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.
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/
To the Lemonade Fund:
My name is I.Z. I made aliyah (moved to Israel) with my mother, in 1995.
I met and had a relationship with a man after arriving. It was a mistake, but out of this relationship a son was born to me in 1997, and his name is T. The father of the boy disappeared and I have no communication with him, nor any support from him.
My mother died in 2010, and since then I’ve been alone with my son, with no other family at all here.
This year, in addition, I believe from all of the stress that I suffered, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and started to receive chemotherapy treatments and had to stop working.
I received a grant from you, NIS ——–, and this is helping me enormously, while I wait to get my disability payments.
I just want to say thank you to you. This grant has really cheered me up and made me happy.
With blessings, I.Z.
Many applicants to the Lemonade Fund this month. Here are two stories:
M. is a French immigrant with four teenage children and a husband who became too disabled to work, after their arrival. Until her recent diagnosis with breast cancer, M. had been the sole breadwinner in the family, (working as a salesperson in a shop.) M. is now unable to work due to the side effects of chemotherapy and their only income is her husband’s disability payments. This has caused a precipitous fall in their financial situation, which is now desperate. The Lemonade Fund was happy to award a grant to assist M. and her family during this difficult time.
E. is a young Ethiopian woman who came to Israel as a girl in 1989. She has four children, ages 2-12 and is now separated from her husband. She was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 bilateral breast cancer and is receiving treatment at a hospital in the center of the country. She moved north to live with her parents so that they can help her with her children, however her father is too old to help and her mother is overwhelmed with the task of caring for her grandchildren as well as her daughter. In addition, E. has to travel quite far for her bimonthly chemotherapy treatments. The Lemonade Fund issued a generous grant to E. and her family, and we pray for her recovery.
To donate to the Lemonade Fund: http://www.esra.org.il/israel-breast-cancer-emergency-relief-fund-ibcerf
We are considering expanding our services to provide meals, visits and transportation to treatments, for patients being treated at Breast Centers in the Raanana area, as there is a great need for this. If we have enough volunteers we can do this.
We also need help in writing, translating (English to Hebrew,) and researching. This work may be done from home.
To volunteer, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stories of some of the remarkable women who received grants from the Lemonade Fund this month:
R., a teacher and a single mother of two from Haifa, has been putting herself through law school in order to better the situation of her family. In the midst of this ambitious but hectic schedule, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. R. is an orphan and has no family to call on to help her. She turned to the Lemonade Fund for financial assistance so that she can hire more childcare during this difficult time. To her credit, she is determined to try to stay in law school during treatment. It is our privilege to help her with this admirable goal.
P., a widow, originally from South America, suffered a serious recurrence of breast cancer this summer. Upon her husband’s recent death she was left with no income, substantial debts, and no family close by. She is having great difficulty going to her treatments alone. She came to the Lemonade Fund with a simple request; enough money to pay for her move to a city where she can be near her sister-in-law, her only family in the country. She provided a reasonable estimate for the cost of moving and the Lemonade Fund was only too happy to be able to make this move possible for her.
K.’s story is an example of how life can turn in an instant. Now retired, she was a successful artist, living comfortably for many years in an upscale part of the country. When she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, her husband of many years decided that he ‘couldn’t handle’ her illness and picked up and left the country. She has no idea where he is or how to find him. Finding him is important, as he also left her with staggering debt that he had secretly accrued in both of their names. She has had to make good on his debts, and has been left with practically nothing. She is now surviving thanks to the kindness of neighbors and friends. Unfortunately the Lemonade Fund cannot remedy K.’s situation completely, but we can help to alleviate some of her immediate financial pressure while she undergoes treatment.
I., is a divorcee from the center of the country, with a history of mental illness. She was recently diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and has had several operations, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She developed pneumonia and has had to be hospitalized for extended periods of time. She has an adult daughter with a newborn who is struggling to care for her mother and her child. The family is living well below the poverty line and is now in extreme financial distress. A grant from the Lemonade Fund will help to ease the pressure on this family until the mother, hopefully, recovers fully.