Blog – Sharsheret http://sharsheret.org Jewish Non-Profit Supporting Breast Cancer Survivors Tue, 23 May 2017 19:16:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 http://sharsheret.org/cms/assets/uploads/cache/2016/11/cropped-logo-sharsheret/602533622.png Blog – Sharsheret http://sharsheret.org 32 32 Proud and honored to run for Team Sharsheret http://sharsheret.org/proud-honored-run-team-sharsheret/ http://sharsheret.org/proud-honored-run-team-sharsheret/#respond Tue, 16 May 2017 19:21:06 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=105185 I have a memory from during chemotherapy nearly three years ago of going on a walk to have lunch with … Continue reading

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I have a memory from during chemotherapy nearly three years ago of going on a walk to have lunch with a friend. By the time we got to our lunch spot, after thirty minutes, I was out of breath and exhausted. It felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest.

Now, three years later, I am training for my third half marathon. For the type of breast cancer I had, triple negative breast cancer, there is no ongoing treatment, no oral chemo or regular infusion. Instead, a healthy diet and regular exercise is my prescription for maintaining good health. I began running after I finished treatment for breast cancer, slowly working my way from one mile up to 13.1. Running now makes me feel empowered, strong, healthy, and alive. I’ve run 5Ks, 10Ks, a 10 miler, and two half marathons since I finished treatment two-and-a-half years ago, and I am still in awe at my body’s ability to be resilient and come back to a new normal that is even stronger than I was before cancer.

Raising money for Sharsheret is the perfect way for me to honor the work they do with my ongoing survival. Sharsheret was there for me when I was diagnosed, providing me, my family, and my friends with resources and information on being a young Jewish woman with breast cancer. My Jewish identity and my Jewish community are central to my life, and having an organization focused on Jews impacted by breast cancer helped me feel less alone and less scared. I could not be more proud to be part of Team Sharsheret.

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Starting a New Chain http://sharsheret.org/starting-new-chain/ http://sharsheret.org/starting-new-chain/#respond Mon, 15 May 2017 19:46:26 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=105167 Just a few days after my 12th birthday, my maternal grandmother, Sara Grodnik, passed away. She was 60 years old. … Continue reading

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Just a few days after my 12th birthday, my maternal grandmother, Sara Grodnik, passed away. She was 60 years old. Though I didn’t know exactly what her illness was, the last few years of her life were occupied with a series of surgeries and procedures that kept her in the hospital for weeks or bedridden, with my mother going out to her home in Queens to care for her. Sundays consisted of my father driving me and my two younger brothers to visit her. But, through all of this, I never knew what was wrong with her and what eventually took her life. Twenty five years later, only three months to the day after I gave birth to my third child, my mother, Joyce Zilberberg, passed away at age 59. This time, I knew a little more.

My mother and I had a complicated relationship and we weren’t in close touch for my most of my early married life. Ironically, it was breast cancer that brought us a semblance of reconciliation. One evening, I received a call from my father (who was also estranged from her) letting me know that the following day, my mother would be undergoing a mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer. I did not know anything about her diagnosis, how she found out, the stage of cancer and what her prognosis was. I called her to tell her that I was going to be at the hospital and spent most of the next day in the waiting room at Beth Israel. Although I tried to find out more about her prognosis, the tenuousness of our relationship coupled with the sense of avoidance with which she treated it, made it difficult for me to learn more.

Several weeks after her surgery, at age 35, I had my first mammogram. If there was one thing I was certain of at that moment, it was that I was going to go about managing my risk very differently than my mother did. When her cancer recurred less than two years later, I entered the high-risk clinic at Sloan Kettering. I diligently went twice a year to every mammogram, sonogram and doctor’s appointment and followed the evolving protocol that my doctors recommended for me. I read everything I could about risk associated with family history, new research and testing and how I could do more to manage my risk.

I was not going to live in darkness and ignorance.
I was not going to let my two daughters and family go through the pain of that unknowing.
I was going to face whatever my fate was head on.

Ten years later, I got the call I think I had always been expecting. But, my experience could not have been more different. Because I was being monitored twice a year, my annual sonogram found a small, early stage tumor that my mammogram, six months earlier, had not been able to detect. My cancer was early stage and I was fortunate enough to be able to treat it with a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation.

