Our Voices: A Blog by Links, Callers and Volunteers

Facing BRCA With Your Young Daughters

When a mother sees an article titled “Are the Kids All Right?” she is likely to read on eagerly to see what sage advice the article could provide to help her fulfill her maternal mission of keeping her child safe.  We have all seen articles like this in the popular media. Usually the topics include bicycle safety, internet safety, or warning your child of “stranger danger”.  As mothers, we feel a certain sense of security when we implement the tips in the article such as buying our child a securely fitting bike helmet, installing filtering software on our family computers, or teaching our child never to talk to strangers. 

The story “Are the Kids All Right?” by CBS news reporter Mary Brophy Marcus addressed a far more complicated topic.  The article describes a study in the issue of the journal Pediatrics that examines the emotional well-being of school-age girls with a family history of breast cancer or known genetic risk. Specifically, the study looked at girls aged 6-13 years with a family history of breast cancer or familial BRCA1/2 mutation (BCFH+ group) as compared to a group of girls without family history or familial BRCA 1/2 mutation (BCFH- group).  Clearly, the “take home” tips from this study are far more complex, intricate, and situation dependent than the tips we glean from the typical parenting article.  At the same time, with the expansion and increased accessibility of genetic testing, having empirically based knowledge of how familial BRCA 1/2 mutations impact the emotional health of young girls is vital.

The main findings of the study are quite intuitive and logical.  First, general emotional well- being did not differ between BCFH+ girls and BCFH- girls.  Second, BCFH+ girls reported more anxiety about their risk for breast cancer than girls without family breast cancer history or known genetic risk. 

It seems to me that the findings of this study speak to the resiliency of this population of young girls.  It is normal and expected that a girl with a family history of breast cancer or known genetic risk will have greater anxiety about her own personal risk.  However, the anxiety about breast cancer remained its own entity. It did not infiltrate into the general emotional well-being of the girls studied.  This may speak to an adaptive capacity of young girls to compartmentalize anxiety in a way that adults only wish they could achieve.

The third main finding of the study allows us to infer how anxiety can be lowered in young girls with family history or known genetic risk. The study found that girls’ anxiety about breast cancer was associated with higher anxiety of their mothers.  What follows from this, is that lowering a mother’s anxiety about breast cancer will help improve a young girl’s ability to cope with family history or genetic risk. 

So, how does a mother lower her anxiety about breast cancer, family history, or genetic risk so that she could take care of her emotional well-being and be a strong role model for her daughter as well?  Strong coping skills are the best arsenal in fighting anxiety.  In most instances, we do not have the power to change the circumstances that we are in.  A woman cannot change the fact that she has a family history of breast cancer.  What every woman can change, however, is how she thinks about the fact that the family history is present. Children often look to their parents for cues on how to think about information that they are unsure how to interpret.  Mothers need not hide their anxiety; children appreciate emotional honesty. A daughter will feel that her anxiety is validated if she observes that her mother shares some of those same emotions.  Seeing her mother exhibit coping mechanisms is even more reassuring and helpful.  Some important ways to model coping include the following:

  • Break challenges into small, manageable pieces:  Show your daughter how to do this by modeling through your own actions.  For example, instead of conveying a message of “I need a complete solution to the issue of genetic risk in my family ASAP”, show your daughter how coming up with a plan for the next step is more realistic, reassuring and helpful.  For example, “I am going to set up an appointment to consult with a known specialist in the area ASAP.”
  • Avoid the urge to catastrophize:  Catastrophizing is defined as having the irrational belief that something is far worse than it actually is.  Catastrophic thinking is a type of cognitive distortion (distorted way of thinking) that can lead to negative emotional states such as anxiety and depression.  An example of catastrophic thinking in the case of known genetic risk for breast cancer would be “I am definitely going to get breast cancer at a young age. When I do, my family will not be able to function and life for everyone will be a nightmare.”  While familial history of breast cancer can certainly make one think this way at times, catching yourself when you have such thoughts will be helpful to you and your daughter.  When you become mindfully aware of your own catastrophic thinking, you can then consider other possible outcomes and more adaptive thoughts.  For example, a less catastrophic thought would be, “If I am diagnosed with breast cancer in the future, it will be a challenge.  But we do have great social support. My family will be okay as I get treated.”

