Blog – Sharsheret http://www.sharsheret.org Jewish Non-Profit Supporting Breast Cancer Survivors Tue, 17 Jan 2017 20:54:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.1 http://www.sharsheret.org/cms/assets/uploads/cache/2016/11/cropped-logo-sharsheret/602533622.png Blog – Sharsheret http://www.sharsheret.org 32 32 Living with Passion http://www.sharsheret.org/living-with-passion/ http://www.sharsheret.org/living-with-passion/#respond Tue, 10 Jan 2017 17:05:17 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=103530 Tamera is a registered yoga teacher and focuses on helping individuals who are interested in using yoga to help with … Continue reading

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Tamera is a registered yoga teacher and focuses on helping individuals who are interested in using yoga to help with overall health and wellness.  Tamera teaches at the Miami Jewish Community Center and is running a free survivor yoga and dance program that is open to survivors at Baptist Hospital in January 2017.

I was on my lunch break when I received an incoming call which resulted in learning I had breast cancer in early January of 2015, and I can only say I was in shock. They needed me to see an oncologist as soon as possible. I had two weeks to make a decision about surgery and treatments, my children were my first concern. Who would take care of my children if something happened to me?

I had gone in for a routine mammogram in 2014 which resulted in having to go back for repeat testing and then a biopsy in December of 2014. Little did I know how helpful yoga, meditation, and general mindfulness would be in helping me heal. Sharsheret helped me after surgery and I benefitted from their outreach and Thriving Again Survivorship Kit.

During my diagnosis, I was initially told I would need chemotherapy and radiation, but with yoga and wellness related supports I was arming myself to do anything I could to manage a successful outcome. After my lymph node testing and double mastectomy, I learned I may not need the additional treatments. I feel fortunate to have caught everything early and to have empowered myself with alternative treatments and general wellness.

I did experience lymphedema along the way and had severely lost range of motion in both arms following surgery, but a year and four procedures later I am back to having full range of motion. I continue to eat healthy, exercise, and practice yoga which helps reduce swelling in my right arm. I am grateful to be in recovery and to have met so many supportive women.

I proudly work with the Cancer Support Community of Miami helping adults and children diagnosed with cancer learn to breathe, meditate, and practice yoga or general mindfulness for health, healing, and pain management. I have also proudly become part of the Peer Support Network with Sharsheret.

I hope to do more work to increase awareness of mindfulness based coping and I hope to eventually educate more physicians and support staff on the importance of referring their patients to mindfulness based approaches for healing in coordination with traditional treatments.  The research on yoga and mindfulness is showing positive results in empowering individuals to manage wellness and healing in times of illness. In line with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I am aware we can’t change what happens to us in life, but I choose to live with passion and make meaningful choices over how I cope. Maybe along the way I can now help others learn to live a more empowered life.

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Reflections Of An OR Nurse http://www.sharsheret.org/reflections-of-an-or-nurse/ http://www.sharsheret.org/reflections-of-an-or-nurse/#respond Tue, 27 Dec 2016 22:05:26 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=103103 Nursing was something I never considered.  When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1970s, I wasn’t a … Continue reading

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Nursing was something I never considered.  When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1970s, I wasn’t a nurse.   I still wasn’t a nurse when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1980.  I was working in the corporate world—as non-nursing as one could get. By the time my mother’s cancer had metastasized, I was already in nursing school.  I was interested in health care. I thought it was a practical profession with the potential to work flexible hours, raise a family, etc.

In March 1994 it was apparent to all that my mother would not live to see me graduate that May.  She would not live to see me “pinned.”  One of my professors offered to travel to my mother’s hospital room and “pin” me in front of my mother, even though graduation was still two months away. I never forgot the kindness of this teacher. This nurse.

I was fortunate to become an Operating Room nurse. Somewhere along the line, I developed a niche in the area of breast surgery with or without reconstruction. It meant so much to me to be able to speak to these women while they waited to go into the operating room.  To hold their hands.   To answer their questions.  To speak to family members.   To assure them all that I would be at her side while she went to sleep.  That I would make sure she was safe, warm and comfortable.  That I would protect her during the procedure. That I was the eyes and ears for all that was going on in the room.  That everyone on the team was there for HER.

