Unwrapping Your Gifts

Every year on the holiday of Shavuot we celebrate receiving the Torah – a gift given to the Jewish people more than 3,000 years ago.  Most of us have been the recipients of kindness and generosity by virtue of our membership in the Jewish community and we, as a people, embrace the strong value of giving back in kind.

There are many layers to the giving and receiving of gifts.  Gifts can be given to mark a celebration or simply as a loving gesture. Some gifts, though offered with love and good intentions, may not meet your needs and the gift gets passed along – better known as the art of re-gifting. Sometimes, gifts are given with strings attached. And perhaps the purest form of gift-giving, are the gifts we give to ourselves.

I’ve heard some of you remark that being diagnosed with cancer has been a gift – having a second chance at life, appreciating relationships, and discovering what really feels important to you. Many of you don’t find cancer to be a gift at all. In fact, it’s a gift you would return without hesitation – with or without a refund.

Most of you fall somewhere in between. You would prefer having skipped the whole cancer thing all together, but have discovered many gifts along the way -  the gift of loving kindness, the gift of insight, and the gift of life.

In the hub of Sharsheret, I have witnessed tremendous and meaningful exchanges of gifts - words of wisdom passed along from women further down the road to those newly diagnosed. I have seen the selfless donations of time and money to support women and their families living with cancer.

Without a doubt, there are strings attached to cancer – but once untangled, most of you have given yourselves the greatest gifts of all. You have discovered inner strength, you have established a greater balance in your lives, and you hold a deeper appreciation of life and love.  And when these gifts were sometimes hard to find, you reached out to Sharsheret and opened yourselves up to receiving the support and guidance of our community.

I hope on this holiday of Shavuot, you kick up your feet, grab yourself a nice piece of cheesecake, and take a moment to unwrap all the wondrous gifts in your lives.

Taking Action As A Community

The past seven years since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer have been life changing for me and for my family. I am grateful for the wonderful medical and personal care I received. However, I can’t bear to think that my daughters and the mothers, daughters, and sisters of others, would have to go through what I have been through. I don’t want them to be treated. I want them to never have cancer in the first place.  For this reason, my husband Tom and I established the John Fetting Fund for Breast Cancer Prevention at Johns Hopkins to support medical research on preventing breast cancer. 

Recently, I visited the Sharsheret office with my daughter Carly. I am very impressed with the organization, its energy, and personal connection. We enjoyed learning about Have The TalkTM, a new campaign to encourage students to ask their parents about their family medical history.  Passover, which is just around the corner, is the perfect time when families will be together and can talk about important family issues.  I urge you to make assembling a family medical history a priority for your family.

My hope is that when we get more Jewish people focused on being stakeholders, we will be able to accomplish so much in many areas.  We need Jewish people to know their family medical histories, to deal with the facts when they get tested, and we need them to stop thinking of breast cancer as being something people have or don't have.  Our community has breast cancer, not just the individuals in it, and not just the women.  When the mother is sick, the whole family is not well.  We have to remain vigilant with monitoring and we need to be vigilant in advocating for intelligent decision-making on health issues.  This attention cannot stop after the first round of surgery and medical treatment.  We need to stay focused for our own benefit and we need to protect future generations.

Our Jewish community is uniquely poised to use our substantial resources to make things happen when we know we have a big problem. We do it for Israel, we do it with the other innovative programs of our Jewish charities.  We need to pool our individual, foundation, and corporate resources to address this health crisis of breast cancer that is imperiling Jewish families and our entire community. If we make it a priority, we will win this battle. The time is right for us to give the medical community the resources it needs to focus on preventing breast cancer.

To learn more about the important research of the John Fetting Fund for Breast Cancer Prevention at Johns Hopkins, go to www.fettingfund.org.  If you would like to see a video of my personal story and my reasons for devoting my energies to preventing breast cancer, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WW0RfkYWPZ8&feature=youtu.be  or write to me at leslie@thinkbrighter.org.