The study in Pediatrics further explains that it is vital to recognize and address a young girl’s distress about breast cancer risk because any persistent distress in adolescence is linked with negative health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and drug use.  What follows from this concern are some other helpful directions for mothers or health professionals to employ when addressing their child’s distress.

  • Incorporate positive and empowering health messages when discussing breast cancer familial risk:  Explaining to a young girl that she can channel her concern to fuel healthy behaviors accomplishes two important goals.  First, on a psychological level, being able to exert some control over a health issue is reassuring.  Second, from the physiological perspective, reducing negative health behaviors and increasing positive health behaviors is clearly beneficial.  Having ideas about fitness activities and nutrition on hand when you speak to your daughter is helpful.  Brainstorm with your child about ways that fitness and nutrition can be fun for her.
  • Convey the message that knowledge is power: While ignorance can be bliss at times, this is not the case when it comes to health issues.  Knowledge can be both frightening and powerful at the same time.  If we allow power to have more value in the “knowledge = power + fear” equation, we can then emphasize to ourselves and our families that with knowledge we can have the power to make changes, investigate possibilities, and feel hopeful. The net result is that the fear factor in this equation decreases in value.

This important study refers to BCFH+ young girls with the unique term of “pre-vivors.”   “Pre” is a prefix that connotes before. This term suggests to me that no matter what challenges the future holds for these young women, they will be survivors. By incorporating some of the coping and health communication tips mentioned above, we are giving our young girls some of the tools they need to be pro-active survivors in their quest to live physically and emotionally healthy lives.

Parents should consult with a medical and/or mental health professional regarding when and how to speak with their child about this issue. Sharsheret is also available to address these issues with you.

Five Healthy Dishes to Enhance Your Thanksgiving Table

Monita Buchwald is a free-lance culinary professional and the former recipe tester for Martha Stewart Living magazine. She's a breast cancer survivor and a Sharsheret Peer Supporter.

Proper nutrition combined with weight control and exercise is a game plan that everyone can benefit from. This is especially true for breast and ovarian cancer survivors. To lower your risk of a recurrence, America Cancer Society states that healthy eating can play an important role. Experts recommend eating a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, choosing whole grains and high-fiber breads and cereals, limiting red meat, and choosing lean proteins and low-fat dairy products.

For the most part, the foods that we eat on Thanksgiving are pretty healthy. It's not like Chanukah, where fried foods are the highlight of the holiday. But even on Thanksgiving, there's more than enough to tempt us, whether it's turkey stuffing or the delicious pies and cakes we have for dessert. One key to a healthier Thanksgiving is moderation -- eat smaller amounts of all the wonderful choices. The other is balance and variety. Add more vegetable dishes and reduce the amount of fats and carbohydrates. Here are five healthy side dishes to enhance your Thanksgiving table.

Mushroom Quinoa Pilaf
(Serves 6)

2 pounds mixed small mushrooms (white, cremini, shitake), sliced 1/2" thick
1-2 onions small diced (1 cup diced)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
2 cups cooked quinoa
Coarse salt and pepper to taste

1.    Place oil in a large sautè pan over medium high heat. When pan is hot add the mushrooms so they are in one layer. Leave for two-three minutes. Then flip over and cook another three minutes until golden and tender. Remove and set aside and repeat until all the mushrooms are cooked. You may need to add oil between batches.
2.    When the mushrooms are finished cooking, reduce the heat to medium, add another tablespoon of oil, and add in the onions. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until the onions are tender and beginning to color - about 6-8 minutes.
3.    Add back in the mushrooms, the Balsamic vinegar and thyme. Cook until the vinegar has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Mix in the quinoa and season to taste.

Can be made ahead of time and re-heated before serving.

