Our Voices: A Blog by Links, Callers and Volunteers

Beating the Odds

I had many of the symptoms.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know it.  I knew something was wrong but ovarian cancer never, ever crossed my mind.  It didn’t cross my doctor’s mind either - even when she sent me to a urologist for an ultra-sound.

Six months later, I was in the emergency room after experiencing pains in my stomach on the right side.  My husband and I were concerned that it was appendicitis.  The ER doctor asked, “On what side did you have the pain?”  He couldn’t understand why I said the right because my left ovary was surrounded by a huge mass.  I was diagnosed with stage IIIc ovarian cancer.  That was on a Tuesday in November of 2006.  The next day I met with a gynecological oncologist and the following Monday I had a complete hysterectomy and debulking, which means the doctor tried to scrape every bit of cancer tissue out of my abdomen.  He was pretty pleased with the surgery but much to my disappointment, he insisted I still had to have chemotherapy.

That was the beginning of my cancer journey.  This November, I will celebrate five years – and my life.

Even though my doctor discouraged me from getting genetic testing because there was no breast cancer or ovarian cancer in any close relative, at the urging of others, I did.  My genetic counselor didn’t think I’d get a positive result.  Just weeks later, she called to say that I was BRCA2 positive.  My three choices of action were more regular monitoring, taking medication to minimize the chance of breast cancer, or a prophylactic mastectomy.  When I told my mother about the possibility of a prophylactic mastectomy, she burst out, “Well, you are not going to do THAT!”  I read a few books, talked to a few people, and mulled over the decision for many months.  A year later, I decided to have a prophylactic double mastectomy and reconstruction.  While it was a difficult surgery, I have not for one second regretted it.

I’ve met a number of people with ovarian cancer in the last nearly five years and I can say, I’ve been very lucky.  And everywhere I turn - my therapist, a neighbor, my doctor’s office - people ask if I’d be willing to speak with other newly diagnosed women.  I never hesitate to share my experience and answer their questions.  I am a journalist and my editor, knowing my background, asked me to write a story about Sharsheret’s Founder Rochelle Shoretz.  I had not been familiar with Sharsheret before then.  After writing my story, I contacted Sharsheret’s Link Program Coordinator and immediately offered to join Sharsheret’s Ovarian Cancer Program.  I’m always ready to speak with women who are newly diagnosed, to offer rays of hope and suggested books to read. When I speak to other women, I always learn something from them as well.
But most important, I think, is for all of us to realize that we’re not alone on this cancer journey.  No matter how close your family and friends are, the women who walk in our shoes understand our situation better than anyone else.  And we can be a comfort to each other.

By: Jan Jaben-Eilon of Marietta, Georgia, Sharsheret Peer Supporter

Celebrating Life

My journey with ovarian cancer began when I arrived home from a fantastic winter break vacation and went for my annual gynecologic exam.  At my exam, I mentioned to my doctor that I was experiencing heavy bleeding.  He suggested we do an ultrasound and that’s when my life changed forever.
Without sharing all the details, I had many tests that led to two major surgeries. The good news was that my tumor was found before anything had spread throughout my body.  I completed chemotherapy, which I was able to tolerate fairly well.  A year later, during one of my regular CT scans, we found a small recurrence.  I consulted two doctors and decided on a very heavy regimen consisting of two very strong drugs.  With three young children at home, you can imagine the stress of wanting to feel good and be strong.

I changed my diet and I also changed my outlook on life.  I try to enjoy each day with my family and try not to sweat all the small stuff.  Throughout my experience, my goal for myself was to remain positive and take each day at a time.  With an unbelievable support system from my family, friends, my community, and Sharsheret, I was able to not only get through this, but was able to continue living my life as normally as possible. 

In partnership with the Sharsheret Supports program, I developed a local support group for the women in my community who were touched by cancer.  Through our Sharsheret Supports group, women, including me, have connected with one another and found comfort, knowledge, and friendship.  It means so much to me to be part of such an incredible network of women.  I pray every day that I will heal and continue celebrating this life - the life that God has given me!

By: Vicki Hamersmith of Coral Gables, Florida, Sharsheret Peer Supporter and Sharsheret Supports Facilitator

A Very Special Pink Day

Today, I did something I have never done. Today, instead of running away, I ran towards something very special. Today, I felt like an important part of an incredible group of people. I have spent many months trying to convince myself that I am not part of this group. But I am and I am so lucky to be here. Today was my first Race for the Cure in NYC. I have been told by fellow survivors that the Race is a very meaningful experience and now I understand why. An estimated 20,000 people were involved today. How can I feel alone when that many people care?

