A diagnosis of cancer is frightening enough, but imagine receiving that diagnosis as a new immigrant to Israel, far away from supportive family and trying to cope in an environment where you don't speak the native language well. That can be overwhelming. It's not that expert care doesn't exist in Israel, or that there are no support groups. There are. It's just that they are in Hebrew. As one survivor put it, "I needed to know what's going on with me ... in English."
Now there is that option, thanks to Thrivacious, a nonprofit organization which aims to ensure that no English-speaking woman in Israel will be forced to face cancer alone. It was founded by Alona Metz, who was diagnosed with breast cancer herself at the age of 28.
"Cancer is a huge shock," she says. "I was just afraid. After treatment, I realized that I wanted to do something meaningful with my life." Her move to Tel Aviv in 2013 gave her that impetus. "As a cancer survivor, I couldn't find a single support program in English, and yet there are thousands of English-speaking people touched by cancer who are facing their emotional trauma alone."
Here was a need for something meaningful. To fill that need, Alona founded Thrivacious, so-named, according to Kathy Poodiack, who is the new Executive Director, because it focuses on an upbeat and optimistic point of view.
"Thrivacious is a combination of the words 'thriving 'and 'vivacious'. Our goal is for women to become their best selves; to be happy and live the life they want to lead. The organization is run completely in English. We want it to be a place where women can feel comfortable expressing their feelings in their native tongue and know that they will be understood," Kathy says. Kathy herself was an oncology physician assistant before coming to Israel. As a recent widow, she says, "I found myself kind of lost and so I posted on an online oleh community site that anyone with cancer who was looking for information in English could feel free to reach out to me. Alona saw my post and contacted me and asked me to get involved with Thrivacious as a volunteer." Last summer, she became Executive Director.
Thrivacious now has some 150 members. Not all are women who have been diagnosed with cancer and are in treatment or in remission; members also include previvors, those with genes known to cause cancer, and caregivers, close family and loved ones of people who have or have had cancer.
Since mutual support and understanding is so important, one of the most significant aims of Thrivacious is to organize workshops where women can meet each other. Workshop subjects have included art therapy, healthy cooking, sexuality and body image, yoga and tools to manage stress. Other activities are just for fun, such as a "Thrivakah" Chanukah party.
Having someone to lean on and confide in can make a huge difference, so another way to provide support is through the peer connection program. This matches up each member with a mentor – someone from whom she can gain support because of their past experience – or a buddy, who is in a similar situation. Kathy adds, "We also have a closed Facebook group where members can get online and ask questions or just vent and others will respond. It also helps in navigating the system."
An annual retreat, held in 2019 at Kibbutz Dalia, gave participants a three-day time-out from the pressures of life. Each day was filled with workshops, activities and nature. "It's a really beautiful bonding experience," she says. Twenty-five women participated this year, and they are hoping for 30 next year. The retreat is highly subsidized, thanks to the organization's fundraising efforts all year round. Funds also go to help members with transportation and child care, if they
need it. "Some medications are not in the health fund basket and as a result some women are in dire straits."
What does Thrivacious mean to the women who are part of it? Their comments include "a phenomenal journey", "a home", "so important", "someone to catch you". This is what one woman had to say:
"Thrivacious provides a community and support system for women touched by cancer. When you are diagnosed with cancer, your friends want to be there for you, but they don't really know what to say. There are some things that you can only talk about with someone else going through it or who has gone through it. I have met some wonderful women through Thrivacious."