Cranberry Apple Chutney
(Serves 4-6, makes 2 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 small red onion diced (1/2 cup)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
12-ounces fresh or frozen cranberries
1 large Granny Smith apple peeled and diced into pieces the size of the cranberries
1/4 teaspoon each of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1.    Soak the onion in vinegar for 10 minutes. Drain and set the onions aside.
2.    Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add the cranberries, apples, drained onions, and spices; return to a boil.
3.    Reduce heat and simmer until the cranberries begin to burst and the apples are tender but not mushy. The mixture should remain somewhat chunky.
4.    Pour into a medium glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly on the chutney. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate, preferably overnight.
5.    To serve, remove from refrigerator and let come back to room temperature. Toss in the walnuts.

Autumn Greens Salad (Adapted from Martha Stewart Living)
(Serves 6)

1/3 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons sunflower oil, or canola oil
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, very thinly sliced (3 cups)
3 cups shredded Swiss Chard or Kale leaves. From 6-7 large leaves stemmed and thinly sliced

1.    Stir mustard, lemon juice, salt, and maple syrup together in a small bowl; whisk in oil until emulsified and set aside.
2.    Toss together Brussels sprouts and leaf greens. Stir in sunflower seeds and pour in dressing; toss to coat.
3.    Serve immediately.

To make ahead: Prepare the greens and store in refrigerator covered. Make the dressing and refrigerate. Toss together just before serving.

Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds With Pecans and Parsley
(Serves 6)

1/2 cup pecans
6 sweet potatoes, scrubbed, but not peeled, and cut into 1/2" thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley for garnish

1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees 
2.    Place the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven 7-8 minutes until lightly toasted. Remove and set aside. When cool enough to handle, coarsely chop and reserve for serving. Raise the oven temp to 425 degrees
3.    On one-two rimmed baking sheets, toss sweet potatoes with the oil and season with salt and pepper.
4.    Roast, flipping once, until golden brown and tender, 23 to 25 minutes
5.    To serve place on flat serving dish and sprinkle with chopped pecans and parsley

Sweet potatoes can be made in advance. Before ready to serve, place in one layer and warm, uncovered at low temp until heated. Pecans can be made in advance. Store in airtight container. Parsley should be chopped same day as using.

Maple Roasted Root Vegetables
(Serves 6)

3  pounds root vegetables (e.g. carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, potatoes, turnips) peeled and cut into 1”chunks
½ cup maple syrup
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons lemon juice
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
1 ounce toasted whole almonds coarsely chopped (1/3 cup)
Pepper for seasoning

1.    Pre-heat oven to 400.
2.    In a bowl whisk together maple syrup, olive oil, lemon juice and ½ teaspoon salt. Add the vegetables and toss to coat completely.
3.    Pour vegetables and glaze onto rimmed baking sheet. They should be in one layer so use more than one baking sheet, if necessary.
4.    Roast for 30-40 minutes, tossing several times, scraping from the edges where the glaze will get the darkest. Cook until golden brown and tender but not mushy.
5.    Sprinkle with chopped nuts and serve.

If making in advance: Re-heat uncovered at 200 and sprinkle the nuts on just before serving.

A New Chapter

You may be surprised to learn that most women do not know their breast density. I started getting mammograms in my 40's, and I learned that I had dense breast tissue, just like 50% of women who get mammograms. What happened next changed my life and opened a new chapter for me.

In 2012, my physician recommended that I undergo Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI) despite having a normal mammogram. I was reluctant to undergo another test given that I had gone through many in the past without finding any cancer. I decided to follow through, after all my insurance covered this, so why not double check. Following the results of my MBI, my physician clearly saw some abnormalities and recommended I undergo an ultrasound and a biopsy.

That week my family and I went down to Florida, to see my son's marching band at Disneyworld. I got an odd message from my doctor's office asking me to call them when I got back and knew there was no point in waiting. With my husband by my side, I made the call knowing we could face anything together in God's grace.

I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer which led me to have a double mastectomy. Additionally, I opted for reconstruction, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Together my husband and I battled breast cancer. I've been cancer free for 3 years now! But I cannot stress one point enough: talk to your doctor and ask if you have dense breast tissue.  If it applies, request a secondary screening. Just double check.

Knowing if your tissue is dense and getting a secondary screening is critical for women and could mean catching and treating cancer earlier.  Many thanks to Sharsheret for their interest in sharing my story. I am appreciative to be a part of Sharsheret, an organization which helps young women with their unique concerns, including breast density.

