When both spouses have cancer… Y., a 50 year old secretary from Haifa, is married with two adult children. Her husband, a machine operator, is currently being treated for lymphoma. In the midst of taking care of him, Y. was diagnosed with breast cancer and now, she, too, is getting chemotherapy. Though their children pitch in, they are having a hard time making ends meet. The Lemonade Fund, an emergency breast cancer financial relief fund, created for just such situations, has awarded them a grant to help them get through this difficult time.
Diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant… E., a 27 year old immigrant from Mexico discovered a lump while pregnant with her second child. She is now getting chemotherapy even while pregnant. Her husband works as an office cleaner, but he is overwhelmed with the duties of caring for his toddler and his wife at the same time. The Lemonade Fund sent this young family a grant to help them with day to day costs as well as to hire some extra help and we wish E. an easy delivery and a speedy recovery.
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(Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630, Rembrandt van Rijn)
Five years ago, on July 20, 2010, which coincided with the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The day of fasting to remember collective tragedy became the anniversary of the day my life changed forever as well. My personal feelings of desolation and destruction mirrored the words of the scroll of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’Av,
“Your ruin is as vast as the sea; who can heal you?” (Jeremiah, 2:13)
At the time, my ruin felt as vast as the sea. And yet…here I am. Five years renders no guarantee, and none of us, not those of us who’ve traversed the fields of illness nor those who’ve been left unscathed, know the future. But five years is five years. Years of raising children to adulthood, of love and of professional and personal fulfillment. Five very full years during which time I’ve healed, and witnessed much growth and happiness. Reconstruction borne out of destruction, for which I am ever grateful.
In another fine twist of fate, I’m privileged to reach my fifth year of health during a Sabbatical, a Shmitta year, here in Israel, also a message of healing. The Sabbatical year is agricultural in practice (land must lie fallow once every seven years, to replenish itself,) but the philosophy is one of social justice. Land is deemed ownerless, debts are forgiven and everyone partakes freely of the bounty of the land. We are all only borrowers of the land, and once every seven years we relinquish control and all stand together, as equals. The medieval scholar, Maimonides, writes that the commandments of the Sabbatical year are ‘meant to lead to pity and promoting the well-being of all men, as the Torah states, “That the poor of your people may eat.” (Shemot 23:11)
One of the highlights of these last five years has been the creation and growth of the Lemonade Fund, www.lemonadefund.org, the Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund. In less than four years, the Lemonade Fund has helped many impoverished Israeli breast cancer patients with emergency financial aid during their illness.
The world has rarely seemed so perilous from the outside. This Tisha B’Av, talk of complete destruction (the nuclear kind) is up close and personal here in Israel. Antisemitism is epidemic throughout the world. Yet Talmudic sources claim that the cause of the downfall of Jerusalem, and all subsequent tragedies, came from within. We were not caring, even worse, we were hateful to one another. We followed the letter of the law but we cared not for justice, fairness or kindness.
The joint lessons of Tisha B’Av and the Sabbatical year are that we must be worthy of this national home we are fortunate to have after 2000 years of exile. We must work to maintain a society that is just and kind. To be inclusive rather than rejecting; reaching out to others who are different than us. To listen. To be patient. To be kind. To help those who are more unfortunate in a way that preserves their dignity. To be concerned about the welfare of those living within our borders. To reduce socioeconomic disparity. To avoid humiliating others, to avoid senseless hatred. …There are limitless ways to build a better world.
Just as the body can heal, societies can be repaired. Jeremiah rings hopeful at the end.
“I will bring them back to this place and cause them to live in safety. They will be my people and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one path, that they may always honor Me, and that all may go well with them and their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing them good, and I will inspire them to be in awe of Me, never turning away from Me. I will rejoice in doing good for them; and will assuredly plant them in this land with all My heart and soul.” (Jeremiah, 32:37-41)
Wishing you all an easy fast and many years of health and happiness.
C., 45, is a single woman from a small town in the Negev with a history of schizophrenia and heart disease. She moved to Israel from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s and has been living in subsidized housing on disability assistance. A recent diagnosis of breast cancer was doubly complex for her, given her medical history. The nearest medical center is in Beer Sheba, more than an hour away, and she is staying in Beer Sheba while she is getting treatment. Her Social Worker, from the Breast Center at Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheba, submitted an application to the Lemonade Fund on C.’s behalf, requesting assistance with cost of living and travel expenses for C. while she is in treatment. A Lemonade Fund grant was awarded.
M., 46, originally from Ethiopia, lives in a town north of Tel Aviv. She is separated from her husband and lives with her adult son who is currently working in odd jobs in order to try to support them. M. had worked as a nanny, but is now unable to work due to a recent diagnosis of advanced bilateral breast cancer. She is receiving neo-adjuvant chemotherapy to reduce the size of her tumors prior to surgery, and she is having a hard time with the side effects of the treatments. M. and her son were living below the poverty line before her illness, and now that they have increased costs due to illness, they are in real financial distress. The Lemonade Fund awarded them a grant to help them get through this difficult time.
Her youngest child committed suicide while in the army. Two other children are mentally handicapped. One of these children was adopted by a family in Jerusalem when Nina became unable to care for him. Her adult daughter helps her, but she is a widow herself, with four young children. Years ago, Nina’s own husband was murdered due to a rift in the family.
How could things get any worse? This past summer Nina was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Aside from her other worries, Nina can no longer work and she is subsisting on the small sum she receives from National Health Insurance (Bituach Leumi.) She is now, quite simply, desperately poor.
Lucky for Nina that her Social Worker had heard of the Lemonade Fund (Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund.) Last month she helped Nina apply for a grant, and this week, a generous grant was approved and sent directly to Nina.
As she continues treatment and awaits surgery, it is our hope that this grant will give Nina respite from her financial crisis so that she can concentrate on the important work of getting well.