When One Door Closes, Another Opens
By: Alona Metz, Founder of Thrivacious
The story of Thrivacious starts back in August of 2017 when it was nothing more than an idea. I decided to volunteer for School of Shine’s breast cancer event, an annual fundraiser in which proceeds are donated to a cancer-related charity in Israel. As the committee was discussing who to donate the money to that year someone said, “wow, it’s really a shame that we can’t donate this money to an organization that directly impacts our community.” The English-speaking - or Anglo as it’s often called - community in Israel includes hundreds of thousands of people. Like any population, a good number of these people are affected by cancer. Whether they themselves are diagnosed, a loved one is ill, or they have a genetic predisposition to cancer (a previvor), tens of thousands of native English speakers in Israel have been hit hard by the disease.
I was one of those people, and I felt alone and afraid. Diagnosed with breast cancer at 28, I made Aliyah to Israel the year after I had finished chemotherapy. Every ailment was cause for concern, trying to navigate the Israeli healthcare system was torture, but the worst part was not having anyone to talk to about all of it. Not having a community of others who had walked in my shoes and who could understand what it is like to face one’s own mortality, to lose control, and to feel limited because of long-lasting side effects.
Thrivacious started out as a little idea to host a monthly support group in English for women touched by cancer. But after a three day retreat for female entrepreneurs led by Double You in the Arava Desert in September of 2017, I realized that the need and the potential was much larger. In a blog post I wrote in September of 2017, I said that “the main goal, or mission of this initiative is to provide people who have been touched by cancer with inspiration, joy and healing.” I was tired of feeling like cancer had taken things from me and that I would have to accept my limited “new normal.” That seemed so unfair to me. I needed to find meaning in the suffering and loss I had experienced. I didn’t want to be a cancer “survivor.” I wanted to thrive.
Since the launch of Thrivacious in October 2017, I’ve done everything I could to create a community and an experience for women touched by cancer that stays true to these original goals. There were late nights and tight budgets but there was also so much room to dream and create. Thrivacious has now reached over 150 women, hosted 20 workshops, is accepting applications for its second annual retreat, and so much more.
Just as I struggled to thrive after cancer on my own, I also could not have built Thrivacious alone. Zo, Tahli and Rachel have been there literally since Day 1. Zo believed in my dream and decided to allocate the funds from the School of Shine fundraiser to Thrivacious, which enabled us to run the first few workshops and gave us publicity in the Anglo-community. Tahli and Rachel both helped to plan the fundraiser, and have both been active members of the Advisory Board since its inception. Tahli has served as the interim Director in Israel and also coordinated our first retreat in November 2018. Rachel has planned numerous workshops, including our Spa Day and our very first online workshop. Both Tahli and Rachel remain on the Advisory Board, and Zo has become our Marketing Director, bringing Thrivacious to many more women in need.
Jacqueline got in touch with me in the very beginning stages of Thrivacious and attended our first workshop. A teacher of yoga nashit, Jacqueline’s passion was to help others who have been affected by cancer and to use her knowledge as a yoga instructor to help women heal. She led our first “Thrivakah” event in December 2017 and has been on our Advisory Board ever since, running our social media as a volunteer. Someone put me in touch with Naomi around the same time and we met for breakfast at Anastasia in Tel Aviv. Naomi had just finished treatment for breast cancer and her hair was still too short to make a ponytail. Now she looks like the heroine from Brave, which is fitting because she has been a warrior through her cancer experience and recovery. Naomi also serves on our Advisory Board and is now in charge of conducting outreach to the community through partners and medical institutions.
Daniella, what can I say other than thank you. You have given so much of yourself to Thrivacious that the list goes on and on and on (hosted multiple events, reached out to so many women in need, currently coordinating our second retreat just to name a few). You remind me time and time again what it means to be a thriver, and you inspire me to never give up on my dreams. I’ll let you share your story in your own blog post, but suffice it to say that I could not be happier to have someone like you on our board who so truly embodies the mission of what it is that we are trying to accomplish.