I was so fortunate to work with a team of surgeons and anesthesiologists who shared my passion and my compassion.  We left no stone unturned to ensure a positive outcome for our patients.  These women could be our sisters, our mothers, our daughters.  We all felt such a vested interest in caring for our patients.
I retired in June 2016.  I miss my surgeons.  I miss my patients.  But I continue working with women while they are undergoing mammograms and ultrasounds in my local hospital. I am a volunteer —but I still have that same compassion and passion that I also hope to bring as a volunteer for Sharsheret.

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Healthy Eating and the Holidays http://www.sharsheret.org/healthy-eating-holidays/ http://www.sharsheret.org/healthy-eating-holidays/#respond Mon, 19 Dec 2016 20:43:19 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=102864 A healthy diet can greatly reduce your risk for cancer. Sharsheret Medical Advisory Board Member Tanya Zuckerbrot, a Registered Dietitian … Continue reading

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A healthy diet can greatly reduce your risk for cancer. Sharsheret Medical Advisory Board Member Tanya Zuckerbrot, a Registered Dietitian in private practice in New York City and the Founder of the popular F-Factor Diet, shares the following tips to help you keep yourself and your diet in check over the holidays:

PITCH IN, (OR TRY TO) – If you’re not hosting this year, contact whoever is and offer to bring something. Even if the host tells you it is unnecessary to bring anything, simply say “I’d love to participate. What are you planning on serving?” By doing this, you can learn ahead of time what is being served at that gathering, giving yourself the opportunity, and ample time, to think about the food choices you will make there, and leading up to the meal. If the host concedes to letting you bring something, the fork is in your hand to bring a healthy/ healthier version of a dish.

SPOIL YOUR APPETITE – Don’t go into a holiday gathering or festive meal hungry. Instead, have a satisfying snack beforehand that includes both fiber and protein. Fiber and protein are the two nutrients that take the longest to digest, so they keep you feeling full for a longer period of time. By filling up before you go, you safeguard yourself from arriving in a ravenous fury of hunger, tempted to make irresponsible food choices. Good pre-party snack ideas include an apple with a handful of almonds, high fiber crackers with sliced turkey or Greek yogurt and blueberries. Also make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day as dehydration often mimics the symptoms of hunger, and thus can further cause you to overeat.

PORTION CONTROL – Although the holiday season is full of indulgent celebrations, remember to celebrate the actual HOLIDAY, it’s one day. Be mindful of both what you choose to eat and the amount you consume. Do not go up for seconds or thirds. When making your plate, start with vegetables and salad before going to the entrees and desserts. For a visual cue, imagine your dinner plate as a peace sign, the two side portions are each 35 percent and the bottom is 30 percent. Put lean protein (6 oz for men, 3-4 oz for women) on one side and vegetables on the other. The starchy sides or dessert gets the smaller bottom section.

SAY “NO, THANK YOU” – Remember, you’re invited to the holiday gathering for your charming personality – not your ability to lick all the plates clean. People often feel pressured to eat, and overeat, as to not be rude to the host, and think everyone will notice and judge if they do not try a dish. In reality, there’s little chance anyone will even notice that you didn’t try everything. It’s okay to say “no, thank you”! If you’re still concerned, play it down and say, “everything was delicious. I’m full” or ” try me later.” Then sit back and enjoy the rest of the evening and the food that you decided to eat.

KEEP A FOOD DIARY – Writing down every morsel of food that you eat during this tricky time of year will help keep you accountable and focused on your health and nutrition goals. It is easy to forget about the 5 peanut M&M’s you grabbed off your co-workers desk, or the Santa cookie you grabbed after the meeting, but you will be much less likely to grab for these treats if you know you have to write them down in your journal later.

The importance of healthy eating for cancer prevention:

Research has found that a higher consumption of plant foods can be protective against certain cancers. Fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of antioxidants which help the body protect against oxidative damage DNA. This oxidative damage can lead to mutations and increased risk of cancer.

