David Malka, an IDF veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following the Second Lebanon War, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer exactly 15 years after the battle in Lebanon. He was looking for ways to strengthen his youngest child, who also had to deal with his father’s illness.
David Malka (49), a resident of Kiryat Yam, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at Rambam Health Care Campus in August of last year. “My amazing family has given me strength since then – my wife, my two daughters, and my young son, who was born after I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the war,” says Malka.
Malka had served as a combat engineering commander during the Second Lebanon War. On August 9, 2006, he and his soldiers were ordered to accompany an armored battalion in Southern Lebanon. “We entered a Hezbollah artillery ambush, along with a minefield,” he shares in a trembling voice. “One tank exploded before my eyes and all four of the soldiers inside were killed. While still under heavy artillery fire, we rescued ourselves, and then went back to rescue two more soldiers who were supposed to be with the ground forces but had remained in the field. In addition to those who were killed, three of our soldiers were wounded.”
Although not physically injured, after the war, Malka was diagnosed with PTSD. “I have a 20 percent disability. I fought to return to my usual routine to ensure that the disability does not define me,” he said.
“The Sky Fell on Me”
Malka is married to Sharon, a nursing assistant in the Department of Pediatrics B in Rambam’s Ruth Rappaport Children’s Hospital, and is the father of two daughters, Lidor (23) and Noam (17), and a son – Shahaf Chai (10). He recounts, “After the war in Lebanon, together with my wife, I fought to maintain my routine and our family unit. We experienced so many emotions and gave up a lot of things. We wanted our family to grow. After several unsuccessful pregnancies, I found myself sitting by the sea every day and asking God to give me a sign. Shortly thereafter, my wife became pregnant and our amazing son, Shahaf Chai, was born. God sent Shahaf to us on the Hebrew date of my birthday, which falls exactly on Passover.”
“My relationship with Shahaf is more than father and son. We talk with our eyes. We have adult conversations that I can’t have with others. He completes me. My wife and daughters stabilize me. My son gives me inner strength and meaning in my life.”
In August of 2021, Malka’s life was turned upside down again. Feeling unwell, he was hospitalized at Rambam. Two days later, exactly 15 years after the battle in Lebanon, he was informed that he had pancreatic cancer. “The sky fell on me. I wanted to see my company commander from my military service. In my helplessness and uncertainty, I believed that only he could stabilize me and help me to get my feet on the ground. He arrived just as I was being taken, in my bed, to undergo a pancreatic biopsy. My commander told the nurse to leave, and helped me stand and walk into the examination. I already felt the strength he was sending to me.”
“My Heart is Breaking Because of Your Illness”
Malka is currently being treated in Rambam’s Joseph Fishman Oncology Center and is undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy. “It greatly weakens my body. It’s depressing, I have no appetite, and so much pain in my legs. I constantly have to be strong, especially when I’m with Sharon and the children – even more so with Shahaf.
“I realized this was very difficult for him. His strong father was suddenly ill and disabled. One after-effect of the war that I experience is waking up at night and checking that everyone is asleep in their beds. Several days ago, I woke up and found my son crying under his blanket. I asked him what happened, and he said, ‘It’s because of you, Dad. My heart is breaking because of your illness’.”
“My wife and I had initially hidden the disease from our children. Later, I explained to them that because of the complicated treatments I would be losing my hair in stages. To help him feel like he was a part of the process, I decided to let Shahaf cut my hair before the treatment began.”
One recent evening, Malka and Shahaf went to his sister’s house, and Shahaf shaved his father’s head. “While he was cutting my hair, I felt like we were completely connected. His touch was so very close. I was strong for him while crying on the inside. It was not because of my hair – it was because I wanted Shahaf to feel like he was in control of the situation. His every touch was strengthening me. I cried in my heart, because what is happening is not fair – it is inhuman that a child of his age should have to go through something like this.”
Shahaf cutting his father's hair. Photos courtesty of the family.
100 Purim Gifts for Sick Children
During his treatment sessions at Rambam, Malka noticed a festive activity in the department designed to raise morale among patients. He decided to devote some time to do something similar, to help deal with the complexities of his own situation.
One morning last week, Malka arrived at Rambam’s Joan & Sanford Weill Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation in Ruth Rappaport Children’s Hospital, accompanied by members of “Brothers for Life” – an organization that works to rehabilitate combat unit fighters and veterans who were injured in military operations and wars. Joined by a medical clown and others, the group distributed 100 Purim gifts to the children there.
“I asked Shahaf to help me by getting his friends from school to create 100 greeting cards for the gifts. He went from class to class, explaining that his father had cancer and would be distributing the gifts to children with cancer. It strengthened him, and made me very happy.”
Watch Shahaf cut his father’s hair on ynet news (Hebrew, movie at end of article).