Every time a couple meets and gets married, it’s a little miracle. But the story of Eliav Marland and Etti Davidov is a revelation on an entirely different scale.
The two met during a 2016 outing sponsored by Zichron Menachem, an Israeli charity that helps people with cancer.
It was not love at first sight.
“We were both at the end of our treatments,” Eliav told the UK Jewish News. “I was half bald and had lost a lot of weight and she had a boyfriend.”
Their paths crossed again a year later. Etti was now unattached and interested in the handsome young man, but Eliav, who had by that time made a full recovery, “didn’t pick up on anything,” he admits.
But Etti persisted and Eliav proposed in 2018 in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, on a picnic blanket complete with champagne, chocolate and fruit.
“She cried,” Eliav says. “She was very happy, and it was clear to us both that it was going to happen.”
Eliav was in the Israeli navy when he was diagnosed in 2015 with a rare form of cancer affecting the pharynx. He underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Today, the 26-year-old is a biology and chemistry student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Etti was also in the army when she received her cancer diagnosis. She had surgery to remove the tumor followed by chemotherapy. She was just 21 at the time. She now studies at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.
Both were helped by HalaSartan, a program tailored to the needs of cancer patients and survivors between 18 and 44.
Dating someone with cancer can present unique challenges. “I remember thinking ‘When should you bring up the cancer?’ or ‘How do you bring it up?’” Eliav recalls.
There can also be body-image problems if you have serious scars or bald patches. “I cheated the system by dating someone who is also a cancer survivor,” Eliav says.
Eliav and Etti are “keen to promote an agenda of more social awareness about living with and living after cancer,” Eliav’s father, Warren, told ISRAEL21c. “They want people to understand that cancer is survivable, but it changes you emotionally and physically and that more help and understanding is needed throughout life.”
You are never “over” cancer, Eliav points out. “The treatments have a long-term impact. For example, as students, this means that exams sometimes get missed or studying doesn’t go as smoothly as you would want,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
Having cancer as a young person is a challenge of its own. “Teenagers with cancer often find themselves alone and deserted by their peers, who have a particular problem of relating to cancer because of their age,” Eliav adds.
“Etti and I are constantly dealing with pain, because we are not really as healthy as normal people,” Eliav added in an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper. “Only those who have gone through the same thing as you will understand you. We see life through the same lens and can laugh at things that others wouldn’t dream of saying or thinking. It is clear to me that the things we experienced together and individually as a result of the illness strengthened us as a couple.”
The wedding took place August 23 in a private garden in Aderet, the moshav (agricultural community) where Eliav grew up, overlooking the Valley of Elah, the famous site of the battle between David and Goliath.
Eliav and Etti can take heart that their own little Davids beat the giant called cancer. It’s taken its toll, but as in the days of the Bible, all of Israel is rejoicing with them.