Angels Among Us
When I was a child, the NYC public school system had something called release time on Wednesday afternoons. We would leave school at 2:00 and go for religious instruction. I was in the second grade when my mother arranged for me to go to a Yeshiva for release time. People from different parochial schools would come to pick us up and take us to our respective school. My second grade teacher inadvertently put me with a group of kids going to St. Edmonds. When I got there, I realized that I was in the wrong place but I was fascinated at all that I saw and heard, so I stayed. I sat in the classroom with the other kids, hypnotized by the dramatic look of the nun in her long black robe covering everything but her face. I learned something that began a lifelong interest that went beyond the religion I was raised with. As the nun walked up and down the aisle, her black robes flowing around her gave the appearance of floating, as she explained that we all had a guardian angel by our side all the time. I loved hearing that, it was such a comfort and though I never went back to St Edmonds, I never stopped believing in angels either.
When I got home I excitedly told my mother, “Mom, did you know we all have angels by our side?”
“Where were you?” she said with alarm. Was she more upset that she didn’t know where I was or was she upset that I stepped out of our tightly bound Jewish circle to learn something about “Gentiles?” It seemed that a certain fear or consequence existed if one drifted out of the Jewish circle, maybe there was a fear of exposure to the rest of the world. I didn’t understand that kind of fear because I loved the dramatic flair of Catholic traditions and rituals. They have the beloved Santa Claus, festive Christmas trees and decorations, and now they also have angels to guide us through life!
Over the years I read books, attended lectures, workshops, and trainings where I came to believe that we all have angels and spirit guides helping us live our best lives. In a book called “Your Soul’s Gift” I read that before we came to this life we established a contract with our soul family on what we want to learn or accomplish in this life. Our angels and spirit guides help us along our life path by gently trying to guide us, mostly without us even knowing about their existence. Some of the ways they come through is when we find ourselves coming up with a plan or fantastic idea that we wouldn’t ordinarily think of. Some messages come through with dreams. In an article entitled “How Dali, Einstein and Aristotle Perfected the Power Nap” the author, Drake Baer, writes about how in those first few moments of sleep, an in-between state of being partially asleep but still conscious exists where poets, inventors, and artists often receive the inspiration they need to move them along in their endeavors. Thomas Edison has said that his mind was often flooded with images when he was half awake. These power naps are called hypnagogia. In this in-between state our brain waves are in between alpha, which occurs when we are conscious and theta, a deep relaxed state where subconscious thoughts and ideas are more accessible. Dr. Milena Pavlova, a neurologist, states that the combination of these brain waves give way to “unusual visions and sensations.” Are they subconscious thoughts? Messages from our higher self? The only thing I understand about quantum physics is that everything is energy and it is that energy that connects us to each other and to the universe. Like the joke about the Monk at a hot dog stand, “Make me one with everything.” Part of that connection includes our guides, angels and higher selves.
Though there were several occasions in my past where I believe I had divine intervention, the most significant incidents came when I was diagnosed with cancer. I believe I survived not only because I had the best care, but I also had the help of my guides and angels.
In July 2019 I started a part time job as a social worker in a hospice agency. As part of the application process I needed to see my doctor to determine if I had antibodies for measles and mumps. After the blood test I asked my doctor, “By the way, what is this constant gnawing pain?” Without hesitation he sent me for a sonogram where we discovered that the lymph nodes at my groin were enlarged. I then had a Ct scan followed by a referral to an oncologist. Wide-eyed, shocked and nervous, my internist tried to reassure me by saying, “ Don’t worry, my dear, I see many patients who survived all kinds of cancer, and they live full, happy lives.” I wasn’t reassured but I took the referral and moved on.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue working after retiring from my full time job as a public school social worker, but I wanted to work in hospice because 14 years ago I had the honor of being with my father during the last hours of his life and we both experienced a beautiful exchange of unconditional love and forgiveness which was profoundly healing. It made a big difference in my life and I wanted to help others have this sacred experience so I became a hospice social worker. In retrospect this was, perhaps, the start of divine intervention because if I didn’t apply for that hospice position, I would probably have ignored the pain till other symptoms appeared because the pain started off as being annoying but not debilitating. This is when the doctor visits began. I had many blood tests, Ct scans, Pet scans and more, my anxiety increasing each day alternating with the insistence that it was nothing. Then, other symptoms began to appear that were too intense to ignore. I lost weight, was getting night sweats that drenched my night shirt and went right through to the sheets, and an itchy rash that looked like hives that would mysteriously come and go. I went to a cancer center in Brooklyn and was assigned a doctor who took over 30 vials of blood to rule out different disorders. He sent me to all sorts of doctors to try to rule out infections or allergies. When a Pet scan showed cancer cells in my lymph nodes, the report said that there was a “probable” diagnosis of lymphoma but more tests were needed. The doctor said the cells were very small and we should wait six months and test again before definitively diagnosing. I went along with that plan because it reinforced my denial. This doctor was thorough but with each test my cancer was growing, unbeknownst to me as I still tried to convince myself that it was some minor annoyance that would go away. I carried on as if nothing serious was happening. Though this doctor was trying hard to figure it all out, he seemed to be lacking compassion and concern. This was more like a puzzle for him to solve.
