An Israeli Singer Takes Cancer Survivor Show on the Road

By Erica Brody

Published May 23, 2003, issue of May 23, 2003.
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Israeli singer Tami Rimon once used her voice solely for entertaining — she has put out two albums in Israel and was known for making the rounds at formal functions and concert halls. But now, as a New York appearance last week made evident, Rimon’s performances have taken on a more serious tone.

A hamsa and a pink ribbon adorning her stylish, sleeveless blouse, Rimon crooned “What a Wonderful World” as she stood in front of her all-female audience in the Times Square offices of Share — a nonprofit support group that brings together women with breast and ovarian cancer. After the music stopped, however, the more sobering component of Rimon’s act began: a screening of “Tami,” a documentary about her treatment for high-risk stage-II breast cancer. It details her mastectomy, chemotherapy, experimental bone-marrow treatment, radiation therapy and reconstructive surgery. (Everything but the reconstructive surgery was successful.)

Rimon says “Talk About Life” — her program that combines music, film and discussion — is meant to convey the importance of relishing life, although the graphic documentary, which she describes as “a year in 45 minutes,” is difficult to watch. One woman at the Manhattan event had to leave the room, and several told the Forward afterward that it had brought tears to their eyes.

Rimon told the audience about how, during her first self-examination, at age 35 — her own mother had died at age 35 of bladder cancer — she found a lump, which a biopsy determined to be malignant. A divorced mother of three, Rimon decided to have a filmmaker friend document her treatment. In case she did not survive, she said, the film would leave a record of her battle against breast cancer, which afflicts one out of eight women who live to age 85 and has a particularly high incidence among women of Ashkenazic descent.

During the psychological and spiritual healing that followed her medical treatment, Rimon decided to integrate her best attributes — survival, singing and her skills as a people person — and so “Talk About Life” was born. Since 2001, Rimon has been taking “Talk About Life” and its positive message to groups throughout Israel, Europe and America, putting a healthy, vivacious face on an ugly disease.

Speaking to doctors, nurses, patients and others personally affected by breast cancer, Rimon serves as both advocate and inspiration. The film, broadcast often on Israeli television and financed in part by the Israeli Cancer Association, is “a tool for my work as an advocate,” Rimon said. It was her advocacy that brought about this month’s trip to the United States, where she was one of roughly a dozen international guests at the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Annual Advocacy Training Conference in Washington.

Rimon often acts as an adviser and friend to women diagnosed with breast cancer, holding their hands through the terrors of treatment and encouraging them to use their diagnosis as an opportunity to reevaluate their lives and demand everything possible from their doctors. Many of the women she speaks with are young mothers, like she was when she was diagnosed. Rimon is clear about the fact that she is not a statistician or a medical expert. But she believes that a positive attitude can be transformative; while it may not prolong or save a life, it can greatly improve the quality of life, for oneself and one’s loved ones.

Life, Rimon said, is often a series of hurdles: The larger the hurdle, the better able one is to enjoy the plateaus. Rimon stressed that she does not want pity. She wants people to listen to her positive message, whether in her personal anecdotes, her documentary or her performance of Carole King’s “Beautiful,” where she sings: “You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face… you’re gonna find/ that you’re beautiful as you feel.”

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