This month marks my four-year anniversary of my diagnosis and surgery. I am so grateful to live in a time where conversations about breast cancer are not taboo, where organizations like Sharsheret exist to support those going through this experience and where information about the disease flows freely for anyone seeking it out. I am thankful to my friends and family who encouraged me to stay vigilant and to keep talking about it, instead of hiding in the shadows. I don’t know what the future will bring for me or for my daughters, but I am thankful they live in a world where they can ask questions, seek support, be empowered to pro-actively care for their own health and ensure that the legacy of darkness from which they were born will be broken forever.

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Want To Fight The C-Word? Pick Up Another: Cruciferous. http://sharsheret.org/want-fight-c-word-pick-another-cruciferous/ http://sharsheret.org/want-fight-c-word-pick-another-cruciferous/#respond Mon, 15 May 2017 19:34:58 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=105163 By Rachel Beller, MS, RDN, Founder and CEO of Beller Nutritional Institute and Creator of PowerPerks I know, “cruciferous vegetables” … Continue reading

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By Rachel Beller, MS, RDN, Founder and CEO of Beller Nutritional Institute and Creator of PowerPerks

I know, “cruciferous vegetables” sounds like something scary from a Harry Potter movie — definitely not appetizing! Well let me tell you why you’ll soon love all things cruciferous.

First, the name is the scientific term for plants whose petals resemble a flower (not so scary after all!). Think cauliflower, particularly the purple kind. In addition, nature has given these plants fantastic cancer-fighting properties.

For example, when it comes to breast health, cruciferous vegetables contain an element called indole-3- carbinol content. Also not a pretty name, but what it might do for you is pure beauty:

possibly enhance enzyme activity in breaking down carcinogens
inhibit estrogen-responsive genes that may lead to cancer development
help clear excess estrogen (one likely cause of breast cancer) from your system.

That’s why I always tell my PowerPerks members to make cruciferous veggies a crucial part of their daily routine. Aim for at least one serving a day — that’s only half a cup cooked! (Even a little can go a long way.)

For both flavor and enhanced effectiveness, diversify your cruciferous veggies. Simply choose your fighters from the following list:

Arugula
Bok choy
Broccoli
Broccoli sprouts
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Collard or mustard greens
Kale
Radishes
Turnips
Watercress

To get you started in a super delish way, try my Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy the PowerPerks Program. Just one taste and you might just make it a great habit!

Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy (Vegan, Gluten-free)

Makes: 4 servings
Serving size: 2 cups

Ingredients:
1 ½ -inch piece ginger root, minced
2 teaspoons low-sodium tamari
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon walnut or olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 pounds baby bok choy (8-10)
Power Up! (Add to your meal):
1-2 tablespoons kimchi, chopped

Directions:
Whisk the ginger, tamari, balsamic vinegar, and sesame oil together in a small bowl.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, then add the bok choy and stir-fry until tender but still crispy, about 1 to 2 minutes. (Better to undercook than overcook!)
Remove from heat, toss with the sauce mixture, and serve.

Meal Math: 90 calories | 6g fat | 220mg sodium | 7g carbs | 2g fiber | 3g sugar | 4g protein

For more incredible weight management and cancer fighting perks, join the PowerPerks movement!

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Celebrating With My Family This Mother’s Day http://sharsheret.org/celebrating-my-family-mothers-day/ http://sharsheret.org/celebrating-my-family-mothers-day/#respond Fri, 12 May 2017 16:00:52 +0000 https://sharsheret.org/celebrating-my-family-mothers-day/ “In my room watching Netflix,
I did not expect what was coming.
When my mom walked in and said,

“Come here pumpkin, let’s talk.”
The hurt in her eyes was as loud as a tree falling.
She pulled me close and told me the news.
She said, “I have breast cancer.”

Tears overcrowded my eyes as fast as a flood
Thousands of scary thoughts clouded my head.
I was speechless.
In that moment, I felt numb.

My heart raced and my stomach dropped
like I was in a haunted house.
This time I was hurt by the cruelty of life.
She said, “Don’t worry. It will all be okay.”

This is the poem my daughter wrote about the day I told her I had cancer.  She is thirteen.  As a mother, her mother, when I read this poem I was stunned.  One of the things that felt so overwhelming about my diagnosis of cancer was having to tell my family, my children in particular.  How to communicate that while this is scary and will be a bumpy road, it is going to be all right in the end?  That I will fight it with every ounce of my body and every resource available to me?

