By Diana Bletter

When Pamela Becker’s husband, Jeremy Coleman, was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer in 2007, she was so involved with caring for him that she had little energy left for their three children, aged six months to six years. She turned to friends for help.

“Our friends would shove all the kids’ booster seats into the car and my kids would just go with them on family outings like hikes or movies,” Becker said.

The experience of “letting kids just be kids” was so important that Becker turned her personal tragedy into social action.

With Coleman’s sisters, Becker began Jeremy’s Circle, the first organization in Israel giving children and teenagers whose parents or siblings have cancer “permission to laugh out loud and have fun.”

Pamela Becker, chairman and founder of Jeremy’s Circle, with two children in the program. (Sara Salamon)

“Despite the fact that something terrible is going on, we still need to take the time to let our kids be with other kids and connect with others,” Becker said.

“Nobody was taking care of the healthy children in families who also needed attention,” she said.

Participating in activities with other children makes them “no longer feel different because they have to wheel their brother in a wheelchair or because their mother has to wear a wig because she lost her hair.”

Coleman helped his wife work out a business plan for the organization in the weeks before he died in 2008. His sisters, Juliette and Naomi, and close friends have helped Becker grow Jeremy’s Circle from supporting 25 families to supporting about 700 families.

This is a way for Becker to turn her husband’s death into something positive. “We’re doing good in Jeremy’s name,” she said.

A community of fun

“We want all children in a terrible situation of having a parent or sibling with cancer, or losing a loved one to cancer, to have what we call a community of fun,” Becker said.

When someone is sick in a family, the focus is on the ill patient. Families are often under stress financially, physically and emotionally. At events, children can shed the stress and sadness of their house and move away from the idea that “it’s not respectful if I laugh out loud.”

Before the first Hanukkah event at Jeremy’s Circle, one man offered to bring 100 hot dogs; someone else found them a DJ. This year, the 14th consecutive Jeremy’s Circle Hanukkah event will be held at the indoor play park iJump.

During the past year, when the pandemic prevented face-to-face meetings, Jeremy’s Circle arranged online activities. Now, the organization has a combination of online and in-person events.

A collage of Jeremy’s Circle activities. (Courtesy of Jeremy’s Circle)

The organization arranges transportation and meals; in the summer, it provides baseball caps and sunblock. Thanks to donations from individuals and foundations, all activities are free for each family member.

Madelin Nahum said that when she started treatment for breast cancer four years ago, she confided in a friend who was also sick that she didn’t know what to do with her daughter, Daniela, who was six at the time. Her friend told her about Jeremy’s Circle. Since then, Nahum and her daughter, now 10, have been involved in Jeremy’s Circle.

“The people in Jeremy’s Circle have become my family and my friends,” Nahum said.

After her chemotherapy treatments, she and her daughter would go to Jeremy’s Circle events. Because Nahum doesn’t drive, the organization sends a taxi to pick them up and drop them off.

“When my daughter is with other kids whose parents are also sick, it calms her down,” Nahum said. “And that fills my soul.”

Not impossible

When her husband was sick, Becker attended a caregivers’ support group. One time, she brought along her 6-year-old daughter, Zoe. Becker saw how isolated Zoe was and arranged to have a play date with another girl whose parent was ill.

“I remember that these two girls played with each other on the playground for hours,” Becker said. “This experience of meeting someone with a similar situation brought tremendous amounts of relief.”

Jeremy Coleman with daughter Zoe before his diagnosis. (Courtesy of Pamela Becker)

Despite the personal tragedy for Becker and her family, her story does have a happy ending.

In her support group, she met a man whose wife died two months before Jeremy did. The couple merged their five children, all close in age, into a new family.

“It’s a unique experience to lose a spouse, and we understood each other and can speak almost in shorthand,” she said.

For children and their families, meeting others at Jeremy’s Circle activities shows them that “they’re normal and things are not so impossible,” Becker said. “Other people are coping with the tragedy of cancer — but look, they’re still standing.”

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Produced in association with Israel21C.

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