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After cooking and eating the equivalent of many Thanksgiving meals from Rosh Hashanah through the holiday of Sukkot, the last thing I want to do is “Talk Turkey” or “Talk Any Type of Poultry.” Though in the spirit of the American idiom “Talk Turkey,” on this American holiday of Thanksgiving, we encourage you to serve up a great conversation that sheds light on your family history.
As we know, in the general population, 1 in 345 individuals carries a BRCA gene mutation. In the Ashkenazi Jewish population, 1 in 40 individuals carries a BRCA gene mutation. Loosen your belt, and just digest that for a moment. Jewish men and women of Ashkenazi descent are at 10x greater risk of carrying a BRCA gene mutation that increases the risk for hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and possibly skin, colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancers, too. Many adults are not aware of their own family medical history. Learning your family history can empower you to take action and share important health information with your loved ones.
Since 2004, Thanksgiving has been declared Family Health History Day by the Surgeon General. This national public campaign encourages all American families to learn more about their family health history. We encourage all families in our Jewish community to collect and share information about your family health history with one another. On a day that focuses on gratitude, we can be thankful that we live in a time where preventative healthcare is integrated into standard health practices.
So the next time you ask Grandma to pass the turkey, have her include a healthy side dish of family history.
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.
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
It’s turkey time again! I don’t eat the bird anymore. Perhaps it’s because after my bout with breast cancer, I lost my appetite for the flying creature. For me, the holiday turkey became analogous to my breast cancer experience. I felt like I was THE Thanksgiving Turkey of 2009 - cut, seasoned, stuffed, and carved.
My breast cancer ordeal began in April of 2009. Shortly after my diagnosis, I underwent a prophylactic mastectomy at Memorial Sloan Kettering followed by a powerful chemotherapy combination. On my first day of chemo, as I sat anxiously in the waiting room, I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me who turned out to be Sharsheret’s Founder Rochelle Shoretz. After speaking with her briefly, I no longer thought of my situation and myself, but of her strength and resolute courage to face down breast cancer.
My reconstruction and oophorectomy surgeries were simultaneously done days before Thanksgiving, which truly marked the end of my cancer treatment and recovery. I was finished with my surgeries and therapies and hopefully cancer-free. My 43-year-old body and mind had taken a beating over the course of 7 months, but my spirit was never broken. I was truly thankful to be with everyone who loved me.
And so, Thanksgiving took on a new meaning for me. It became a time to reflect on the things I was grateful for - like surviving breast cancer. It was a time to give thanks, not just for the obvious, but for the thousands of fortunate moments, the multitude of blessings, the doctors and nurses at MSK, and the incredible love and support of family, friends, and community during my personal journey. Ironically, two years to the date, I am the Thanksgiving turkey once again! My new incisions and stitches from nipple reconstruction are a reminder of the past and all that I am grateful for - two years clean and cancer-free!
I recently met Rochelle again at an event. I was so happy to see her and know that she was well. I am now thrilled to be a peer supporter in Sharsheret’s national network and provide support to other women. I want to inspire women with breast cancer like Rochelle unknowingly did for me during my crisis.
© 2015 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer
Sharsheret is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization ID# 13-4198529
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