A healthy outlook

Vicky Lefelman uses her own experiences of overcoming cancer to help heal others.

vicky lefelman 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
vicky lefelman 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
People have all sorts of epiphanies and, presumably, in all sorts of places. However, it is probably a good bet that not many have experienced a life-changing realization while under a hair dryer. But that’s exactly where 54-year-old Argentinean-born Vicky Lefelman was when she discovered she had terminal cancer.
“I was at the hairdresser’s when I picked up a copy of [women’s magazine] L’isha and saw a picture of Dr. Shoshana Biran on the front cover, with the words ‘the leading cancer specialist in the Middle East.’” Biran was the doctor who was treating then 19-year-old Lefelman at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem for a disease that, prior to her hairdresser appointment, Lefelman had no idea was cancer. “It didn’t take too much intelligence to work out what I had,” says Lefelman.
When the doctors at Hadassah eventually gave her the whole distressing picture about her condition, Lefelman was told that she had only three months to live.
“That was over 35 years ago,” she says when we meet at her new Alma Interdisciplinary Center for Body-Mind Balance in Talpiot, “and I’m still here.”
Not only is Lefelman alive and well, but she has been healing people and passing on a wealth of therapeutic knowledge all over the country and abroad for more than three decades, including at Hadassah Ein Kerem.
“I was told I was at stage four of the disease,” Lefelman recalls. “There is no stage five. In the lectures I give, I say that dancing is stage five.”
As far as Lefelman is concerned, things don’t just happen, especially life-threatening ailments. “Before I got cancer, I felt trapped by all sorts of things, that I couldn’t live my life the way I wanted to. I felt that if I was trapped, I was going to die – literally. I don’t know if I can say that I was entirely responsible for my getting cancer, but I can say that all my emotional life contributed a lot to a very rapid spread of the cancer.”
At the time there was a problematic romantic liaison and some equally troublesome politics. “When I lived in Rosario [a major city in Argentina], I had a non-Jewish boyfriend and I had some views that didn’t exactly sit too well with the dictatorship in Argentina at the time,” Lefelman recalls. Wary of both potential time bombs, Lefelman’s Zionist parents took her with them when they made aliya in early 1973.
The move seemed to do the trick. After a few months of psychology studies at the University of Haifa, Lefelman moved to her brother’s kibbutz and, within a few months, she got married. A year after she left Argentina, she returned there with her husband, although the embers of her first love had yet to ebb completely.
“It wasn’t just my split affections that made me ill,” Lefelman explains. “When I left Argentina with my parents, I felt I was being torn away from my country, my culture, my whole identity. But when I went back with my first husband, I discovered things and I had moved on. I didn’t find the completeness I thought I’d find when I went back.”
Before long, she began to display severe physiological symptoms and her weight dropped drastically. “No one told me the truth about my condition,” she states. “I had relatives who were doctors who said it was something like a tissue-related problem.”
As her health deteriorated, her parents brought her back to Israel for further treatment at Hadassah. When the reality dawned on her, under the hair dryer, Lefelman says her initial reaction was to hit out.
“I was angry with my parents, and my relatives and the doctors who hadn’t told me about the cancer. It was as if I had no control over my life.”
She set about redressing that immediately. “I moved into my own apartment. My husband was about to go away to Germany for a while, and that gave me an opportunity to end the relationship. I was regaining control of my own destiny,” she says.
Lefelman had always loved dance and music, so she enrolled at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance. “The healing process started,” she recalls. “I did dance, music, movement and theater, which was all wonderful, but the most important part was the bioenergy treatment, which sees cancer as a symptom of a much more general condition.”
All the while Lefelman continued receiving conventional treatment at Hadassah in various forms. Three and a half years after having been pronounced terminally ill, she was given a clean bill of health.
“You know, the doctors have a file on you at the hospital where they note the medication you take and your condition. But in fact it is your file, not theirs. Instead of leaving the doctors to do the work alone, we have to take responsibility for our own health. That’s what I teach at Alma: Let’s move from the passive to the active, let’s come from impotent to potent, from complaining to respecting. If there’s a motto for the way I live my life and the way I developed my work, it is ‘Let’s move from being a victim to co-creator in the situation.’”
Alma (which means “soul” in Spanish) opened last summer, and Lefelman says she brings her own experiences with serious disease and a long career of helping others to her work at the Talpiot center. “I established a body-mind balance department at the Reidman College and ran it for 10 years, and I have been the co-director of the Turning Point program for cancer sufferers at Neveh Shalom together with Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari, the research director for complementary medicine at Ichilov Hospital, for the past two years.”
She also brings an impressive roster of course work to bear. “I studied dance therapy in Britain and in the States, and I spent some time with an Indian tribe in the Amazon, who’d never seen white people before, learning about the way they use movement. It all enriches my work today.”
More than anything, Lefelman urges people to adopt a positive, forward-looking and integrated approach. “I’m not against anything. I don’t think we should resist pathology; we need to empower ourselves. To begin with, I thought we needed to relate to the mind only. It was only later that I understood that we need a united body-mind approach. All the knowledge we have is in our back, not in our front. In therapy, the deep meeting of the soul is in the first place in my approach.”
There is evidently a lot of movement at Alma – all, presumably, in a positive, healing direction. During the interview there were the sounds of stamping feet from a women’s chi kong session on the second floor, and a muffled roar from another group therapy session in the next room.
Today Lefelman says she is actually grateful for having had cancer.“After contending with my disease and with the thought of death, Inever feared anything. When I was in the Amazon and I thought I coulddie there, I thought it’s so much better to die in a place like thatthan in a hospital.”
Contrary to what most of us fervently believe, for Lefelman living isnot the be-all and end-all. “I have helped women give birth, and I havehelped people pass on to the next world when it was clear that dyingwas part of their healing. To heal a life is not necessarily adisappearance of symptoms but to be at peace with all there is, andisn’t. It is not the story that matters but our attitude toward it.Today I take everything in perspective.”