There are so many others that have made Thrivacious what it is today: Rivka, with her beautiful graphic designs, Leigh and Toni who stepped up as board members, Oren my amazing husband who encouraged me to never give up on my dreams, our amazing donors who believed in me and in this cause, and all of the amazing facilitators who have worked with us often for free or for extremely reduced rates. Thank you all so much for not only helping me bring my dream to life, but for ensuring that English-speaking women in Israel have a safe place to go for cancer support and healing.
I’ve been avoiding writing this blog post for quite some time because I’ve been afraid of what it would mean and how it would feel to say goodbye to something that has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life thus far. But life works in mysterious ways, and here we are. As many of you know, I got married in April of this year to an incredible man who I’ve actually known since childhood, but “re-met” at his sister’s (my best friend’s) wedding around the same time that Thrivacious was born. They say when you know, you know, and I guess in my case it was true. Oren, my husband, is busy pursuing his own dreams of saving people’s lives by becoming a liver and kidney transplant surgeon, something for which he has worked tirelessly for well over a decade. He is currently a resident at UCSF in San Francisco, and after a year of long-distance dating, I finally moved to San Francisco last August so that we could be together.
If you had asked me 2 years ago where I would be today, I definitely wouldn’t have guessed this! I was committed to living out my life in Israel and to building my own nonprofit. But I know that Oren and our future together was worth it. Leaving Israel and Thrivacious was one of the hardest things I have ever done, both on a personal level (Israel is my second soul-mate, and Thrivacious is my baby), but also because I feared what would happen to Thrivacious if I left. I tried to manage things remotely for a while with the help of the Advisory Board but I could see that it wasn’t sustainable or healthy for the organization or for me personally. A 10 hour time difference is no joke!
This brings me to the last person that I want to thank: Kathy Poodiack. Rachel introduced me to Kathy at some point in early 2018. Kathy formerly worked as a physician’s assistant in oncology until she made Aliyah, and is also a caregiver herself. She wanted to get involved with Thrivacious and joined our Advisory Board. Over time, I got to know Kathy better and better. She is extremely responsible, hardworking and determined, full of energy, passion and love. We didn’t have funding to hire someone at a Director level, but we really needed someone to run daily operations on the ground. Kathy saw that I was struggling with doing this from abroad and approached me one day with an interesting idea. She offered to step up and act as the Director in Israel as a volunteer.
Over the months that ensued, Kathy demonstrated that she has the passion, the skill, and the motivation to not only ensure Thrivacious’s continued existence but to take the organization forward to the next level. Around February of 2019, as I was preparing for my wedding, I began to understand that I would not be able to act as the Executive Director of Thrivacious forever. The distance and the 10 hour time difference wasn’t healthy for me or for the organization and I knew that I needed to consider taking the next step in my career closer to home. Like a guardian angel, before I even told her of my decision, Kathy called me one day to let me know that she’d be retiring in June, and if it was ok with me she’d like to step in full-time to be Thrivacious’s Executive Director. We’ve been working together the past few months and I am fully confident that Kathy has everything it takes and more to be the leader that Thrivacious needs.
I’ve recently accepted a position that I will be starting July 1 as the Executive Director of an amazing nonprofit in the San Francisco Bay Area called the Hemophilia Foundation of Northern California. Hemophilia, which also runs in my family, is a rare disorder in people who are missing a factor in their blood that enables them to form clots. I am excited to be able to continue my work and my passion for inspiring people to thrive in the face of a serious health challenge. It’s been difficult emotionally for me to let go of Thrivacious, but I know that I could not be leaving it in better hands. I plan to remain involved as President of the Board and as the Retreat Chair for this year, and will be doing my utmost to raise awareness about and funds for Thrivacious in the United States, where I am now permanently based. I know that no matter where I live and no matter where life takes me, Thrivacious will always be a part of me, and I will always be a part of her.