Cancer is a terrifying word. So are chemotherapy, radiation, oncology, mastectomy, metastasis. So imagine grappling with an entire lexicon of these words in a language not your own — having to navigate the dark, twisted road of cancer treatment with only partial visibility and an old, outdated map.
For many Israelis living in Los Angeles who are diagnosed with cancer, these are the conditions they face. Hayuta Cohen wants to be their GPS system. Along with her longtime friend, Miri Lahav, Cohen recently started BeYachad (“Together”), a Hebrew-language cancer support group for Israelis — something that was not previously available but was much needed in the community — to provide information, counseling, translation services, lectures with specialists, a hand to hold during chemotherapy treatments and, most importantly, a forum to talk freely and openly about the ordeal in their native tongue.
“For Israelis living here, language can be a big problem,” said Cohen, an Israeli-born wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2007 but is now cancer free. “Even for those who have lived here many years and their English is good, the medical terminology you face as a cancer patient can be really overwhelming.”
There are other challenges as well — unfamiliarity with the American medical system; a lack of resources geared to their needs and, quite often, a dearth of family and friends. The idea for BeYachad sprouted when Lahav, who is currently battling cancer, realized she had nowhere to turn for answers, support and comfort. A fairly recent transplant from Israel, Lahav does not have family in Los Angeles or an extensive network of longtime friends, so she turned to Cohen, a friend who is also a registered nurse and a cancer survivor. The two women recognized an opportunity to fill a greater need in the community, and now, several months later, about a dozen Israelis are benefiting from their kindness and open-armed support. Starting in January, with support from MATI, the Israeli cultural center, the group will meet weekly at the JCC in West Hills at no cost to participants.
To guide these Israelis through dark times, Cohen relies on her natural, infectious optimism — a quality that helped her through her own battle with breast cancer. “For me, being diagnosed with cancer was not a death sentence. I didn’t look at it as the end of the world. I think that cancer, or anything hard you face in life, is an opportunity — for many things — and if you’re going to have cancer, you might as well use it to your advantage.” For Cohen, cancer led her to hypnotherapy, a meditative technique she strongly believes in and now practices professionally, including teaching hypnobirthing classes to expectant couples.
As a hypnotherapist, nurse and cancer survivor, Cohen feels she has a vast arsenal of tools to help those coping with a life-threatening disease and its aftermath. And as a sabra, she has the culture and the language to help Israelis in Los Angeles navigate the minefield that is cancer.
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