Nine years ago, on the fast of Tisha B’Av, 5770, on the saddest day of the Jewish year, I received news that paralleled the mood of the day. Out of the blue, I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. My personal situation mirrored the historic catastrophes that occurred, repeatedly, to the Jewish nation, on this specific day of fasting and mourning.
Yet it is prophesied that 9 Av will be transformed, in the future, into a day of feasting and joy, of greater kindness and tolerance. Nine years later, thank God, I am fine and living life. In gratitude, each year I’ve tried to use the day as an opportunity to explore ways to better our human interactions. Perhaps this small effort can be part of our roadmap toward recreating the day and healing our divisions.
Most of us mean well in our interactions with others. However some situations are more challenging, such as how to deal with a person with a serious disease. I want to dedicate this Tisha B’Av to learning about how to improve on this. I am sharing the (very blunt) words of a patient with stage 4 cancer.
HOW TO REALLY HEAR AND HELP A PERSON WHO IS VERY ILL:
“I really appreciate all the support that I got…. when I shared about cancer and the dissolution of my marriage, a couple of weeks ago. It shocked me. It shocked me, because I am not used to it.
You have to understand that I don’t mind cancer. If you live with cancer, you have to have a relationship with it—it is part of you. I respect the disease. I have learned from it. I have become myself because of it. But it is a problem for my interactions with the world, because people are scared of cancer. People avoid what they fear.
I hate when people tell me they are sorry about my cancer, because I’m not sorry. And I feel it’s dismissive.
I would prefer if people asked me how I am.
It is a lonely disease.
After I got cancer, I was not the same.
I wanted to be.
I wanted my life to go back to what it was.
I was so lively. I was so lovely.
I was so busy. I was so social.
But I could not do it.
No surprise, I changed.
I was withdrawn during chemotherapy and my world became small. It contracted like starvation. It is hard to get back what is lost. It is more difficult still to begin anew. People visited at first. They sent flowers. The florists prospered.
I tried. So hard. I called. I emailed. I texted. I showed up.
You think people are nice about it? No. Cancer is misunderstood. Everyone says the wrong thing. Which is what they do so much anyway. Then I said the wrong thing back. I could not believe the stupid things people said in an effort to be nice. Telling me about something bad that happened to them that was not cancer, etc. I wanted everyone to just be normal.
I hate when people say, Let me know if there is anything I can do. If you mean it, you just do it. You just show up. You insist. You don’t send an email. You don’t suggest a date in three weeks. People with cancer live now. We only have Today. We have six jobs, because cancer is five. What are you so busy with? What is so big in your life? I may not be seeing you in three weeks.
The nicest thing anyone could do for me is to respond to a text promptly.
For all of my life, I did not have cancer and I did not feel like my colleagues were uncommunicative. But people kind of treat me like I am sick and insignificant now.
But I am not dead.
I don’t feel that way about myself. I feel healthy and strong. I feel good. I don’t understand why people expect something to be wrong. I don’t even know that cancer is what will kill me. If you know someone with cancer, just be there in person, IRL as they say. Cancer is chaos and displacement. I am sorry to be so honest. I hate it. I like myself better when I sound some other way. I sound this way. What can I do? Forgive me. Thank you.”
Despite the fact that the Lemonade Fund mission is to help needy breast cancer patients financially, there is plenty to learn about how to help the sick more sensitively, with words and deeds. Thanks for allowing me to share this with you.
Wishing everyone a meaningful 9th of Av and many years of health.
Shari Mendes, Founder and Director of the Israel Lemonade Fund
The Lemonade Fund is Israel’s only breast cancer emergency relief fund, helping indigent Israeli breast cancer patients with one-time grants to alleviate financial stress during treatment. We have expanded and need your donations more urgently than ever before.
To donate: www.lemonadefund.org/to-donate/
To read more about what we do: www.lemonadefund.org
To watch our short film: https://lemonadefund.org/movie-what-the-lemonade-fund-does/
I., a 46 yo mother of 4 and C., a 41 yo mom of 1, both breast cancer patients in financial crisis, have just received Lemonade Fund grants thanks to the work of one very special woman, Yael Friedbauer.
