OCTOBER 18, 2018, LYNNFIELD – When Cara Shaer Maney felt a lump in her neck, she chalked it up to swollen glands and didn’t think much of it, especially when her primary care doctor didn’t seem too concerned.
Several weeks later, however, after a bout of colds, congestion, and achiness left her feeling “not herself,” she returned to her doctor, and this time the news was more sobering. The lump had grown bigger, and Maney, 48, was sent to a specialist for a round of CAT scans of her neck and sinuses.
When the results were reviewed, a small portion of her lungs happened to be visible on the film. That’s where doctors first saw a mass, leading to more extensive testing, and eventually the frightening diagnosis: nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma.
The Lynnfield native and resident thought of her family: husband Joe, and daughters Calle, 22, Madelyn, 18, Gabrielle, 15 and Nola, 7, who was only in first grade. She admitted she suffered some dark moments during this phase, asking that most common of existential questions: “Why me?”
Instead of giving in to despair, she prayed for strength to get through this difficult time. Once she had digested the news, she made the decision to “put a smile on my face” and do the best she could to navigate forward, while remaining as strong as she possibly could for her family.
With the recommended treatment consisting of six months of a grueling chemotherapy regimen, she wondered how she could possibly balance it all. Not only did Maney have a full-time special education job working with high-school-aged students for the SEEM Collaborative in Stoneham, but she also was working part time at both Whole Foods in Lynnfield and Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead as a religious school teacher. Maney has been working with Jewish students for more than a dozen years, first at Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody, and more recently at Temple Emanu-El, where she has taught both the older and younger age groups, and currently teaches art.
Throughout her ordeal, Maney found that her “family” was much larger than she ever thought possible. Not only were her husband and daughters her main sources of support, but the Temple Emanu-El family also stepped up in ways she never imagined.
“Rabbi [David] Meyer checked in on me regularly and so did the administrative staff and other teachers,” she said. “They don’t even know me that well since I didn’t grow up in Marblehead and only teach once a week on Sundays, but they still have all been so supportive.”
Meyer said the “family feeling” Maney felt from the congregation is no accident. “When the word of Cara’s cancer diagnosis filtered down to the congregation, there was both widespread concern and determination to help out, partly because she, Joe, and the kids are held in such high regard, and also because it’s just what we do as a community,” he said.
Each month, 20 or so volunteers descend on the temple kitchen to cook and deliver food to member families that are experiencing unusual hardships or illnesses. “It’s really a person-to-person and heart-to-heart offering of care on behalf of the temple because the temple is also your family,” said Meyer. “Someday the roles will be reversed and today’s caregivers will be the ones receiving care from others.”
Maney finished her course of chemotherapy in July, although she knows it will be many months before she feels her old strength fully returning. Recently, she called Meyer, telling him she was officially in remission and that he could remove her name from the congregation’s “Mi Shebeirach” or prayer for healing list.
“I always love the moment when someone calls and says, ‘I’m better now,’” the rabbi said. “‘You can take me off that list.’”