April 13, 2004

The Israel Cancer Association’s breast cancer awareness display – ‘333 Women Every Month’ – featured 333 life-sized pink women, representing the number diagnosed with breast cancer in Israel each month.The fight against cancer is heating up in Israel, and gaining international recognition.

The United Nations and the International Public Relations Association lauded the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) with an honorable mention last month for a display on breast cancer awareness in its public information competition.

The display – “333 Women Every Month” featured 333 life-sized pink women, representing the number diagnosed with breast cancer in Israel every month, and was exhibited in the courtyard of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 2002. The project was conceived by the ICA with local public relations firm Gitam Porter Novelli.

Moreover, this month, Aliza Yaffe, the ICA’s chief nurse, is accepting the International Award for Contributions in Cancer Care from the Oncology Nursing Society in Anaheim, California.

The ONS stated that the award was for Yaffe’s resourcefulness and innovation, and her initiative in establishing education programs in Israel. During her tenure as head nurse, they wrote, Yaffe introduced many improvements in the quality of care given to cancer patients.

Special nursing services, initiated by Yoffe and financed by the ICA are carried out throughout the country, with Yoffe as a consultant and a professional supervisor accompanies them along the way. The nursing services include stoma care nurses, community-based oncology nurses, palliative care nurses, breast cancer nurses as well as trained oncology nurses in oncology institutes.

“The ICA tries to handle everything from a comprehensive perspective,” Nusilevitz said, the ICA’s director of international resource development. From personal financial aid to psychological care, through research promotion to public awareness campaigns, the ICA has been a leader in all-around cancer care since 1952.

The non-governmental, non-profit organization functions exclusively on donations, a fact that affords its operation on strictly professional basis, Nusilevitz said. Moreover, with 64 branches around the country operated by thousands of volunteers, the organization professes to be the largest volunteer-run network in Israel.

Because cancer spans Israel’s social divides -23,000 people are diagnosed every year – the ICA must accommodate different ethnic groups. To this end, a telephonic information service have been operating in Hebrew & Russian and recently an Arabic line was set-up.

Constantly seeking to meet the expanding needs of the “psycho-oncology” treatment – a crucial aspect of the illness, the ICA funds dozens of part and full-time tenured psycho-oncology personnel as part of the comprehensive oncology treatment provided in oncology institutes around the country. The personnel, whose main focus is to carry out support groups for cancer patients and their families, is trained and updated every year by the ICA Rehabilitation and Welfare Department.

At the same time, being attentive to the needs that are raised by the field, the ICA initiated a wide range of programs focusing on welfare and rehabilitation. Some of these programs are unique and may play as role model abroad. Such an example is the program called “Embarking on Life” that offers support to young adult cancer survivors, helping them handle the challenges caused by their illness.

Sigal Shayov was in her mid-20s when was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but she found herself in a hospital ward where the average age was 70. At the same time, she was halfway through a bachelor’s degree in business administration and had just begun a job as a quality manager.

Aaron Ben-Menachem had just been released from the army when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 21.

“At that stage, you’re in the middle of your life, you have motivation to work, save and travel abroad, but then this ‘boom’ happened and everything stopped,” he said. Ben-Menachem employed the word “hard” repeatedly to describe his disease, the surgery and four-month treatment he endured as well as his reaction.

“My family gave me all the support that I needed but I couldn’t talk about it,” he said.

The demand for the ‘Embarking on Life’ program was identified by the ICA Rehabilitation and Welfare Department because “this age group often falls through the cracks, too old for children’s programs but still too young for adult programs, thus, they are left without a supportive framework that is provided for child and adult patients,” said Orit Shapira a regional social worker at the ICA.

Shayov and Ben-Menachem both said they were hesitant to participate in the support and recreation group for young adults at first. They didn’t like the idea of being surrounded by sick people.

“Everyone was more nervous than the next when we arrived at the first session,” Shayov said. “How could I spill my guts to people I don’t know?”

However, “the goal of the meetings was not to come and cry but to talk about other aspects of life that affect us,” she explained.

Even when she joined a jeep tour of the south with ‘Embarking on Life’ alumni, she was suspicious. “Why should we celebrate the fact that we are sick?”

However, she later described that trip as one of the best experiences of her life. “It removed all the roadblocks” to moving forward wither life, she explained, and her interaction with the participants purged the shame and embarrassment that, for her, had defined her illness.

Ben-Menachem’s first encounter with the ICA was on a sailing trip to Holland in 2002. He said that the idea of going abroad attracted him, combined with pressure from his family to get out of the house and on with his life. Ben-Menachem, now 24, avowed that it was the best decision he ever made.

“We had a lot of fun, and the chemistry between us is very special,” he explained. “My friends from the program look at me differently. They don’t pity me.”

Shayov and Ben-Menachem are still subject to regular check-ups, but work regularly and lead active lives.

“Before I joined ‘Embarking on Life’, I kept everything inside,” Ben-Menachem said. “Today, I don’t walk around with a flag or sign, but I can talk about (my disease) as well as anyone can.”

Another ICA program, “Hope for Life,” matches school-aged children with university students to tutor them in schoolwork missed because of treatments and sick days.

“There is no such thing as repeating a year in school,” said Shapira. The ICA hires and trains students for this program, she said, because, having completed high school only a few years ago, “they speak the same language as the child.”

One of the main goals of ‘Hope for Life’, Shapira explained, is to maintain a degree of normalcy and routine in the child’s life. Assigning the child with tasks he has to fulfill to make a progress in his studies and ensure his future, inspire and strengthen the child patient and his family in their daily struggle with the disease, giving them hope for a better future once they win their battle.

The ICA currently employs 120 students who tutor each child for six to 10 hours a week. The most important aspect in pairing student and child is “chemistry” on an “emotional level,” she said.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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