With his path to recovery for his two malignant brain tumours finally nearing its end, Nepean High School Grade 12 student Raffi Meyer-Wertman is looking forward to attending Habonim Dror’s Workshop, a nine-month gap-year program in Israel for high school graduates.
After months of treatments for his germinoma, including brain surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other forms of alternative treatments, Raffi says he is finally starting to feel “human” again.
“I got all my radiation and chemotherapy done, I have fewer appointments, and I am almost back to my normal high school life,” he said.
Raffi first became aware something was wrong was when started noticing he was constantly thirsty – no matter how much water he drank. “I was drinking nearly 20 litres a day by the time I started to think it was weird,” he said.
After hospital tests, Raffi was diagnosed with diabetes insipidus – a rare disorder which affects water metabolism and prevents the body from effectively conserving water – stemming from a brain tumour located within his pituitary gland. A second MRI revealed a larger brain tumour within the third ventricle of his brain.
After his diagnoses, Raffi said, his life became “appointments almost every day and a whirlwind of medical stuff,” as well as feelings of shock and fear.
To treat his brain tumours, Raffi first underwent 12 treatments of chemotherapy. After completing three-quarters of his treatments, his tumours had been reduced in size by nearly 50 per cent.
The second part of his treatments involved 13 sessions of radiation therapy. Raffi also began taking supplements, such as vitamin C, which, he said, gave him “a lot of energy so I was still able to go to school during my chemotherapy,” and pills for his diabetes insipidus, which give him the synthetic version of the hormone he needs.
Meyer-Wertman has attended Camp Gesher, a Habonim Dror summer camp in Cloyne, Ontario, since 2010, and this past summer was no exception.
“I fought really hard against my doctor’s advice not to go. I didn’t want to miss camp – as it is my favourite place in the world,” he said.
Raffi says his camp experiences have given him “a heightened connection” to his Jewish identity and increased his sense of spirituality which has led to his dream of travelling to Israel next September to participate in Workshop during his gap-year.
The Workshop website describes the program as an “immersive Israeli experience, living and working on a Kibbutz as well as learning and growing with your group using many different forms of informal education.”
Raffi says Workshop will give him, “the tools that I need to explore myself on a deeper level,” and will also be a “personal celebration of my battle and the overall winning of my life’s biggest challenge.”
Due to expenses associated with his treatments over the past year, Raffi’s family is unable to afford the trip. To help pay for it, they have started a GoFundMe campaign, which has raised about two-thirds of the $15,000 goal to date.
Raffi says the donations have been “completely overwhelming,” as has the support from his friends, family and the Jewish community.
“The GoFundMe gave them another opportunity to give their love and support, and I am shocked and very grateful for all the money that has been raised,” he said.
Visit https://www.gofundme.com/celebrating-life-in-israel for more information.