Cancer Donation

Testimony of a Lymphoma Cancer Survivor

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My name is Leah, I am 40 years old, and I would like to tell you my personal story so that you will know that even when you have cancer there is still hope and you have to be optimistic and happy in spite of the fact that sometimes in certain cases it's not really what you feel.

 

It all started in 1990 when I was 17, in the 11th grade. I woke up one Wednesday morning, and I felt a lump at the base of my neck. Wednesday is called 'activity day' at school, a day when we would go to all kinds of scholastic events and that day we went to "Yad Vashem". I told one of my friends that I discovered a lump (I still didn't know what it was) in my neck and she retorted: "Go check it checked, because I remember that a friend of mine in kindergarten had a lump like that behind her ear and she died".  I went home and I didn't know what to do with myself. 

 

On Friday, two days later, I told my parents that I feel a lump and that it hurts a bit and is uncomfortable. On Sunday I went with my Mom to the family physician, and from there I was sent for blood tests and x-rays. The doctor didn't say much, just that the tests didn't turn out so well, and that I should go for continued treatment at the hospital. I went with my doctor's referral to the hospital. At the hospital we were met by a doctor, and after they performed a lot of tests on me, including x-rays, biopsy and a bone marrow test, we went back to the doctor and I was asked to leave the room. When I came back inside my mother's eyes were red and I didn't understand why, despite my age. The doctor told me that I had Hodgkin's disease and that I'd have to undergo chemotherapy treatments, that I would experience hair loss, and nausea and vomiting. He sent me to the social worker who wrote a letter to my school for me, and only when I was in her office did I understand that I had a certain kind of cancer of the lymph nodes.

 

The initial treatments were terrible, I remember that I threw up and didn't feel well, but fortunately, they wanted to conduct a clinical trial on an anti-nausea and vomiting drug and I agreed to participate in the trial, and that's what actually helped me get through the disease more easily. I would come for a series of treatments and then go home exhausted. But I would always think that some day I would laugh about all this.

 

My parents and siblings took it very hard, harder than me; I laughed about it, I told my sister that I finally had the chance to shave my head (I had frizzy hair before that), my brother was 12 years old, and I remember that he came and told me that he was daydreaming in class and the teacher got mad at him so he ran outside and the entire class stood up for him and confronted the teacher: "How can you be mad at him?? His sister's sick and he's sad about it".

 

In my immediate family (uncles and aunts and cousins) there were those who asked questions and there were those who ignored it, I didn't understand those who ignored it and I was angry with them for many years, they thought that it was contagious and were afraid to get too close instead of asking me about the disease. I didn't want to see anyone, my close friends came to see me without being invited and in retrospect, I'm grateful to them.

 

At school, I spoke with my homeroom teacher, all the teachers knew, but the students didn't. After a month of treatments, when all my hair had fallen out, I decided, in a conversation with my homeroom teacher, that I would tell my classmates about my disease and about everything, during a lesson slot that she would make available to me, so that everyone would know about it and wouldn't gossip about me.

 

I remember that that same day, I had gym as my first lesson, and one of my classmates saw that I wasn't participating and she said to her friend: "She's probably very sick", it was hard for me to hear that and some of my friends who knew about my illness, found it difficult to hear that but I told them to wait until the lesson. My teacher began the lesson with the words: "Today we won't be having our bible lesson, instead Leah has something she would like to tell you".  I stood in front of a class of 36 students, very nervous and I told them that I had Hodgkin's disease, which is a cancer (then I was less aware of the disease than I am today), I explained that I was wearing a wig, and I asked them to help me catch up on my schoolwork and to help me with anything else I'd need. They were shocked, I remember to this day how the "tough" students suddenly became gentle and asked me questions, like if the disease was chronic, if it was contagious, would I be coming back to school...and I had patience and answers for everyone. That same friend who talked about me behind my back, came up to me at the end of the lesson and asked for my forgiveness. I told her that first she has to ask the person and not kill him straight away.

 

Six months after the outset of my treatment period, I went to see my doctor and she told me and my Mom that I had recovered from the disease, I went out into the hall and I began to scream for joy. I undergo an annual check-up to this day, take regular blood tests, x-rays and other tests. I have been healthy for 22 years now, and I am happy and content, I study and work and I want to convey the message that only with a "fighting spirit" can you beat this disease, you musn't give up and you should always keep smiling. To this day I still can't believe that I had this disease.

 

You may contact Leah at: leahs@justice.gov.il

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