“I didn’t mean to influence or inspire anyone. It just happened.”
My daughter Zoe was only 6 years old when her father’s terminal illness was discovered. She didn’t think there was anyone in the world who could understand what she was going through. Her actions inspired the creation of Jeremy’s Circle. This is her story:
When I was 6, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. At that time, I didn’t really understand the meaning of the disease, but I remember having a lot of difficult, complex feelings. Especially loneliness. I felt lonely because I was losing both my father with whom I was very close and the family unit I was used to and loved. The less expected loneliness came from feeling like I was the only girl that something like this ever happened. I didn’t know any other children from school or from any other setting who were dealing with their father’s terminal illness or loss due to cancer like I was.
While my father was in treatment, I met with friends from my class at school and in the afternoons almost like normal. In addition, my parents’ friends and family took special notice of my brothers and me and even took us with them on trips, to a movie, or just to dinner. But it didn’t help as much as it should have. They weren’t like me and they couldn’t fill that missing hole. One of the annoying phrases people kept saying to me when they tried to comfort me was that “You’re not alone. There are other girls like you”. Okay, annoying adults, I thought to myself, maybe somewhere in the world there is another little girl like me whose father is dealing with cancer, but I don’t know her and don’t know if she really exists.
So I asked my mother for proof. It took a few months, but through the grapevine, she finally found a family with a story similar to ours. I remember the day when we met at a cafe with a girl my age and her mother. I don’t remember her name or what she looked like, I just remember us running around in the square outside while the adults sat and chatted. I had a lot of fun. I felt that I didn’t have to explain myself in words and that she understood me as I understood her. When my parents saw the impact and importance of the meeting, they began to plan to create an organization for kids like us. After my father’s death, my mother, my father’s sisters, and friends founded Jeremy’s Circle, in his name.
Today, Jeremy’s Circle supports families who are dealing with cancer or cancer loss through fun events for children and youth, to help them forget the grief or difficulty in their lives for a few hours. Also, it creates an amazing framework for getting to know children with similar life stories, and for creating friendships between them in the most natural way.
The power of friendships without effort
I still volunteer at events, and as a child, Jeremy’s Circle helped me a lot. I made new friends, and one of them quickly became a really good friend. She understood me when my friends from home did not. I remember a specific event in a rope park after I just experienced a crisis with a friend from home. The Jeremy’s Circle friend sat with me, understood me, and stayed with me until I calmed down. There was a depth in this friendship that is not found in all friendships and was especially rare for a friendship between 12-year-old girls.
Part of the fun was that this friendship between us required no effort. I was a very shy girl, yet friendships at Jeremy’s Circle were made and developed easily. Although we lived in different cities, we always met at the events. Maintaining this friendship happened naturally and simply, alongside the complexity we both experienced at home. We understood the weight of each other’s home lives without having to talk about it a lot. Some friendships faded over the years, as we grew older, but we still follow each other on social media and they will always stay in my heart. And some friendships continue to influence me today. Lately, I am in contact with the younger sister of one of my Jeremy’s Circle friends. As someone who participated in the activities as a child and saw the friendships develop, she was inspired to base her senior project for her film class on Jeremy’s Circle.
It is exciting to see the impact that started quite unintentionally. I just wanted to make friends with kids who were similar to me, and who faced situations I faced, so that we could understand each other without words. I met a circle of girls my age and we became friends. I didn’t mean to influence or inspire anyone. It just happened. This is the power of these friendships 🙂
Zoe’s story was originally published in Hebrew in Maariv newspaper.
Jeremy’s 15th annual memorial service (azcara) will be held June 16, 2023 – details can be found here.