Originally published at Aish.com.
Dedicated to the memory of my beloved father, Avrohom Dovid ben Alter Boruch.
It all started with a toe. A discoloration on a toenail, actually, that turned out to be melanoma skin cancer. My father, Rabbi Dovid Ross, was a tall, strong, healthy man. It seemed impossible that a little toe could cause him all this trouble. But it did.
We had never heard of melanoma. If we had, perhaps things would have been different. But melanoma was unknown to us. It was simply not on our radar.
The paradox of melanoma is that if it is caught early enough, it can be almost entirely treatable. If it is not, it is one of the most deadly cancers.
But my father was not the type to dwell on what could have been, what should have been. He believed that everything came from God. His cancer was decreed by God and only He could take it away.
He approached his situation with complete faith in God and with sunny optimism. He never focused on himself or his discomfort, only on the feelings of others. In fact, when he went in for one of his first biopsies, he apologized to the technician for crying out in pain, making his job more difficult.
The Quest for a Cure
Immunotherapy is the treatment of choice for melanoma, and my father was accepted into a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital that combined two different immunotherapy drugs. This very same treatment cured a well-known journalist, who wrote about it extensively in her online column. My father was considered fortunate to have access to this cutting edge treatment. But God clearly had something different in mind. Not only did the treatment not cure my father’s melanoma, but it damaged some of his vital organs – wreaking havoc and rendering him almost unrecognizable from the healthy man he appeared just weeks before. It also made him ineligible for just about any further meaningful treatment. This was an incredibly traumatic blow for our family.
Yet my father forged on, accepting God’s will while at the same time pursuing every avenue for treatment.
Our next step was finding out if my father’s cancer had any identified genetic mutation, as the newer field of personalized medicine targets the specific cancer mutation. Most of the research and available treatments focus around a few identified mutations, especially the BRAF mutation, which over 50% of melanoma patients have. My father’s test results came back and we learned that he was one of a small percentage of melanoma patients whose tumors had no identified mutation, excluding him from many of the treatment options.
Despite all the disappointments coming our way, my father was not discouraged. In fact, as amazing as this may sound, he did not even view these developments as bad. They were directed by God, and therefore, were exactly as they were supposed to be.
During some of these hard times, I would ask my father, “Daddy, are you okay?” His answer: “I’m the most okay guy in the world.” And he meant it.
My father rarely talked of the unspeakable fear we all had, that he wouldn’t win this battle. In the very beginning of his illness, though, he told me: “There are only two things I want from my children. The first is that you should always be close to one another. The second is that you should never have any complaints against God.” The first request was easy to fulfill, as my parents had always raised their children to be close. As my father’s condition worsened, the second request turned out to be a little harder.