Jewish Community

My Sharsheret Story

My Sharsheret Story is actually two stories that quickly entwined into one. I was diagnosed with stage two, invasive ductal carcinoma in February of this year. Although it was not a surprise, it was demoralizing. I had already been through a different cancer experience years earlier and although I knew I would, I often felt I could not “do it” again.

As I struggled, I naturally turned to the Jewish community which has been at the center of my entire life. I knew of Sharsheret. Years as a professional in the Jewish community had made me aware of its existence. I explored the website and ordered information. I made a call and spoke with a member of the support staff. I had a specific question, which she answered and then offered me additional support as needed.

I spent the next months recovering from several surgeries and then triumphantly ordered my Thriving Again survivorship kit. Again, I spoke with the support staff who called to follow up on my request. I thought the kit was enough, but as we spoke a bit more, we discovered there was something else they could help with.

Before my diagnosis I held two part-time jobs in a local synagogue. I took medical leave from one position and stepped down from the other. Now that I was through my treatment, I was looking for new employment and worried about disclosing my diagnosis to potential employers and managing follow-up care. Sharsheret supplied several wonderful resources and guidance about cancer and careers.

During my job search Sharsheret was looking for a Director of National Outreach and it almost felt bashert (destiny) to me. I had the professional skills and training and now I had the personal experience. I have always worked my passion. I heard another cancer survivor say “Make your mess your message.” Either way it felt like Sharsheret was the place I was meant to be. Thankfully, they felt the same way.

I did worry that immersing myself in the world of breast cancer might feel overwhelming. Sure, I anticipate difficult moments, but the word I would use to describe it now is not overwhelming, but empowering. I look forward to many year of empowerment!

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.