Yael, a breast cancer patient herself, is currently in treatment at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba. In March, she held an event at her Zumba Studio in Raanana, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zxw0_HPyCs) on the International Day of the Woman. She donated all of the proceeds from this amazing event to breast cancer patients who are being treated at Meir Hospital. Her efforts have helped patients at Meir since April, and are proof of how one person with the will can help many. Yael just had a birthday so we are dedicating July’s profile in honor of and thanks to Yael. We wish her a speedy recovery and continued good health and good works! THANK YOU, YAEL!!!!
If you’d like to celebrate an event (a birthday, bar/bat mitzvah, anniversary, etc.) by dedicating gifts to a targeted group of Lemonade Fund recipients, we would be happy to help you donate in so significant a way. Email us at email@example.com, to make arrangements. Thank you.
- A donor has come forward and offered to cover half of the costs of our expansion, NIS 25,000 ($7,000,) challenging us to match his grant, shekel for shekel, dollar for dollar, to raise the other half.
- Your donations will be matched by this donor. You can be part of this incredible initiative, helping indigent Israeli breast cancer patients in financial crisis due to illness!
- Please consider a donation of an average grant, NIS 2,100 ($590,) or for ANY AMOUNT towards our goal of NIS 25,000 ($7,000,)
Typical story. Last week the Lemonade Fund received an urgent request from a city Social Worker to pay the utility bills of a breast cancer patient who is also a victim of domestic violence. Single mother with 4 children. We did…
The Lemonade Fund is the only Breast Cancer Emergency Relief charity in Israel, and over the last year we have doubled the amount of money we are giving due to the pressing need.
To donate: https://lemonadefund.org/to-donate/
Raise a glass…this New Year the Lemonade Fund will surpass
1,000,000 shekels in grants awarded to Israeli breast cancer patients.
In a few short years, the Lemonade Fund has become THE safety net in Israel for any breast cancer patient in financial crises. The ONLY breast cancer emergency relief fund in Israel…
“A. got a grant after fleeing her abusive husband. The money carried her while she was living in a domestic abuse shelter with her 2 children, and undergoing chemotherapy.”
“E. discovered a lump while pregnant with her first child after years of infertility. She carried the baby to term knowing that she’d have to start chemotherapy immediately after the birth. With no family or extra money, E.’s grant enabled her to hire help and get through treatment.”
“M., mom of 7 children, youngest age 9, became the sole family breadwinner when her husband went blind. An office cleaner, M., was then diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, and the family had no source of income. M.’s Lemonade Fund grant helped the family stay afloat, until other social services were able to step in.”
To read more stories:
To watch our short movie:
Lemonade Fund grants alleviate financial pressure during treatment so that patients can focus on recovery. By sending support and lessening stress, we hope that Lemonade Fund grants help patients get better faster so that they can go back to living their lives…
L’CHAIM! TO LIFE!
The ESRA Lemonade Fund sends wishes to all for a happy and healthy new year. Thank you for your strong support over the years, enabling us to continue this important work.
NO more having to take 2 busses, in the heat, to chemo in Beer Sheva! L., a 66 year old divorcee from Arad, a retired cleaner, was recently diagnosed with invasive breast carcinoma. She lives on a 1300 NIS/month pension and her National Insurance Institute payments. She doesn’t have a car and has been taking public transportation, in the heat, by herself, for the last few months. Her social worker applied to the Lemonade Fund for an emergency grant for help with cost of living expenses and transportation to treatment. Grant awarded!
L. is just one of the August applicants who received emergency financial assistance from the Lemonade Fund; emergency grants were given to breast cancer patients from hospitals all over Israel. Lemonade Fund grants alleviate financial pressure so breast cancer patients can focus on recovery.
To donate to the ESRA Lemonade Fund:
V., an immigrant from Tajikstan, is a 33 year old married mother of 2 children. Her older son, age 8, is epileptic, autistic and violent. Soon after opening a kindergarten, V. was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Due to the side effects of treatment, V. is unable to work. Her husband teaches martial arts abroad, but now needs to be home to care for his wife and children. This small family’s income has plummeted and their social worker submitted an application for an emergency Lemonade Fund grant, which was awarded.
To donate to Israel’s breast cancer emergency relief fund, the ESRA Lemonade Fund:
Each year, at about this time, I come here to write a more personal note. On Tuesday, July 31st, Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, I’ll mark seven years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Seven years!
