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I am truly honored to be part of Team Sharsheret for the second year. Last year when I ran in the NYC half marathon, I received an email the Friday before the race from Rochelle Shoretz wishing me good luck. In the email she wrote how she wished she could be running with me but unfortunately she wasn't feeling up to running. I promised her I would run the race with her in mind. Ruchi was on my mind the entire race and thoughts of her inspired me throughout New York City. It was truly one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. I promised myself that for as long as I could, I would be part of Team Sharsheret.
This year more than ever, I am running this race for Rochelle Shoretz z"l. Rochelle, even though you are not here to send me an email, you will be inspiring me more than ever with your incredible spirit and drive. You were an exceptional person and I was honored to know you. You were and will always be the heart and soul of Sharsheret.
I'm honored to be part of Team Sharsheret and I couldn't think of any better team to be part of!
Why do I run for team Sharsheret? Six years ago, two of my dear friends were diagnosed with breast cancer- that was my first introduction to the world of breast cancer and its impact on the lives of others. That experience paved the way for my connection to Sharsheret. I decided to engage my kids’ school (Solomon Schechter Day School) and raise money for Sharsheret by running the NYC marathon. Wow! What an experience- the love and support from Schechter and the support from Sharsheret- it all collided into one magnificent run! It was so much fun. When an opportunity came around again to run for Sharsheret- it was just an obvious- YES, I'll do this!
I am truly so grateful to have Sharsheret - an organization that reaches out to my community, that gives support, education, information and brings people together!
Thank you Sharsheret! I'm so honored to be wearing your badge!
This morning I took the step of moving forward with my efforts as a Sharsheret volunteer. I was awed at the sheer range of services Sharsheret offers to women affected by breast cancer. I called with the intent to help others; yet I left with not just that opportunity, but also a survivorship toolkit for myself. I am personally humbled by the support that Sharsheret is able to coordinate and deliver, while respecting the very different and difficult choices we each must make in acting on our diagnosis.
During our discussion, I was asked to share my journey, and many memories surfaced (just like that old Clint Eastwood classic – “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”). But what stood out, among the “nuggets” I recalled, interestingly, was this one very specific memory.
Disturbingly undignified. Ridiculously funny. No, my friend, I am NOT referring to the latest Saturday Night Live skit. Instead, I am recalling one of my many post-mastectomy /reconstruction visits with my plastic surgeon.
I stand in the center of the exam room with my arms and hands out straight, while Dr. “Gorgeous” pulls, prods, and admires his artistry (could this get more awkward?). He is very considerate and gentle, reassuring even. As he reviews his handiwork, I stand under the glare of the fluorescent lights baring and reflecting my scarred and repaired orbs-above-post-baby-paunch to the mirror.
Good news is then shared all around, as the exam is FINALLY over. My orbs are “orbing”; my incisions are healing. All is well. Thank G-d. But I am still not allowed to move. I am not allowed to overstretch my arms for fear I will pop my stitches. Jeff is called over to put my bra on for me. And he gets my arms through successfully. Congratulations, honey! But at first attempt he failed to slide the bra cups fully under my healing new boob-mounds. All this while Dr. G. watches and tries not to interrupt.
I am cold. I am still somewhat half-naked. I am surrounded by the two most important men in my life right now and I am annoyed. Seriously.
Feeling for Jeff, Dr. G. steps in. “I hear you, Jeff, we have spent half our lives hoping to get these things off of our women, who ever learns how to put them on?”.
Wink-wink. Nudge-nudge. Jeff’s ego is restored.
Between the two of them my bra is re-clipped and I am helped into my shirt. We are now ALL laughing. Because this is just SILLY.
One $50 Bra. Enough to take down one incapacitated woman, and two educated men with advanced degrees. Sigh.
I'll take it.
“I bet they find a cure tomorrow!” my mother said, then shook her head as her eyes filled with tears.
It was midnight on April 2, 2009. I’d raced over to my parents’ home after getting the call I’d dreaded: My wonderful sister Emily, 37, had passed away after an 8-year battle with breast cancer.
I felt like I could collapse in grief. Yet I had to stay strong: Weeks earlier, a routine mammogram had revealed that I, too, had breast cancer. Despite years of helping Emily, there was nothing that could have prepared me for the shock, the questions, the fears. Should I use the same doctors? What treatments would I need? Would I ever feel okay again? Even as I mourned, I wrestled with these terrible uncertainties.
I wish I’d understood how much Sharsheret could have helped me. I could have gotten support to navigate the healthcare system, found counselors to help me deal with my grief and anxiety, and been matched with peers who’d been in my shoes, and had wisdom and encouragement to share.