Two months later, my lymph node grew to the size of a brussel sprout so I made another appointment. On my next visit I was told that my doctor was on medical leave and he was replaced by a wonderful doctor with the biggest heart. Another stroke of luck for me, if luck is something to believe in with this very unlucky situation. Perhaps my angels found a way to help my thorough but detached doctor get the help he needed thereby paving the way and placing this new doctor in my path so I can get the help I needed. This wonderful doctor saw the diagnosing process was taking too long and told me, “If you were my mother, I’d want you to have a second opinion.” He then arranged for me to see an oncologist who specializes in lymphoma at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
While I was filling my days with more tests then I can keep track of, denial and repression, my favorite defense mechanisms, enabled me to continue working part time. I even went to Japan with my sisters. When my denial finally did wear out, I realized how frightened I was because this was not turning out to be an infection that I can just take antibiotics for. I became scared and anxious, and it became difficult to attend to the needs of my hospice patients. There was a woman I used to visit in an assisted living facility who was in her final days. Another bed was put in her room so her daughter could spend these final moments with her mother. When I sat with them, the reality of saying good-byes upset me so much, I couldn’t hold back my tears. The daughter was lovingly holding her mother’s hand then stroking her face and talking to her softly, as I did for my parents. I kept thinking who will do that for me if I am dying? I have a husband and close family and friends who were caring for me but sitting with a dying person requires a selflessness that is hard to come by. I couldn’t provide support because I needed some myself. Oddly enough I also facilitated a support group for cancer patients at Gilda’s Club and stopped when I was diagnosed. I gave up my role as helper and let myself be helped as we cried together at my last session. Finally, on March 26, 2020, I was officially diagnosed with stage 3 angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma. It is an aggressive and rare form of T cell lymphoma and by the time it was diagnosed cancer had spread to lymph nodes in my chest and neck, my bones, and I had a mass on my skull.
I’m amazed when I think about the course of events that led me to this diagnosis: a well-meaning but inadequate doctor conveniently being replaced with a compassionate doctor who has a golden heart and referring me to Sloan Kettering. Everything fell into place so easily to get me the help I needed at the best place possible. This, I understood was how our angels and spirit guides help us. When it feels like serendipity, like everything is falling into place so easily, it is perhaps our angels and guides watching over us and giving life events a gentle nudge in a different direction.
Once I was diagnosed I suddenly realized that I could die. It was a stunning realization that even working with hospice and cancer patients didn’t prepare me for. Am I ready to die? I had a satisfying career in social work where I helped a lot of people, and a loving husband, so maybe I’m finished, even though I never got a chance to enjoy retirement. I was 67 and only started collecting my social security pension when I was diagnosed. I wanted more payback before I died. I was consumed with the thought that I was going to die and wondered if I wanted to, was I ready? Will the doctor’s treatment plan work? Will all the money I saved be spent on health care or will I get a chance to spend it on fun? Who will want my jewelry? The questions were constantly rolling about in my mind until I had 2 amazing dreams.
There is so much literature and ways to interpret dreams: a Freudian view where our dreams are urges that we repressed in waking life, Jungian view stating that dreams help us create balance between conscious and unconscious thoughts and even more esoteric literature that talks about dreams being messages from our angels and guides.
An article in mindbodygreen.com by an intuitive life coach, healer, podcast host, and writer, Marci Moberg states “spirit guide dreams carry important messages for our healing, growth and alignment.” She further states “these dreams are designed to help us discover and align with our life purpose, recognizing what inner wounds are ready to be healed, to feel inspired and see a greater perspective on various challenges we are facing in our lives.”
