Our Voices: A Blog by Links, Callers and Volunteers

Meet our Team Sharsheret ING NYC Marathon Athletes: Natie Fox and Tiffany Diamond Lebowitz

It is very meaningful to me to run in support of Sharsheret.  Like most people, I have family and friends who are survivors of breast cancer, and others who unfortunately did not survive.  I have seen the tremendous struggle these brave and strong women went through and go through every day.  I also have the unique position of being a women’s health care provider (Maternal-Fetal Medicine, aka high-risk OBGYN) and I have cared for many pregnant women who are survivors of breast cancer as well as women newly diagnosed during pregnancy.  The challenges they face are indescribable.  I know very well, however, that in order to work through the diagnosis, the medical treatments and support need to be coupled with outstanding social and spiritual support, which is where Sharsheret excels.  Whatever difficulties I face with my training pale in comparison to those experienced by women in need of Sharsheret’s support, and I just hope that through my training I can make a small contribution to the Sharsheret team effort.

One may wonder why would a busy high-risk obstetrician and father of four ever train for his first marathon?  I honestly have no clue myself, but here we go. My wife, Michal, is also running the marathon for the first time this year.  She is my inspiration. So game on!! 

 


Ever since I moved to the New York area (and subsequently New Jersey), I have become familiar with the tremendous void that Sharsheret has managed to fill for Jewish women and their families, of all backgrounds, facing breast cancer. I, personally have known women that have faced breast cancer or are at high risk for breast cancer. Their emotional and physical needs were met by all that this organization has to offer. Sharsheret's multipurpose, personalized approach, is designed to guide and empower women of all ages to face their illness head-on. Through Sharsheret's unique "peer support network", deep friendships have been fostered, and medical resources have been shared.

I have NEVER run a marathon in my life! I will train with discipline and perseverance (and hopefully cross the finish line before nightfall), knowing that I am running for a cause I truly believe in. Please help me achieve this personal goal to cross the finish line, while supporting Sharsheret's goal to provide continuous support and guidance to women and their families facing breast cancer!

Meet our Team Sharsheret ING NYC Marathon Athletes: Simon Cadranel and Sarah Feit

I’m running to support Sharsheret because it helps supports women and families facing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Such a simple concept, but so incredibly valuable: to have someone to talk to about what you are going through, to tell you things you ought to know about the process or to share their experiences with you. How much of a difference does Sharsheret make in people’s lives? All the world.

I have decided to run as part of Team Sharsheret for many reasons. I am running as a tribute to my father, a clinical psychologist, who devoted much of his life to helping children with cancer and in memory of my two Aunts, Judy and Lily, who both passed away recently from cancer. My family and children might need me around in the years to come, so, yes, I am running to get in shape, be healthy and, please G-d, run marathons with potential future grandchildren! Most importantly, though, I am running to help Sharsheret continue its mission to change the face of cancer. No one should have to face breast cancer alone. As Sharsheret strides into its second decade, with your support, no one will have to face ovarian cancer alone either.

Please give a generous donation. Read the Sharsheret website at and learn about how Sharsheret supports women and families. Many thanks in advance.

Hopefully my alarm clock will go off on November 6th and I’ll see you at the finish line!

 


Unfortunately, everyone has felt the impact of cancer on their lives. That ugly "c" word is one of the greatest health challenges of our time. Since Sharsheret's founding in 2001, women who used to have to face the fight against cancer alone no longer have to face that struggle in solitude. Sharsheret is a national not-for-profit organization supporting young women and their families facing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Sharsheret has changed the way Jewish women face these challenges. The myriad of supportive programs have helped thousands fight this disease in an environment of love, guidance, and support. Research has shown that the greatest antidote to cancer is a positive outlook. Sharsheret makes that happen. Each time I watch the videos I become instantly inspired by the work of Sharsheret. Please check them out at www.sharsheret.org.