I’ve changed in the seven years, since I heard the words, ‘you’ve got cancer.’ I enjoy numbers and the number “7” reminds me of the book of Genesis. In a way, recovering from cancer parallels the seven days of creation.
In the beginning… there is terror, an explosion of fear. Silence and complete blackness. One is deaf and blind to all but the question of a future. Will I survive? Is this the end? There is nothing but emptiness and a deep void. All is chaos. All is darkness.
And then the next day hope takes hold in a crevice. There is a dim sliver of light in the fissure that has formed. Darkness still reigns and nights are long and hard, but they are shooed away by the dawn, by morning. And one can begin to see the separation between darkness and light. Positivity is encapsulated in a sunrise. One reaches beyond the darkness, toward hope.
Once there is light, the earth appears beneath one’s feet. One can stand again; footing regained. Slowly there is clarity. The sky is above, the earth and water are below. And with new focus there appears a plan for moving forward, one step at a time. A method for walking the earth once again. The course is rough at times, but with the ability to stand comes healing and recovery. Family, friends and community accompany and offer support along the way. And God is there, always there.
Even then it takes a while to learn to breathe. To believe that life is normal again. Only it isn’t normal and it never will be as it was, before cancer. There is what others call a ‘new normal.’ There are scars, painful scars, but also an awakened strength and elegance. Everything is different because the stars, the moon, the sun never looked quite so exquisite as now. Life itself sparkles because our eyes have been reopened, wider this time. Nature, the greenery, the creatures that crawl, fly, swim and walk are so very beautiful as if we have all been born anew.
And then the next few days fly by and here we are at seven, a full week of years. Over the years work is rewarding and the bonds of friendship and love tighten. Children mature, graduate, finish the army, graduate again, get jobs, get married. Families grow up and there is plenty of joy in all of this creation. New possibilities, opportunities, loves and beginnings. Life is bittersweet, too. Older grandparents pass away. Though very sad, this is the natural course of life. Wars are fought, too, young people are killed, on the battlefield, in the streets, in their homes. A twist of fate that is not in accordance with nature. Health is precarious at times; there are scans and scares. Last year I mourned the death of my mother, and this year we are celebrating the marriage of a child. Life is a complicated cycle, life is rich, but overall it is very good and we are here. Years of plenty.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer on the solemn fast of Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year. I never saw this as a coincidence, choosing instead to hear the whisper of what was being conveyed to me. In the midst of fasting and mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and the other Jewish tragedies that occurred on 9 Av, I was suddenly contemplating my own demise. Why such sad news on the most desperate of days?
Over the course of the first year post-diagnosis, the connection became came clear to me. On the Ninth of Av, we study the causes of national defeat and try to learn from history so as not to repeat mistakes. Sages say that the primary cause of the calamities on Tisha B’Av were from internal strife, not outside enemies. We were wretched to each other in business dealings, in politics, in social settings and in private relationships. We lost our holiness, our health as a nation. We became sick and ugly until it all fell apart.
When illness strikes, our bodies give out. We cannot always pinpoint causes, but we suddenly turn our attention to caring for the vessel in which we live, as never before. As we contemplate mortality, we learn to value what is important, things that we may have neglected in our busy day-to-day lives.
Upon recovery, our mission can be to understand what leads to devastation, whether as a nation or in one’s body. In both cases, for real recovery and reconstruction, compassion is needed. We need to work to SEE the other, and to reach out to them. As a nation when we are tolerant of each other, we are united and strong.
Likewise, when people are ill they are weak and in need of support. The most fragile among us cannot help themselves and it is our duty to help them. With medical, communal or financial help, we gift them the fortitude to get treatment and heal.
Having breast cancer showed me how expensive it is to be seriously ill. The ESRA Lemonade Fund (the Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund,) was founded in 2011 in order to help indigent breast cancer patients with basic non-medical expenses. The ESRA Lemonade Fund, a registered charity, gives one-time emergency grants to needy Israeli breast cancer patients, in treatment, so they can focus on recovery. (Though this letter is not intended to be a fundraising appeal, contact us to donate, apply for help, or volunteer: www.lemonadefund.org )
One story: A recent applicant, A., 35, is a former make-up artist and model. She has 3 children and Stage 4 breast cancer which has spread to her brain. Her husband quit his day job and is delivering newspapers at night so that he can care for his wife during the day. The family is living on the mother’s disability payments and the father’s meager salary. The Lemonade Fund awarded them an emergency financial grant. In addition, a group of amazing LF volunteers are delivering home-cooked meals to the family several times a week.