Telling Family and Friends That You Have Cancer

Naomi Baum is a psychologist and trauma expert, and the author of Life Unexpected: A Trauma Psychologist Journeys Through Breast Cancer and Free Yourself From Fear: The Seven Day Plan For Overcoming Your Fear of (Recurrent) Cancer.

One of the issues that anybody with cancer has to confront early in the game is how and with whom to share this news.  For me, this was the first big hurdle in navigating the cancer journey.  Here are a few things to consider while deciding with whom to share, and when and where this sharing will take place.  While there is no one correct response as every person with cancer is unique, several parameters of this decision are worth considering. 

Decide with whom to share your news

The first question to think about, is how open or private you wish to be.  Do you want to keep the diagnosis a secret?  Do you want only family members to know?  Do you want to post it on Facebook and start a blog?  It is your choice.

I can make a good case that life is much easier if you let go of secrecy, and share the news freely with family and friends, but this may not suit you, your lifestyle, or your work circumstance.  For me, sharing the news, and dissolving the secrecy was both liberating, and created around me a tremendous outpouring of support and love.  This aided my healing process immeasurably, and when I made the decision to share the news soon after diagnosis with all of my family members from elderly parents to young grandchildren, I felt a burden I did not even know was there, lifting from my shoulders. 

I shared the news first with my immediate family, my children, parents, siblings, and then with my closest friends and colleagues.  I stressed to all of them that this was not a secret, and I urged my children to talk with each other so that they could be supportive of each other in a way that I, as their sick parent, could not be.  I left the work of spreading the news farther, to the natural grapevine. Unless you swear people to secrecy (and even then, there are no guarantees), you can expect your news to travel.

Do it in person

Do not underestimate the importance of sharing your news in person, particularly with people who are closest to you.  If there is one mistake I made in this process, it was taking the short cut of telling a family member that I had cancer, over the phone.  The reason to tell them in person is that despite all the advances in technology, there is nothing like face-to-face communication.  When you talk to someone face to face, they can see that you are still the same person; you can gauge their reactions, and clear up uncertainties. Often, at the time of diagnosis, you will still look like you always have, and that can be reassuring as well, particularly to children.

Prepare a short script

This is not going to be an easy conversation, particularly the first several times you do it.  You can be sure that the person you are sharing the news with will be more surprised than you are and will find it difficult as well.  Preparing several opening sentences can ease the way for you into this conversation.  Often, the direct approach is best.  I started with something like this:

"I have some news to share with you that isn't so good."

This warning gives your friend or family member a half a second to prepare themselves.  I then continued:

"I was diagnosed with……" 

Additional parts to the conversation might include what the doctors have told you, your next steps, and the kind of help you may need or expect from them. 

Share short and pertinent details

While I am a strong proponent of unlocking the secrecy surrounding cancer, and I shared the headlines freely with family and friends, I found that I did not feel like sharing all of the gory details with everybody.  You did not choose to have cancer, but you can choose whom you share your story and how much you tell.  If people ask questions that you prefer not to answer, do not feel forced to reveal everything.  This is your choice and you are in control of the information.

For many people, short disclosure and a few pertinent details are enough.  It is up to you to set the tone as to how much you want to share.  Practice saying, "I'd prefer not to discuss that."  The person you are talking to will usually take heed, but if they persist  you can explain that while it is important for you to let them know that you have cancer, you prefer to keep the details of the extent of the cancer and the kind of treatment you will be receiving, to yourself.  It is certainly your prerogative.  This is one small way for you to take back some element of control into your life.