That is where Sharsheret came in.  I have known about Sharsheret for ten years, as long as my sister-in-law, Shera Dubitsky, has worked there.  While we have talked about her work at Sharsheret over the years, I never thought I would need to reach out to her in a professional capacity.  When I first got the news that the doctors saw something in my MRI, my husband urged me to call Shera.  “Why?” I asked “This is going to be nothing.”  But I did need her and I did need Sharsheret.

Sharsheret provided me with support that I didn’t know I needed and resources that have helped me through the process.  I was given a peer to talk to about surgery options so that I could understand my choices from the perspective of a fellow patient.  The guide given to my husband about how to be a supportive spouse was very helpful for both of us.  Perhaps most importantly, Shera and I had many conversations about how to discuss this with all of my children, for my sons had questions, too. I love that Sharsheret recognizes that cancer affects everyone in the home, not just the person with the disease.

My mother had breast cancer in 1987.  She was single and living alone, and she faced her cancer and treatment very stoically with very little support.  She was tough, to be sure. I am her daughter, and I am tough, too.  It turns out that the experience can be less isolating and easier to bear with Sharsheret by one’s side. 

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am standing here, cancer free, to celebrate with my family.  The end of my daughter’s poem is true: It will all be okay.

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“In my room watching Netflix,
I did not expect what was coming.
When my mom walked in and said,

“Come here pumpkin, let’s talk.”
The hurt in her eyes was as loud as a tree falling.
She pulled me close and told me the news.
She said, “I have breast cancer.”

Tears overcrowded my eyes as fast as a flood
Thousands of scary thoughts clouded my head.
I was speechless.
In that moment, I felt numb.

My heart raced and my stomach dropped
like I was in a haunted house.
This time I was hurt by the cruelty of life.
She said, “Don’t worry. It will all be okay.”

This is the poem my daughter wrote about the day I told her I had cancer.  She was thirteen when she wrote this.  As a mother, her mother, when I read this poem I was stunned.  One of the things that felt so overwhelming about my diagnosis of cancer was having to tell my family, my children in particular.  How to communicate that while this is scary and will be a bumpy road, it is going to be all right in the end?  That I will fight it with every ounce of my body and every resource available to me?

That is where Sharsheret came in.  I had known about Sharsheret for ten years, as long as my sister-in-law, Shera Dubitsky, had worked there.  While we have talked about her work at Sharsheret over the years, I never thought I would need to reach out to her in a professional capacity.  When I first got the news that the doctors saw something in my MRI, my husband urged me to call Shera.  “Why?” I asked “This is going to be nothing.”  But I did need her and I did need Sharsheret.

Sharsheret provided me with support that I didn’t know I needed and resources that have helped me through the process.  I was given a peer to talk to about surgery options so that I could understand my choices from the perspective of a fellow patient.  The guide given to my husband about how to be a supportive spouse was very helpful for both of us.  Perhaps most importantly, Shera and I had many conversations about how to discuss this with all of my children, for my sons had questions, too. I love that Sharsheret recognizes that cancer affects everyone in the home, not just the person with the disease.

My mother had breast cancer in 1987.  She was single and living alone, and she faced her cancer and treatment very stoically with very little support.  She was tough, to be sure. I am her daughter, and I am tough, too.  It turns out that the experience can be less isolating and easier to bear with Sharsheret by one’s side.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am standing here, cancer free, to celebrate with my family.  The end of my daughter’s poem is true: It will all be okay.

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Breast Density: The Bare Necessities http://sharsheret.org/breast-density-bare-necessities/ http://sharsheret.org/breast-density-bare-necessities/#respond Thu, 27 Apr 2017 20:09:22 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=105061 Breast density is a buzz word that seems to be all the rage these days. In 2009 it became a … Continue reading

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Breast density is a buzz word that seems to be all the rage these days. In 2009 it became a hot topic when the state of Connecticut became the first state to enact the breast density laws requiring women undergoing mammography to be informed of the risks posed by breast density. Since that time, 27 states have put these laws into effect.

But too often buzz words are thrown around without much clarification and create unwarranted panic. So…what does breast density actually mean for you?