I was joined today by my spectacular parents. They were by my side today like they are each and every day of my somewhat complicated and amusing life. I was also honored to have two of my closest and most important friends walk with us. To me, their participation represented all of the special people in my life who have been there for me and my family. Thank you all for your love and support. I need it now more than ever. I am focusing on the future. I am focusing on helping other women through this experience. And I am focusing on the New Year we are about to begin. May we all be blessed with health, happiness, and great things.

Today is a special day.


A Sharsheret Peer Supporter shares her first experience as a member of award-winning Team Sharsheret at Race for the Cure NYC.

"Your Jewish Jeans" Joins Sharsheret's Educational Resource Series

I’m excited to introduce the newest addition to Sharsheret’s educational resource booklet series. Your Jewish Genes offers up-to-date information about inherited breast cancer and ovarian cancer today and answers the questions that are most commonly asked about this topic in a clear, concise way. The personal stories shared in the booklet touch on many of the aspects of genetic testing faced by women in their journey with cancer and these stories can help guide others during the search toward their own path. As a Genetic Counselor, I love the fact that Your Jewish Genes emphasizes the importance of knowing your family history and taking advantage of genetic counseling before making any decisions. After you read the booklet, I’ll be happy to speak with you and discuss your own concerns or connect you with one of the many peer supporters in Sharsheret’s national network who can share her experience with you. Our Genetics for Life program also provides other informational resources and transcripts of our national teleconferences and webinars, including Prophylactic Surgery For Breast And Ovarian Cancer: How Will It Affect Me? Call us today at 866-474-2774 or visit us online at http://www.sharsheret.org/ to order your free copy of Your Jewish Genes.

By: Niecee Schonberger, MS, CGC, Genetics for Life Program Coordinator

Right There Beside You

We're always assuring you - our Team Sharsheret athletes - that we're cheering you on to the finish line. This year, our cheers may sound a bit louder. Ellen, Elana and I will share a relay spot, and Rebecca of our staff will compete in the Triathlon this Sunday. Literally and figuratively, we are doing this together - raising awareness about breast cancer in the Jewish community and welcoming hundreds of new friends to the Sharsheret family. We are grateful that you've chosen to be a part of our Team, and even more grateful that you've chosen to be a part of our mission. On Sunday, when you look around and marvel at all that you've accomplished through training, I hope our thanks, and the gratitude of the thousands of women and families we are blessed to serve, gives you that added push to the finish line. We're cheering you on. And we're right there beside you.

With deep thanks,

Take on our 10-day challenge!

Only 10 days until the New York City Triathlon and our staff members Rochelle, Elana, and Ellen are ready to take on the triathlon as a relay team if YOU can help us get 1,000 new Facebook fans! Tell your friends to "like" our page – www.facebook.com/sharsheret.org - and post your name on our wall as the person who referred them and not only will you and one lucky friend be eligible to win an iTunes gift card, but Elana will swim in the Hudson, Rochelle will ride her bike on the West Side Highway, and Ellen will lace up her sneakers and cross the finish line in Central Park next Sunday! We're ready to take on the 10-day challenge - are you?!?

Helping Us Help You

By: Ruthie Arbit, Sema Heller Netivot Shalom Summer Intern

After 10 weeks of interning at Sharsheret, I can safely say that I went from a state of bewilderment from when I initially heard about Sharsheret in April to a state of admiration. Then, I was struck by the cause; I didn’t know that breast cancer and ovarian cancer were Jewish issues and I wondered what Sharsheret was doing to help Jewish women facing these illnesses. Now, I am in awe as I think about the callers, the peer supporters, and the volunteers who help us at Sharsheret do what we do.

The Sharsheret office is an incredible place. On any given day there is a string of devoted volunteers popping in and out, Team Sharsheret athletes coming in to meet with the staff, and the daily visit by the postman who picks up packages filled with hundreds of breast cancer and ovarian cancer brochures to be delivered to women and families, health care professionals, conferences, and Jewish organizations nationwide. Add all of this to the hard work that the dedicated staff at Sharsheret puts in – providing emotional support to women living with cancer and their families, answering countless questions from health care professionals about the unique needs of their Jewish patients, planning outreach events to spread the word about Sharsheret’s programs and services, coordinating medical symposia, and processing generous contributions from donors. It’s no surprise then that after only 10 years since its inception, Sharsheret has become an esteemed national organization with 11 programs, more than 1,200 peer supporters, and thousands of volunteers and supporters.

However, what impresses me most about Sharsheret are the women. The women who call Sharsheret for support as they ponder the potentially life-changing decision of whether or not to undergo genetic testing, the women who have just finished their final round of chemo and are already volunteering to be peer supporters, and those who are living with metastatic cancer and finding value in every day moments.

All of these women amaze me.