Two years ago I chaired a kickboxing fundraiser for Sharsheret, which was very successful in both raising funds as well as awareness. I now want to take the next step. I want to physically give of myself and run for the women who are not yet well enough to run. As I train I often envision myself running alongside the real heroes who battle this disease every day. I truly believe that the burden of this illness belongs on all our shoulders. While some may be fighters and survivors, it is the job of the rest of us to be up lifters, supporters, cheerleaders. My race reflects my commitment in our united fight against cancer. Please join me in that fight by helping me reach my goal to support the wonderful, life changing programming of Sharsheret.

Sharsheret: Serving Jewish Women with Breast Cancer

It has been a great pleasure and distinct honor to be involved with Sharsheret for the past decade. I care for a large number of young Orthodox Jewish women with breast cancer.  In the pre-Sharsheret era, many of my patients felt very isolated, frightened, and unable to connect with “experienced” patients who had already walked in their shoes.   It seemed a paradox to me that despite their deep faith and dedication to Judaism, many women were unable to receive support from their community due to their concerns about stigmatization and confidentiality.  There was a great deal of misinformation and lack of understanding particularly relating to the Askenazi “Jewish” breast cancer gene. With the birth of Sharsheret, I was able to witness, first hand, the enormous culturally sensitive support that my new patients could receive.  They now can be fully supported by peers and receive medically correct information in a caring way. I have been pleased to be a member of the Sharsheret Medical Advisory Board since 2003. I am firmly committed to help expand the work and reach of this wonderful organization so as many patients as possible can be helped. 

By: Sheldon Feldman, MD, Chief, Breast Surgery Section at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, Sharsheret Medical Advisory Board Member

Why Do I Run?

Someone recently asked me if I find running Race for the Cure to be therapeutic.  My immediate answer was, “yes, of course!”  But later, while I was cleaning up from the post-Race party I hosted, and everyone was gone, and my apartment was covered in pink paraphernalia, and I was attempting to take my pink ribbon tattoo off (with nail polish remover - not a good idea), I stopped to think about what makes this day so special to me year after year.

I find the day therapeutic, but much more importantly, I find the day filled with a level of energy that I can palpate with every step I take. It is a day commemorating many people whose lives ended way too early, but it also somehow overflows with hope. Most of all, I find the day inspiring.

As I ran the Race course and struggled along, wondering when, if ever, Mile Marker 2 would appear, I caught a glimpse of a fellow runner wearing a Team Sharsheret t-shirt. I realized the runner was Rochelle Shoretz, Sharsheret’s Founder, the mother of two children, a woman battling breast cancer for a second time. At first I was surprised that she would be running all on her own, she is after all the Founder of this very well-known national organization. She seemed focused, determined, and at peace. I started running alongside her and had the following brief interaction.

Rochelle: “Thank you so much for joining and running with us.”

Me: “The pleasure is all mine. I thank you for bringing us all together.”

Rochelle: “No, it is my honor to be running with you.”

And after that, she sprinted ahead of me, continuing on with that same determination. While watching her run ahead, I realized that we all inspire each other.  She is not running alone at all, but running with each and every one of us. As I ran, I felt a new ignited fire to run for each name that was scribbled on my back.  I was wearing names of women I did not know for friends who couldn't make it to the Race that day to run in their honor.  And of course, I was running for my mother. And with every step I took, I felt her presence, saw her smile, heard her laugh, and remembered her love for life.

And so I wanted to thank my family and  friends for being a part our mission. To those who donated money or raised money, those who helped with the planning or dealt with my crazy nuances, those who stood on the side lines with coffee in hand, those who had to work but were there in spirit, those who pushed wheel chairs, those who walked with bad injuries, and those who ran by side as we huffed and puffed, and encouraged me to the finish line. You are all what makes this day so special, and it is my honor to have you all share this day with me.

See you in 2012!

By: Miriam Kolb of New York City, Team Sharsheret 2011 Member

ROSH HASHANAH MESSAGE: Rising Up

This year my resolution is to finally learn how to bake challah. I have tried, not so successfully, in the past.  I am in awe of the process.  I take simple ingredients -water, yeast, flour, and salt - and transform them into beautiful, delicious bread deserving of a holy blessing.  But the transformation is not an easy one.

