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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!
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.
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!
In celebration of Thanksgiving, we wanted to share some thoughts from our staff on what Thanksgiving means to us and what we are thankful for this year. We tried to keep it to 6 words more or less. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section. Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!
“Each and every single day. Period.” – Rochelle Shoretz, Executive Director
“Great-grandma at the head of the family table.” – Elana Silber, Director of Operations
“Grateful for everything I have and every opportunity I have been given.” – Rebecca Schwartz, Director of Community Engagement
“Family, food, elastic waistband. Simple life.” – Shera Dubitsky, MEd, MA, Clinical Supervisor
“Pumpkin and Pecan Pies for Prevention!” – Adina Fleischmann, LSW, Link Program Coordinator
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” – Jennifer Thompson, MSW, Survivorship Program Supervisor
“Filled with appreciation, love, and turkey.” – Danna Averbook, LSW Program Coordinator
“Family, Juicy, Laughter, Memories, Friendship, Sunny Days.” – Ellen Kleinhaus, EdM, MA, Program Manager and Campus Liaison
“Turkey, beer, couch, football, tryptophan, nap.” – Mike Lowy, Technology Director
“Family, Memories, Parade, Grateful NOT to cook, WINE, CHEERS!!” – Sari Samuel, Controller
“Gobble gobble ‘till you wobble wobble.” – Amanda Kirschner-Lipschik, MSW, Program Assistant
“Thanksgiving is family, fun, and laughter!” – Julie Moore, Office Manager
I had always told myself when I was deciding to run a marathon that I want it to be something more than a race, more than just training to run 26.2 miles. I wanted to use this opportunity to help others. By doing this it would give my running more meaning. There are many reasons why I wanted to raise money for Sharsheret in particular. Recently I ran my third ½ marathon with my friend Ethan Wasserman. Ethan lost his first wife to breast cancer. She was in her early thirties when she died not long after having her second child. I will always remember how giving Michelle Daman Wasserman was. I remember standing by her graveside and telling myself that it is important to keep a part of her character alive inside of me. She had a way of touching the people around her. October will be the seven year anniversary of her passing and I can think of no better way of celebrating who she was by raising money for an organization that was there for her. The best part I am not alone. I will be running the marathon side by side with Ethan as we both raise money for Sharsheret.
Another reason I want to raise money for Sharsheret is that I recognized how important it is to get support when you are a young Jewish woman fighting breast cancer. One of my inspirations for running is my sister. Often on long training runs when I feel like giving up, I think of how much will power she has demonstrated in her fight against breast cancer. I have seen how having supportive people around her who she can turn to for help has made a big difference in her journey. Luckily things have been going well, but it is still a struggle.
The last reason why I run and raise money is because I know too much. Being a pediatrician I have seen how breast cancer can affect families, especially children. With my medical background I understand what it means to have a family history of breast cancer. I have four dear daughters and breast cancer runs in my family.
I know I am not special. Almost everyone has been touched by breast cancer, whether it is a family member, friend or co-worker. Even though I may not be special, sometimes ordinary people can do amazing things. So I hope to do two, run the New York City Marathon and raise money for Sharsheret. It is my turn to give back.
In 2011, I had the privilege of participating in the NYC Triathlon for Team Sharsheret. The personal sense of physical accomplishment of this event, my ﬁrst Olympic distance triathlon, was eclipsed by the knowledge that everyone on Team Sharsheret, and their generous sponsors contributed their time, resources, sweat and emotion to such a vital cause. In doing so, they made a lasting difference to so many people.
Sharsheret’s mission is to give support to women and their families who are facing breast and ovarian cancer. This year I decided to up the ante combine two grueling races to support the women and families Sharsheret helps. I will compete as part of Team Sharsheret on September 9th, in the Tough-Man Half Ironman race in Westchester,
NY and on November 4th I will run the ING NYC Marathon.
I look at it this way; what these mothers, daughters, grandmothers, granddaughters and sisters endure during their ﬁght is way more than the pain of any race.
Every mile of both these races will be infused with the knowledge that we are all making a tangible difference. That we are giving comfort to a mother of young children, advice to a father whose wife is in physical and emotional pain, inspiration to family members and encouraging all who are affected by breast and ovarian cancer.