I don’t usually remember my dreams, unless they are unusual, and every once in a while there will be a particularly vivid dream that I can’t stop thinking about. One such dream was after I was diagnosed. I was on the Nostrand Avenue bus in Brooklyn, going toward Brooklyn College. Two big avenue blocks intersect there and Brooklynites call it “The Junction.” When the bus reached the junction, I looked out the window and instead of the usual buildings, a huge white crystal palace that sparkled and glistened was there instead. Everyone was getting off the bus and even though that was not my destination, it was so appealing that I wanted to get off as well. I woke up instead. I thought about that dream constantly, the metaphor of “The Junction” was interesting because I certainly was on a transitional path. The other thought was that death was closer than ever, I am not going to survive. When I realized that, I didn’t have the emotionally detached feeling when I learned about my diagnosis. I was scared, and not ready for my life to be over. I spent the next week with a variety of anxiety-producing emotions but I also realized that I would experience the afterlife which I read so much about in “Your Soul’s Gift” and in another book called “Conversations with Jerry and Other People I thought were Dead.” After-life was intriguing but I was uncomfortable realizing I was eager to experience that. Eventually I understood on a visceral level that I do not have control over anything and as frightening as that was, worrying and being scared wasn’t helpful — in fact it was making everything worse. I realized that though cancer can be deadly, my doctor felt certain that his treatment will be successful, and that I would be OK, but if I died then I’d experience after-life. I couldn’t make anything happen, and ultimately I believe that my angels and spirit guides are looking out for my greatest good and that helped me accept “what is” — whatever happened, it would be OK.
Then, a short time after, I had a second dream which gave me relief and clarity. I was on a train platform with a little boy. We were walking to another train on another platform and I looked over to my left and in the far distance was the crystal palace I saw in the first dream. This dream gave me comfort because my first waking thought was that I have places to go, things to do, and because my palace is in the distance, I will have the opportunity. These dreams were from my angels and spirit guides — the second dream made all the difference in my treatment because now I was sure I was going to survive. My dreams enabled me to go through treatment calmly because treatment was now just something I had to get through.
My treatment for cancer consisted of 6 rounds of chemotherapy every 3 weeks and in between a clinical trial which was in the form of a pill. I was being treated every day for 5 months, then I had a stem cell transplant in August 2020. In preparation for the transplant, a catheter was put into my chest which stayed in place for the next month. All my medicine, blood transfusions and more went through the catheter. I had more chemotherapy, then the baby stem cells were put back into my blood, also through the catheter.
Throughout every part of my treatment I never stopped being impressed by the compassion and care every MSK staff member gave to each patient. It was during the height of the Covid pandemic and patients weren’t allowed to bring anyone with us so we found opportunities to chat with each other in the elevator and waiting rooms. We all felt comforted by the care we received and I believe MSK should be a model for all medical professionals.
When it was time to have my new baby stem cells removed from my blood, the next amazing angelic visit occurred. During the process of removing the baby stem cells, my nurse discovered that the catheter was leaking and blood was all over my blouse. I was immediately taken to the surgical unit for repair. The nurse practitioner taped it up, and told me to come back the next day before my next appointment because if it was still leaking, he would have to restitch it. Because my blouse was drenched with blood, I went home in a hospital robe cut down to a blouse. The staff was apologetic but we joked that it was MSK couture. The rest of the day, I moved about tentatively, afraid of the catheter bleeding. When I went to bed that night I saw 3 ladies at the foot of my bed somewhere near the ceiling. The woman in the middle was showing me a sewing movement and the other 2 were leaning toward me with a caring gesture. They appeared as transparent white images, but clearly formed. I squeezed my eyes shut thinking maybe now I have cataracts, and when I opened them again they were still there. I watched them, curious and clueless but not afraid, and soon fell asleep. When I got to my appointment the next morning my catheter was indeed still leaking and the nurse practitioner restitched it, just as the woman who appeared the night before showed me.
I think they appeared to me to show me that they are there watching over me, helping me along the way. My angels never showed themselves again, but during my month long hospital stay, I often felt their presence. Stem cell patients are extremely vulnerable to infection so we all had our own rooms. Each room had a computer where the nurses would record whatever treatment they just provided throughout the day and night. Often I fell asleep before they left, so it wasn’t unusual to think the nurse was still there, but when I opened my eyes to look, the room was always empty. When I saw my empty room but knew I wasn’t alone, I was grateful because my angels and guides were watching over me.
I spent this past one and a half years home regaining strength, giving my immune system time to grow, and staying safe from COVID. I haven’t felt the presence of my angels like I did while being treated, but I have become more aware of the significance of coincidences as well as my dreams. I am always comforted by the belief that no matter what is happening in my life, I am not alone — I am watched over, loved and learning life lessons along the way.
The worst thing that ever happened to me had the best possible outcome because I beat cancer AND I experienced the divine presence of my angels and guides. I love knowing that I have a future ahead of me and as I decide what direction I need to move towards, the presence of my guides continue to be a comfort and blessing. Their unconditional love is similar to what we give to our loved ones, as we do it without a need for acknowledgement. We do it simply because the person we love needs it and that is how I believe it is with our angels and spirit guides.
Perhaps the mistake of ending up at St Edmunds so many years ago was not really a mistake and maybe unexpected paths in life turn into new opportunities and revelations for all of us. For me, it was probably the first time I stepped out of my tight family circle of Judaism and family tradition and onto a path of my own choosing,