I muddled through that terrible time, and am thankful to be healthy again. But I can only imagine how much more bearable it would have been with Sharsheret in my corner.
It was my best friend, Dana Adler, who first got involved with Sharsheret. For years now, she’s run marathons on the group’s behalf, many of them in my and Emily’s name. This year, she’s touched me even more deeply by asking me to co-chair Sharsheret’s Annual Benefit Luncheon, where she will be honored for her outstanding efforts.
While Dana has run many miles for Sharsheret, this will be my first step in supporting this terrific group. I’m incredibly excited! There’s lots of planning to do, envelopes to address, and logistics to work out. I’ll be chronicling these preparations in future blog posts for you. I’ve never co-chaired anything before, so if you come to the luncheon (and we really, really hope you will!), I’ll be the one looking clueless. Still, who could say no to a chance like this? This may be a Sharsheret benefit, but it’s really for the benefit of the many people Sharsheret helps every day. They deserve everything we can give.
It’s been nearly seven years since that night in my parents’ living room. And no, there’s still no cure for breast and ovarian cancers. But there’s help, and hope. There’s Sharsheret.
December 11, 2015 marked 6 years since I was diagnosed with Stage 2b Triple Negative breast cancer. I am dancing with NED (No Evidence of Disease) and hope that I continue to do so for a very long time!
I had 7 surgeries and months of chemo. I experienced some unusually severe side effects from treatment that resulted in hospitalizations and long-term implications, but in spite of everything, from the day I was diagnosed, I was positive and strong. My mom always taught us to be strong and I was determined to win this battle. I am so very proud of myself that I was able to do it, staying strong and positive always, and never ever giving up hope. Just like my Mom taught me. No matter what, I was determined to win this battle. I stayed at Hope Lodge which is a wonderful, wonderful place, and I met so many wonderful new "friends for life".
I first heard about Sharsheret when I left Hope Lodge after finishing all my treatment and surgeries. I received a wonderful survivorship package which was amazing, and which I continue to use. I only wish I had known about Sharsheret when I was first diagnosed. I wanted to give back so I asked about becoming a Peer Supporter and became one. I enjoy it so very much, because I know how I felt and being my own caregiver, it was especially difficult, and how important it was and is to have someone to talk to who knew exactly what I was going through. I am so very proud to be a Peer Supporter for Sharsheret. I want to do whatever I can to help other people so they always know that they are not alone.
When Rochelle Shoretz, Sharsheret’s Founder, passed away, social media was overflowing with articles about Rochelle, her life, her legacy and her organization, Sharsheret. I was amazed by all that she did and accomplished, and by the amazing organization she created. Little did I know that Sharsheret would be the clutch I needed in the coming few weeks. During all of this, one routine test led to more tests, leading to the diagnosis of breast cancer for my mom. My mom has been there for me day and night. Being a full time working mom of three, I had to teach myself as an adult that it was okay to ask your mom for help, and boy have I. But now things would have to change and she would have to take a step back and we would have to focus on her. It was now my job to stand by and be there for my mom in any way she needed or wanted. No one ever wants to hear the word “cancer”, no matter how young or how old you are. But a big lesson that I have learned is everyone has their own way of facing cancer, and whichever way you choose is the right way. I am the type of person that needs to read more, talk about things, and hear other people’s stories. So, I immediately reached out to Sharsheret. Sharsheret was there for me sending me educational materials, for support, and as a friend to “talk” to. I wanted to know everything and be on top of things, and know what can be expected on the cancer road. Nothing about this road has been easy or predictable but I am looking ahead to the light at the end of the tunnel, and I cannot wait to touch that light and sing and dance the happy dance of goodbye to cancer. Most of all I cannot wait to switch back roles and ask my mom for help.
Sheila Solomon, MS, CGC is a Certified Genetic Counselor focusing in clinical cancer genetics for the past 15 years. In addition to her work as Sharsheret’s Program Coordinator, she is employed by GeneDx, Inc., a subsidiary of BioReference Laboratories. Sheila is pleased to answer your questions and concerns about hereditary cancer genetics and your family history of cancer.
Question 1: I'm HER2 positive, BRCA negative; does this affect my family members?
Answer 1: HER2 is a protein found in some breast tumor cells and is not inherited in families. The presence of the HER2 protein can help your healthcare providers provide the most effective breast cancer treatments.
Question 2: When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, I had the multi-site 3 panel testing which came back negative. My oncologist has asked if I want to do the new testing that tests for 9 different genes linked to breast cancer risk in families. Is it worth doing? Could this new testing have an impact for my children or other breast cancer risks for me?
