Her eyes were bright. Her youthful face was animated as she
spoke to the group of high school girls crowding around her,
eager to hear her every word. "You should have seen the
kallah's, gown! Tiny seed pearls were stitched
elegantly around the neck and down the sleeves. Oh! And the
kallah's headpiece was a crown of white roses and
wisps of baby's breath."
An "Ah" of admiration floated forth from the cluster of
teenagers, all picturing themselves as the beautiful
kallah. Seventeen-year-old Baila was enthralling her
classmates with an account of her cousin's recent wedding.
"How was the music? Who was the orchestra?" The sudden
sounding of the school bell reminded the girls that lunch
period was over and it was time for classes to resume. The
questions would have to wait as all the girls quickly
bentched and hurried on to their next period.
Baila tucked a strand of soft brown hair behind her ear,
gathered her books, and headed for the library. She had
decided to use her free period to work on a report due for
Thursday. The atmosphere in the school library was quiet and
relaxed; a good place to study and do the research she needed
for her history report. Leaving her books on the table, Baila
ambled down the aisles, looking for a book she needed. Aisle
six, bottom shelf, there it was; Baila bent down to retrieve
the volume of world history.
Suddenly, Baila heard her name mentioned in a muffled whisper
from the other side of the book-laden shelves.
"I feel so bad for Baila," she murmured.
"What do you mean?" came the hushed reply.
"Didn't you hear her tell us about her cousin's
chasuna? Well, it's so sad to think that she might
never get married."
"But why? Baila's a great girl and everyone knows that."
"Don't you remember? Baila was sick when she was younger.
She, well, she had cancer. No one would want to marry her
"But that was years ago; boruch Hashem, she recovered.
She looks healthy now."
"I know she looks healthy; but my mother said that cancer
always comes back. Poor Baila. I feel so sorry for her, no
shadchan would recommend her for a shidduch.
It's too big a risk. Besides, what would her children be
like? If she's able to have children."
Baila felt her knees grow weak as she overheard the hushed
conversation. What was she hearing? Her classmates were
whispering about her being sick? It was true that she had
been stricken with cancer as a child, but that had been years
ago. She was healthy now, the illness had faded away as a
distant memory: although she knew the experience had been a
nightmare for her parents. Had Hashem blessed her with a
refu'ah sheleimah so that now, as a young adult, she
should face the harsh decree set by her community of an empty
life devoid of the joys of married life?
The above story is true, although the misconceptions that
Baila's community holds concerning young people who have
survived cancer are false.
When a community hears that a precious Jewish child has been
stricken by a terrible disease, everyone becomes mobilized,
round the clock Tehillim are said, extra
shiurim are instituted, meals for the family are
provided and delivered. And in the cases where boruch
Hashem, the child successfully recovers from the illness,
it is a simcha for the entire community. As if with
one heart, we breathe a sigh of relief and utter an extra
chapter of Tehillim of thanks to the One Above who has
spared this child and has granted him or her a refu'ah
But how does this same community react when this child grows
to marriageable age and it is time for a shidduch?
Suddenly, there is silence. The local shadchan tells
the family that they are not in the field anymore. There are
no phone calls or inquiries made about this child, whereas
with the older siblings the phone hadn't stopped ringing.
Even well-meaning family members and friends are quiet, or at
best, make feeble suggestions for a shidduch with
someone else who "has a problem."
You'll have to settle for what you can get. You know you
can't be too choosy in a situation like this.
Should any parent ask their child "to settle" for less than a
lifetime of happiness and sholom bayis? Yet these are
the realities of the shidduch scene which young people
who have survived childhood cancer are facing today.
According to medical studies, 70% of children with cancer are
cured. While a small segment of these children are left
scarred with some type of physical disability, the
overwhelming majority are 100% cured, with no remaining
disability in terms of schooling, marriage, or ability to
Dr. Michael Harris, chief of pediatric hematology oncology at
the world-renowned Hackensack University Medical Center in
New Jersey, is an Orthodox Jew who agrees that there should
be no deceptions before marriage. Dr. Harris stated, "One
should know the true value of what one is getting in
Dr. Harris is often asked to give a statement of health about
his former patients for shidduch purposes. Not long
ago, an interested party called Dr. Harris to ask questions
about a former patient's health and prospects for the future.
Dr. Harris stated that the bochur was healthy. Sensing
that the other side had trouble accepting this fully. Dr.
Harris declared, "This boy has been examined annually by me
for many years. I am intimately familiar with his body and
his health status. No one can predict the future, but right
now I can tell you that I know this boy is healthy. Can you
positively say the same of your own daughter?"
Research studies of survivors of childhood cancer funded by
the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute
have revealed some interesting facts.
1. The majority of survivors of childhood cancer, who have
married, have children. Studies have shown no increase of
childhood cancers in children born to parents who themselves
had cancer as children.
2. The majority of the survivors said that they had
experienced no physical or emotional problems because of
their cancer history.
3. The majority of the spouses of survivors cited the cancer
history as having a positive impact on their relationship.
Principal investigator Kathleen Rucclone, of Children's
Hospital of Los Angeles, CA, states that, "The most important
and impressive thing to me is how resilient survivors are!
Most of them do well, in relationships and otherwise. Severe
problems are very unusual." (From Candlelighters, the
youth newsletter published by the American Cancer Society)
When parents look for a marriage partner for their child, the
quality of good middos is high on the list of
priorities. Parents want a marriage partner for their child
who will be sensitive to the needs of others, kind and
A person who has undergone suffering learns to be
compassionate. Young adults who have survived childhood
cancer often have an understanding and sensitivity to others.
They have gained an appreciation of life which others
sometimes never attain.
We hope others will give us the benefit of the doubt and
judge us favorably. Let us, in turn, judge others favorably
and give the many wonderful young people who have survived
the trials of their childhood an opportunity to marry
successfully and to lead good and sweet lives.