Plant based foods also contain dietary fiber. Consumption of dietary fiber has also been linked to reduced cancer risk, especially breast and colorectal cancer. As reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (July, 2004) researchers found that a diet including 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day can lower blood estrogen levels, which can help reduce risk for breast cancer as estrogen stimulates the early growth and development of breast cancer—the less estrogen you have in your body, the lower your cancer risk. In terms of colon cancer specifically, but true for all cancers (except skin cancers) fiber helps reduce risk by binding to or diluting carcinogens in the gut (from toxins in our food supply and environment) and speeding them through the colon. By getting toxins out of our system before they can cause damage is one of the things we can do to protect ourselves. In addition, regular elimination is, by itself, beneficial to your overall health.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Does Not End on October 31 http://www.sharsheret.org/breast-cancer-awareness-not-end-october-31/ http://www.sharsheret.org/breast-cancer-awareness-not-end-october-31/#respond Mon, 05 Dec 2016 20:29:45 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=102707 Time collapses each time I have my annual mammogram. Months and years fold in upon themselves like an accordion. My … Continue reading

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Time collapses each time I have my annual mammogram. Months and years fold in upon themselves like an accordion. My last mammogram was a year ago and yet, as I signed in at the reception desk today, it felt like I had just checked in not a month before. How does the just-been-here-just-done-this feeling surface every year?

Millie Ibarra, our family nanny and dear friend, is a ten-year breast cancer survivor. I made my mammogram appointment today, November 30, to honor her birthday. I know that it has been more than ten years since Millie’s diagnosis, but when I put on the robe before the mammogram, time collapsed for me. It felt like just a moment ago that I was sitting in an office at UMDNJ with her, listening to Dr. Clark tell us that Millie had stage four breast cancer.

My mother and maternal aunt both died of metastasized breast cancer. I bring them with me into the cold, antiseptic room with the spaceship-like imaging machine every year, wishing that they had benefited from all the advances in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment of the past decades. Although my mother’s twentieth yahrzeit is in two weeks, it feels like just a minute ago that she was on the phone, telling me that the cancer had spread and that it was time for me to come home to help her. I packed up Josh, just five months old, left the older three at home with Jon and flew to Maine. Time collapses.

For my mom and my aunt and Millie and my friends, and for the scores of women at the Orangetown Jewish Center who are fighting or have fought breast cancer, I religiously make my annual mammogram appointment. And I go on time. I say a prayer, smile bravely through the test and leave, hearing the precious words, “Looks good! We’ll mail the report.” The Breast Center provides bouquets for every woman and I always choose yellow roses, my mother’s favorite.

One year, the technician could not find any yellow roses amidst the pinks and reds. When I burst into tears, she put her arm around me. “Don’t take any roses this year,” she said. “Next year, take two”. I am one of the lucky ones; the seven in eight, not the one in eight.

With prayers for good health,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

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Benefitting from Benefits http://www.sharsheret.org/benefitting-from-benefits/ http://www.sharsheret.org/benefitting-from-benefits/#respond Wed, 30 Nov 2016 20:28:04 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=102704 Shanna Lehmann Wolf is a financial representative at Creative Financial Solutions, a full service financial planning firm in Fairfield, New … Continue reading

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Shanna Lehmann Wolf is a financial representative at Creative Financial Solutions, a full service financial planning firm in Fairfield, New Jersey.  She helps individuals and families analyze their employee benefits to coordinate them with their personal needs and circumstances.

Each year, there is one chance to make a benefit election that will affect your costs and medical care for the entire year. Particularly when dealing with a recent diagnosis or a treatment plan, planning is important for the year ahead.  Open enrollment is your annual opportunity to choose health and insurance benefits that reflect what is going on in your family’s life and what you may anticipate for 2017.

The first element to analyze is how you (and your family) have utilized your medical plan and insurance options during 2016.  Then consider what changes have happened over 2016 or you foresee in 2017 that will affect your needs and therefore, elections. During open enrollment, there may be opportunities to purchase life or disability insurance at work.  The enormous advantage to this is you are being considered as part of a group so that your individual health history or status is not analyzed, and you are able to take advantage of group underwriting. This could be a prime opportunity to secure insurance coverage that individually would otherwise be challenging or unaffordable for you to obtain.

The cost of participating in a group benefit is usually favorable to the dollars it would cost for you to obtain a benefit individually. Be sure to analyze the array of benefits available to you so you can maximize on your coverage most efficiently and economically.  As someone facing a cancer diagnosis, it is helpful to have a discussion with a professional who can educate you on your options.