Answer 2: I’m glad to hear that your oncologist is educated about the new technology using multi-gene panels which allow us to test for multiple genes in a single test. It may be worth meeting with a genetic counselor to review any updates to your family history since 2006, which can clarify which additional testing would be helpful for you.
Question 3: I have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry on both my mother's side and my father's side of the family. My father's mother died of breast cancer in her mid-60s and there is no ovarian cancer in any woman in the family. My mother’s family was murdered by the Nazis so I do not have health information about them. So I have been wondering, should I get tested for a genetic predisposition for breast and ovarian cancer?
Answer 3: People with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have a 1 in 40 chance of carrying a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, which would increase breast cancer and ovarian cancer risks, among other cancers. Thank you for sharing the family history of breast cancer. It is interesting you note that it is on your father’s side of the family. Many people have thought that cancer on the father’s side of the family does not matter, when, in fact, it really does! Men can inherit and pass on BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation just as equally as women can. So this is still important information. Generally speaking, the younger the diagnosis of breast cancer in the family, the more likely the cancer is hereditary/inherited. With the diagnosis in your grandmother’s mid-60s, it is difficult to say whether her cancer was caused by a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, or if it occurred by chance. It would be worth discussing your personal and family history with a genetic counselor.
Question 4: I am BRCA 2 positive and had a double mastectomy and reconstruction, and the ovaries removed. I have 3 sons, oldest 31 and youngest 26, and I would like them to be tested. Where can they go?
Answer 4: I applaud you and your desire to arm your sons with the gift of medical knowledge! You certainly have taken many steps to reduce your own cancer risks with the genetic information you received and I imagine you would like your sons to know it, too. One of the best ways to begin the conversation is to share your results with them. Talk with them about a meeting called genetic counseling. Genetic counselors are trained healthcare providers who will discuss options with your sons and help to coordinate their testing, should they choose to proceed with the testing. Genetic counselors are located all over the country and world. You can find a local genetic counselor by visiting www.nsgc.org. If you or your sons have specific questions before they meet with the genetic counselor, Sharsheret is glad to be a resource to you and your family. Sharsheret offers Family Genetics Conference Calls, which offers a guided conversation between you and your family members, facilitated by Sharsheret’s genetic counselor to discuss your family’s BRCA genetics risk. You can schedule a call by contacting Sharsheret at 866.474.2774.
Question 5: I’m a 41 year old mom and wife to an amazing husband. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April. As part of my diagnosis and treatment, I met with a genetic counselor and had genetic testing. I came back with positive for CHEK2. The original treatment plan had been to do 6 weeks of radiation. However, doing some research on my own, I’m pretty nervous about doing radiation, due to this gene. I’m curious if you have an opinion? Luckily, we saw the radiology oncologist this week and she agreed, and she intends to do more research before we proceed, too.
Answer 5: Thank you for sharing your story with me. I am so glad you have spoken with your genetic counselor and are arming yourself with as much knowledge as you can before making decisions. I cannot speak to your specific case and whether or not radiation is the right treatment, as each case is different and is based on number of factors. I recommend you explore this further with your doctor and treatment team. It sounds like your oncologist would be open to this conversation since she intends to do more research, too!
When I was diagnosed about two and a half years ago, it came as a total shock. I had exercised avidly, was not overweight, had no history of breast cancer in the family, and didn’t smoke or drink. All the answers to the myriad of questions by health care professionals were all no, no, no and no. I saw my OB/GYN annually and had regular mammograms. So how was it possible for me to discover that I had stage 3 triple negative breast cancer? There was no time for denial or self-pity as it was necessary to make decisions about doctors, surgery, reconstruction, and treatment plans as soon as possible. I was told not to let my illness define me, but that is exactly what happened. I thought it was written all over my face as I walked around doing errands, chatting with neighbors and just going about my business. I am not a person given to tears but suddenly I found myself crying incessantly. When my friend whom I’ve known for over 30 years came to visit, she commented on how she’d never seen me cry. But there I was falling apart in front of her. When I ran into an acquaintance, someone I was not particularly close with, I suddenly found myself crying in her arms, right there in the checkout line of the neighborhood grocery. It was all quite embarrassing. When I first called Sharsheret I had to hang up because I couldn’t speak. They understood and told me to try again anytime. Apparently, tears were not unusual to the wonderful staff there. They were more than happy to put up with my choked up speech, and put me in touch with a peer supporter who also told me not to be embarrassed. I considered myself fortunate that my five daughters were all grown and did not require me to put up a strong front, and it was easy for me to take time off working in my husband’s office. But what did other women do who had to attend to small children, or who had jobs they could not neglect? Those women may not be braver than I am, but it is necessary for them to put on a brave front, and they have my sincerest admiration. Now that I am two years out, I am practically normal, thank Gd, both in my health and control of my emotions. When Rochelle Shoretz, a”h, Sharsheret’s Founder, passed away I once again called Sharsheret in tears. The Sharsheret staff once again told me that it was quite normal for me to react the way I was. Sharsheret has been there for me, never asking for anything in return. It is my pleasure to now contribute to their blog and share my experience. There are no more tears, but if I do have a moment of weakness I will not be embarrassed.