First thing to know is that if you’ve been told that you have dense breast tissue, you are in good company. Approximately 40-50% of women in the U.S., aged 40-74, fall into that category.

The best way to understand breast density is to think about the makeup of the breast. Our breasts are composed of glandular tissue, fat and connective tissue. The glandular tissue responds to hormonal changes in your body and can be a source of soreness/pain during certain points of your menstrual cycle. The connective tissue is what holds it all together, serving as your best defense against sagging due to gravity. The fat present in breasts…is.fat. Sorry ladies, no better way to say the F word. Each individual has a different ratio of these three types of tissue. So, having dense breasts means that there is more glandular and connective tissue relative to fat.

Having high mammographic density (i.e. dense breasts) can mean two things. First, it limits the ability of the mammogram to detect cancer, called the masking effect. My favorite way to explain the limits of a mammogram is to think about pantyhose. Portions of the breast tissue are like sheer pantyhose, completely ‘see through’, making it easy to spot a change. Other portions are more akin to opaque tights, making it hard to discern an abnormality as it ‘blends in’. All breast tissue falls along the spectrum between pantyhose to opaque tights. Breast cancer presents with an opaque appearance allowing it to blend in the surrounding opaque (dense) tissue, making breast cancer detection harder.
The second issue is that dense breast tissue itself serves as an independent risk factor for breast cancer. Several scientific studies reveal differences in cellular/tissue responses to hormones and growth factors, among other etiologies. There is continued research in this area trying to better understand the relationship.
Is there anything you can do to change your density?
Dense breast tissue is multifactorial. There are intrinsic factors contributing to breast density namely age, genetics, hormone levels, and body mass index (BMI). External factors believed to affect breast density are hormone supplements/replacement, diet, exercise, alcohol, and environmental factors. Studies over the years have demonstrated that changes in diet and alcohol consumption result in decreased cancer risk but direct connection to the dense tissue has not been clearly demonstrated, suggesting a separate protective mechanism of action.

So what are your options?

The recommended solution is the addition of a breast sonogram to your annual screening regiment. A sonogram uses sound waves to travel through the breast tissue and unlike a mammogram it is not limited by breast density. There is no radiation, it is essentially pain free and serves as a useful tool if used in conjunction with a mammogram.
A second option is a breast MRI but this method is usually reserved for women that have a specific elevated risk of breast cancer above that of the average population and are usually evaluated on a case by case basis.
So given the limits of mammograms, why not abandon them completely?
It’s important to understand that a mammogram remains the gold standard for a reason. They are the only proven method to decrease mortality from breast cancer. In addition, one of the earliest signs of breast cancer are microcalcifications and these can only be seen on a mammogram.

In conclusion, knowing what dense breast tissue means can help women understand and take advantage of the variety of screening methods available. Knowledge is protection. Make dense sense?

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My Role As A Peer Supporter http://sharsheret.org/role-peer-supporter/ http://sharsheret.org/role-peer-supporter/#respond Thu, 06 Apr 2017 16:33:01 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=104963 Excerpted from remarks made during the February 7, 2017 Peer Support Training As I do when I begin a conversation … Continue reading

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Excerpted from remarks made during the February 7, 2017 Peer Support Training

As I do when I begin a conversation with a woman with whom I have been matched as a peer supporter, I will begin by briefly sharing my story. I do this as a peer supporter to give the person on the other end of the line a chance to get to know me a little, and to take the cue from my openness that they can be as open with me as they wish. I will do it here very briefly, just so that you can all get a sense of who I am.

Although my immediate family is extremely close, we were somewhat estranged from my extended family, and I had no way to know that there was a strong history of both breast and ovarian cancer in our family. I did not grow up worried or fearful of the possibility, and in fact, I was shocked when my parents told me, at the age of 35, that my father had tested positive for BRCA1. I don’t think I totally understood the ramifications even then, until I was tested and found out that I too was a carrier, and I was sent from the genetic counselor’s office at Mount Sinai directly to the oncology department to set up a meeting with an oncologist. I had my ovaries removed within six months of that date, and, after my sister who was also positive for BRCA was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, I had a prophylactic double mastectomy with a DIEP flap reconstruction.

