Paying it forward

28 Nov

We all know what “paying back” means. Many of us spend too much of our lives in financial debt and in paying back what we owe. Then there are kindnesses of others that we feel we have to repay – but we simply don’t get round to. Which reminds me of one of my favourite Ephraim Kishon stories – the one where after hours of searching for a parking meter a considerate driver makes way for him. Only for Kishon to have no money for the meter. He borrows from a passer by. Each time Kishon wants to repay – he’s thwarted. The story is a classic.

This story is about paying forward. A true story that gives me goose pimples each time I think about. It starts over 70 years ago. My parents got married in London in 1941. Traditional Jews living in a nice neighbourhood. One day their Rabbi asks for volunteers to take in kids from the “Kindertransport”. Only two couples took up the challenge – my newly-wedded parents and one other couple. I don’t know why the response was so poor. Not too many left to ask now. Did British Jewry then think of the kids as “foreign”? Speaking a foreign language and foisting foreign habits on families, not in keeping with the Queen’s?

Who knows? My parents fostered a 14-year young girl named Sylva Avramovici. She stayed with them on and off till after the War. Soon after, she realised she would never see any of her immediate family from Germany again. With my parents’ help, she left for The States. To cut a long story short, soon after she arrived she met her future husband, Eric; they married and lived “happily ever after”. They had three children, about the same age as myself and my siblings. Our two families kept in contact over the years. I was more in contact with just one of their children, the Oscar-winning film producer Debbie Oppenheimer[1], who today lives in California. Fast forward to the present.

Last autumn, Pam’s novel, For the Love of God and Virgins[2] was published. Plans were laid for a US and Canadian launch. Coast to coast lecture tour, interviews, you name it. In California we’d meet up with Debbie. Sounded too good to be true. Then I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Our world was instantly up-side-down. Our previous life put on hold. Man can plan – life has a habit of making changes when we least expect it.

So we e-mail Debbie to tell her that our plans have changed. And explain the reason why. She’s very upset for us. She writes back and mentions that  years ago she was very friendly with a chap called Bill Isacoff – who today just happens to be one of the world authorities on pancreatic cancer. Are we interested in contacting him? You bet!                                                                          

Dr William Isacoff is based in UCLA Hospital, California. We made the connection. We asked Keith, who was intimately familiar with my medical  details, to discuss the case with the man himself. At this point I go cold. The kindness of people never fails to amaze me. Out of the goodness of his heart, this stranger, Dr Bill Isacoff, simply tells us what we have to do. We listen carefully. Keith confirms – this is what you have to do.

 We arrange to see my oncologist, Dr Ido Wolf, Head of Oncology at Chaim Sheba Hospital, Tel Hashomer. We tell him what we want to do. This is not an easy situation for our oncologist. But, to his great credit, he agrees to authorise my new treatment, even though we understood that it was not yet being used for pancreatic cancer at Tel Hashomer.

How life hangs on the finest thread. Is it fate, or luck or destiny?

I wouldn’t like to leave today’s blog with you thinking: “It’s alright for him… he’s got contacts… it couldn’t work out for me”

Not so fast – let’s get this in proportion. There are two things I want to share  with you: networking and medical management. Let’s hope I’m up to writing again soon. The fight goes on.  

[1]After Sylva died in 1993, Debbie decided to research her mother’s past and the Kindertransport. Sylva barely spoke about the Holocaust or her experience of the Kindertransport. Debbie published the story in her book “Into the Arms of Strangers” and then proceeded to produce a documentary film of the same name. It won the Oscar for the best documentary in 2000.   

[2]“For the Love of God and Virgins”  ( is available through Amazon, Kindle or the publisher, Mantua Books  (  

One Response to “Paying it forward”

  1. Jamie Guest November 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    And the seasons they go ’round and ’round………..
    Debbie is an angel to many.
    Am glad you are in her orbit and she in yours.
    JLC BF and head of the FOD ( Friend of Deb ) fanclub.

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