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September 11, 2001: The Day I Forgot I Had Cancer

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2001 was quite a year for me. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and told that not only would a radical mastectomy be imperative to my survival, but also that I would have to begin a year's worth of aggressive chemotherapy, followed by 35 rounds of radiation. I had the life-changing operation in July, and on September 6, I began the first of my many therapeutic and highly toxic infusions.

The chemo hit quick. It was an instantaneous slap in the face that would not stop slapping until it rendered me hopelessly immobile in both body and mind. My only thoughts: "Just one more year of this, that's all. Just one more year. Hang on, Dori, hang on."

When you're on chemo, there is no getting away from yourself. The vileness is inescapable, and it demands round the clock attention.

The world "out there" no longer existed. There was only me, locked inside that repulsive prison of illness and fear -- me, the mother of a three-year-old child who needed to be fed, cared for and made to feel that everything in her life was safe. Her soon-to-be-bald mommy had to stay strong enough to deliver all the love that she would need.

Rising early on the morning of 9/11, I lay in bed swooning from the effects of the drugs, yet I was prepared to get my kid ready so that I could drive her over to preschool. The TV was on, and just before I went downstairs to get my coffee, I found myself watching a live report that focused on the supposed hijacking of a plane that seemed to be rapidly approaching the World Trade Center.

And right before my eyes, I watched the plane in question fly directly into the North Tower, at 1 WTC. The shock was so overwhelming that by the time the second plane hit the South Tower only a few minutes later, it was apparent that, whether we could wrap our brains around it or not -- life, as we knew it, was forever altered.

Then came the fires, the smoke and the panic that united every single one of us, whether we were sick in our beds like me, or standing on the street, looking up at the Twin Towers, which were yet to crumble.

With one universal gasp, we -- all of us -- stared in horror. We felt the people in those buildings. We felt their terror, their desperation. We shrieked with them, we prayed with them. And, as we held our hands to our hearts and wept gut-wrenching tears of unimaginable sadness, we watched them jump.

We watched fellow human beings jump to their death because their immediate choices had become extraordinarily grim, and unfortunately, survival was not one of them.

And while we ran like crazy, witnessed our brothers and sisters die before our eyes, worried beyond our wildest nightmares about who we knew in there and what on earth was happening -- the Towers began to collapse.

And with that collapse came a surrealistic collapse of time itself. It was as if we were all of a sudden launched into some kind of suspended animation. The magnitude of atrocity hadn't fully registered yet. Awareness, outrage, and devastation -- they would all come into play, and that play would eventually manifest as the world we live in today. But, during this ruinous blow to our psyches, the beating heart that represented all of humanity abruptly stopped.

Then, the silence.

Silence as we watched the flutter of American flags flap in the breeze, as more and more cars displayed them out their windows. Silence as we ate our dinners. Silence as the slightest bump in the night could make a person lose their mind. Silence at the George Washington Bridge, watching the U.S. Marines -- armed and ready -- oversee our passage, as we made our way to and from the city. Silence as we helped. Silence as we cried.

Ten years later, I remember that I, too, almost lost my life in 2001. Fortunately, I survived my own personal collapse, but that was only because the choice wasn't taken away from me. What I know now is this: every second of this life is precious.

And there is not a single beating heart among us that knows today what tomorrow will bring.

To life.