Local Cancer Survivor Running Half Marathon to Help Others

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By Raimundo Ortiz

Howard Adelsberg, a lawyer working on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, is running the ING half-marathon in January and trying to raise $30,000 for Chai Lifeline, the organization that stood by his eight-year-old son Jonah in 2001 while he battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

The Adelsberg house was full of laughs during the fall of 2001, with eight-year-old Jonah playing a silly card game with his sister Jessica and her friends one Saturday afternoon. “The object of the game was that the loser had to drink eight ounces of water and not go to the bathroom,” said Howard Adelsberg, a lawyer whose office is on the third floor of 445 Central Avenue in Cedarhurst. According to Adelsberg, Jonah developed pain urinating.

Not knowing the problem, but suspecting kidney stones or “something related to the kidneys,” Adelsberg and his wife Robin took their son to a pediatrician. “One thing led to another between cat scans and all those other tests they found a mass the size of a grapefruit enmeshed in most of his organs,” said Adelsberg. Jonah had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “The best way the doctor described was that it was like an octopus with tentacles all over.”

“It was one hell of a year (2001),” said Adelsberg. Robin Adelsberg spent her weeks in the hospital with Jonah and then on the weekends, Howard would stay there while his wife went home to be with their daughter. “We switched roles so she could recharge her battery,” said Adelsberg.

Originally the protocol the Adelsbergs were offered had a 75 percent cure rate over the course of a year. “The protocols are like a recipe for treatment or ingredients,” said Adelsberg. “This was I guess the difference between law where things are black and white and science where things are black, white and gray,” said Adelsberg. “Law, parenting, and medicine conflicted and me and my wife decided that 75 percent was not good enough.” They were able to find a different and far more aggressive treatment protocol that offered a 97 percent cure rate over six months. According to Adelsberg, the chemotherapy and drugs used in the treatment were stronger and of a different nature than the previous suggested protocol, which meant it was much more taxing on eight-year-old Jonah.

The suffering during the ordeal was felt throughout the family. “Psychologically, I was a wreck,” said Adelsberg. “It was tough on all of us. Me, my wife, and my daughter. It takes a toll when you’re a child and your younger brother has cancer and your parents have to drop everything for you and focus on your brother. But she was a trooper. Everyone had their own burden to carry.”

The choice to take the more aggressive and strenuous protocol proved to be a wise one. Jonah made it through. “The first time they (doctors) saw how enmeshed it was and closed him up and said there’s nothing we can do at this time,” said Adelsberg. “As time went on the chemo melted the tumor away enough to do the surgery the second time. They said the tumor is dead and they cut it out.”

Jonah is now 19 years old and cured of his cancer. Over the summer, he volunteered as a counselor at Camp Simcha, a camp affiliated with Chai Lifeline, the organization to which Adelsberg said he owes a debt “that can not be repaid.” “They were there with us right down the line,” said Adelsberg. “They’re a predominantly Jewish organization but they do help non-Jews and they don’t care whether the person is religious or not.” Chai Lifeline’s services include camps, hospital services, educational assistance, community service and crisis intervention. “They try to make life as normal as possible for really sick children,” said Adelsberg. The reason Jonah decided to help out at Camp Simcha was simple, according to Adelsberg. “He wants to give back to those children, those kids, and the organization that was there to help him.”

During Jonah’s illness, Adelsberg said Chai Lifeline would constantly bring home-cooked meals to the hospital where the family was for “a solid six months.” “They had people cooking these meals in a kitchen. I’m not talking about hospital food or TV dinners. They also had big brothers and sisters to try and cheer him up or take him on trips. They even had a big sister for our daughter who was going through all this as a sibling.”

Now, Jonah and his dad do the ING Miami mini-marathon to raise money for Chai Lifeline. It is the third time in the last four years they have used this marathon as a fundraiser. “Jonah himself did it three or four years ago,” said Adelsberg. “He got me hooked on it. The year after he did it I said to my wife if Jonah can do it and he went through cancer its certainly the least I can do. And that’s what I did.” Adelsberg said Jonah runs the half-marathon while he walks it. “He’s younger and in better shape,” said Adelsberg. The only time they did not participate in the last four years was last year. “The marathon we dealt with last year was my daughter’s wedding,” said Adelsberg with a smile and a laugh that has been hard-earned.

Adelsberg does legal work pro bono for Chai Lifeline and the money he and his son have been able to generate is impressive. “In the past Jonah and I have raised close to $100,000. Right now we are already at $10,000 (for this year).” Their goal for this year is $30,000. Adelsberg said anyone interested in helping Chai Lifeline can submit their donation online at http://tiny-url.org/JonahAdelsberg or mail it to Chai Lifeline c/o LAW OFFICES OF HOWARD M. ADELSBERG, 445 Central Avenue, Suite 306, Cedarhurst, New York 11516.

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