breast cancer 224 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Like most other travelers, when Tami Epstein arrives in London this week, she is expecting to take in the obvious tourist sites, enjoy the cultural entertainment and generally have a good time.
But the 40-year-old mother of three is also looking for some time to relax, after battling intensely with breast cancer for the last 11 months.
"When I first found out I had breast cancer I was in shock; even though the prognosis is better than other cancers it was still difficult to accept that this was happening to me," begins the professional jewelry-maker, who has had three operations and gone through a variety of treatments since last July.
"Even though this stage is now finished and we are just waiting to see if it has worked, I'm still totally exhausted both physically and emotionally from all this."
For Epstein, who will be journeying with 20 other mothers with different types of cancer, she hopes that the trip will clear her head and give her the strength she needs to deal with the next round of her illness.
"I'm already starting to ask those dangerous questions about why this happened to me," says Epstein, describing how she agonized throughout the duration of her treatments at not being "a good enough mother" to her children aged 3, 10 and 13.
Sponsored by the nonprofit health-care organization Ezer Mizion and aimed specifically at mothers like Epstein, the trip is part of an ongoing program that provides support for the seriously ill and their families.
"When a mother is sick then the whole house is sick," explains Bracha Zisser, manager of the organization's Oranit House for cancer patients in Petah Tikva and head of the Bone Marrow Registry. "Cancer patients [who are also parents] need to be treated in a certain way so that whole household does not fall apart."
She continues: "It's not like they are suffering from the flu and will get better in a few days; we are talking about people who are sick for a very long period of time and they need all the support that they can get."
According to Zisser, who thought up the idea of working with parents suffering from cancer four years ago, the program provides the families with practical help such as a babysitting, help with homework and even home-cooked meals, as well as different therapies to deal with the condition.
The organization also runs a yearly summer retreat in Israel for families with a terminally ill child or parent.
"Sometimes this is the last vacation where the whole family is together," she says sadly.
Until recently, most of Ezer Mizion work with cancer patients was focused on helping the children through the illness, but Zisser recalls a Hanukka four years ago when some volunteers visited Oranit House to distribute doughnuts to the sick children.
"We had loads leftover and someone suggested taking them to the nearby Schneider Hospital and giving them to the adults in the oncology department," remembers Zisser. "When we got there, the staff was really surprised to see us. They said that no one ever came to visit their sick patients because attention is usually on the children.
"That night I could not stop thinking about how hard it must be when a mother or father is sick with cancer," she says, adding "We already had the knowledge and the framework to deal with children so I thought it was a good idea to combine it all together.
"Many of the women that we treat say they do not know how they dealt with the situation before we entered into the picture," continues Zisser, who estimates that today 300-400 sick parents utilize the service nationwide.
Currently, efforts are focused on hospitals in the center of the country but there is also partial outreach to hospitals in Jerusalem, Haifa and the periphery.
As for the London trip, which is only in its second year, Zisser says the goal is to help the women forget their troubles for a few days while at the same time enjoying the support of others who are experiencing the same trauma.
Along with visiting standard tourist sites, the women will also enjoy home hospitality from the London Jewish community and spend an evening with well-known Israeli conjure-artist Uri Geller.
The most important aspect of the trip, says Zisser, is that "they can share their experiences with others who know what they are going through and in the end they all came back with smiles on their faces and with renewed energy to carry on through the next round of treatments."