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/
M. and her husband, a gentle couple in their mid-sixties, recently made aliyah from South America. Despite their limited Hebrew, they found jobs and were doing well. Within the last year, M.’s husband was laid off from his job and M. discovered a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer. Due to the side effects of chemotherapy, M. cannot work and the couple is now living solely on M.’s husband’s unemployment benefits. They’ve slid from solvency to financial crisis and they are feeling desperate. The Lemonade Fund was created for just such situations – and a Lemonade Fund grant was awarded to help tide them over and alleviate M.’s financial stress so she can focus on getting well.
H. has had a hard life by any standards. Yet she is proud and not accustomed to asking for help. She is a widow, living alone in the center of the country, suffering from mental illness and now breast cancer. She was orphaned at the age of 5 and was subsequently raised by various adults who mistreated her. When she was 29, her husband was killed in a car accident, leaving her to raise her two young children alone. She continued to work and support herself even after a diagnosis of schizophrenia. She has helped her daughter, who was also diagnosed with cancer, as a young mother. H. lives in a dilapidated flat without an elevator and is now quite ill from her treatments. She needs help with shopping, cooking and cleaning while she is so weak, but she has no extra money. Her social worker urged her to apply to the Lemonade Fund, and we were happy to award H. a grant to pay for some extra help. We wish H. (and her daughter,) a full recovery.
To donate to the Lemonade Fund: https://lemonadefund.org/to-donate/
Gorgeous Lemony Room Decoration:
Event Planning by Shani Folkman
Health Information Booths:
We offer many styles of yoga classes for all levels and all ages (including kids) in english and in hebrew.
Personal Pilates Training
Cindy Solkin, Holistic Health Coach and Nutritionist, phone: 054-4288998 or mail: email@example.com
Wendy Lehmann, House of Colour Israel,
phone: 054 427 2809 or mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Physical Therapy and Personal Training:
Debbie Waltuch, Physical Therapist, Personal Trainer
1. Jan Gassner, Occupational Therapist
I am available for consultations and treatment in either English or Hebrew in the following areas:
Ergonomics – advise and set up home or office work computer stations so as to prevent muscular injury and facilitate a healthy and efficient work environment.
Senior safety – address fall prevention for older individuals and assist in modifying the home so they can safely remain in their familiar environment.
Therapy treatment for various arm and hand injuries, repetitive stress injuries as well as measuring for pressure garments and silicone scar treatment (for swelling, lymphodema or scar remodeling).
For more information, call 052-5552460
2. Sharon August-Dalfen MSc. OT (rehab.)
Occupational therapist, specializing in expressive therapy & technology across the lifecycle.
Naturopathy and Accupuncture:
מטפלת IPEC מומחית
מסטר NLP ודמיון מודרך
Reflexologist and Logotherapist:
Devorah is passionate about the relationship between mind and body and empowers people to deal and grow through their challenges. Reflexology is beneficial for all ages. It is about bringing balance and wellbeing to the body. With adults, it helps back and neck problems/pain, digestive issues/diseases, hormonal balancing, thyroid issues, cancer and the effects of chemotherapy, urinary problems, pregnancy related issues, infertility (male and female), menopause, sleeping problems, depression, anxiety and migraines.
I am happy to offer anyone coming to me through the Lemonade Fund FaceBook page a 10% discount off a treatment.
Women’s Health Awareness Event (in English) Monday, May 12, 2014.
This is a position that can be done in the comfort of your own home, alone or with friends, using a screen, even Facebook! The Lemonade Fund has pages of content, on our website and Facebook page, written in simple English, that need to be translated into Hebrew. (On another note, we would like to translate into Arabic, Russian and Amharic, as well. If you speak any of these languages, or know a friend who does, that would be great, too.) We also have plenty of other opportunities involving the continued development of our website and our Facebook page. No professional experience required, just enthusiasm and energy. Please contact the Lemonade Fund at email@example.com