Our Voices: A Blog by Links, Callers and Volunteers

Honoring Our Survivors On National Cancer Survivors Day

National Cancer Survivors Day is on Sunday! Survivors in Sharsheret’s National Peer Support Network have shared when they considered themselves survivors.  Read their inspiring words below and join us in honoring all of the incredible women of Sharsheret. We would love to hear from you – tell us when you considered yourself a survivor in the comments section below.  Click here to join our new survivorship program, Thriving Again, and order your free survivorship kit today!

“I can't pinpoint the exact time frame. But I do remember a shift in my outlook - rather than being one of the 70-80% who would experience recurrence within five years, why couldn't I be in the 20-30% who would not? After all, some of us had to be and I needed to be. It is now 3 years and 9 months post- treatment and I am optimistic about my future.” – Leslie, diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer
 
“The day I found the lump.  I knew it was going to be cancer, but I also knew that I was going to fight and survive!” – Linda, diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer

“I’m never going to be rid of cancer, but around 2 years after my diagnosis I started to feel like a survivor. I’ve always felt like a warrior.” - Diana, diagnosed with advanced breast cancer
 
“The doctor said, ‘You have ovarian cancer’. Then looking at my daughter’s distraught face he added, ‘We’re going to take care of her’.  That was the first time I considered myself a survivor. I felt a sense of relief that I could get on with it – life that is. Many sweet moments since have reinforced that feeling - getting married between chemo three and chemo four, dancing at my children’s weddings, the births of my delicious grandsons, and reading and listening to stories of hope from my ovarian cancer sisters.”
 - Sharon, diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer

Keeping Company With Anxiety

The holiday of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.  It is recorded that the people heard thunder and lightning, and clouds and smoke filled the air.  The experience was overbearing to the senses.  The children of Israel shook with fear.  Ever have one of those days?

I imagine that those of you who have heard the words “You are BRCA positive,” or “You have cancer,” or “The cancer has come back,” experienced an overwhelming burden to your senses.  Perhaps you, too, shook with fear.  The ensuing thoughts that recur after hearing these words can be more agonizing than the realities.  We are often overachievers when it comes to imagining worse case scenarios. 

While we can’t stop intrusive thoughts from entering our lives, we can respond to the thoughts in a way that feels calming and empowering.  When an intrusive thought comes my way, I imagine myself putting my arm around it, similar to the way that I would put my arm around someone’s shoulder, and I “say” to the thought: “I knew you were coming.  I was expecting you.  You can hang out, but I have things to do.”  I find the more I welcome the thought, the less it overcomes me.

One woman in Sharsheret’s Embrace group for women living with advanced breast cancer shared, “I know that I feel more anxious when I’m waiting for test results or going to appointments.  Those days I take the anxiety with me.  All the days in between belong to me and the anxiety needs to find someone else to hang out with.”  These wise words can calm the thunder and comfort the soul.

Mother’s Day Flowers

Finding a Mother’s Day gift for my wife Aviva is impossible. Let’s just say for her birthday in March, she got a sponge cake…that she made herself. The one reasonable gift I could get her is flowers, but she says she dislikes them because they’re expensive, die quickly, and make a mess when the petals fall off.

It was surprising to me, then, when Aviva and her sister Tova decided to sell flowers for Mother’s Day to benefit Sharsheret. Their mother passed away from breast cancer over ten years ago and they wanted to honor her memory with this sale. But why flowers, I wondered?

In their description of why they chose this fundraiser, Aviva and Tova wrote:

“As soon as Spring arrived, our mom would be outside working in the yard. We have amazing memories of helping her pluck weeds, plant perennials, and setting up the sprinkler perfectly to make sure each flower got watered. One year, we bought her a hydrangea bush for Mother's Day and each year after we would take pride in its growth and admire its beautiful lilac flowers.”

I never knew this about Hindy. Aviva and I started dating in December of 2001. Her mom was already sick then with her second diagnosis of breast cancer. She was still active at the time, but didn’t have the energy I so often hear people speak about when they mention her. By the time the summer came along, she was at the end of her life and watering flowers was the last thing on anyone’s mind. They had a beautiful yard, but I never knew how much Hindy worked to make it that way.

