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Today’s New York Times article outlining a proposed population-wide BRCA screening program in Israel notes Sharsheret’s work in genetics as part of a “campaign to raise awareness about the genetic susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer among Ashkenazi Jews.” Why have we undertaken to raise awareness about BRCA mutations as part of our Genetics for Life program? This statistic speaks for itself: One in forty individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry carries a BRCA mutation, greatly predisposing Jewish families to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and related cancers.
The idea of a population-wide screening program for every Ashkenazi Jew has been discussed recently in the American medical community, but more recently in the Israeli medical community as well. As the article notes, many advocate for this type of public health program because of its potential to save lives. Alternatively, many are opposed because of the psychosocial concerns such a screening program could provoke.
Opinions aside, as a genetic counselor who works with Jewish families at increased risk for hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer, I know firsthand that family communication and the psychosocial implications of genetic testing can be emotionally charged. The discussion between Tamar Modiano and her daughters referenced in the article about the timing and implications of genetic testing is a common one. This is why genetic counseling is vital. Genetic testing and interpretation is complex, and the information does not stand in a vacuum. It can affect individuals and families in a comprehensive way - medically, psychosocially, and financially.
As we approach the holidays of Chanukah and Thanksgiving, consider using this time with family to “Have the Talk” about medical history with your loved ones. I welcome anyone with questions about genetic counseling or testing, or their family history, to contact Sharsheret for free, individualized support as part of our Genetics for Life program. The program includes a confidential hotline, family conference calls, a peer support network to connect women one-on-one with others who are at increased risk for hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and health seminars presented nationwide to educate women and men about the importance of understanding family medical history as it relates to their own health. For more information and a copy of our booklet, “Your Jewish Genes: Hereditary Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer,” please call us toll-free at 866.474.2774 or live chat with us online at www.sharsheret.org.
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
Among my many identities, I am a Jew and I am a cancer survivor. The intersection of these two roles inspired me to get involved with Sharsheret.
Two summers ago, my routine pap smear showed misplaced and mysterious cells. Follow-up biopsies and, ultimately a full hysterectomy, showed that I had cancer in my ovaries. So, I got the “spa treatment” at Smilow Cancer Hospital – my words for what was really a four-month chemotherapy regimen. I lost my hair, 30 pounds, most of my strength and energy, and learned more about myself and life than I ever thought possible.
Cancer for me was an opportunity to really get to know myself and see my family and friends through entirely different eyes. What I didn’t do was let cancer get me down. I found an inner strength I never knew I had. I found the ability to laugh at my side effects. I found that my husband really did know how to do dishes (and much more) and care for me in the most loving and supportive way. I expected to be providing emotional support to my daughter and elderly mother, when, in fact, they are the ones who helped me find my strengths and gave me just the right amount of support, without making me feel that I needed it.
During my recovery, I went to a Jewish Federation of New Haven event where Rochelle Shoretz, Sharsheret’s Founder, was the keynote speaker. I didn’t want to think about cancer and I recall telling her before she spoke, “if this gets too cancer-y, I’m outta here”. It wasn’t, and I stayed. I had been thinking for some time that I wanted to give back, appreciative of the great care and attention I had been given. But, I didn’t know how until I learned about Sharsheret.
That night, I contacted Sharsheret to say I wanted to spread the word about this marvelous organization and become a peer supporter. I learned so many positive things through my cancer experience and I want to help others who have my diagnosis. I learned what it’s like to be on the receiving end of support, to have someone to talk to who can only understand based on a shared experience, and someone who will just let me talk without comment or judging. That’s what I want to do as part of Sharsheret’s peer support program.
After nine months of being cancer-free, my cancer returned and I’m back in chemotherapy. Different cocktail and a different experience. But, once again, my body is fighting as hard as it can to be cancer-free. Some things haven’t changed the second time around. I want to enjoy life every day – the little joys and the big ones. And, with those around me and through Sharsheret, I plan to be there for others for a long time to come.
© 2015 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer
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