Seeds of happiness, health and hope were planted in Israel in 2000, which blossomed into Larger Than Life, an organization designed to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of Israeli children who have cancer, regardless of religion, gender or nationality.
“Larger Than Life evolved as a grassroots charity built by parents of children who were cancer survivors,” said Risa Epstein, the chair of Larger Than Life Canada’s advisory board. “These parents are the moving engines of the organization – the visionaries of what families need.”
The charity has had branches in the United States for some time and was recently registered in Canada. Larger Than Life Canada held its first community meeting on May 7, when attendees learned about how its programs instill hope in the hearts of children, parents and siblings affected by childhood cancer. One such program is the Kindergarten of Dreams – the world’s first sterile early childhood educational and therapeutic centre for kids with cancer, which is located in central Israel.
“Five years ago, a group of mothers approached us, presenting the need that babies and young children with cancer –in kindergarten and preschool age – are staying at home for two to three years of treatment and they cannot attend regular school because they don’t have an immunity system,” said Lior Shmueli, the CEO Larger Than Life Israel.
“They cannot be exposed to other children that have vaccines and that have an active immunity system. The concept was: if these sick children with cancer can be in isolation rooms at the hospital but not in a regular preschool, then let’s build a preschool (and) kindergarten that is built with the same technology as isolation rooms in hospitals.”
Larger Than Life offers a wide range of support, from navigating the health-care bureaucracy, to tending to mental health, to providing fun opportunities for kids.
“There are approximately 1,500 pediatric oncology patients undergoing cancer treatment in Israel each year. Larger Than Life takes care of their social, medical and family needs,” said Epstein.
Since its inception, Larger Than Life has developed more than 20 programs – from trips to Disney parks in Florida and California, to summer camps, youth movements, psychological treatment services and financial and logistical assistance – which help more than 10,000 families.
LIUNA, an annual gala held in support of Larger Than Life, recently took place in Hamilton, Ont. “We are now able to achieve our first milestone, which is funding the extension for Dr. Sarah Malkiel, an Israeli doctor at SickKids hospital, so she can learn cutting-edge technology on bone marrow transplants,” said Epstein with joy. “Her knowledge will greatly contribute to the efficacy of pediatric oncology treatments requiring bone marrow transplants in Israel.”
Jennifer Dobry, who’s on the board of directors of Larger Than Life Israel, told The CJN that, “My son is now 26 and healthy, but he was sick with cancer between the ages of 15 and 17. He spent almost two years in the hospital. It was literally because of Larger Than Life that he had a community to belong to.
“We give these kids a safe space where they can meet. Larger Than Life basically helped him understand that he could be normal at a time when he had no hair, no immune system and he didn’t go out. We try and build tailor-made programs for each child and we offer support groups for parents.”
Epstein’s mission is to build a Canadian presence for the organization. “When you think of the Jewish community, it’s my hope people will think of Larger Than Life Canada,” said Epstein.
Dobry spent several days in Toronto, laying the foundations for Larger Than Life’s Canadian branch. “We visited SickKids hospital and learned of the very latest treatments and developments in the medical fields fighting childhood cancer. We met summer camp leaders in Canada and learned of our common wish – to help these kids have as normal as possible childhood,” said Dobry.
To learn more, visit largerthanlifecanada.org.