Aviva has picked up those same traits. She is the gardener in our house - trimming the bushes, planting flowers, even chopping down trees. It always amazed me how dedicated she was to making our garden beautiful and I never knew how much of it was influenced by her mother.

That’s the difference, I believe, between buying flowers and growing a garden. Toiling away at the garden is hard work with great rewards. Buying flowers is the easy way out. They are beautiful, but they don’t give you the same satisfaction as working on your yard. Gardening can be frustrating and can take years to truly perfect, but in the end, it’s something you can be proud of. In essence, it’s no different from parenting. You cultivate your kids over time and as they grow, you try to mold them into good, respectful people. It’s no surprise that Aviva, the yard expert, is also an amazing mom. Hindy, her mother, was exactly the same.

In memory of their mother, Aviva and Tova aren’t just selling flowers. They are working hard to cultivate a living memory by donating a Jewel to Sharsheret. They worked hard on finding a florist, writing copy, and spreading the word about Sharsheret. These flowers were not easy to buy; they were earned and cultivated, a trait they learned from their mother. I think she’d be proud. I know I am.

To make a donation in support of Sharsheret, please visit their online fundraising page at http://bit.ly/12oVX0A. Thank you so much.

Cousins Evan And Ally Honor The Memory Of Their Grandmother With A Sharsheret B’nai Mitzvah Project

We are going to be running the Baltimore Marathon 5K on October 12th in memory of our grandmother, Ruth Merwitz.  Our "Mom Mom" passed away this past January from Primary Peritoneal Cancer which has symptoms very similar to Ovarian Cancer.  Mom Mom was a very warm and caring person who had a very unique way of making everyone around her feel special.  Everyone loved her because she was such a joy to be around.  She loved to laugh and enjoyed everything about life.  She cared with such kindness and such a big and open heart and so unconditionally.  She was truly an amazing person.  All of us, her 8 grandchildren, thought we were her favorite because of the way she made us feel- so loved, so cared for, so special, so complete. 

Being Jewish was something that was very important to Mom Mom.  We always loved spending time with her having sleepovers, playing games, and going on outings. But we especially loved being with her for the Jewish Holidays.  We do not think we will ever taste matzo ball soup as good as hers!  Mom Mom will forever live in our hearts and we will always remember the special times we spent together.  

Doing things for others is what truly made Mom Mom happy.  To honor the loving person she was, we have decided to support Team Sharsheret for our Bat and Bar Mitzvah projects.  We hope that we can help save lives and prevent other families from ever having to feel the pain of losing someone they love.  Please consider either joining our team on October 12th or supporting us by clicking here to make a donation to Sharsheret in honor of our very special Mom Mom, Ruth Merwitz. 

As she used to always tell us,
we love you to the moon and back!

Ally Merwitz and Evan Feuerman

A Fifth Question

The New York Times recently ran an article by Susan Gubar, “Living With Cancer: The Good Patient Syndrome”, that questioned the importance of being a model patient. When Susan was first diagnosed, she was agreeable, nodding politely when meeting with her doctors. She worried that if she asked too many questions, she would be unintentionally neglected or harmed by her medical team.

One woman in Sharsheret’s Embrace group for women living with advanced cancer noted that each time she went to an oncologist appointment she felt unnoticed by the office staff and her doctor. One day, she went straight to her appointment from a Brit (circumcision). She was dressed up and wearing makeup. The office staff was quite complimentary and paid her a lot of attention. Her oncologist, who typically spoke to her while reading her file, engaged in eye contact and remarked how wonderful she looked. This woman decided that from then on, she would put on some lipstick and go to her appointments well-dressed.  She told the group she felt as if she was now “dating” her oncologist - she wanted to be noticed.