So, as I near the end of my internship, I want to say thank you to the women whose strength fuels the energy of Sharsheret. I am sure that this won’t be the last time I will be surprised by the amazing work of Sharsheret, its staff, and its women. Although my internship is ending, my connection to Sharsheret will remain strong. I look forward to joining Sharsheret’s volunteer force and contributing my time and skills to this wonderful organization.

Meet Sharsheret's 10 Triathlon Athletes

We are excited to introduce Team Sharsheret’s 10 athletes who will compete in the Nautica/NYC Triathlon on August 7, 2011. Our athletes have been training hard for this Olympic Distance Race that includes a 1500m swim, a 40k bike, and a 10k run! Please join us in supporting their athletic and fundraising efforts as they take on this incredible challenge.

Jonathan Blinken


David Bosses


Robert Eisenberg


David Glick


Judah Greenblatt


Mark Levie


Rebecca Schwartz


Talya Spitzer


Max Trestman


Laurie Wechsler Horn




Get in shape with Sharsheret!

Whether you’re an experienced athlete or a beginner, Team Sharsheret has lots of exciting opportunities to help you stay in shape and challenge your athletic abilities. Check out these events and competitions and let us know which one you want to sign up for!

  • Ever dream of running 26.2 miles? Team Sharsheret has slots for the ING NYC Marathon on November 6, 2011! Don’t live in the tri-state area? We offer one round-trip ticket from your U.S. hometown to a NYC area airport! E-mail athletes@sharsheret.org to apply for your slot today and include your name, phone number, and a brief description of yourself and why you want to join Team Sharsheret. For more information, visit Team Sharsheret 2011 ING NYC Marathon.
  • Join award-winning Team Sharsheret at the NYC Race for the Cure, September 18, 2011 in Central Park, NYC. Sign up before July 16th and save $5 at www.komennyc.org/goto/sharsheret2011 and click on the words "Join Team".
  • Team Sharsheret has slots for the now sold out 2012 Ironman US Championship, a 140.6 mile race, to be held in the greater NYC/NJ area on August 11, 2012. This race will be the first ever Ironman competition in the New York City metropolitan area. For more information, e-mail ekleinhaus@sharsheret.org.

From the Cab to the Conference: ASCO's Annual Meeting From a Patient's Perspective

By: Rochelle Shoretz, Founder and Executive Director

Each year, thousands of clinicians and researchers convene at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. Sprinkled among them are patient advocates and patients, like me, who attend sessions so that they can share the latest research with others. This year, I was fortunate to attend the ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago with a patient advocate scholarship from the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO, and I’m delighted to be able to share research in both breast cancer and ovarian cancer with you.

But first, I need to share a conversation I had with a cab driver on my way to a local outreach event we coordinated for cancer survivors and professionals.

“Let me ask you a question,” the driver began. “There are thousands of researchers and doctors attending this cancer conference, but there is still no cure for cancer. Isn’t this a waste of time and money?”

I’ve heard this question many times before, and I’ve answered it many times before. But this time, I was en route to meet some of our Sharsheret callers living in Chicago, and survivors interested in learning more about our national programs – and the answer seemed more urgent. As I explained to the driver, the research presented at ASCO may not, itself, be the cure for the cancer, but it certainly includes critical pieces to the larger puzzle. And even though that research may not offer the cure today, it is giving most of us living with cancer better quality of life and, some of us, longer lives to live.

I hopped out of the cab and headed into “Cocktails and Conversation”, an opportunity for me to meet with our Sharsheret callers and new women welcomed by our partner organizations in Chicago – Bright Pink, Cancer Legal Resource Center, FORCE, Gilda’s Club Chicago, MyLifeLine.org, and Y-Me. Everyone was buzzing about the conference and the research to be presented that weekend.

For those of us facing breast cancer, the big ASCO news stemmed from a study that showed that post-menopausal women who have a high risk of breast cancer were less likely to develop the disease when they received an aromatase inhibitor called exemestane (Aromasin). That news is important for many of our Sharsheret callers, as 1 in 40 Jews of Ashkenazi descent is at high risk of developing breast cancer (and ovarian cancer) because of a mutation they carry in what is commonly referred to as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. You can read more about the study at http://bit.ly/iLSZuj.

For those of us facing ovarian cancer, scientists at ASCO presented promising research findings from two studies that examined the drug bevacizumab (Avastin) to treat recurrent and newly-diagnosed ovarian cancer. You can read more about those studies at http://bit.ly/iqlc4a.

You can call Sharsheret to speak with a genetic counselor or one of our clinical staff with any questions about these research studies.

As we exhibit and attend breast cancer and ovarian cancer conferences across the country, all of the staff at Sharsheret look forward to sharing our findings with you. Whether our perspectives are gleaned in the cab or the conference hall, we’re proud to be your source of support and information on this journey.