Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

22 Adar 5759 - March 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Give Them Another Chance

by Chanah Moskowitz

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 now."

"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 sheleimah.

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 have children.

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 marriage."

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 merciful.

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.

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