When a mother sees an article titled “Are the Kids All Right?” she is likely to read on eagerly to see what sage advice the article could provide to help her fulfill her maternal mission of keeping her child safe. We have all seen articles like this in the popular media. Usually the topics include bicycle safety, internet safety, or warning your child of “stranger danger”. As mothers, we feel a certain sense of security when we implement the tips in the article such as buying our child a securely fitting bike helmet, installing filtering software on our family computers, or teaching our child never to talk to strangers.
The story “Are the Kids All Right?” by CBS news reporter Mary Brophy Marcus addressed a far more complicated topic. The article describes a study in the issue of the journal Pediatrics that examines the emotional well-being of school-age girls with a family history of breast cancer or known genetic risk. Specifically, the study looked at girls aged 6-13 years with a family history of breast cancer or familial BRCA1/2 mutation (BCFH+ group) as compared to a group of girls without family history or familial BRCA 1/2 mutation (BCFH- group). Clearly, the “take home” tips from this study are far more complex, intricate, and situation dependent than the tips we glean from the typical parenting article. At the same time, with the expansion and increased accessibility of genetic testing, having empirically based knowledge of how familial BRCA 1/2 mutations impact the emotional health of young girls is vital.
The main findings of the study are quite intuitive and logical. First, general emotional well- being did not differ between BCFH+ girls and BCFH- girls. Second, BCFH+ girls reported more anxiety about their risk for breast cancer than girls without family breast cancer history or known genetic risk.
It seems to me that the findings of this study speak to the resiliency of this population of young girls. It is normal and expected that a girl with a family history of breast cancer or known genetic risk will have greater anxiety about her own personal risk. However, the anxiety about breast cancer remained its own entity. It did not infiltrate into the general emotional well-being of the girls studied. This may speak to an adaptive capacity of young girls to compartmentalize anxiety in a way that adults only wish they could achieve.
The third main finding of the study allows us to infer how anxiety can be lowered in young girls with family history or known genetic risk. The study found that girls’ anxiety about breast cancer was associated with higher anxiety of their mothers. What follows from this, is that lowering a mother’s anxiety about breast cancer will help improve a young girl’s ability to cope with family history or genetic risk.
So, how does a mother lower her anxiety about breast cancer, family history, or genetic risk so that she could take care of her emotional well-being and be a strong role model for her daughter as well? Strong coping skills are the best arsenal in fighting anxiety. In most instances, we do not have the power to change the circumstances that we are in. A woman cannot change the fact that she has a family history of breast cancer. What every woman can change, however, is how she thinks about the fact that the family history is present. Children often look to their parents for cues on how to think about information that they are unsure how to interpret. Mothers need not hide their anxiety; children appreciate emotional honesty. A daughter will feel that her anxiety is validated if she observes that her mother shares some of those same emotions. Seeing her mother exhibit coping mechanisms is even more reassuring and helpful. Some important ways to model coping include the following:
The study in Pediatrics further explains that it is vital to recognize and address a young girl’s distress about breast cancer risk because any persistent distress in adolescence is linked with negative health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and drug use. What follows from this concern are some other helpful directions for mothers or health professionals to employ when addressing their child’s distress.
This important study refers to BCFH+ young girls with the unique term of “pre-vivors.” “Pre” is a prefix that connotes before. This term suggests to me that no matter what challenges the future holds for these young women, they will be survivors. By incorporating some of the coping and health communication tips mentioned above, we are giving our young girls some of the tools they need to be pro-active survivors in their quest to live physically and emotionally healthy lives.
Parents should consult with a medical and/or mental health professional regarding when and how to speak with their child about this issue. Sharsheret is also available to address these issues with you.
Monita Buchwald is a free-lance culinary professional and the former recipe tester for Martha Stewart Living magazine. She's a breast cancer survivor and a Sharsheret Peer Supporter.
Proper nutrition combined with weight control and exercise is a game plan that everyone can benefit from. This is especially true for breast and ovarian cancer survivors. To lower your risk of a recurrence, America Cancer Society states that healthy eating can play an important role. Experts recommend eating a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, choosing whole grains and high-fiber breads and cereals, limiting red meat, and choosing lean proteins and low-fat dairy products.