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A New Kind of Family Portrait http://www.sharsheret.org/new-kind-family-portrait/ http://www.sharsheret.org/new-kind-family-portrait/#respond Thu, 17 Nov 2016 20:25:20 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=102701 For many families, Thanksgiving is a time to gather together to appreciate the good things that have happened over the … Continue reading

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For many families, Thanksgiving is a time to gather together to appreciate the good things that have happened over the course of the year.  Multiple generations join to share their favorite foods, watch the Thanksgiving parade, or enjoy a football game.  In addition, since 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General has asked Americans to create a new Thanksgiving tradition.  Thanksgiving has been designated as National Family History Day. It is a great opportunity for families that are assembled for dinner to discuss their medical history as a group.

Family history is a very important part of genetic screening or testing.  Knowing about the conditions that affected previous generations can provide information about risks for the current generation.  Knowledge about family history enables individuals to take steps leading to early detection or even prevention of diseases that affected our parents and grandparents.  It is important to discuss conditions like heart disease, strokes, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

What are the red flags to alert us to the need for cancer genetic testing in a family? The first thing we look for is cancer at unusually young ages.  Anyone with breast cancer at age 45 or younger meets guidelines for testing.  The second thing is rare cancers.  Ovarian cancer and male breast cancer are rare; anyone diagnosed with these at any age meets guidelines for testing.  The third thing we look for is multiple cases of the same or related cancers.  A family meets guidelines for testing if there are three or more people on the same side of the family with breast cancer, regardless of age of onset. Finally, ancestry is important.  Any Ashkenazi Jewish woman with breast or pancreatic cancer meets guidelines for testing.

While discussing family history is important, it is not unusual for family members to be secretive about their medical conditions.  They may feel partly responsible for what has happened to them. They may be afraid of being subjected to unsolicited advice about how to manage their illness. They may not want to burden other family members with upsetting news.

What is the best way to open up communication about family history?  In many families, it may be easy enough to bring up the topic while everyone sits around the Thanksgiving table.  However, a more gradual approach may be necessary if affected family members are resistant to sharing information.  A more private encounter may be more effective.  It is important to emphasize how the information about family history can be helpful, avoiding any comments that can be perceived as blame.  No one can be considered “at fault” for passing on an inherited mutation.

So, this Thanksgiving, reach out to your family members to find out about any cancer history in previous generations.  Educate your family about what you discover. And, finally, speak with your doctor or genetic counselor about your concerns.  You are not alone. If you are considering genetic counseling or testing, call Sharsheret and speak privately with our genetic counselor and our clinical team at no cost to you or your family.  We can schedule a family conference call, to help you facilitate the genetics conversation with your family and answer critical questions.  Together, we will help you understand the genetic testing process and assist you in making informed decisions.

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What You Should Look For When Hiring a Trainer After Breast Cancer http://www.sharsheret.org/look-hiring-trainer-breast-cancer/ http://www.sharsheret.org/look-hiring-trainer-breast-cancer/#respond Wed, 16 Nov 2016 20:22:31 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=102698 Many of us know that exercise is important after undergoing breast cancer surgery and treatment, but there are still many … Continue reading

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Many of us know that exercise is important after undergoing breast cancer surgery and treatment, but there are still many questions that linger. If you are thinking of hiring a personal trainer, what are the important considerations? What questions should you ask a potential trainer? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Do you have any type of fitness certification? Trainers are not licensed, so make sure that they minimally have a certification from one of the industry leaders including ACE or ACSM.
  2. Have you taken any courses on cancer fitness or do you have any specialty certifications such as the ACSM Cancer Exercise Trainer? They should have education in cancer and the implications of cancer treatment on mind, body and spirit.
  3. What type of experience do they have with cancer survivors? Have they worked with clients with breast cancer? Ideally, they should be educated and know how to proceed with clients who may have lymphedema, fatigue, weight gain, peripheral neuropathy, breast reconstruction, and Chemotherapy Related Cognitive Dysfunction or chemo-brain.
  4. If working in your home, do they have liability insurance?
  5. What will your initial assessment include? A thorough assessment is often comprised of flexibility, strength, balance, and cardiovascular status.
  6. Do you require a doctor’s clearance for exercise and are any special precautions advised?
  7. Do they ask about the type and timing of surgery, treatment and breast reconstruction that were performed and if you have any other medical conditions? This will determine when to start strength training to the affected arm and core as well as cardiovascular conditioning recommendations. Knowing about other conditions may necessitate modifications in your program.
  8. Do they recommend a DEXA? If you have undergone chemotherapy or are on aromatase inhibitors you are at risk for osteoporosis. A baseline should be performed to know what types of exercises are appropriate.
  9. What type of exercise do they include in their program? A good program should include a warm up, flexibility training, strength training, and cardiovascular recommendations within your capabilities and goals.
  10. If you have lymphedema, make sure that you consult with your lymphedema specialist to see if you should wear a sleeve and glove while exercising.