After sharing the facts of my story, I allow the caller the chance to share her story, but I find she usually prefers to begin by asking many questions about my experience. Her need is often not to tell her story, but to ask specific questions to someone who has gone through what she has. Some of the questions are very practical. How long were you laid up? How did you choose what kind of reconstruction you had? Often, the questions start with the practical, but quickly move on to the emotional and or philosophical. Did your family members support your decision? What did you tell your kids? How do you feel now, 10 years later? Do you regret it?

I try and respond to the questions as honestly as I can, but also, I try to bring up as many topics that I can think of that I may be uniquely able to answer. Our conversations often include a lot of discussion about intimacy and how it is impacted by the various surgeries. How we feel about our own bodies. How we feel about not having more children. Our fears for our children. And I must say, the anonymity of the phone call allows us both to be comfortably open in discussing these topics. Of course, I am always clear that these decisions are so personal, there are so many individual factors that impact this decision, and that my choices were right for me, but may not be right for them.

I have been a peer supporter for Sharsheret for a long time, probably over 10 years. In that time, my feelings and ideas about this role has shifted. At the beginning, when my own surgery and experiences were fresher in my mind, the role was therapeutic for me as well as for the person I was supporting, I felt like this was something we were almost going through together. I actually had to remind myself to allow the caller to direct the conversation to the topics that were most concerning to her. As the years passed, in a way it is easier for me to be encouraging, to say with confidence, you can get through this, your life will be normal again, you will not always be spending all your moments thinking about this! With life experience, and with seeing so many close friends and family members dealing with this plague, I am also able to provide sincere encouragement and support to women deciding to have prophylactic surgery. I truly believe that I made a decision that saved my life, and I know that conviction comes through in our conversations.

I gain a lot from my role as a peer supporter. Although I feel strongly that my surgeries were the correct thing to do, I certainly have my moments of sadness and regret about what I am missing from my life. But every time I act as a peer supporter, I am reminded why I did them, and I feel at peace with my decision again. I am happy that I can help other women come to terms with decisions that they have to make, in any way that I can.

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Recalculating http://sharsheret.org/recalculating/ http://sharsheret.org/recalculating/#respond Thu, 06 Apr 2017 16:00:11 +0000 https://sharsheret.org/recalculating/ As we approach the Passover holiday, we recall the journey that the Israelites took when they left Egypt, a journey that took them from a place of familiar (albeit enslaved) circumstances to a wilderness of unfamiliar twists, turns, and obstacles.  Their guidance system?  A Cloud, a symbol of God’s presence, which guided the Children of Israel through the desert.  As they traveled on this difficult journey, they quickly learned that there were to be many unexpected detours, obstacles, and challenges to be faced.  When they mistrusted the process of the journey, the results were certainly not great – especially when their resistance led to the building of the golden calf.   Difficult and variable journeys can be hard to navigate, especially when they present undesirable turns or unanticipated delays, but trust in the process can be so effective in managing the challenges.

Michelle Stravitz, a Sharsheret Peer Support Network participant, shares her cancer experience, mirroring this theme of unexpected journeys when facing a cancer diagnosis. Her message is timely as we are about to sit at our Passover Seders and contemplate past and future life journeys.


I don’t really like the GPS in my new car.  With my old GPS, I could press just one key and the route would be listed clearly and concisely, step by step; and as a result, I would know the full route just when I began driving.  I knew not only the next step and when to anticipate it, but the entire route, all the steps I was to encounter, when, and for how long.  With my new GPS, I get a clear, colorful map of the road I’m on and the next turn to make, but not a route list.  I miss my route list!

I’m a planner.  I always plan my week’s work carefully, our vacations down to the day, my children’s b’nai mitzvah weekends well in advance.  I plan ahead for family dinner menus, schedules, even my own exercise regimen.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, thankfully the doctors laid out a clear 9-month treatment plan.  First, I would have 5 months of chemo, followed by surgery and 6 weeks of radiation, with a little time to heal in between and after each phase of treatment.  Despite the shock, the fear, the overwhelming amount of new information that I had to absorb and the new reality to which I had to adjust, the step by step plan that was laid out in front of me was comforting.  I had a plan to cling to.  A way through this nightmare.  A road map. 

