Cancer rehabilitants are not second-rate

Aharon Veingarten

Chairman of Darchei Miriam organization for cancer patients in Israel

Anyone familiar with this firsthand knows that when a young man or lady is ill with cancer, one of the illness’ most difficult obstacles is its social implications. One’s outward appearance changes, one’s day-to-day functioning is weakened and above all else hovers the concern: What about my future shidduch? 

The mistake of "not prying"

All problems have solutions. There is medicine, there are high-tech medical treatments, there are chessed organizations that envelop you with kindness.  But the need for a solution remains- regarding the emotional pain and stress of these not-so-young men and women, carrying their apprehension and worry with them wherever they go. This all-too-common circumstance is too difficult to stand by and witness.

Today, in year 2023, cancer is an illness that Baruch Hashem, has a high percentage of recovery. However, in our community, when these cancer rehabilitants reach the age of shidduchim, they find out that, at least in the eyes of the rest of society, their illness still accompanies them… even when a long enough period has passed to ensure that the illness will not return.

We don’t mean moving from high-risk to low-risk. We mean situations where from a medical point of view there is absolutely no risk of the disease returning. Still, they remain with this ‘stain’, that creates shidduch problems.

They start getting used to shidduch suggestions in which they are quickly turned down, to ‘dry’ periods with no suggestions whatsoever, and to shadchanim who avoid getting themselves into these types of shidduchim. They become aware of the hesitancies of the people around them, who lack the tools to properly comprehend the medical situation and its ramifications.

Will they remain single? Will they need to give up on fundamental qualities of their prospective shidduchim? Is this simply a problem of society’s lack of awareness, which can be changed by some investment of time and energy to make things understood, or is there a need for a deeper change in perspective?

In charedi society there is no way to escape the fact that a man or woman in shidduchim, with an oncological past, is in a problematic situation. And the question is: Why?

With many years’ experience, I believe that this is a critical question. A man or woman who happens to be a cancer rehabilitant is not supposed to be second-rate, just because the people around them don’t understand their medical status properly. There is an entire population of oncological rehabilitants who are at less risk of illness and other problems, than a normal yeshiva bachur in Beis Matisyahu or seminary girl in Seminar Hachadash! These men and women don’t carry any real problems- what they carry with them is the heavy weight of: the lack of awareness and understanding of those around them, as to their medical state.

The approach of “it’s not nice to pry personal information- let’s just avoid such shidduchim altogether” is destructive! Not wanting to ask questions does not come from a rational source, but rather an emotional one. To request a discussion regarding facts, principles and general information about the past illness, is somehow considered something only a coldhearted, uncompassionate, radical person would do. It is considered a taboo subject that is not to be discussed under any circumstance.

However, it's important to realize that there are many cases in which the illness does not have any ramifications whatsoever, yet these cancer rehabilitants are forced to deal with the stigmas that society has labeled them with, as if they are still ill…

The causes of shidduch avoidance and stigma labeling

There is no doubt that in shidduchim, a man or woman with a real medical issue- not necessarily an oncological illness, or recent rehabilitants of which there is still no clear information as to their level of risk- are obligated to inform the other party of their medical situation. But in cases where the chance of rehabilitation is 100%, theoretically this subject wouldn’t have to be discussed in the first place.

Of course, it is proper for any man or woman who is Yereh Shamayim to be open about things, and speak openly to the other party about all information in their medical file; frankness and honesty are necessary qualities when approaching such a crucial subject as shidduchim certainly is.

However, it’s important to realize that there are many cases in which the illness does not have any ramifications whatsoever, yet these cancer rehabilitants are forced to deal with the stigmas that society has labeled them with, as if they are still ill…

Today, the almost only solution available to these men and women is- the secrecy solution.

This certainly should not be the situation we would like to choose. If there was enough awareness and proper exposure of this subject throughout the community, people wouldn’t have a problem having a frank and open conversation about the illness from their past, recognizing that it does not have any medical ramifications on the future life of the couple.

Ignorance and lack of knowledge lie at the root of shidduch avoidance and stigma labeling.

The solution

We are all fortunate to have such idealistic people as my dear friends Nachum Frank and Moshe Meizelish, who founded ‘Samchem Bebinyan Shalem’, assisting men and woman on all levels of medical conditions find their shidduch in a proper and honorable fashion.

Together with the renowned medical advisor of Ezer Mitzion- Shimon Ragovei, known for his comprehensive knowledge in this area and expertise in risk evaluations, they offer a thorough solution to this problem, finding shidduchim appropriate one to the other, taking into account both the personality aspect and the medical aspect. All this is done in a discreet and honorable fashion.

I remember my late father z”l, a true rodef chessed and founder of ‘Darchei Miriam’, who would invest hours upon hours trying to find a solution for these not-so-young bachurim, still single due to the oncological illnesses they had in their past. With not that much effort, their shidduch suffering can be made easier: If we can increase the community’s awareness as to where the risk lies and where it doesn’t- the avoidance and stigma labeling will disappear.

Be’ezras Hashem, in your zechus, this painful situation will disappear from the ill and from the rehabilitants.

May we hear only good tidings from now on.

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