Speaking About the Unspoken Reality of Cancer

My grandmother died in 1995 after a long battle with breast cancer.  In all of the years of her illness, I cannot recall her using the word "cancer".  She spoke of being "sick", "weak", "unwell", and she asked me, on her death bed, to remember her.  "Don't forget me," she would say repeatedly, frail and bald and unlike the confident Bubby who had pushed me on the park swing as a child, arms made strong from years of sewing sweaters in a factory. I remember sitting beside her, law books in my lap as I studied for exams by her hospital bedside, thinking that her request was odd: "Don't forget me".  How could I forget her, my own grandmother, who had helped raise me?

But the reality of my grandmother's generation was that those with cancer were often forgotten. The disease itself was not discussed.  Some whispered about "Yeneh Machlah" - "that disease" - in Yiddish.  Others would refer to the "C word", without actually uttering the word itself.  Fears of "Ayin Harah" - the evil eye - shadowed real conversations about cancer, and concerns about marriagibility among family members forced many into a hiding of sorts.

Eleven years ago last week, I, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time - 28 years old, an attorney raising two young children.  And sadly, not much had changed in the Jewish community since my grandmother's diagnosis.  Despite the plethora of organizations addressing community needs, there was no Jewish response to breast cancer although 1 in 40 Jews of Ashkenazi descent carries a gene mutation that makes us almost 10 times more likely to develop hereditary breast, ovarian, and related cancers.  New research points to genetic susceptibility among Sephardi Jewish families as well.

I founded Sharsheret, a national breast cancer organization addressing the needs of Jewish women and families facing breast cancer, to fill that void.  In the past 10 years, we have launched 11 national programs, including one addressing ovarian cancer among Jewish families.  We have welcomed more than 1,600 women to our National Peer Support Network.  We have responded to more than 24,000 breast cancer inquiries, presented more than 250 education programs nationwide, and educated students on more than 150 campuses across the country.  We have been awarded a seat on the Federal Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women and federal grants to develop programming specific for Jewish women and families affected by breast cancer.

Perhaps even more than Sharsheret has accomplished on its own, I am proud that we have paved the way to welcome neighbors into this once lonely community of cancer advocacy and support.  Today there are more than 30 Sharsheret Supports partners - Jewish organizations that develop local breast cancer and ovarian cancer programs nationwide - adding to the growing Jewish communal response to cancer.

As I mark my 40th birthday today, a two-time cancer survivor, I celebrate not only the life with which I have been blessed, but the lives of those, like my grandmother, whose cancer journeys - no longer a forgotten whisper - have found their voice.

Hi, I just met your mother


I just met your mother today and as she proudly spoke of you with such motherly pride and naches, I became awed by your acheivements.

I have heard of Sharsheret after my mother in law was diagnosed with breast cancer. I knew that this was an amazing organization. Yet, meeting your mother and hearing what a special woman you are, i came to take a look at your website. The site is incredible, the organizatin is incredible, and you are INCREDIBLE!!

The way you channelled your pain into something this big, into something that has helped so many women and families is a true z'chus for you!

Although it is not your birthday today, I wish you many completely healthy and happy birthdays until 120 B'ezras HaShem! May you continue to be a source of naches to your family and raise your children until we greet Mashiach very soon. Thank you for being an inspiration to all of humanity. May we know of no more pain and illness and only of health, peace, love and happiness!

Birthday Gratitude

I love you. You saved my life. Now we both have birthdays!
Have a joyous Birthday with your loved ones.

Happy 40th

And for your present...., I hope that you will blow out all the candles at Sharsheret's Centenial celebration. You deserve nothing less. Keep up the great work. It clearly has paid off.


Happy Happy Happy Birthday Rochelle, wishing you a truly blessed birthday with hundreds more, your vision and words are an inspiration for healing our world, thank you for everything you, with love from sharon

Happy Birthday and many more!

Happy Birthday Rochelle! I met you once at a small function at a friend's house in Westchester. It was an immense pleasure to meet such a beautiful, intelligent and strong woman. You are a true inspiration. I wish you many more birthdays to spend with your children and other happy occasions. :)

Happy 40th Birthday, Rochelle!

Wishing one of the most inspirational women the very Happiest Birthday!
May you continue your important work until 120!
Only good health & great happiness for you!
With love,
Betsy & Jeffrey

Birthday Blessings

Happy 40th Rochelle ~ May this coming year continue to bring you good health and happiness.  Thank you for sharing your story and for being such an inspiration to us all. Shabbat Shalom.

Thank you!

Thank you all for the beautiful birthday wishes. These messages mean so much to me. Wishing us all many happy and celebrations together in the years ahead!

Happy Birthday

Wishing you a happy birthday and congratulations on all of your accomplishments.

You have founded an amazing organization and I hope to meet you in the near future

happy birthday

best wishes for a wonderful 40th birthday from one of your admirers in the new haven, ct area. I attended an event last year organized by my friend bev levy at which you spoke. I didn't have a chance then to tell you how important your message is, but now I do have a chance to do so.

keep doing what you're doing for sharsheret, and keep enjoying life! 

Happy Birthday Rochelle

As an Oncology Nurse I love hearing stories like your own.

Thank you for sharing and for all you do for Sharsheret.

Happy and healthly birthday to you!

Shabot Shalom,



happy birthday, Rochelle!  and many more!

happy birthday

mazel tov and happy birthday!

in the zechus of starting the organization and continuing to be a source of support, comfort, and a becon of light to jewish families, may hashem grant you a long life full of good health, wealth, and happiness!


This was very touching and

This was very touching and made me think of my grandmother whom I adored.  My grandmother weathered breast cancer 40+ years ago when nobody used the word cancer.  She was sent home from the hospital after a double mastectomy the day I was born and thus, we shared a special bond that lasted for almost 30 years.  Fast forward to 2012 and the word cancer is everywhere.  Even in the cartoons that my little ones watch.  We were watching Little Bill a couple of years ago and Little Bill was learning that his grandmother had cancer and what that meant through the eyes of a young child.

Its organizations such as Sharsheret that help keep people educated and help those fighting cancer a place to feel safe.  I have two dear friends, one is 33 and raising two small children and the other is 38 dealing with breast cancer, and quietly they’ve both turned to your organization for guidance. 

Wishing Rochelle at least another 40+ healthy years ahead and to all your staff, keep up the excellent work!


Dearest Rochie


You make 40 look gooooooooood. Everyone will want in on that, now!  Happy birthday, ad me'ah v'esrim shana. You're still on my computer desk so I get to see you every day. Lucky me!

Good Shabbos from the land of Olympic mania.


lotsa love




Dearest Rochie

You make 40 look goooooooooood. Something to look forward to. Ad me'ah v'esrim shana. 

Good Shabbos from the land of Olympic-mania


Lotsa love



Wishing you many more happy

Wishing you many more happy and healthy ones. Thank you for all that you do for every one of us each and every day!


Happy Birthday Rochelle, ad meah v'esrim, ad meah c'esrim

Rochelle, it has been a pleasure to follow your postings and to meet you. You are an inspiration to us all. May you live to 100 as though you were 20. Best, Ruth :)

Happy Birthday Rochelle, ad meah v'esrim, ad meah c'esrim

Rochelle, it is a pleasure to know you, to follow your thoughts and accomplishments. You are an inspiration to all of us. May you live to 100 as though you were 20 :)



Happy Birthday

Wishing you many more happy birthdays....You are  such an amazing inspiration to everyone... Have a great one...,

Happy Birthday Rochelle, ad meah v'esrim, ad meah c'esrim

Rochelle, it is a pleasure to know you, to follow your thoughts and accomplishments. You are an inspiration to all of us. May you live to 100 as though you were 20 :)



Happy Birthday Rochelle. May

Happy Birthday Rochelle. May you be blessed with many more and attain the rewards that you so deserve.




Ima (from SA)

Happy 4-0 and many happy returns!

Wishing you a wonderful birthday, and many, many happy and healthy returns!

Rifky and Jack Atkin and Family

Yom huledet sameach!

Have a wonderful birthday, Rochelle.

May you continue to go from strength to strength, and to live to see your dreams fulfilled.

Shabbat shalom,

Happy 4-0 and many happy returns!

Wishing you a wonderful birthday, and many, many happy and healthy returns!

Rifky and Jack Atkin and family

happy birthday

Happy birthday Rochelle!!!  hope you are enjoying your day and feeling pampered and celebrated.  I am wishing you the most wonderul birthday and  40th year.  may it be filled with continued good health and lots of joy.


xo abby wolf

Happy 40th Birthday!

Beautifully written! Kol hakavod!  Thank you for creating this wonderful organization.

My birthday wish for you: May you enjoy many, many more years of good health and have much nachat from your kids!

Ad meah v'esrim! 

Happy Birthday Wish



Happy Birthday on your big 40 Birthday.


Have a very bigggggggggggggggggg birthday cake, and call it your Pig Out Day.


So you are a Leo too.

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