Many women call Sharsheret with questions following a doctor’s appointment or scans – questions that are reasonable to ask their doctor during an appointment. Yet, they are afraid to ask these questions because they don’t want to come across as untrusting. When you have concerns, you may not pick up the phone and call the doctor because you “don’t want to bother them”. You worry about being labeled a “difficult patient”. At the end of the day, it’s your body, it’s your life.  Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself because if you don’t, something serious may go unnoticed.

As we prepare for the Passover holiday, we are reminded of how the Jewish people were obedient and compliant for fear of further harm at the hands of the Egyptians. Moses was also worried about his ability to stand up to Pharaoh on behalf of the Jewish people, worried that he would make an already bad situation worse. In reality, it was only when Moses spoke up and advocated for his people that he and the Jews were set free. What would have become of the Jewish people if Moses did not stand up for them? I’m adding this question to the already established Four Questions that will be recited at my Seder as a reminder to empower myself in the pursuit of health and well-being.

New Ovarian Cancer Study Is Released

Many important studies were presented last week at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer in Los Angeles, CA.  Among them were two studies that were covered in multiple media outlets, including the New York Times (click here to read the article).  The first study looked at more than 13,000 women with ovarian cancer and found that women are 30 percent less likely to die of ovarian cancer if they have guideline-recommended treatment.  Yet, nearly two-thirds of those women do not receive it.  Guidelines for ovarian cancer specify types of surgical procedures and chemotherapy, often the need for debulking surgery prior to chemotherapy.  The study found that surgeons who were more experienced in gynecologic oncology surgery, and hospitals that treated more women with ovarian cancer, were more likely to follow the guidelines, which translated to better outcomes for their patients.  The second study looked at the method of delivery of chemotherapy to patients.  Intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, where chemotherapy drugs are pumped directly into the abdomen, utilizes the same chemotherapy agents often administered intravenously. While IP chemotherapy is more toxic, and logistically more complicated than IV chemotherapy, there is clearly a benefit in terms of survival rate.   

For you, the patient, these studies underscore the importance of making sure that you act as your own advocate by asking to be treated by a physician with ovarian cancer expertise and experience who practices according to available guidelines.  For ovarian cancer information and support, please call Sharsheret at 866.474.2774 or e-mail info@sharsheret.org

Ethan Wasserman, MD
Sharsheret Medical Advisory Board Member

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Two Half-Marathons For One Great Cause!

Meet our incredible Team Sharsheret athletes who will be running the NYC Half-Marathon and the Germantown, TN Half-Marathon on Sunday, March 17th.  Click on each athlete’s name to read their stories and find out why they joined Team Sharsheret!

 

TEAM SHARSHERET
NYC HALF-MARATHON

Dana Adler
Cynthia Bernstein
Tamar Blumenthal
Catherine Brown
Idan Elkon
Benito Esquenazi
Aline Friedman
Ed Joyce & Kayla Joyce
Yoni Lazarus
Deb Leipzig
Jennifer Miller
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz
Naomi Robbins
Eitan Prince
Bracha Rutner
Lisa Silvershein
Azadeh Stark
Carrie Okay Veingrad
Renee Wietschner
Marc Waldman
Hillary Wasserman

TEAM SHARSHERET
GERMANTOWN, TN HALF-MARATHON

Aileen Cooper
Daniel Gofman
Shmuel Gordon
Abe Raichman
Betzalel Rosenwasser
Lee Schwartz
Shayna Somer
Shmuel Somer
Moshe Weiser
Ben Younger

 

Finding Humor

The holiday of Purim celebrates the overcoming of Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews - a pretty serious and scary scenario.  And yet, there is an inherent silliness in the celebration of Purim.  We dress up in costumes, we intentionally shout out and interrupt the reader of the megillah, and we overindulge in candy, sweets, and wine.  We invert the frightful reality of the Jews as the target of an evil plot and find our humor.

The definitive research into the potential health benefits of laughter haven’t been done yet.  However, there is a tremendous amount of research that suggests that humor and a good attitude do impact the healing process.  Some studies have shown that laughter affects the way our bodies function and we do change physiologically when we laugh. There is also some research that suggests that laughter improves mental functions such as alertness, memory, and creativity.  It can also ease anxiety and fear, relieve stress, improve our moods, and enhance resilience and acceptance.