Please join me in making a difference to the husbands, children, parents, siblings and friends whose, mother, daughter, sister, or granddaughter is facing the ﬁght of their life. Please join me in creating awareness so people know the great things Sharsheret does for so many. Please join me in the race so that we do not run in memory of but in honor of...
On behalf of the women and families that Sharsheret helps and my team mates, thank you
for your generous contribution.
I was sitting shiva after the passing of my father a few months ago when a friend and fellow attorney, Jennifer, stopped by to give her condolences. While we were catching up, Jennifer mentioned that she volunteers at Sharsheret and was helping to coordinate the organization's team at the Making Strides Walk in New York City on October 21st. I had heard of Sharsheret and actually had seen a Sharsheret pen in the kitchen “pen drawer” that morning, but I didn't know what the organization did. Jennifer went on to explain Sharsheret's mission of supporting Jewish women and families facing breast cancer. I was truly moved by her words and Sharsheret's incredible programs and services and knew that I had to get involved with this amazing organization. Part of Jennifer's job was to secure corporate sponsorships for Team Sharsheret. I immediately jumped on board as a Team Champion sponsor. I am proud to lead Team Sharsheret's 2012-2013 sponsors and look forward to a most successful event this Sunday.
Englewood Hospital and Medical Center & The Leslie Simon Breast Care and Cytodiagnosis Center
Geller and Company
Glatt Express Supermarket/Lazy Bean
Shari and Nathan Lindenbaum
Teaneck Radiology Center, LLC
Lisa Altman Foundation
Marble Dental LLC
Debbie and Michael Blumenthal
Hillel International – Hunter College, Brooklyn College, Baruch College
Michael Strauss Silversmiths
Pediatric Occupational Therapy Services
The Rocking Chair, A Women's Wellness Center
The Sixteenth Street Synagogue
Yeshiva University, Stern College for Women
Cancer has been a cloud over my family for a long time. I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was 30, and years later, I lost my sister to the same disease. My aunt and another sister were also diagnosed with breast cancer and one of my brothers was diagnosed with colon cancer in his 40’s. When my brother discussed his symptoms with our older brother, he was shocked to find out that he had been having similar symptoms for some time, but fear kept him from checking it out with a doctor. On my younger brother’s insistence, he went to the doctor and had surgery to remove a malignant piece of colon. However, my older brother was reluctant to inform the rest of the family and only after much prodding by my younger brother did he agree to inform our sisters. This genetic information was of the utmost importance for our family members to be made aware of so that proper screening could be done. I had my first colonoscopy in my mid-30’s only because of my family history - screening recommendation for the general population is at age 50. Waiting until then could literally mean the difference between life and death.
My family and I belong to the Orthodox Jewish community. Privacy in matters of health is the norm. Cancer has touched the lives of so many people, and most people know of someone, whether friend or family, who has been affected by this disease. It is time for us to replace the secrecy with open dialogue between families, friends, and community so that we can help each other through this difficult ordeal with encouragement, support, information, and friendship. Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on and the Jewish religion is built on gemilut chasadim (reaching out to others in need). We need to arm ourselves with an open dialogue about family cancer genetics so that we can inform and protect ourselves and our families.
I reached out to Sharsheret to try and figure out what I need to do to be proactive with my health and the health of my children. Sharsheret is extremely supportive and its staff responds so quickly. I spoke with Sharsheret’s genetic counselor who offered to set up a family conference call for me and my siblings so we can all hear the same recommendations and also have a chance to ask our individual questions. I believe this is the beginning of an open dialogue for my family that will lead us to dealing with our genetic predisposition in a more productive manner.
Prevention and support are challenging without communication. We need to help each other with encouragement, education, and sharing our personal experiences so our friends, families, and the community we live in can benefit and hopefully beat this disease. There is so much to be gained by connecting with others in a similar situation who can understand the rollercoaster of emotions you are feeling.
I know that privacy within the family or within the community is a deeply personal decision. The beauty of Sharsheret is that it honors each woman’s decisions, and will tailor their support accordingly. Sharsheret is breaking down the “Walls of Silence” through family conference calls with its genetic counselor, the national Peer Support Network which matches women with others who share their diagnoses and experiences, an online family tree tool, and providing resources, information, strength, and support. In my opinion, Sharsheret stands at the forefront of the mission to educate Jewish women and families about the increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer in our community. Thank you for being there!