For the most part, the foods that we eat on Thanksgiving are pretty healthy. It's not like Chanukah, where fried foods are the highlight of the holiday. But even on Thanksgiving, there's more than enough to tempt us, whether it's turkey stuffing or the delicious pies and cakes we have for dessert. One key to a healthier Thanksgiving is moderation -- eat smaller amounts of all the wonderful choices. The other is balance and variety. Add more vegetable dishes and reduce the amount of fats and carbohydrates. Here are five healthy side dishes to enhance your Thanksgiving table.
Mushroom Quinoa Pilaf
2 pounds mixed small mushrooms (white, cremini, shitake), sliced 1/2" thick
1-2 onions small diced (1 cup diced)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
2 cups cooked quinoa
Coarse salt and pepper to taste
1. Place oil in a large sautè pan over medium high heat. When pan is hot add the mushrooms so they are in one layer. Leave for two-three minutes. Then flip over and cook another three minutes until golden and tender. Remove and set aside and repeat until all the mushrooms are cooked. You may need to add oil between batches.
2. When the mushrooms are finished cooking, reduce the heat to medium, add another tablespoon of oil, and add in the onions. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until the onions are tender and beginning to color - about 6-8 minutes.
3. Add back in the mushrooms, the Balsamic vinegar and thyme. Cook until the vinegar has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Mix in the quinoa and season to taste.
Can be made ahead of time and re-heated before serving.
Cranberry Apple Chutney
(Serves 4-6, makes 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 small red onion diced (1/2 cup)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
12-ounces fresh or frozen cranberries
1 large Granny Smith apple peeled and diced into pieces the size of the cranberries
1/4 teaspoon each of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1. Soak the onion in vinegar for 10 minutes. Drain and set the onions aside.
2. Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add the cranberries, apples, drained onions, and spices; return to a boil.
3. Reduce heat and simmer until the cranberries begin to burst and the apples are tender but not mushy. The mixture should remain somewhat chunky.
4. Pour into a medium glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly on the chutney. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate, preferably overnight.
5. To serve, remove from refrigerator and let come back to room temperature. Toss in the walnuts.
Autumn Greens Salad (Adapted from Martha Stewart Living)
1/3 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons sunflower oil, or canola oil
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, very thinly sliced (3 cups)
3 cups shredded Swiss Chard or Kale leaves. From 6-7 large leaves stemmed and thinly sliced
1. Stir mustard, lemon juice, salt, and maple syrup together in a small bowl; whisk in oil until emulsified and set aside.
2. Toss together Brussels sprouts and leaf greens. Stir in sunflower seeds and pour in dressing; toss to coat.
3. Serve immediately.
To make ahead: Prepare the greens and store in refrigerator covered. Make the dressing and refrigerate. Toss together just before serving.
Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds With Pecans and Parsley
1/2 cup pecans
6 sweet potatoes, scrubbed, but not peeled, and cut into 1/2" thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Place the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven 7-8 minutes until lightly toasted. Remove and set aside. When cool enough to handle, coarsely chop and reserve for serving. Raise the oven temp to 425 degrees
3. On one-two rimmed baking sheets, toss sweet potatoes with the oil and season with salt and pepper.
4. Roast, flipping once, until golden brown and tender, 23 to 25 minutes
5. To serve place on flat serving dish and sprinkle with chopped pecans and parsley
Sweet potatoes can be made in advance. Before ready to serve, place in one layer and warm, uncovered at low temp until heated. Pecans can be made in advance. Store in airtight container. Parsley should be chopped same day as using.
Maple Roasted Root Vegetables
3 pounds root vegetables (e.g. carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, potatoes, turnips) peeled and cut into 1”chunks
½ cup maple syrup
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons lemon juice
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
1 ounce toasted whole almonds coarsely chopped (1/3 cup)
Pepper for seasoning
1. Pre-heat oven to 400.
2. In a bowl whisk together maple syrup, olive oil, lemon juice and ½ teaspoon salt. Add the vegetables and toss to coat completely.
3. Pour vegetables and glaze onto rimmed baking sheet. They should be in one layer so use more than one baking sheet, if necessary.
4. Roast for 30-40 minutes, tossing several times, scraping from the edges where the glaze will get the darkest. Cook until golden brown and tender but not mushy.
5. Sprinkle with chopped nuts and serve.
If making in advance: Re-heat uncovered at 200 and sprinkle the nuts on just before serving.
© 2016 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer