, and a Bunch of Other Crap.

But I can return to this kind of writing.

And I need to.

Because although life did indeed stop for me on November 14, 2013, the world continued.

And the world needs us to watch and laugh and marvel and understand how absolutely fortunate we are to be alive and living in the land of Israel. We get ticked off by things that in the larger view are silly and pointless when compared with just being alive.

maxwithnegevI could blog about how amazing my kids are, how they have all grown up to be the kind of people their mother would be bursting with pride to see. But they are entitled to their privacy. So, I will write instead about Israel and not mention them.

Except when I want to. Look at that pic of Max over there –>  #badass

Hey, it’s my blog, right?

So until next time, we will continue CrossingtheYarden.

Life IS beautiful.

Yarden Frankl

Neve Daniel

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Yom Kippur

by Yarden Frankl

September 21st, 2015

Rosh-Hashanah-Shofar-2As Rosh Hashanah approached, I was nervous.

All I could think about were the holidays 2 years previously.

Back then, when we reached Unatane Tokef, I practically ripped myself in two. After all, the prayer is quite clear — between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our fate is sealed. Whether we live or die is set based on our actions. If we are set to die, we can avert this through prayer, teshuva, and charity. I took the words at face value and accepted them and poured my heart and soul into the formula to change our fate and escape death.

I demanded, begged, pleaded with G-d that Stella not die. I felt I left no stone unturned. Medicine had failed her by this point, but prayer can work miracles, right? Between my prayers and those of so many others for her, there was no way she could die, right?

But I was wrong. Stella passed away about 6 weeks after Yom Kippur. Six weeks after the combined teshuva, tzedakah, and tefillah should have changed her fate.

How could this be?

Last year, I muddled through the holidays, searching for answers and finding none. My prayer felt meaningless. I said the words of the prayer but believed none of them. I read them with no more Kavanah than I would have reciting a recipe.

This year, I continued my quest for answers. I decided that I could not accept the literal meaning of the prayer. There is no way I could accept that Stella — my Stella — had not done enough good to merit additional life. There is no way I could accept that if I could have prayed harder, done better teshuva, given more to charity then she would still be alive.

The prayer must contain a different meaning then what I had always believed.

And I admit I am biased (although I think that everyone who knew Stella would agree that she was indeed one of the people most worthy of life that they had ever met.) But there is no example of a person who used the formula to skip death. We don’t have a single person walking around that is a few hundred or a few thousand years old. When people die who are 100 years old, are we to believe that they did something so bad after they turned 99 that they were crossed out of the book of life?

And the source of the prayer also screams “Don’t take me literally!” The author was tortured to death. Supposedly, he appeared in a dream and told the words of this prayer to escape death to one of his students. In the dream he insisted that all Jews say this prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But he is hardly the model spokesman for a prayer that reveals the secret of how to escape death — he died!

So if we are not to take the prayer literally, what could it mean?

As I stood there at Rosh Hashanah, the answer seemed obvious. “Life” is not physical life at all. “Life” has to mean a connection to G-d. To live is to understand that everything and everyone has a purpose. And that even if we can’t understand it, there is ultimate justice in the world.

To not understand this is to be spiritually not alive. But anyone can simply pray, do teshuva, or give charity. And through these actions one forms a connection to G-d. These actions indeed can reverse the fate of being spiritually dead.

And so I realized. Stella may not be physically alive. But she is definitely still spiritually alive. If anything, the connection  she had with G-d could only be deeper now. Our prayers — my prayers — were not in vain. Just by thinking about her and what she accomplished, we keep her alive.

My eyes were opened and I now recited Unatane Tokef, with all my heart again. And when I did, I felt Stella’s neshama embracing me.

The only thing more wonderful was that after davening, Gilly told me how she was thinking along these lines and wondering if anyone else was thinking the same way.

And so I am not fearful of Yom Kippur like I was 2 years ago. I am not ambivilent as I was last year. I am looking forward to it the same way someone looks forward to spending time with a loved one who has been away.

To all our friends, Gilly and I wish you a beautiful year, a year of connection to G-d, and an appreciation of every minute that we are able to live and breath and love.

Yarden Frankl, Neve Daniel

Sing for the Laughter, Sing for the Tears

by Yarden Frankl

June 12th, 2015

This post is about a few of those songs.

You know the ones I mean.

The ones that reach deep inside you and connect with your soul. You hear the first few notes, and you feel yourself welling up with tears. Or maybe the smile starts to form at the corners of your mouth before you are even aware. Songs that make you pump your arms in the air or start playing your air guitar.

The songs that you sing out loud — or even scream — when no one is around.

Or sometimes when you are so on the edge, you belt them out and don’t really care if anyone can hear you.