Moishe House Seattle Pink Shabbat Dinner

We didn’t know what to expect. We set five tables with pink tablecloths, pink plates, and pink utensils. The food was all cooked and ready, now we were waiting for young Jews in the Seattle area to show up to our home. About 15 minutes before 6:30 pm (our called start time) people started showing up. First a few individuals here and there, next a bunch of couples, and finally the big groups. Before we knew it we had 48 people sitting down for Kiddush (blessing over the wine) and Motzeh (blessing over the bread), with another 15 or so walking through the door throughout the rest of the night. The dinner was a huge success and there was an incredible energy in the room, and because of that energy I was a bit nervous to stop the dinner and speak about Sharsheret. However, as soon as I stood up to speak the room quickly became quiet, and I successfully delivered my few words about Sharsheret and its founder Rochelle Shoretz – I had the pleasure of hearing her speak when she came to visit the University of Maryland a few years back. After I finished, we opened the floor to anyone at the dinner that wanted to say a few words about breast cancer or cancer in general. Two people delivered incredible impromptu speeches, one of whom was a young woman who discussed her friend’s recent battle with cancer. She described the indelible impact Sharsheret had in helping her friend, a recent college graduate, navigate a new, and challenging part of her life.

The dinner was an incredible success and we are very thankful Sharsheret could be a part of it. We are blessed to further Sharsheret’s mission in supporting Jewish women and their families in their fight against breast cancer.

Stay In The Sunshine

The poet Yehuda Amichai must not have been privileged to have an encounter with Rochelle Shoretz, the founder of Sharsheret, when he crafted the poem:

A man doesn't have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn't have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose.

Ecclesiastes was wrong about that.

Rochelle Shoretz, a woman who embraced her gifts and used them to navigate her challenges, was 28 years old and had just finished clerking for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court when she noticed an indentation in one of her breasts.  It was Stage II cancer, and she beat it.  While on chemotherapy, she opted to decline lucrative and prestigious legal jobs, and instead began Sharsheret, an organization that supports thousands of young women with breast cancer.

I think it best to help each of you understand exactly how incredibly special Rochelle was by sharing with you her own words from a journal she kept a few years later in the aftermath of receiving a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer.  One of many poetic entries read:

This morning I went to say Birchat Hachama – a blessing on the sun that is recited every 28 years-with my friends…I had heard about the blessing in Synagogue last weekend, but I didn’t quite recognize the significance of the event until my friend came to visit last night.  She insisted that I go this morning and taught me that at the end of the recitation of the blessing, you are supposed to turn to your right and to your left, and tell each person standing next to you, “See you in 28 years.”

I’ll take 28 years.

So this morning, as the clouds parted to make room for the sun, I recited the blessing with friends and we promised to meet back in the park in 2037.  Then we danced…It was cold, but the sun was shining and I was in the park with the people I love….”

Rochelle, otherwise known as Rochie, by those of us privileged to really know her, did not receive the gift of those 28 years.  But she knew how to make every single moment count, so her “years” were longer than most of ours.

Her secret was that she “stayed in the sunshine,” after all as she herself often cited, “It costs the same as staying in the clouds.”  A dear friend of hers who spoke at her funeral expressed that “Rochie’s life was painted in huge brushstrokes.  She always fired on all 6 cylinders.”

Testimony to that energy is that precisely when first undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy at age 28, she founded Sharsheret (Hebrew for “chain”), a national organization supporting young Jewish women facing breast cancer.

When diagnosed for the second time with metastatic breast cancer, Rochie wrote:

“As someone living with a sharpened sense of the value of time, I appreciate, that although I have done a lot of amazing things in 40 short years …..nothing has given my life more meaning than sharing Sharsheret’s unapologetically Jewish message worldwide.”

Sharsheret began as an organization of forging links between women who share a language of experience.  It offered peer support, and continues to do so, in a very real way, for so many women.  Rochelle herself was the first link.  The organization established educational programs; cosmetic support for young women undergoing chemotherapy with a “Best Face Forward” initiative; and Busy Boxes filled with age appropriate toys for the children of young women undergoing chemotherapy to help keep the children happy and occupied.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik expounded in an essay entitled Kol Dodi Dofek that when one is suffering: “I ask one simple question: What must the sufferer do so that he (or she) may live through his (or her) suffering? We ask neither about the cause of suffering nor about its purpose, but, rather, about how it might be mended and elevated.”

This is precisely the question Rochie incessantly asked herself.  And answered.

Rochelle Shoretz chose to “stay in the sunshine.”  She shared that “they often say when you lose one of five senses, your others are enhanced….I wonder if life feels so much more powerful and vibrant to me precisely because I lost some of my health.” 