There seems to be so many choices and as a novice challah baker, I become overwhelmed.  Do I choose the recipe that includes sugar or honey?  Should I follow the recipe offered by my friends or family?  I haven’t even begun to bake and already I am overwhelmed.

I begin by putting the yeast in the water.  The condition of the water has to be just right, not too cold and not too hot.  And then I wait.  Is the yeast taking?  Do I see it frothing or bubbling?  Can I trust what I see?  I take the chance and move on to the next step.  The flour has to be added slowly until the dough is formed.  I knead the dough for what feels like forever.  I place it in a bowl, where it sits covered and in darkness, and I wait again.  Will it rise?  I have no choice but to be patient.  If it doesn’t rise, I have to begin again.  If it rises, I will move on to the next step.  It does, and as I set about shaping the dough, I’m faced with more decisions.  Should I make a three-braided challah or a six-braided challah, or perhaps a round challah at this time of year?  After I shape the challah it must rise again, so back it goes under cover and into the darkness.  More waiting.

It emerges from the darkness and I brush egg over my challah and place it in the oven.  I am hopeful.  There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  I inhale the delicious smell of challah as it fills my home with an enticing aroma for all who enter to enjoy, and bask in the glory of my accomplishment.  I did it!  I have taken these ingredients and turned them into a thing of nourishment and beauty and I have learned so much from the process.

When we are faced with illness, we can feel overwhelmed by the choices and what lies ahead.  Whose guidance do we seek?  Who do we trust?  We are left with questions.  Will these treatments work?  I won’t know immediately.  I can only do the best that I can do.  I will have to wait and see.  It is hard to be patient.  Not knowing can feel frightening, but it’s important to remember that things can change in the darkness.  Sometimes we can feel kneaded and stretched, while at other times we can experience the joy that fills our homes and our souls, like the smell of the challah in our midst.

The light at the end of the tunnel can be hopeful no matter where we find ourselves in this journey.  We talk about the new normal - seeing life through a different lens after a cancer diagnosis - but in many ways, I now think about it as the new and improved normal.  It is within our reach to bring meaning to our transformation.

This year, as you drizzle honey over your challah, take the time to reflect and find the sweetness in your transformation.  I wish all of you a meaningful and sweet New Year.

By: Shera Dubitsky, Sharsheret Clinical Supervisor

Support is Vital for Recovery and Healing

2007 was a challenging year.  My aunt was facing brain cancer, my mom had passed away a few years earlier from lung cancer, and my grandmother passed a year before that.  I felt exhausted and vaguely unwell.  I attributed my symptoms to caring for relatives, raising a family, running a small production company, and just getting older.  I had a physical, blood work, a pap smear, and a mammogram in December and the results were normal so I stopped complaining.  I was 56 years old.

In March of 2008 I received an email with the subject line:  “Send to all the women you know”.  Usually those get trashed immediately, but I opened this one because it was from my cousin.  The title was: An Eye Opener on Ovarian Cancer.  I read it and was stunned to find all of my symptoms listed.  I called my doctor and requested the CA125 blood test and was told (just as the email predicted) that it was an unreliable test and I should make an appointment to talk about my concerns.  Knowing that wedding season was approaching and I would soon be on my feet fourteen hours a day as a videographer, I felt an urgency to find out if something was wrong.  I called The Cleveland Clinic and made an appointment with a gastroenterologist for that afternoon. 

During the exam, the doctor said he “felt something” in my lower abdomen and scheduled a CT scan.  This was on a Tuesday.  On Thursday, the results were back and I was scheduled to see my gynecologist for an ultrasound to examine huge masses on my ovaries.  By Friday, I knew it was probably cancer and surgery was necessary to confirm the suspicion.

