Last week, Omer Rotem, a 44-year-old resident of Midreshet Ben Gurion in the Negev, graduated from United Hatzalah’s EMT training course. It was a moving moment for her, as it is for the dozens of other Israelis who graduate from the organization’s various EMT courses around the country. But for Omer, who is suffering from advanced cancer and has been put on palliative care at home but wished to become an EMS first responder, that moment held extra-special significance.

Omer Rotem after being declared fully cured from Breast Cancer prior to her current diagnosis 683x1024 1
Omer Rotem after being declared fully cured from Breast Cancer – prior to her current diagnosis

A year and a half ago, Omer, a mother of three, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Last summer, while still under treatment, she made up her mind to start an EMT training course in order to help others. “I realized that it was time to fulfill my dreams,” she says, explaining that the long wait for an ambulance when her sister’s appendicitis ruptured during their childhood had given her a lifelong dream of being an ambulance driver.

“The course was an amazing experience, and I was able to take part in it fully despite living with and fighting against cancer. The group was a mix of religious and secular people, Jews and Arabs, and we all became one family. I can ask every single member of the course anything and I know they will do it for me.”

Last November, Omer was declared fully cured of breast cancer. Unfortunately, a month and a half ago, a brain scan revealed that her breast cancer had caused metastasis in her brain that had been left undetected. “It took me completely by surprise because this is something that should have been detected earlier during the treatment. But many good things have come out of the situation so I am at peace with it,” she says. Omer was then hospitalized for a period of time and had to miss the final exam which would have delayed her graduating with the rest of her coursemates. After she went back home, the Chapter Head of United Hatzalah’s Har Hangev region Rami Shaya made special arrangements for her to take the exam, including bringing testers down to her home so that she could have an opportunity to take the exam and graduate with the rest of the trainees. “Our paramedic drove to my house from far away to test me on the material. I was incredibly moved, I didn’t take it for granted.”

Last week, Omer successfully passed the test and took part in the graduation ceremony along with the rest of the participants in her course. While she is not currently able to respond to medical emergencies due to her condition, Omer, a teacher by profession, is planning to volunteer in the Education Division of the organization.

Rotem 4th from right back row together with her fellow graduates during the ceremony last week in Sde Boker 1024x768 1
Omer (4th from right back row) together with her fellow graduates during the ceremony last week in Sde Boker

“I am so thankful to United Hatzalah for the support everyone has shown me throughout this period. The local branch’s chief education officer Dr. Keren Moss and Rami were among the first to visit me at the hospital. At the graduation ceremony, Eli Beer called me to express his support and asked me to join him on an ambulance ride. I set myself a goal to help people, and one of the ways I want to do this is by garnering support for organizations that do good in the world. United Hatzalah is one of them.”

Recently, doctors at Soroka Hospital put Omer on palliative care at home, indicating that they believe she has exhausted treatment possibilities, but the fresh EMT received a radiotherapy treatment through Ichilov hospital and will go through a brain scan in two weeks in order to see if the treatment had the desired impact. “I don’t intend to go yet,” she said defiantly. “No matter what happens, I am in a good place. Every day I meet good people and I’m thankful for what I have. You don’t need to have cancer for that, it’s just a choice of attitude.”