Zichron Menachem: Helping Israeli children with cancer be just children - opinion

These camps are indeed a cure. Time and time again, camp after camp, I see with my own eyes how children already improve upon arrival at the hotel

 THEY RETURN to being children - not sick children and not children with cancer but simply, children. (photo credit: ZICHRON MENACHEM PR)
THEY RETURN to being children - not sick children and not children with cancer but simply, children.
(photo credit: ZICHRON MENACHEM PR)

The day before our trip to the Zichron Menachem’s winter camp in Eilat, I received a phone call from one of the girls who was supposed to join us in the camp. She cried so much that it was hard for me to understand what she was telling me through her tears.

She said her fever had risen, her blood count was low and it was quite obvious that her medical condition had worsened. After she took a few deep breaths, she managed to tell me that she was afraid that the doctors might not allow her to join the camp. Do you understand? It wasn’t the tests that implied the fear of infection or the medical condition that has deteriorated but the failure to leave for the winter camp that had caused this sweet girl to cry.

This is the essence of the camps of Zichron Menachem. In order not to leave you in suspense, I will only add that this girl joined the camp in Eilat and so far, only after two days with us, her blood counts look better than they have been in recent months.

This is what Zichron Menachem camps are all about

Perhaps this is what the Zichron Menachem camps are all about. Thirty-two years ago, I founded the Zichron Menachem NGO with my husband after my beloved eldest son, Menachem, passed away from cancer.

In order not to sink into the depths of bereavement, Chaim and I decided to establish the association in his memory in order to give others what we so desperately needed: help with a sick child, help with healthy children who are left at home without parents, and help for parents to breathe during their ongoing struggles in impossible realities.

 FLYING HIGH with the 26th Zichron Menachem summer camp.  (credit: Baruch Greenberg/Zichron Menachem) FLYING HIGH with the 26th Zichron Menachem summer camp. (credit: Baruch Greenberg/Zichron Menachem)

One of the first things we decided on was the children’s holiday adventure camp. The first few times we took out a few children at a time. Parents were afraid to send the kids and doctors refused to sign releases but we didn’t give up because we knew. We knew the power of the holiday camps: they gave the children a goal and a purpose. It made them cooperate with doctors, undergo treatments and eat even when there was no desire.

THE MAIN thing is to reach the destination, get on the flight or bus and leave for five to ten days of camp, in Israel or abroad. And why? Because it is a few days in which they are distanced from the routine of treatments and injections, are far away from the corridors of threatening hospitals and from the pitiful looks fixed upon them. They return to being children – not sick children or not children with cancer but simply, children participating in a pillow fight on the plane on the way to the destination, singing to the point of hoarseness during bus rides and joining in extreme and fun activities as if they had not just arrived in a wheelchair.

These camps are indeed a cure. Time and time again, camp after camp, I see with my own eyes how children already improve upon arrival at the hotel. A child who ate only through a feeding tube suddenly lustfully eats a huge plate of pasta followed by a large portion of schnitzel and fries. A girl, the same one from the beginning of the article, arrives in a wheelchair to the ropes park and wonders aloud what she could possibly do in such a place. Then, less than an hour later, she goes through two obstacles with a choir of children and volunteers encouraging her from below.

And it doesn’t stop there because these camps that give the children an island of sanity are also an oasis for the families. Parents can relax for a moment and not worry about medicines, tests and counts. The healthy siblings suddenly receive their mom and dad full-time available for them. Just for them.

From 32 years of experience, it is important for me that every person in Israel and around the world be aware of how significant the power of the soul is for coping with cancer and in fact, with any crisis. It is important to give every person, young and old, a breather from hardships and an escape from reality, even if it is just for a short time.

The people of Israel have just celebrated the festival of the miracle of Hanukkah. Forgive me for the cliche but if you are looking for a miracle, you don’t need to go far. Just come to our camp and see for yourself. Miracles happen. Just look at the improved blood counts and the healthy appetite of children with a feeding tube and just look up at the girl in the ropes park – the same girl who cried just two days earlier that she wouldn’t be able to go camping at all.

The writers are founders of Zichron Menachem, which provides support for children who are cancer patients and their families.