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Moishe House of Thousand Oaks Goes Pink for the Day http://www.sharsheret.org/moishe-house-thousand-oaks-goes-pink-day/ http://www.sharsheret.org/moishe-house-thousand-oaks-goes-pink-day/#respond Wed, 09 Nov 2016 20:10:54 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=102695 As a Moishe House resident, I am required to host community service events with community members.  In the past few … Continue reading

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As a Moishe House resident, I am required to host community service events with community members.  In the past few years I have lost friends to cancer, most recently I lost a friend within six months of her Ovarian Cancer diagnosis.  Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to raise awareness about breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and to teach people the steps they can take to understand their own genetic risks.  My Moishe House Regional Director put me in contact with Sharsheret. Jenna Fields, Sharsheret’s Los Angeles Regional Director, went above and beyond to help me create a fun, interactive educational experience.  She also talked with me about how Sharsheret can support me after the loss of my friend.

Jenna sent me a box of materials including pamphlets, posters and giveaways.  At our Sharsheret Moishe House event, we decorated Halloween Pumpkins pink to show support. I educated participants about breast and ovarian cancer in the Jewish community, and handed out the giveaways as prizes.  From this experience I learned that Sharsheret is a wonderful organization to which I will refer anyone who is at risk or who has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, and people who want to learn more about ways that they can protect their own health and help others. I hope everyone at our Moishe House event walked away knowing that Sharsheret is ready and eager to be a source of information and support.

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The Little, Lucky Things http://www.sharsheret.org/little-lucky-things/ http://www.sharsheret.org/little-lucky-things/#respond Mon, 07 Nov 2016 20:06:01 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=102690 This blog is excerpted from Leslie’s Dvar Torah (speech) at a Sharsheret Pink Shabbat in Raleigh, NC For those who … Continue reading

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This blog is excerpted from Leslie’s Dvar Torah (speech) at a Sharsheret Pink Shabbat in Raleigh, NC

For those who may not know, just over a year ago I received my first diagnosis of breast cancer.  They found something in my annual mammogram – the size of a grain of rice that although caught early, needed to be removed.  Subsequent testing via MRI found a second cancer, a much larger mass in the other breast. This one wasn’t small and wasn’t caught early at all.

So, on September 22nd of last year, which was Erev Yom Kippur, I had a double-mastectomy.  The next day – Yom Kippur, I found out I had two different kinds of cancer. The first measured over 2 cm and was Stage 2. It was an invasive cancer, highly aggressive and had a strong pattern of recurring. The other tumor wasn’t invasive yet, but was already measuring 9 cm. I found out on Yom Kippur that I would need a year of chemotherapy – 17 rounds.

In this week’s parsha (Torah Portion), called Ha’Azinu , Moshe begins by describing the presence of God in nature as being as evident as the rain or dew that nourishes the fields and gardens. God is entirely just, always good, always compassionate and forgiving.

I read this and wondered how can a God that is always just and good allow any of this to happen? Was it because I didn’t believe in God strongly enough? Did I do something to cause this to myself?  Why me?  Why did this happen?  How can I reconcile a God that is “always good” with my present position?  I can’t say I know that I have the answers to these questions, but today I’d like to share the little rays of light that made it possible for me to make it through some of the dark times I’ve had this year.

