We can survive

The Jerusalem ICA provides cancer patients with much-needed support – gratis.

Cancer patients and their families enjoy a party at the center. (photo credit: JERUSALEM ICA)
Cancer patients and their families enjoy a party at the center.
(photo credit: JERUSALEM ICA)
Every year in Israel, approximately 30,000 new patients are diagnosed with cancer, among them 450 children.
The nonprofit Israel Cancer Association has been leading the fight against the disease since its establishment as a voluntary organization in 1952.
Today, around 3,000 volunteers are active in the 70 ICA branches including Tel Aviv, Netanya, Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, whose branch has existed for more than 50 years.
“The Israel Cancer Association aims to improve the lives of those who are sick with cancer by providing a wide range of services and support for free,” says Ruti Ben-Giat, the director of the Jerusalem office of the ICA. “People don’t realize that there are 200 different types of cancer and not just two or three kinds that are most often highlighted in the media.”
The Jerusalem ICA, also known as the Strong Together support center, offers a variety of activities that help participants cope emotionally during their battle with cancer. Such activities include laughter yoga, meditation, Pilates and guided imagery, as well as classes in jewelry making, computers, bibliotherapy, healthy cooking and much more.
Ben-Giat says that volunteers are an integral part of the ICA. At the Jerusalem ICA, a cosmetician volunteers to do makeup for free, and a hairdresser comes in once a week as part of the ICA’s Look Good, Feel Better program. Patients who can’t afford a wig can also choose one for free at the center.
“There are programs for all stages of the treatment, and we address the impact of the disease on the family as well. We have one program where tutors are sent to help kids who have missed school because of their illness or because of a family member’s sickness,” Ben-Giat explains.
Another important service is the platform for support groups that the Jerusalem ICA provides for patients, survivors and their families to share their common experiences and discuss issues that emerge. Psycho-oncology professionals lead the groups and assist participants in confronting emotional challenges that arise as a result of the disease. Seminars and lectures are also given on a variety of cancer-related topics.
“People who discover that they have cancer often feel lonely and don’t know what is going on. They come to the ICA center to learn and meet others going through the same challenges,” says Ben- Giat.
“It seems strange to say, but our patients truly feel at home and they look healthy here, not sick,” says Ben-Giat. “We help raise the spirits of people who were in a very bad state both mentally and spiritually.
Here, they come to a very happy place where they feel encouraged and uplifted in their fight against the disease.”
The Jerusalem ICA complex, which is now located in Talpiot, has serviced 350 patients in the past six years. The patients, from all sectors of society, come from Jerusalem and the surrounding area, including Mevaseret Zion and Ma’aleh Adumim.
But this year the Jerusalem branch is struggling financially because of the wave of terror that has engulfed the city.
Because the Israel Cancer Association is a nonprofit organization and does not receive any financial support from the government, it relies on donors as it allows the association to function only on professional criteria and without outside influence. One of the most significant fund-raising campaigns is the annual Door Knock campaign, which is carried out by schoolchildren who knock on doors and collect donations for the ICA.
“Because of the security situation in the past year, many of the Jerusalem schools canceled the Door Knock campaign, and we had great difficulty raising funds. Parents were understandably too afraid to send their kids out, and schools didn’t want to take any risks,” explains Ben-Giat, who is a native Jerusalemite.
While the Jerusalem ICA relies heavily on this campaign, Ben-Giat and her staff are hoping that fund-raising events like an upcoming Purim party and a designer clothing bazaar will help bring in much-needed funding. An event was held on March 15, where members of the public volunteered in a special project in honor of Good Deeds Day to put a smile on the faces of people who have cancer.
“It’s important for us to raise public awareness. In addition, the money raised during the fund-raising events is so important for the running of our complex,” says Ben-Giat.
“In an ideal world, no one would get sick with cancer, and our center wouldn’t have to exist. But that’s not our reality, so the center must continue running as it always has,” she adds.
For people who are diagnosed with cancer, the existence of the ICA center is a godsend. Eti Mines, 51, from Jerusalem says the ICA center in Talpiot played a critical role during her battle with cancer.
She discovered that she had breast cancer when she 47, and the radiation treatments that followed were extremely difficult.
“In the middle of my life, I had to learn how to cope with this disease. I was feeling sick all the time from the treatments and was in a terrible state when I first heard about the ICA center in Jerusalem,” she recounts.
“At first, I didn’t want to go, but the social worker from Hadassah hospital where I was getting the radiation treatments insisted. She told me about this jewelry workshop that the center offered, which sounded interesting to me. One day when I was feeling particularly low following a radiation treatment, I showed up at the center,” says Mines.
“That day, I was crying. I had lost all my hair because of the treatments – I barely looked like myself. But the people at the center welcomed me with open arms and a lot of love,” she recalls.
“I bless the day that I went to the ICA center in Jerusalem. I discovered such good energy and such good people. If God sent angels to the world, he put them in the ICA center. The social worker, the secretary and Ruti have so much warmth for the patients who come in. It’s the place where you learn to believe in yourself again. When I was going through radiation treatments, I would always put a mask on for my husband and family that I was fine. At the center, I could be myself and learn to build my confidence and selfworth again through the knowledge that I gained in the workshops and the support I was given,” says Mines.
“I pray to God that no woman will have to go through what I did battling cancer; but if so, then the ICA center is the place to go – they give you the strength to keep going. I was at the bottom of the world, and they helped me get up again,” she concludes.
Ben-Giat, who has been at the helm of the ICA center for two and a half years, sees her work as a life mission. She began her career in the medical field as a paramedic in the army and has centered her life in the health and medicine field since then. Regarding the ICA center, she says it is a unique workplace.
“This isn’t a regular place to work; many people will not work in a place like this because they are afraid that cancer is contagious, which isn’t the case. I personally see my work here as shlihut [a mission]. To be able to create a pleasant atmosphere for someone who is going through a very difficult period in life is what I aim to do every day,” she asserts. 
Upcoming events include a Purim party on March 23 at the First Station and a designer clothing bazaar at the ICA on March 31 and April 1. The ICA center in Jerusalem is located on the second floor of the Beit Yair building, 3 Yad Harutzim Street. For more information: (02) 625-6721.