But when the plan changed along the way; or a sudden detour, unexpected bump, sharp turn in the road, or change in direction came up and the doctors weren’t sure what to do with the information, now that was really tough.   Whether it was a new pathology report, a second opinion, an unexpected complication from surgery, the announcement of a new clinical trial or the results of a new study, suddenly my GPS was RECALCULATING.  And recalculating. And recalculating.  The hardest part was the recalculating phase- waiting for answers, for clear directions from my medical professionals, for test results to come back, for decisions to be made.  It was so hard not knowing what was coming next, what was expected of me and what my newest reality was going to be.  It was, at best, unnerving; and at worst, terrifying.

While the GPS was recalculating, my mind would work overtime on the possibilities: Would there be more chemo?  Would I need some new medication?  Was this side effect permanent?  How would I adjust?  What was my next step?  What would that look like for me, for my family, for my future?

Sometimes, despite the difficulty of what is to come, it is comforting to have a plan.  When that plan suddenly changes – or worse - it needs to change but isn’t set yet, a patient can feel unnerved, unsettled, and uncertain.  Truly, there was enough uncertainty with the diagnosis of breast cancer, with the fear of recurrence, with unknown long-term side effects of treatment, I didn’t need any more uncertainty or fear in my life.

But recalculating is often part of the breast cancer experience.  It’s simply part of life.  Not everything goes according to plan- or I wouldn’t have gotten breast cancer in the first place!  Like everything else on this rollercoaster ride, it’s how we cope with the changes, the new information and the period of recalculating, that really matters.  For me, I had to learn to suspend the need for that GPS route list.  I had to stay in the moment, to focus on one day at a time, to use mindfulness and to think only about the step at hand, the street I was currently on, and maybe, just maybe, the one immediately after that.  And, while terrifying and unnerving at times, it was also somewhat liberating.  I would ask myself, “Am I okay at this moment?”, “Are my kids okay at this moment?”, “Am I surviving at this moment?”  And if the answer was yes, then I was okay.  At this moment.  For this step.  For this one turn.

Eventually, the GPS would figure out the new route, and tell me my next move.  ONE. STEP. AT. A.TIME.

Michelle Stravitz is an event planner with Atelier Events, LLC, a PCI-Certified Parent Coach, and the mother of four children, ages 14-22.  Michelle connected with Sharsheret in the summer of 2015, shortly after being diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Stage 2, and looks forward to being a peer supporter for other women like herself.  She has appreciated Sharsheret’s incredible support, most especially her Sharsheret counselor’s wealth of metaphors to help her see her way through different phases of treatment (and worry!) and most recently the incredibly insightful webinar on the Emotional Rollercoaster of Survivorship.

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As we approach the Passover holiday, we recall the journey that the Israelites took when they left Egypt, a journey that took them from a place of familiar (albeit enslaved) circumstances to a wilderness of unfamiliar twists, turns, and obstacles.  Their guidance system?  A Cloud, a symbol of God’s presence, which guided the Children of Israel through the desert.  As they traveled on this difficult journey, they quickly learned that there were to be many unexpected detours, obstacles, and challenges to be faced.  When they mistrusted the process of the journey, the results were certainly not great – especially when their resistance led to the building of the golden calf.   Difficult and variable journeys can be hard to navigate, especially when they present undesirable turns or unanticipated delays, but trust in the process can be so effective in managing the challenges.

Michelle Stravitz, a Sharsheret Peer Support Network participant, shares her cancer experience, mirroring this theme of unexpected journeys when facing a cancer diagnosis. Her message is timely as we are about to sit at our Passover Seders and contemplate past and future life journeys.


I don’t really like the GPS in my new car.  With my old GPS, I could press just one key and the route would be listed clearly and concisely, step by step; and as a result, I would know the full route just when I began driving.  I knew not only the next step and when to anticipate it, but the entire route, all the steps I was to encounter, when, and for how long.  With my new GPS, I get a clear, colorful map of the road I’m on and the next turn to make, but not a route list.  I miss my route list!

I’m a planner.  I always plan my week’s work carefully, our vacations down to the day, my children’s b’nai mitzvah weekends well in advance.  I plan ahead for family dinner menus, schedules, even my own exercise regimen.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, thankfully the doctors laid out a clear 9-month treatment plan.  First, I would have 5 months of chemo, followed by surgery and 6 weeks of radiation, with a little time to heal in between and after each phase of treatment.  Despite the shock, the fear, the overwhelming amount of new information that I had to absorb and the new reality to which I had to adjust, the step by step plan that was laid out in front of me was comforting.  I had a plan to cling to.  A way through this nightmare.  A road map.

