Serafima Leyfman was extremely proud of her long, dark hair, which spilled all the way down to her legs. Her husband had also adored her lengthy tresses. She would not cut it, not even once, after they were married.
Four years ago, however, doctors told Mrs. Leyfman, 48, she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments, all of her hair fell out.
While no one can say for certain what caused her cancer, doctors told her that it most likely had been caused by living and working so close to Chernobyl, Ukraine, after the catastrophic nuclear power plant accident that occurred there in 1986.
“Nobody explained to us that it was dangerous to our health,” said Mrs. Leyfman, who now lives in Midwood, Brooklyn, after moving there from Belarus, the country bordering northern Ukraine that bore the brunt of Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout.
Doctors said that her son Yan, who was born in Belarus in 1989, and later suffered a rash of health problems, including cysts, sores and tooth loss, might also have been affected by the radiation that blanketed the region.
Before Yan’s birth, Mrs. Leyfman had worked as a bookkeeper at an insurance company about 12 miles from Chernobyl’s damaged reactor. At her company’s urging, she put herself in further danger of contamination by assisting with a program to pick and package potatoes from nearby fields to deliver to needy Chernobyl residents.