When Dovi Weinroth’s well-known wife Chani was first diagnosed with cancer, she was just 25 years old and the mother of two toddlers and an infant. In the nine years that followed, Chani became a public figure in Israel, lecturing and writing openly about her illness until her death in November 2017.
Now, five years later, attorney Dovi Weinroth is with me in the studio for a chat on coping not only with the loss of his wife, but also that of his father, Dr. Yaakov Weinroth. Dr. Weinroth was one of Israel’s most famous lawyers; he and his daughter-in-law died within a year of each other.
Dovi shares a stirring message that his father imparted after Chani’s death: “Dovi, listen. You remind me of an amateur boxer who makes the mistake of trying to get up right after a fall. An experienced boxer gives himself a few moments to recover. Knowing when to rest and when to act and gather the pieces is one of the secrets we learn in life. You are currently experiencing something similar to a knockout, and part of the recovery is not just to gather your strength and pull yourself together, but also to know how and when to do that.”
It was a message that became even more meaningful after his father’s passing only months later, also from cancer.
Chani chose to face her own crisis head-on, and at a certain point, she accepted that placing herself in the public eye would enable her to infuse others with emunah. She would not close her eyes to the inevitable, but she also refused to allow her terminal diagnosis to take over. Chani was determined to lead a full life, no matter how little time was left. At one juncture, she was given six months to live. Ultimately, it would be close to a decade.
“Many people become sick, but not many are willing to look the Angel of Death in the eye,” Dovi says. “Chani was not afraid of death, and with the short time she had left, she taught so many people real life lessons about focusing on what is truly important.”
Dovi adds that Chani avoided using certain expressions connected to cancer. “Chani didn’t like the terms ‘war on cancer’ or ‘beating cancer.’ She did not see it as either a war or a victory. She also did not like it when patients called themselves sick. She would say that a person is not sick, just dealing with an illness, the same way that a person deals with being single or having financial difficulties.”
As Chani gained recognition as a speaker and author, she was continually contacted by families of cancer patients asking her to visit their ill relatives. She developed connections with hundreds of other cancer patients and provided significant emotional support, Dovi says.
“Being a leader like Chani requires a lot of mental strength,” he notes. “In a certain sense, she had a lot of self-sacrifice for the community. Most of the cancer patients she befriended died before she did. You can’t just get over such deaths with platitudes. First, it’s a group of friends, and second, each one is another reminder that you won’t be needing this support system for very long, anyway.
Dovi also discusses Chaim Walder's death and the tragedy it left behind for his family and the victims. Dovi had written a children's book with Chaim Walder and they were good friends.