Sophie Baruch, 43, a single mother from Kiryat Yam next to Haifa, found a lump in her breast last August. She said she rarely goes to the doctor but knew that this time she had no choice. Her mammogram was clean but the ultra-sound showed she had breast cancer.She began treatment soon afterwards, doing chemotherapy and biological treatments. She was already on unpaid leave from her job in an afterschool program, just barely making ends meet. After her diagnosis, she applied for money from Bituach Leumi (the National Insurance Institute), Israel’s social security program, but it often takes months to start paying. She worried about how she would take care of her children, one aged 14 and one in the army. “One night I didn’t sleep at all because I was so worried about money,” she tells The Jerusalem Report. “I was in the worst financial position I had ever been in, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to buy food in the supermarket.”A social worker in the hospital told her about the Israel Lemonade Fund, which provides one-time grants to breast cancer patients for extra expenses. She applied, and the day after the sleepless night, found the money deposited in her account. The first thing she did was take a trip to the grocery store.“They simply saved me,” she says. “It was like a ray of light in all of the darkness, and it came just when I needed it.”The founder of the Israel Lemonade Fund, Shari Mendes, also remembers the day of her diagnosis, also in the month of August but ten years ago.
“It was just a routine mammogram and I was totally blasé about it,” she said. “Within seconds, everything turned black and serious. It was like something in a movie.”She made a full recovery and one year later to the day started the Israel Lemonade Fund, a non-profit organization that helps breast cancer patients who are in financial crisis while they are in treatment.“It’s just too scary to be very sick and also worry about finances,” Mendes says. “If you are terrified you are going to die, no matter how good the prognosis is, you shouldn’t have to worry about the electric bill or paying for babysitting.”She says most one-time grants are 2,000-3,000 shekels and the receiver can use them for whatever they term most necessary. One woman, she said, needed a new dress for her daughter’s wedding, because she had lost so much weight during her cancer treatment. Another woman used the money to move so she could be close to a relative to help take care of her.
Studies show that one in 7.5 women in Israel will contract breast cancer at some point in their lives. Israelis also carry an increased risk for hereditary BRCA cancer, which often strikes at younger ages than traditional breast cancer, meaning the patient is more likely to have young children at home.Mendes said that any serious illness often comes with financial strain. Breast cancer has a high recovery percentage, but treatment takes a long time – usually between six months and a year. During that time, there are many extra expenses such as extra childcare or household help during treatment, transportation to and from doctors appointments, and medical expenses like prostheses and special bras. Many families that were just barely making it are pushed over the line into poverty by these expenses, she said.Grants are available for all Israeli citizens, Arabs and Jews, as well as Palestinians in east Jerusalem. Patients must be within one year of their breast cancer diagnosis and have proven financial need, which is demonstrated by submitting three months of bank statements.Once corona began, Mendes says they encountered a new problem. The lockdowns also affected public transportation, which many patients had been using to get to their treatments. Either buses and trains were shut down completely, or cut back by 50 percent, meaning buses that did run were overcrowded, and could be dangerous for someone with a compromised immune system.The Israel Lemonade Fund administered a project, funded by the Inbar and Marius Nacht Family Foundation to provide free taxi rides for patients who could not get to their treatments. Over seven months, from April to October, 2020, they organized more than 2,700 taxi rides for patients with different types of cancer from around the country. The project also gave work to more than 1,500 taxi drivers who were unemployed because of the coronavirus.For both the taxi-driver program, and their regular grant program, the organization works with social workers who are especially trained by the Fund. In most cases, Mendes and other volunteers for the Fund don’t even meet the recipients to preserve their dignity