A year ago today, I was in hospice care at home. For many years I lived with a rare lymphoma and a few other cancers, I've lived at end stage for far longer than anyone could ever have anticipated. I've had extra, and I know that, I've been truly blessed. By August 2011, my time was short,because of the nature of the main lymphoma I have to live with. I had so much tumor activity that I could no longer walk, use my hands, or see. So, hospice it was. My only chance at more time would be a stem cell transplant, and for Jewish people, finding a donor is not easy, since so few of us register. We must run drives and search for our matches, and most often, we do not find them.
Comedian and Philadelphia Jewish Voice contributor Steve Hofstetter, whose birthday is today, decided to use the day for something serious. He made a video discouraging his 8 million social media people from birthday wishes, instead asking for donations to a cancer org that helped his wife during a difficult time.
A little over one month ago, Ezer Mizion coordinated a massive bone marrow donor drive throughout Israel.
For many cancer patients, the sole chance of survival is a bone marrow transplant. To be successful, both donor and patient must match genetically. It is essential to have a match readily available at the time of need as the patient's condition can deteriorate quickly.
He is only twelve but he knew his way around the large building with its many offices. He came every day and was known by the staff. He approached the entrance today. Tense. Anxious. His fists clenched in anticipation of what he would hear. His shoulders sagging in discouragement. But yet a tiny glimmer of hope in his eyes. The sign at the office door read Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Registry. It was a simple sign but it contained the world. His world. He entered. "Have you found a match for my mother today," he asked.
The staff found it so difficult to answer the boy. He knew he would receive an official call from the office if there was good news but he couldn't wait for that. And so he came every day. His mother was dying of cancer but a bone marrow transplant could produce the cure. It was her only chance. And it was a good chance. With the transplant, his mother would bake him cupcakes again. She would grin with joy when he brought home a 100 on a test and join him on a trek through the mountains on a family trip. She would remind him to do his homework and he would beg to go out to play and promise to do it later. She would get angry at him and scold him and it would be wonderful. But now? Now she just lay there on the hospital bed. She didn't even smile when he handed her his report card full of A's. A button had come off his shirt and she didn't even notice.
You see, the transplant can only take place if a donor who is a genetic match can be found and Ezer Mizion, the largest Jewish Bone Marrow Registry in the world, had none. Genetic testing, unlike blood group testing, is very expensive. Ezer Mizion has close to 600,000 registrants but it is not enough. Many are saved but many are... not. Compassionate Jews the world over have become aware of the need for an enlarged Jewish registry as an insurance policy for worldwide Jewry and they contribute generously. As funding comes in, more are tested. Every day, new potential donors join the registry. The young boy will be there tomorrow again. He'll ask his question again. And tomorrow the answer will be...
Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. About 75% of patients die within 12 months of diagnosis. Only 6% survive for five years.
Little has been defined about risk factors for this deadly disease, but it is known that Jews of Ashkenazi descent are at significantly higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than the general public. In the U.S., pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cancer killer. In Israel, it's the third leading cancer killer.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is a nationwide network of people dedicated to working together to advance research, support patients and create hope for all those affected by pancreatic cancer. The organization began in 1999, when a handful of families who had lost loved ones came together to change the dire statistics of the disease. Now there are more than 70 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network affiliates across the U.S., including an active group that serves the Philadelphia region (the city and all of southeastern Pennsylvania).
Keren Rabinovich at Rambam Medical Center. (Photo: Pioter Fliter.)
-- Michele Segelnick
Last month, a four year old girl underwent surgery at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa for an exceptionally rare tumor, which was in her pancreas. In fact, Keren is among the youngest people in Israel and throughout the world to have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Insightful - and bold - diagnostic skills and top notch surgery saved the little girl's life.
In November 2010, a local hospital sent four-year old Keren Rabinowitz to Rambam for serious and unexplained abdominal pain. A CT scan examined at RHCC showed that Keren's bile ducts were obstructed, causing jaundice, and indicating a tumor could be in the bile ducts or pancreas.
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