After the initial surgery, I had another surgery to place a port to get ready for chemo. My chemotherapy started in October, and with that, I had all of the side effects you might expect, and then some.  Every chance my body had, it chose to take the more rare path. I had/have side effects that tend to affect only 5-10% of people, and I even had allergic reactions to the chemotherapy itself.  Nothing was “simple”. Most people have 5 to 7 days of “ick” with each chemo cycle, I had 18 days of symptoms in each 21 day cycle. When I transitioned from traditional chemo to a newer antibody treatment – from which most women have no side effects – I still had “ick” for 5 to 7 days each cycle. When I do something, I really go all the way!

I was recently struck by something my son, who just turned 8, said to me. He said that this had been his best year ever. Similarly, someone recently asked me to reflect upon this year as my own birthday approached last month, and I replied that while this had certainly been the most hellacious year of my life, it was also a year where I think there were some of the best parts of my life.  I responded to the question, but yet when I heard myself respond, it seemed odd to have come from me.

How is it possible that this was my reaction given what I just went through – and am still going through?

One of my friends, Tammi, (who had her own battle with breast cancer years ago, and spends time volunteering as a Sharsheret Mentor for newly diagnosed patients) said to me, “You’re about to go through this big, dark, scary forest. You can’t go around it or over it – the only way to deal with it is to go through it. Your doctors and nurses can provide the light for you to be able to see through it and your husband and friends are there for you to lean on – providing support for you to be able to get through this, but you need to travel through it no matter how big dark and scary it is. When you get to the other side – it’s calm and beautiful – and I’ll be here for you.” That analogy carried me through the hardest times.

I’ve used her analogy to try and look for the light amidst the dark and scary at each step of the way.

So – the radiologist who found my cancer told me she could have given a clear pass on the scan, and almost did, but something was just bugging her about it, and she really wanted to have me check it out.  Lucky.

I’m not only lucky that it was found, but that it was found early enough that it hadn’t yet spread to my lymph nodes. What that radiologist found turned out to be the second most aggressive form of breast cancer. And yet, if I hadn’t had this invasive cancer, my doctor would not have requested the MRI that in turn found my second cancer – the one that turned out to be 9cm.  You could say it was lucky I had the invasive and aggressive tumor at all – so that the other larger tumor could be found before it also became invasive.

I remember sitting in the hospital after my mastectomy; I wasn’t even in a room. I never got a room due to an insurance screw-up. Instead, I was in a recovery bay with a curtain (and I got sent home 11 hours after surgery).  I remember sitting there thinking how lucky I was that I had insurance.  Not everyone has insurance, and not everyone can afford to pay extra out of pocket for a 3D mammogram – the 3D directly resulted in my cancer being found. The radiologist told me that’s what saved my life.

I’m lucky that there is a treatment today that has taken my type of cancer from being the second most deadly, to having good survivability rates. Just 10 years ago I would have been in an extremely perilous situation.

Earlier today, I benched (prayed) Gomel, our traditional prayer for someone who has come through a dangerous time.  My friend, Rabbi Robert Scheinberg, who was our Rabbi in Hoboken, NJ, writes that our tradition requires us to say this prayer in the presence of the community to acknowledge the support that is essential to weathering the most dangerous and frightening parts of our lives.  As well, our tradition teaches us that life involves mutuality.  Sometimes we are the givers, but we must equally know how to accept help.

Our Rabbi in Raleigh, NC, Eric Solomon, spoke on Yom Kippur about how in our Jewish community – in any Jewish community – it’s important to just show up.  It’s what Jews do.  We’re a community.  We are a community religion.  We need a minyan – quorum of 10 people – present to say many of our prayers.  We show up. You don’t even necessarily show up because you know the person, you just show up.

And show up you did.  I remember thinking – and I continue to believe – that I was one of the lucky ones because I have so many friends who jumped in to help.  I had SO MANY MORE friends than I knew! For 7 months I didn’t get out of bed.  From the beginning, and continuing through today, so many friends have rushed to help by making meals, checking on me, driving the kids. I always knew someone had our kids – I just didn’t always know who.

They say breast cancer puts you in a sisterhood you never wanted to be part of.  I feel so lucky and thankful for the women who came before me, who mentored and guided me, who made the journey easier.

