Kids Kicking Cancer, a Detroit based non-profit organization dedicated to empowering kids with cancer, doesn't have the global visibility of the wildly successful pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness that is front and center each October. At least not yet. But if Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg, or Rabbi G as the kids call him, has anything to say about it, it's only a matter of time. "There is no excuse for children to be in the type of pain and feel the sense of despair that accompanies pediatric disease."
Through the organization's philosophy of "power, peace, and purpose", kids learn to use martial arts based breathing techniques to empower themselves and reduce the stress that comes with being "healthy kids with tumors". The practical application, according to a former Pfizer statistician, is that 88.1% of the time the program intervenes, a child's pain is significantly lowered. The spiritual application is that the children learn to "breathe in the light and blow out the dark", thereby taking charge of their own experience and illuminating themselves and those around them. That speaks to the power and the peace.
The purpose comes from the opportunity for the kids to visit companies and organizations to share their stress management skills, using simple "breath brakes", designed to stop stress in its tracks. 97% of the adults they train report that it has a profound impact on their lives. They even have an IPhone app that sends a reminder in a child's voice every two hours to take that break from whatever is happening in their lives at that moment and utilize simple breathing techniques to relax. Every time a "breath brake" is taken as a result of the app reminder, it sends a message to the kids that their message is getting through. So far, 60,000 "breath brakes" have been recorded. Rabbi G says these kids are "world class teachers". And their supporters and friends include Demi Moore, Gerard Butler, the Jonas Brothers, Colin Farrell, Hugh Jackman, and Jessica Biel.
Rabbi G and his wife lost their young daughter to leukemia in 1981. Despite undergoing what would now be considered primitive treatment with brutal side effects, his daughter would lie on top of him, pat him on the back and say, "it's ok, Daddy, I love you." She is his inspiration.
Twelve years after his daughter passed away, he witnessed a young boy undergoing a treatment procedure, screaming in pain, being held down by two nurses. Rabbi G found it counterintuitive that while children are held down tighter if they scream in pain during a procedure, doctors will often stop if an adult has the same response. He asked if he could spend 5 minutes with the child alone. He told the child he was a blackbelt and asked him if he would like to learn karate. The child enthusiastically agreed and, on the spot, Rabbi G taught him to push out his pain using martial arts based breathing techniques. The procedure resumed and when it was over, the child asked, "did you do it yet?" At that moment, remembers Rabbi G, Kids Kicking Cancer was born.
In the case of children who are nearing the end of their young lives, the organization sponsors a ceremony attended by friends and family during which they present the child with a black belt to symbolize their accomplishments. Children as young as 5 years old, in their moment of victory, have described what an honor it is to defeat their cancer and get closer to God without feeling angry or afraid.
Rabbi G feels that God put him on this course which has become his own personal mission in his daughter's memory. As for the toll it takes on him, he believes that when you stop being able to cry, you quit. Despite the emotional nature of the work, he says there is nothing better than helping children find a purpose in their lives at a time when they need it the most.
Programs are currently active in Michigan, New York, California, Georgia, and Canada with a start-up in Rome beginning in November. And the process of training martial artists in Israel has begun. The organization previously received federal funding of $600,000 per year but that is no longer available. Now they must rely on private donations from individuals and companies as well as grants to continue their work.
So much can be learned from these young teachers who have taken proactive steps in their precious lives through Kids Kicking Cancer as a matter of physical, emotional and spiritual empowerment. What about those of us who are lucky enough to be "healthy" and have at least some realization of the negative impact of stress on our lives? Shouldn't we learn from Rabbi G's brave, strong children that we are all in need of a simple "breath brake"? Do it to empower a child. Do it to empower yourself. Do it to change the world. One breath at a time.