Ten days later, I was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer and underwent a full hysterectomy.  Little did I know that I would need several more surgeries and chemotherapy.  I am blessed to have good friends and a wonderful family that enveloped me with love and support.  Having always been a caregiver, I was not accustomed to being cared for.  I was overwhelmed by the kindness people showed me.  My cousins shopped for and purchased a wig with me and parents of children who attended day school with my children ten years before cooked meals on chemo days, sent weekly cards, and delivered pots of soup.  One friend came with me to every chemo treatment and took notes so she could advocate medically and report to my out-of-town children.  My sons became my “medical team”, researching, reviewing, and advising.  Prayers were said for me all around the world.  I was in awe of the collective goodness that nurtured me through those tough times.

Between the rounds of chemotherapy, I was tested and found to have the BRCA2 mutation that is common among Ashkenazi Jews.  At the doctor's office, I picked up a booklet that explained the genetic mutation and its connection to breast cancer and ovarian cancer.  The booklet was published by Sharsheret.  I educated myself on BRCA2 through links on Sharsheret's website and made life-altering decisions based on what I learned. 

When I became well enough, I contacted Sharsheret’s Link Program Coordinator and asked to join Sharsheret as a peer supporter for other women diagnosed with cancer.  If I can help by sharing my experience, my time, or whatever is needed, I want to do that.  Sharsheret is part of the collective goodness I experienced and I can give back through this organization.  Recently I delivered Sharsheret brochures to two hospitals in hopes that others will become aware that support exists and is just a phone call away.

By: Fran Goldlust of Beachwood, Ohio, Sharsheret Peer Supporter

Know Your Family History

For those of us growing up in the 1950’s, cancer was not an often used word.  It was referred to as “the big C” or by other euphemisms and was rarely discussed in public.  That’s not to say the disease was uncommon, but rather that the topic just wasn’t discussed. 

In 1960, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  She had surgery during the summer when I was away at camp and I was not told.  Later, I found out that my mother had some type of “women’s cancer.”  She had a full recovery and so the topic was never again discussed.  My mother died of natural causes 41 years later.  A year after my mother’s diagnosis, her sister was diagnosed with cancer.  She died two years later.  I was never told what type of cancer my aunt had and I never thought to ask.  Cancer was a dreaded disease and not something one talked about.

In the mid 1990’s, my aunt’s son, who is a physician, called to tell me about a new test for ovarian cancer- the test for the BRCA gene mutation.  I couldn’t understand why this was so important until he told me that both my mother and aunt had had ovarian cancer.  At the time, the test was not being offered in Washington where my mother lived.  The trip to Philadelphia, where the test was being administered, would have been too difficult for my 92 year-old mother so she was not tested.

Then I was faced with a dilemma – should I be tested?  After deciding that I would not have prophylactic surgery if I found that I was BRCA positive, I decided not to be tested for the gene.  I instead opted to have a yearly pelvic sonogram and a yearly CA125 blood test.  I followed this regimen religiously.

About three years ago, I finally decided to be tested for the BRCA gene mutation.   The results came back negative.  I felt a tremendous sense of relief until I spoke to my nephew who is an oncologist.   He told me that the results didn’t prove much.  Had my mother tested positive and I tested negative, it would be cause for rejoicing.  Since my mother had never been tested, it was still possible that some other gene was linked to her cancer.

These words proved to be prophetic.  A few months later I had my annual pelvic sonogram and a growth was found on one of my ovaries.  It was suggested that I see an oncologist.  Surgery was scheduled.  The pathology indicated that the growth was malignant and I would need chemotherapy.  The good news was that it was Stage 1A - only one ovary was affected and the cancer had not spread.  

The early detection of my cancer was due to knowing my family history.  That’s why my husband and I, through the Gorlin Family Foundation, support Sharsheret’s ovarian cancer program, and especially the campus education program.  We want to get the message out that it is imperative to know your family history.  Knowing my family history has made all the difference for me.  Find out yours.

By: Sue Gorlin of Silver Spring, Maryland, Sharsheret Peer Supporter

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.