She approached her illness not as fate, but as destiny, building Sharsheret and thereby forging close, critical relationships not only between herself and others but also forging critical connections for a multitude of women who otherwise would have remained so isolated by their illness.  What a powerful role model for each of us. 

There Are No Problems, Only Solutions Waiting To Be Found

When people ask me to describe my sister Rochelle, I do it in one sentence: She was great at life. She approached any endeavor and obstacle with tenacity and always gave one hundred percent. Her motto, that I’m sure everyone at Sharsheret knows, was that there are no problems, only solutions waiting to be found. Rochelle began running marathons and triathlons after her first diagnosis and has inspired me to challenge my mind and body through her spirited accounts of these achievements. The courage and perseverance she displayed throughout her lifetime has been my ultimate motivator during this emotionally and physically trying time.

Through her deep love for and devotion to family and the Jewish community, Rochelle created Sharsheret to provide the culturally relevant resources and support to Jewish women and their loved ones. In the wake of her passing, Team Sharsheret has given me the opportunity to connect with many people that have been touched by breast cancer, either personally or through a family member or close friend, and I have found immense comfort in hearing about the wonderful resource Sharsheret has been for them and their communities. I’ve heard my sister say that nothing has given her life more meaning than sharing Sharsheret’s mission. While I wish we had gotten the chance to accomplish this by racing together, I can't think of a better way to honor her memory than by continuing her legacy of Sharsheret doing something that made her feel so alive.

I’m running for Rochelle and my entire extended Sharsheret family. This is my first race with Team Sharsheret, but I know it won’t be my last!

Noah: Facing Journeys With Strength

Excerpted from a Pink Shabbat D’var Torah

In the Bible, we learn the story of Noah- a man who was righteous for his generation- that took a journey he never would have planned. Since he’s a righteous fellow, God speaks to him-

Noah, I’ve decided to wipe out the earth
Noah, Here’s what you need to do- build an ark! Gather your family, the animals, and food.

Noah has a week to get it all together, and then it rains for 40 days and 40 nights. The water recedes, he sends out the dove, Noah, his family and animals arrive on dry land, and God makes a covenant with the people that this will never happen again, by the sign of a rainbow.

Noah is one story of the Bible that has hundreds, if not thousands of children’s books written about it. Somehow, this story of an unexpected journey is compelling to us, as adults, and as a community. What is it- about a person of character, facing adversity- taking a leap of faith- and coming out on the other side?

Somehow, that seems to be the story of life. For all of us.

One of my friends recently said to me, that sometimes, we have to be reminded that we are actually not the ones driving the bus. Just when we think we have it all together, life will throw us a curve ball.

Here’s my curve ball.

Nov, 2014, I ran the NY marathon, and was inspired by my incredible experience. There is nothing like NY.

I signed up as quickly as I could for the NY Marathon 2015- with the team that supports Sharsheret, a national not-for-profit organization supporting young women and their families, of all Jewish backgrounds, facing breast cancer. I believe in their work, I have friends and family with breast and ovarian cancer, people who face the genetic testing and decisions related to BRCA genes, which can lead to breast and ovarian cancer- and I am touched by this issue and cause. This organization felt personal.

I began my 20 week marathon training plan in June for Team Sharsheret. I raised money for Sharsheret, I learned more about their programs and their services. My mom even began to volunteer in their offices. What started out as a great cause and a great way to run the NY marathon, became personal. In September, 8 weeks before the race, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I called my Sharsheret Team Captain, and had to tell her my situation.

I was put immediately into the Sharsheret system. I was connected with a Counselor in their Support team who reached out, and I feel, just keeps an eye on me along this process. She asked about my children and their ages and interests, and sent a “Busy Box” full of quiet activities for when “mommy doesn't feel so well”- They sent materials, brochures and resources- both for me, and for Salomon, as my partner and primary caregiver. Once I knew what procedures and process I was going to have- they connected me to a woman in Maryland, who is trained as a “peer counselor,” and has walked the same path as me. Just yesterday, I received a “pillow of support” in the mail, from Sharsheret’s founding board member.