I remember sitting in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a child, watching the clock and counting how many pages of prayer were left in the service. I wanted to run out when the Rabbi began speaking. And the silent prayer – well, that just went on forever. “Oh my goodness, will this ever end?”
As an adult, I now appreciate the High Holiday services. I love the melodies that unite the congregation into one harmonious voice. The Rabbi’s message gives me much to contemplate. That silent prayer, though, is still a challenge. Occasionally, my private thoughts are comforting and invigorating but sometimes, the silence is too much to bear. Either way, it is in this stillness of my mind that I have learned the most about myself.
My true journey takes place in the quietude. All the events that happen in my life are just the junctures - first steps, graduations, jobs, weddings, children, or illness – are all merely points in time. It is in the quiet reflection that I ascribe the meaning.
When facing ovarian cancer or breast cancer, life may seem to swirl around you – doctors’ visits, scans, treatments, and follow-ups, while maintaining jobs and families. These things impact your family life, your financial well-being, and your emotional and physical health. I suspect that at one time or another you may have thought, “Oh my goodness, will this ever end?” As Sharsheret Peer Supporter Beverly Levy shared in her National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month blog post, “I’ve decided cancer is like Whack-A-Mole, the arcade game where you whack a little critter over the head and another one pops up where you don’t expect it. But just like in the arcade, there are good times along the way. You don’t know how many moles you will have to clobber, how long it will take, and how you’ll do it – but you will. I can’t enjoy today if all I can think about is tomorrow and I can’t do anything about it anyway so head up, smile on face, and enjoy all the great things life has to offer.”
In this holiday season, I encourage you to take advantage of the stillness, whether in prayer, meditation, or just finding a quiet time to reflect on how this past year has unfolded, what meaning it has held for you, and what your hopes, dreams, and aspirations are as you move forward. All of us at Sharsheret hope that you will find strength, renewal, and meaning as you celebrate this upcoming New Year.
Congratulations to Team Sharsheret's first Ironman athletes, who took on an enormous challenge last weekend at the U.S. Ironman Championship NY/NJ. Our amazing athletes completed a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run! We are so proud of their personal accomplishments and grateful for their incredible efforts in raising awareness about Sharsheret's programs and services.
Do you or someone you know want to swim, bike, and run with Team Sharsheret? We have slots for the Aquaphor NYC Triathlon on July 14, 2013! Join us for a 1,500 meter swim in the Hudson River, 40k bike ride on the West Side Highway, and 10k run through Central Park to the finish line. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to get your slot today.
Just returned from a 90th birthday celebration bike ride from Boston to Newport (Rochelle Shoretz's 40th and my 50th). The cycling group was organized by a friend, Richard Shuster, who has as large a personality as Rochelle's. It was not a charity ride. Instead, these annual Shuster rides are all about pure joy and being mindful of life's blessings. In our group of 40 bikers, there were three cancer survivors and a woman whose daughter is BRCA positive, as well as Andy Seidman, a renowned breast cancer oncologist at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
The first day had its share of a few treacherous roads but then we navigated on to a beautiful bike path. As I biked alongside Rochelle, she was drafting behind Andy and looked at me and said how surreal it was to be riding on Andy's tail. Just as we pulled into the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, having clocked 52 miles, the sky opened up and there was a torrential downpour. We considered ourselves blessed simply by the fact that we managed to stay dry.
The second day began with an "official" toast to the "most inspirational rider", who briefly spoke about Sharsheret as I stood beside her clad in my Sharsheret cycling gear. After riding along a 17-mile bike path along the water, the day ended in Newport as we biked into a park bordering the Atlantic Ocean with kids flying kites across the sky. Spectacular!
As I biked alongside my daughter Kayla, who will be college-bound by the end of the upcoming school year, I was reminded of how unsuccessful we were at flying kites when she was younger. I felt blessed not just because kites flew in the sky rather than the threatening showers that were predicted earlier in the morning, but also for celebrating my 50th birthday, biking next to her.
Birthdays take on a more special meaning after a breast cancer diagnosis. It did not surprise me that Rochelle had the physical stamina for the 100-mile bike journey. It was the first time I witnessed how she had the stamina to keep retelling the Sharsheret story. The wheels of joy and embracing life's blessings kept us going. Next year, we will clock the extra one mile to get us to a century!! The year after that we will aim for 120!
© 2015 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer