Noa’s Strength: A True Story

Noa’s Strength: A True Story

The newly-released book Noa’s Strength by Boruch Sirisky is the story of Sirisky’s 1st wife, who died from cancer at the age of 29. A real downer, right?

But what amazed me about this book is that while its ending was extremely, extremely sad, the book as a whole was also extremely, extremely uplifting and inspiring. It was inspiring to read about his wife Noa, who maintained the faith and strength of a modern-day matriarch throughout her 5-year battle with cancer. It was inspiring to read about the intense undying mutual love, devotion, and admiration between Baruch and Noa. It was inspiring to witness Boruch’s ability to see Hashem’s hand guiding every step of their journey from treatment to treatment until Noa’s eventual death. It was inspiring to read about the incredible kindness that was showered upon them—by Jewish organizations and good-hearted individuals as well as by the doctors who showed extraordinary care and concern. Another incredible aspect of this book is that, in addition to being extremely sincere, honest, and well written, despite its morbid subject, it is also very entertaining. Sirisky was able to find humor even in the darkest corners of the Oncology ward.

Here is a taste of “Noa’s Strength” that conveys, I think, the extraordinary faith and determination of Techiya Noa Esther bat Chaya z”l. The following story took place just a few months before Noa’s death:

…The damage done to Noa’s esophagus by radiation was severe, which meant that she would continue to suffer agonizing throat pain and have tremendous difficulty swallowing.

In truth, Noa was constantly in pain, which was exacerbated considerably by the experience of the recovery from chemotherapy. As usual, when her blood counts began to plummet, her pain levels began to skyrocket.

Medications existed for three possible variations of pain: bad, extremely bad, and absolutely terrible. In more technical terms, the pain-medicine pump to which she was attached normally dispensed morphine or other such drugs at a certain dosage over the course of a certain period of time. If that wasn’t enough to control her suffering, she could push a button on the machine, allowing for an emergency release of extra medicine, although there were only a certain number of times she could do that over an hour. If things got absolutely terrible and she had already used up the maximum hourly emergency dose, pushing the button would no longer work, but the nurse could override the system when necessary.

It occurred to Dr. Wexler and the staff at Pain Service that they would have to find a more creative and effective solution to Noa’s severe and constant pain. Eventually, they settled on a medicine called Fentanyl, which is administered in the form of patches attached to the skin. The medicine seeps in over a period of 72 hours, at which point the patches must be discarded and replaced. We were warned that a Fentanyl patient experiences a “high” the first couple of times she uses it, but eventually the person’s body gets used to the new situation and does not feel the “high” so powerfully. Like any other narcotic, though, Fentanyl is highly addictive, and this makes the timely replacement of the patches an imperative in order to avoid dangerous “detoxing.”

Noa got started on a medium-level dose of Fentanyl, using either 25 or 50 micrograms per patch. It made her quite sleepy, and she felt as if she had had too much to drink. We hoped that this drug would take care of her pain, and it did improve matters somewhat.

The most distressing side effect of the Fentanyl was Noa’s consequent lack of ability to concentrate on what she was doing without falling asleep. This proved to be a formidable challenge regarding the one mitzvah that she had always clung to no matter what: davening. There was simply no possibility of getting beyond a sentence or two without her nodding off to sleep. As far as she was concerned, this was unacceptable.

On the first Shabbos morning that Noa was on Fentanyl, I left for shul after giving Noa her siddur so that she could being davening. I figured that she wouldn’t get too far before falling asleep, and that I would probably have to wait a few minutes after arriving back at her bedside before we could being the meal together (even though she was not going to be able to swallow anything and probably wouldn’t even be able to stay awake.) I returned from shul to the hospital room to discover that she was only getting started with the prayers—and that to remain awake she had decided to daven standing up. It looked as though she was going to lose her balance any moment, so I ran to hold her steady. She offered me something of a drunken smile before she closed her eyes and nearly fell forward. She refused to go back into her bed and reopened the siddur, beginning to shuckel back and forth as she always had, going through the order of paryer with great care, while I supported her. This went on for another few minutes before she fell asleep, once again, while standing. The entire routine repeated itself many times until it was well after 1:00 PM and she finally made it to the end of shacharis. “Now I just have to daven musaf,” she remarked.

I don’t even remember at what point I ate on that Shabbos day. All I remember was my wife’s desire to daven as if it were the only mitzvah in the world and that her battle to conquer sleep in order to perform it was, at the moment, her only goal. Her heart, her pure heart, was set upon this task, and if her lips were drugged with Fentanyl patches, then Hashem was the One placing the words in her mouth.

Here is Feldheim’s blurb about “Noa’s Strength”:
At twelve years old, Noa had everything. Growing up in Israel, this gentle and talented, young girl was happy and healthy. Then, one night as she tried to sleep, Noa was struck with sharp, unrelenting pain. She was rushed to the hospital and with this began a seventeen year battle with osteosarcoma, a virulent bone cancer that was destined to change her entire life. Incredibly, through the enormous challenges that she overcame- time and time again- she developed an unshakeable faith in Hashem and a strong sensitivity to others that won the heart of an American-born yeshiva student searching for his eishes chayil.

Noa was convinced that her sickness was a Heaven-sent opportunity to help the lives of others, and during a five-year period of good health, she embarked on a medical career so that she could help those whose suffering she understood only too well.

This story takes place in Sha’alvim, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Bayit VeGan, London, Teaneck, and Boro Park, but Noa’s great emunah inspired tens of thousands of people around the world who prayed for her. During the final year of her life, several emergency emails were sent out around the world urging everyone to daven for her recovery. You may have received one yourself, and the name “Techiya Noa Ester bas Chaya” may sound familiar even now, years later.

Written by Boruch, Noa’s husband of nine years, during the months after her passing, Noa’s Strength is unique, inspiring, powerful…and true.

Click here to order:

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5 comments

  1. I’m curious if Noa ever had any genetic testing–did she? Is there any discussion in the book about her cancer being hereditary in nature? Since her cancer appeared had a very young age and she is Jewish I am very interested in knowing…

  2. I actually just finished reading this book- it was so beautiful and so extremely sad.. I was wondering if you might know- the author’s real name is actually baruch siris- not sirisky. I’m curious why he put sirisky, when it’s clear he was not trying to hide his identity. any ideas?

    • Hi Sarah,

      I saw your comment now. My name is indeed Boruch Siris, not Sirisky. The answer to the mystery regarding my name on the book involves an attempt to keep matters as private as possible within the Hebrew-speaking Israeli community, such that my current wife be spared undue attention which she may not be looking for. Hope this was helpful, Boruch

  3. Just finish reading this book on shabbos-don’t know if it was such a good shabbos read; what an amazing 5 year battle and how she dealt with it, such an inspiration and beautifully written; she was nothing less than a true tzdekes of the highest order; however, after reading this book it left me feeling melancholic and bereft. Her hsuband’s pain was palatable and gut wrenching at times. I would have like to have seen a pictures of her, her son Shlomo, some of the family, her husband etc.I think it would have help assuage some of the pain that I am currently feeling after reading this. Does any one know if there are pictures of her, the family something? this would help make the experience of getting to know her and then losing her a bit more tangible and easier to deal with.

  4. Finding a photo was a long process. You can see her sweet face at http://www.boneandcancerfoundation.org/pdfs/schwartz-siris-award-application.pdf

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