And the story of the marathon- well, I’m not running NY this year but I kept training, because I don't know what else to do with myself. Running keeps me together physically and mentally. I thrive when I’m on a plan. I decided that once we set my surgery date, I would find a local marathon to run.

I was out with my training buddy one day- and thought of a 40 mile race my friend, Adam Jackson did, a few years ago. I began to wonder- what would it look like if I created my own course and made this a fundraiser and friend-raiser for Sharsheret? And so, the journey began. Oct 8th, I met with Adam to get this envisioned, and 10 days later, (this Sunday!) I will be running a marathon with over 30 friends- and over 25 at support stations along the way.

It has been so much more fun to think about running than about breast cancer. But, yes, breast cancer is part of the story.

And with that, one of my friends reached out to channel 7 news, and there was a great segment about me, this journey and the marathon Thursday night. And then on Friday, kveller.com picked it up, and shared my story as well. It’s been nonstop publicity these past 2 days. Since the segment aired, I have surpassed my $10,000 fundraising goal for Sharsheret.

What is it about an unexpected journey, adversity, and fierce crazy determination that opens our hearts? It’s because it’s in each of us. We have all had to take journeys, like Noah, like me- that were unexpected. We all have to decide how we will embark on these unchosen paths. But the journey is just part of our story- it’s what we make of it that counts.

I am so grateful to Sharsheret, and to our community for accompanying me on this path. Thank you for being here, thank you for being present, and thank you for being part of Pink Shabbat.

Sharsheret Was There

I am beginning my senior year at Stern College majoring in biology. The decision to commit the time and effort to run a marathon was a difficult one. However, I'm now all in! Sharsheret is an amazing organization that has made a difference in so many lives and families, mine included. In a time when there was so much unknown and fear, it was a huge comfort to know that Sharsheret was there.

Who Are You Calling Saggy?

Mammograms are not particularly pleasant. Also in the unpleasant category- getting a letter from the breast imaging center informing you that because your breasts are dense, you also need a sonogram.

I went in for the sonogram. After having had so many ultrasounds during my pregnancies, it was weird to be getting scanned when no baby was involved.

I’m not a nervous person, but I had already worked myself into something of a tizzy as I lay there on the table.

I stared at the technician’s face as she scanned me, searching for a clue. Let me tell you something – I WOULD NEVER PLAY POKER WITH AN ULTRASOUND TECHNICIAN. Then, she starts to type things on the screen:


Really? I ask. Surely you’ve seen worse.

She assured me that “SAG” was only a technical term.

I stop searching her face for clues, and turn to the screen. A few minutes later, after I’m sure I’ve spotted what are many suspicious marks, she types TR.


It is at this point that I move from mild anxiety to full on panic. I was covered in such a thick layer of shvitz, that I was sure I’d slide right off the table.

The tech said nothing. When she left to get the doctor I sat up and waited.

Hours later, the doctor came, all cheer and chatting. I am monosyllabic in my responses.

You ok? He asked.

Kind of, I reply. It’s just been a long wait in here.

Its been ten minutes, he said. I looked at my watch. He was right.

Just tell me. I said. What’s the verdict?

He said I was fine. All clear.

TR? I say, perhaps a bit too loudly. TR – stands for tumor, doesn’t it? I saw her type it. I pointed at the technician. How can I be fine?

Apparently, TR is short for TRAVERSAL, and not tumor. While I’m on the subject of my ignorance, SAG is short for SAGITTAL. Please don’t ask me what either means.

I raced out of the office and grabbed a carrot juice. I sat down on the sidewalk, drank it, and checked my email.

There in my inbox was an email I had received from Sharsheret, an organization which counsels women and families facing breast and ovarian cancer.  They had a spot left on their marathon team.

I ran a marathon in 1999 – before kids. I’ve only run halves since then and frankly, were it not for my desire to run the NYC marathon just once, I would have ignored the email.

But I wanted to run it. I also knew, sitting on that sidewalk, that if I’d had a silly panic attack during a routine, all-clear sonogram, women who go through far worse need every ounce of support we can muster, and they need it every stage.

Which is really why I’m running. It’s also why I’m asking you to sponsor me in my run.