Tragic mum gives thanks to Chai

Igal and Cindy Bar-Oz hold a photo of their daughter Leora

Igal and Cindy Bar-Oz hold a photo of their daughter Leora

Cindy Bar-Oz thought that being told her husband Igal had stomach cancer was the worst day of her life. But it was matched by discovering her daughter Leora had leukaemia.

And while Leora Kuhillow was recovering in quarantine from bone marrow transplants, Mrs Bar-Oz's 88-year-old father was rushed into hospital and she found herself torn between loved ones.

Although Igal was restored to health, Leora lost her battle against leukaemia 18 months ago. But Mrs Bar-Oz, 62, from Sunnybank, north Manchester, remains grateful for the continuing support of Chai Cancer Care and is telling her story to raise awareness in the run-up to its first Manchester fundraising dinner on Sunday.

She said Chai had helped the family rebuild their lives after their "darkest moments of despair.

"Leora fought so bravely through course after course of the strongest cocktails of chemotherapy they could give. She lost her long dark curly hair, and her body was black and blue from all the needles prior to the bone marrow transplant she had that I prayed would save her life.

"Ten years ago when my husband had cancer there was no Chai. And, oh, what a difference. My counsellor was there for me constantly and there was a support network of therapies to help you whichever way they could to make it easier to cope."

Well established in London, Chai started up in Manchester in 2009. The local team includes four counsellors, trained to help cancer sufferers and their families.

Four complementary therapists offer treatments such as reflexology, aromatherapy, acupuncture and physiotherapy. Research shows they can help the condition of sufferers and aid the relaxation of those caring for them. Around 130 people from across the north are now being helped from Manchester with a second satellite service established in the south of the city.

Leora Kuhillow saw a Chai counsellor before her death at the age of 32, survived by a husband and three young children. She is remembered locally as a courageous woman who urged family and friends to run community-wide bone marrow donor drives, which were attended by hundreds.

For Mrs Bar-Oz, gratitude for Chai's backing has also prompted her to share extracts from the personal journal she has been writing since her daughter's death.

"I remember having one of my first sessions with Chai, a massage. I had been to my friend and found out she had lost her daughter-in-law. I was in floods of tears. And here was this stranger who I'd never met who had come to give a massage. But I found her very understanding. You wouldn't normally be able to turn to a complete stranger and cry on her shoulder, but I felt that connection.

"You just feel because they are Jewish you can speak about how we handle death in the Orthodox community. I wouldn't have been as ready to speak about my religious issues to a non-Jew. When my husband was ill and there was no Chai, the nurses at the hospital were wonderful, but somehow you feel more connected because Chai are Jewish. At that time it is important."

Charity chief executive Elaine Kerr says its Manchester services have enabled Chai to reach a wider geographical area.

"We currently also support clients in Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle."

    Last updated: 10:42am, March 11 2011