Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Painful anthology provides therapy for the soul

Painful anthology provides therapy for the soul
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Arlene Ben-Zur has been to hell and back and has lived to write about it. Her journey is contained in a new book entitled Cancer of my Soul: A Personal Battle For Survival Against the Odds in which she retells the abuse she suffered at the hands of her late father and two ex-husbands, her battle with Cushing's disease and her painful separation from her granddaughter.

Ben-Zur began writing about her experiences in a journal three years ago. The process became a form of therapy for her. Over the course of three years she had enough material to put into a book. Her hope is that other women might see themselves in her story and avoid the pitfalls that she has suffered.

"If I can just touch one person's life with this so they won't go through what I went through, or maybe someone might read it and it will give them the impetus they need to change their situation, that would be amazing," says Ben-Zur.

Ben-Zur's heart-wrenching journey began when she had the misfortunate of being born after the death of her sister Shelley, who passed away from cancer at the age of three. Her own mother died of cancer when Ben-Zur was 15. Through it all she suffered a litany of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her father, which eventually led her to try and commit suicide at 16.

"My father hurt me more than anyone else in my lifes," Ben-Zur writes in her book. "From my earliest memory, he expressed his dislike for me, despite the fact that I was at the top of my class, and well loved by my peers and teachers ... He told me over and over again that I was ugly, fat, stupid, and a slut, and that no one would ever love me."

Her two marriages, the first to a wealthy young man in New York, and the second to a Yemenite Jew in Israel, followed the same pattern as her relationship with her father. They were both incredibly abusive and destructive.

Even when she finally found true happiness with a man after her divorce from her second husband, it was destructive in that he was already married. When her lover's wife found out about their seven year affair, Ben-Zur made a clean break.

Around the same time she met her current partner Jamie and the pair have been together ever since. A year an half ago they moved to Orleans to escape the turmoil in Israel and live a more peaceful existence. Ben-Zur also had a chance to move next door to her childhood friend Marilyn Dow. The pair had promised each other years ago that if they ever had a chance to live next door to each other they would.

While Ben-Zur has lived through many traumas in her life, it hasn't all been bad. Her marriage to her first husband produced two daughters, Lee Anna and Rhonda and her second marriage resulted in the birth of her son Avi.

In an effort to get as far away from her first husband as possible, she moved to Israel where she opened a successful English school in Ber Sheba. Professionally, it was the most fulfilling and rewarding time of her life. But personally, she had to suffer through a second abusive marriage and the heartbreak of a doomed love affair before finally meeting her soul mate and eventually moving to Orleans.

Through it all, she has managed to keep a wonderful sense of humour and an incredibly positive outlook on life. Writing the book was both physically and emotionally draining, but now that it's finished she can now look forward to the future with hope.

"The most difficult part was reliving everything that had happened. I cried through every single page and every word," says Ben-Zur. "But once I finished it was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and now it's gone."

When she finished her manuscript she showed it to Raymond Coderre at Baico Publishing who instantly fell in love with it and agreed to publish it.

Ben-Zur now wants to try her hand at writing children's books and possibly get back into teaching, but first she has a date with someone very special. Her granddaughter's foster parents have allowed for the two to see each other for the first time in three years. Allie and her younger brother Matthew were put into foster care in Israel after Ben-Zur's daughter Rhonda had to be treated for mental illness following the birth of her second daughter.

The book is actually written as a type of letter to Allie, who Ben-Zur has only seen once since December 2004. The young girl is now eight.

While "Cancer of my Soul" will no doubt strike a chord with female readers, especially those who have been in an abusive relationship or have struggled with a life threatening illness, its message will resonate with anyone, male or female, who has the ability to feel compassion and empathy for their fellow man. It is exceptionally inspiring and reminds us all that the human spirit can conquer all.

Cancer of my Soul: A Personal Battle for Survival Against the Odds is available at the Baico Bookstore at 294 Albert Street (near Kent St.). It can also be ordered online by visiting www.baicopublishing.com.