I am thankful for organizations such as Sharsheret, an organization specifically focused on young, Jewish women battling breast and ovarian cancer, who understand the needs of someone like myself, who was diagnosed 20 years earlier than the average breast cancer patient, who had to get through the physical and emotional needs of diagnosis and treatment, while simultaneously helping my children with homework, science projects, attending parent-teacher conferences, and making sure the emotional needs of my children were being met in addition to my own.

I don’t want to say that what I’ve taken away from this year is that every cloud has a silver lining or that things happen for a reason (and I certainly still have my “It’s not fair” moments). But realizing that it could always have been worse is what got me through.  I have a friend who had a port infection and was in the hospital for 3 months, other friends are battling breast cancer without insurance, and I have friends who were diagnosed at much later stages.

That is what makes it possible for me to go through this without being paralyzed with fear all the time – realizing that I am one of the lucky ones. Being grateful for what I have instead of bitter about what I don’t.

Even though my initial treatment might be over, I’m not done yet.  I’ve got some serious fatigue to deal with and some other lingering side effects. I’ll be taking hormone blocking medications for the next 5 to 10 years, and I still have a few additional surgical procedures coming up. I’m rebuilding my relationships with my friends, some of whom I haven’t seen or been in their lives for a year, and also rebuilding relationships with my husband and children – seeing how they’ve grown and changed in the past year while I watched most days from bed.  It’s not just me absorbing this into my identity, but also seeing who my kids have become, and who I have become, because of our experiences.

I still struggle with my relationship with God.  I’m still struggling with why bad things happen.  I still struggle with “why me – why anyone?”  But answering the why doesn’t make it any easier to get through that big, dark scary forest. It’s helpful to put aside the “why” and just focus on what you need to do to get through the current day.

Another wise friend Louise reminded me that at Rosh Hashanah, we read a verse that states “Zeh hayom asah Adonai nagilah venis’mechah bo.  “This is the day that G-d created; we shall rejoice and be glad today.”

So maybe the best way to find God when I question his or her existence, is to make the most of each day (THIS day, each one I am lucky to have) and to look for the little lucky things that make it possible to get through whatever darkness exists on any given day, whether it’s a big dark scary forest, or a small one.

As we are about to celebrate Sukkot, I wanted to offer my own wish for all of us. I hope that as we look up from our Sukkahs, we can each find twinkling stars in the dark sky, and that they will remind us to always look for the little, lucky things, the little points of light amongst the darkness, to help guide us through our lives.

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Finding a Way http://www.sharsheret.org/finding-a-way/ http://www.sharsheret.org/finding-a-way/#respond Mon, 31 Oct 2016 18:55:36 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=102685 Navigating hereditary breast and ovarian cancer is not always easy.  Sharsheret simply makes it a little less difficult to face … Continue reading

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Navigating hereditary breast and ovarian cancer is not always easy.  Sharsheret simply makes it a little less difficult to face our decisions  and to travel the path that we have chosen. That’s why I’ve chosen to get involved and become a peer supporter, to try and make things easier for those who will inevitably face these decisions next.

I am what is called a previvor. Cancer previvors are individuals who are survivors of a predisposition to cancer but who have not actually had the disease. This group includes people who carry a hereditary mutation, a family history of cancer, or some other predisposing factor.  I am positive for the BRCA2 mutation.

I tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation about eight years ago. I had delayed being tested for a few years after my mother passed away. Though it was ovarian cancer she eventually succumbed to, when she was first diagnosed in 1990, it was breast cancer. Around the age of 30, I knew I couldn’t put off the test any longer. It’s not like I didn’t already know what the results would be. Earlier this year, I underwent a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy with expanders. It was my Sharsheret Peer Supporter who helped get me through the months that followed. With these procedures, it’s hard to find people who know exactly what you’re going through. Often times, though they mean well, family and friends say the wrong thing. My Sharsheret Peer Supporter, Lauren, never said the wrong thing.

I am now three months out of my exchange surgery. I know that I will have to remove my ovaries in the next few years, but for now, I am grateful that I was able to have the procedure, that it was covered by my insurance, that there were no signs of cancer or pre-cancer in the pathology and that there was someone there to walk me through it all. I have learned to focus on the positive. The decisions are never easy; they never will be. But with Sharsheret, there will always be someone to guide you through the process.

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