Emily Dobrovinsky, a competitive gymnast, was looking forward to the next competition when she learnt she had cancer.
“I’d already been in the hospital a few days and they kept doing more tests, so I figured something was wrong but I didn’t know what,” said Emily, who turned 10 two days prior to receiving her diagnosis.
“But then they sent me to a ward where a lot of the children didn’t have hair and looked very ill. That’s when I asked my mum whether the children had cancer. When she said yes, I realised that if I’m in the same ward, I must have cancer too.”
Emily, who spends one week in the hospital to receive treatment and the next at home recovering, receives support from Zichron Menachem both in and outside the hospital.
“The first time I heard about the organisation was when one of the volunteers, a magician, came to the ward to cheer us up. It was fun, and I asked my mum whether I could join Zichron Menachem.”
In the months since Emily was diagnosed, she has met several of the organisation’s volunteers.
Zichron Menachem’s volunteers also visit Emily’s home in the southern city of Beersheva.
“They play with me and help me with my homework. I have a private tutor now, because I’m not allowed to go school. My sister, Yuli, goes to school every day, so sometimes I feel lonely and isolated.
Today was an exception, she said excitedly, “because Zichron Menachem brought me and my family to Tel Aviv for the day to do a photo shoot.”
Those photos will be featured in Zichron Menachem’s campaign to encourage people to donate their hair to create wigs for cancer patients.
Emily said having cancer has changed her life in visible and less visible ways.
“One of the biggest changes is that my hair fell out,” she said, pointing to her honey-colored wig, which reaches nearly to her waist. “My real hair was blonde,” she added, sounding wistful.
Emily, who is articulate beyond her years, said she has learned to tame the fear that gripped her when she first learned she has leukaemia.
“I was afraid I would be in pain. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to go to school. I like school! I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do gymnastics and see my friends.
While all of these things have come true, Emily said she is making a conscious effort to accept what has become a new reality.
“I’ve got used to it. I understand that this is the situation and that I need to cope with things and get through it.
“At first it was difficult. At school I spent a lot of time with my friends, I had a schedule. I would get up, eat breakfast, go to school, go to class, eat lunch, go to class again and then go home or train in gymnastics. Now I’m either home or in the hospital.”
Saddened that her parents had to cancel a family vacation to Prague – a surprise for her 10th birthday – due to her illness, Emily said she “can’t wait” to attend Zichron Menachem’s summer camp in 2018.
“I’ve heard it will be great fun and I’ll be with other kids who have cancer and know what it’s like. Hopefully my parents won’t be so worried because there will be doctors and nurses and volunteers on the trip who can take care of me if I don’t feel well.”
Emily is happy that her 13-year-old sister, Yuli, will have the opportunity to attend Zichron Menachem’s camp for the siblings of children and young adults with cancer.
“Since I’ve been ill it’s been tough on Yuli. Our parents are with me so often, which means that Yuli spends a lot of time on her own, or with our grandparents.
“I miss spending time with her,” Emily said.