Songs that can take all the pain and anger and whatever emotions are buried inside you and bring them out to the surface.

Here Without You, 3 Doors Down

The miles just keep rollin’
As the people leave their way to say hello
I’ve heard this life is overrated
But I hope that it gets better as we go, oh, yeah, yeah

I’m here without you, baby
But you’re still on my lonely mind
I think about you, baby
And I dream about you all the time
I’m here without you, baby

For a few weeks after Stella passed away, I think at least one of us was listening to this song at every minute of the day or night. I would walk the dog up by the water tower and look up at the starry sky and sing at the top of my lungs.

One day early on in our relationship, I was driving. Gilly had my phone and was looking for music to play. When she saw this song, she started to play it.

“Not that one,” I called out panicking. I did not want her to see me cry and knew what happened every time I heard that song. Every damn time.

She answered me, “When Zion died, I listened to this song all the time. Hundreds of times. And I taught myself to play it on the guitar and sing it.”

She suggested: “Why don’t we try singing it together?”

So we sat there on her couch. And we sang it together, her with her musician’s voice and me with my croaky one.

And we cried.

Together.

Fix You — Coldplay

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

We were messaging each other. It was late at night.

We were talking about music.

Her: “What song is this from – lights will guide you home and ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you ?”

Me (after looking it up):  “FixYou by Coldplay. When you love someone but it goes to waste. Yeah. That sums it up. Shavua Tov. Maybe we speak later.”

Her: “That’s the one speak later Shavua tov”

As I would sit up at night and listen to the song, again and again I wondered if I could be “fixed.” I would sit in the small bedroom I had built in what used to be the hallway and watch the minutes count down until morning.

When Stella died, a part of me had died also. I felt that I now had many “broken bits” that would never be put right. I listened to the song, the spark of hope it contained, and I thought of the one who suggested it.

Was she implying that she might be able to “fix” all the broken bits of me? Or maybe she was hoping I could so the same for her.

Let It Be, the Beatles

And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be, Let it Be

Our relationship progressed. I would go back and forth internally and wonder if it was ok to be happy. Was I allowed to be happy with someone new? Should I let things progress? Or shut them down?

I was out with the kids at the mall. I saw a disk of Beatles hits. I thought the kids would like it so we bought it.

But something strange kept happening. Every time I got in the car and turned on the CD, that song would play.

One day, Gilly and I were going to go to Tel Aviv. When we got in the car, I said “don’t turn on the CD. We’ll put on the radio.” I didn’t want to hear that song again. We pressed the button for Galgalatz radio.

My mouth dropped open when the first song they played was “Let it Be.”

It gets stranger.

I went to a wedding. That was absolutely painful for me. I had really wanted to be there for the son of a friend (himself a friend,) but the emotions were ripping me apart. This was only a few months after Stella had passed away.

After the ceremony, we sat down at the tables and waited for the couple. The band started playing light “filler” music while we waited. It was a typical Israeli wedding band, long beards and black kippot. So I have no idea how they happened to start playing an instrumental version of Let It Be. But they did.

I bailed and fled the wedding hall. I was not yet ready to accept the message.

But I realized I would keep hearing it until I did.

—————

A year went by.

One night, Gilly was playing a song I had never heard before. It was just beautiful, and the lyrics were so right. We had been married about a month.

Me: “Where did you hear about this song?”

Her: “Max suggested it.”

I was curious. I looked it up on the internet.

Nikki-Sixx-2009The song was written by Nikki Sixx. When I was in high school (30 years ago,) Motley Crue was one of my bands. Yes, I was one of those heavy metal fans. Sixx was the bass player. He was the epitome of a rock star. The tattoos and piercings, the outrageous stories, the over-the-edge lifestyle.

And the drugs. Fame pushed him over the edge. He became a heroin addict. He overdosed several times and once his heart stopped beating. For a few seconds, he died.

Yet he lived. He lived through the experience and cleaned himself up. He formed a new band and wrote a song about how his experience, his “death” and the fact that he got a second chance, made him realize just how beautiful life could be.

I started listening to the song. So did everyone else in the family.

One day, not too long ago, a bunch of us were in the car heading into Jerusalem.

We put the song on.

And we all started singing at the top of our lungs.

Alive…..

Just Open You Eyes…..

Just Open You Eyes….

Just Open You Eyes…..

And see that

Life

Is

Beautiful…….

Will you swear on your life

that no one will cry

at my funeral?

Maybe you don’t have to have your life savagely ripped apart to really have your eyes opened to the possibilities that this precious gift of life can hold for us. Maybe you don’t have to lose what you hold most valuable to fully appreciate the miracle of waking up each morning to a bright blue sky and knowing that you are loved.

For your sake, I hope not.

But trust me… and Nikki.

Life IS beautiful.