I was told this story exactly ten years ago.
A woman was being shunned by her family and friends because she had a terrible odor. The smell was so bad that no one could come near her.
What they didn’t know was that she had advanced breast cancer. The treatments were causing constant messy vomiting. She was very poor and couldn’t afford a washing machine, and so she had no choice but to wear her soiled clothing. She was too ashamed to tell anyone about her situation, but she finally told her social worker at the hospital where she was being treated…
Why am I thinking of this now?
The fast of Tisha B’Av, the Ninth day of the Jewish month of Av falls on July 17th/18th this year. Eleven years ago, on this date, on 9 Av, I received the results of a biopsy confirming my own diagnosis of breast cancer. Thank God, I am fine now, but the year that followed was the most difficult period of my life. There were many days of dread, of fear that I might not survive. Truthfully, this fear was the hardest part of having cancer.
I was fortunate to have the support of family and friends, and I was not economically challenged, and yet I suffered mightily. How, I wondered, do breast cancer patients cope if they also have to worry about paying bills, about putting food on the table for their children? It seemed too much to bear.
In July 2011, I met with Dr. Amalia Magen, head of Oncological Social Work at Meir Hospital, to ask her if she saw a need in Israel for emergency financial assistance for needy breast cancer patients. She paused and told me the story of the woman without the washing machine.
Within a month, the Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund, also known as, the Lemonade Fund (‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’) was born. The woman, above, got her washing machine. She was the first grant recipient.
July 2021, ten years later, the Lemonade Fund, has expanded to hospitals across the land, it is the well-known source for emergency grants for breast cancer patients in financial crises. We cannot (yet) cure cancer, but we can alleviate financial burdens so patients can focus on one thing at a time. On healing.
The Ninth of Av has become a day of reflection and wonder for me. A national (and personal,) day that commemorates destruction, has shown the potential to be a day of reconstruction, a day of hope.
From the patients who are currently in treatment, to all of us who feel this hope, may we go from strength to strength…
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand, and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.” -Isaiah, 41:13
Founder and Director, Israel Lemonade Fund