This is a small step toward tikun olam, repairing the world. Just as bodies can heal, societies can be bettered through acts of kindness. Tisha B’Av is a great opportunity for all of us to go from mourning destruction, to rebuilding connections through compassion.
“You have turned my sorrow into dancing. You have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may sing to you and not be silent. My God forever will I thank you.”
I am ever grateful for years of plenty, full of life and learning. Wishing all of you an easy and meaningful fast, and many years of peace, health and happiness.
Important question. Not as much of an issue during the school year, but childcare can be a real problem during the summer months when school’s out. Camp can be expensive and beyond the means of needy breast cancer patients. This summer, Myisrael, a supporter of the Lemonade Fund, is sending a group of children of breast cancer patients to summer camp!
Here’s are stories of some of the Moms with breast cancer who now have summer childcare thanks to Myisrael:
L., married with a 3 year old, has stage 4 breast cancer. She is getting chemo and is too sick to work or care for her daughter. Her husband was about to start his own small business when L. was diagnosed. He had to put his plans on hold to care for his wife and during the summer, his daughter as well. Now their daughter is going to be able to attend kaytana (summer camp,) and this will help L. and her husband a great deal.
Y. is divorced, living alone with her 14 year old daughter. She used to work in several part time jobs, but has been unable to work since being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Her main concern is her daughter, who has been lonely and at home because they don’t have the money for a town camp. It will give Y. tremendous peace of mind to know that her daughter can now attend a city sports camp.
To donate to Myisrael’s summer camp initiative for Lemonade Fund recipients (needy Israeli breast cancer patients): http://www.myisraelcharity.org/project/view/375
To donate to the Lemonade Fund: https://lemonadefund.org/to-donate/
Memorial Day in Israel (beginning at sundown tonight, April 30th,) is a somber time that is almost universally observed. Most people know someone who has been touched by loss in this young, small country. Businesses will shut their doors tonight, and a siren will sound throughout the land at 8:00 PM, during which all traffic will stop and people will stand still, heads bowed, at attention. The wail of the siren reaches down deep, sounding like a visceral cry. In this Jewish country it brings to mind the shofar, the ram’s horn, that is blown on the holiest of days. The shofar is meant to focus our thoughts and the siren does the same in a unique, simultaneous, national way. In our unity, honor is paid to those who have lost their lives, on the battlefield of war or in an act of terror.
We at the Lemonade Fund are currently helping several women who are battling breast cancer while their children are serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF.) In Z.’s family, Z’s son, a soldier in an elite unit, is our only family contact, as his mother is too ill to speak or provide information. He calls us during his breaks and we are touched by his dedication to his mother. We often are in touch with families who are juggling army service and a difficult home life. A., a divorcee in her mid-forties has end-stage breast cancer and is in hospice. Her daughter is in the army, with special conditions. Our assistance gives A. and her daughter peace of mind. Recently we gave a grant to a woman whose son had been badly injured in a terror attack in the 1980’s. The stress of caring for him for many years led to her precarious financial situation and poor health. A Lemonade Fund grant helped stabilize her family while she underwent chemotherapy.
By helping breast cancer patients who are in financial distress, we are helping their families as well. We are grateful for your donations, allowing us to contribute to the support of our country’s soldiers and their families.
May we all merit peace and good health.
To donate to the Lemonade Fund:
We at the Lemonade Fund often see how cancer can devastate a family financially in no time. E., a 73 year old Russian immigrant, lives with her unmarried daughter in a small apartment in a development town in the south. Until E. was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, the salary from the daughter’s factory job supported the two women. Subsequently, E.’s daughter lost so much time from work caring for her mother, accompanying her to doctor appointments and treatments, that the family slid into financial crisis. Despite assistance from Bituach Leumi, (National Health Insurance,) eviction was a possibility. The Lemonade Fund awarded E. a generous grant, and E. and her daughter can breathe again and turn their focus back to E. and her health. We are, as ever, grateful to all of our donors, who help us make this kind of assistance possible.
To donate: https://lemonadefund.org/to-donate/