I feel encouraged and inspired that many women calling Sharsheret have found humor as a coping strategy when navigating the very frightening world of cancer.  One woman shared the following humorous anecdote:

“Someone told me that the best way to achieve inner peace was to finish things I had started.  Today I finished two bags of potato chips, a lemon pie, a fifth of Jack Daniels, and a small box of chocolate candy.  I feel better already.”

Laughter is a natural intervention that can be accessed any time.  It doesn’t cost anything. There is no need to haggle with insurance companies for coverage.  Laughter relies on the natural physiological process to help you manage the emotional side effects of living with cancer.  My wish for all of you is that you find humor, and that in turn, that humor will help you tolerate the difficulties, overcome the unexpected, and free your spirit.  Happy Purim!

Candy For A Cause: Philip's Sharsheret Story

I recently completed a fundraiser at my school in Israel, in which we raised nearly $600. I sold candy baskets to my friends as gifts for our hosts over Rosh Hashanah and Succot as well as every Shabbat over the past two months. I never expected it to be so successful. Both my friends and the hosts truly enjoyed being involved in this opportunity to support Sharsheret. As I noticed that we were raising a lot of money here in Jerusalem, I sent out a mass e-mail to friends and family back home in Baltimore. My dad collected an additional $622 to match my efforts abroad. I am proud to announce that my mom, dad, brother, and I will complete this amazing fundraiser with another $178 to reach the final total of $1,400 raised in support of Sharsheret's programs.

I'm sure you're wondering how I got involved with Sharsheret. My mom is a 12-year survivor of breast cancer. I remember the day my parents sat down with me and my brother and informed us that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was young and naive. I didn't really understand the ramifications of this disease, and even to this day, it is difficult to wrap my head around its impact on my life. I remember one afternoon leaving my mom comfortably in bed to go watch the Ravens win the Superbowl. When I returned home, I went immediately into the bedroom and saw her in high spirits despite the effects of her chemotherapy treatment. My mom epitomizes what it means to be a fighter. She has helped me achieve my goals in life and I see this as an opportunity to give back to her.

I heard about Sharsheret at the University of Maryland when its founder, Rochelle Shoretz, spoke at a Hillel event last October. It seemed like an incredible organization that did amazing work for those impacted by breast cancer. I know that the money I raised will be put to good use. Thank you for all of the exceptional work that you do to raise awareness and assist those women and their families who are fighting this disease.

Put A Spin On It

A family Chanukah party: Latkes have been eaten, candles are lit, and it’s time to gather for a game of dreidel. Everyone finds a position at the table, the chocolate coins are distributed, and the dreidel is placed in the center.

Everyone antes up. A minute has passed, two minutes. The game does not start while the dreidel remains idle on the table. If you stand the dreidel up  - it will just tip over. You have to spin the dreidel to keep it standing.  You have to spin the dreidel to make the game meaningful. And I love that everyone has their own technique on how to spin the dreidel.

The letters on the side of the dreidel indicate how you will fare during that turn. Will your spin of the dreidel result in needing to put more into the pot? Will you walk away with something? Half? The whole thing? Where will things stand on your next turn?

When you experience medical or emotional challenges, you feel like you are spinning. You may not know where you are going to land. Going through the motions of doctor appointments and treatment is critical for survival. But your own technique of how you spin the experience is helpful in finding meaning. The personal spin you put on it can move you beyond surviving to thriving. 

Sometimes it’s hard to find the right spin. You may try to make the best of it, but it’s tiring to have to put a good spin on things during each step of this journey. You may be asked to ante up again emotionally and you worry that your resources will run dry. But there is always the next turn. Stay in the game. Continue trying to bring meaning to this experience. Who knows – on your next turn you may just walk away with a stack of chocolate coins that, when unwrapped, will reveal that you’ve learned something new about yourself. 

Wishing you a happy Chanukah!