But when the plan changed along the way; or a sudden detour, unexpected bump, sharp turn in the road, or change in direction came up and the doctors weren’t sure what to do with the information, now that was really tough.   Whether it was a new pathology report, a second opinion, an unexpected complication from surgery, the announcement of a new clinical trial or the results of a new study, suddenly my GPS was RECALCULATING.  And recalculating. And recalculating.  The hardest part was the recalculating phase- waiting for answers, for clear directions from my medical professionals, for test results to come back, for decisions to be made.  It was so hard not knowing what was coming next, what was expected of me and what my newest reality was going to be.  It was, at best, unnerving; and at worst, terrifying.

While the GPS was recalculating, my mind would work overtime on the possibilities: Would there be more chemo?  Would I need some new medication?  Was this side effect permanent?  How would I adjust?  What was my next step?  What would that look like for me, for my family, for my future?

Sometimes, despite the difficulty of what is to come, it is comforting to have a plan.  When that plan suddenly changes – or worse – it needs to change but isn’t set yet, a patient can feel unnerved, unsettled, and uncertain.  Truly, there was enough uncertainty with the diagnosis of breast cancer, with the fear of recurrence, with unknown long-term side effects of treatment, I didn’t need any more uncertainty or fear in my life.

But recalculating is often part of the breast cancer experience.  It’s simply part of life.  Not everything goes according to plan- or I wouldn’t have gotten breast cancer in the first place!  Like everything else on this rollercoaster ride, it’s how we cope with the changes, the new information and the period of recalculating, that really matters.  For me, I had to learn to suspend the need for that GPS route list.  I had to stay in the moment, to focus on one day at a time, to use mindfulness and to think only about the step at hand, the street I was currently on, and maybe, just maybe, the one immediately after that.  And, while terrifying and unnerving at times, it was also somewhat liberating.  I would ask myself, “Am I okay at this moment?”, “Are my kids okay at this moment?”, “Am I surviving at this moment?”  And if the answer was yes, then I was okay.  At this moment.  For this step.  For this one turn.

Eventually, the GPS would figure out the new route, and tell me my next move.  ONE. STEP. AT. A.TIME.

Michelle Stravitz is the CFO of Spectrum Management Consulting, Inc, a PCI-Certified Parent Coach, and the mother of four children, ages 15-23.  Michelle connected with Sharsheret in the summer of 2015, shortly after being diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, Stage 2, and serves as a peer supporter for other women like herself.  She is the co-founder of TwoUnstoppable, an organization which promotes and supports fitness for women with and after cancer through a buddy program.  She has appreciated Sharsheret’s incredible support, most especially her Sharsheret counselor’s wealth of metaphors to help her see her way through different phases of treatment (and worry!) and most recently the incredibly insightful webinar on the Emotional Rollercoaster of Survivorship.

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A New Take On The Four Passover Questions http://sharsheret.org/new-take-four-passover-questions/ http://sharsheret.org/new-take-four-passover-questions/#respond Thu, 06 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000 https://sharsheret.org/new-take-four-passover-questions/ By: Shera Dubitsky, Sharsheret Clinical Supervisor
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In just a few days, Jews all over the world will participate in the Passover Seder. We will read from the same text, engage in many of the same rituals. Yet each Seder is unique. Every family brings its own traditions to the Seder, how they prepare, who hosts, who takes the lead, and who will clean up the next morning after only a few hours of sleep.

Individually, our Seder experience changes year to year. It is quite amazing how I can read the same story over and over again, yet each repetition highlights different aspects of the story depending on what’s going on in my life at the time. Perhaps this is why we are directed to read this story annually. We are challenged to find new meaning and garner new strength to guide us along the varying milestones of the journey, bringing us out of uncertainty to seder (order).

I imagine that for those of you, like me, who have a family history of cancer, you may relate to those Jews who were debating whether or not to leave Egypt. “Is this a journey that is necessary for me to take or will I be safe enough here?”

For those of you who are diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer, perhaps you connect with the people who felt rushed to make a decision with limited information and time to prepare as they embarked on their journey to the unknown. “I know that my well-being is in jeopardy in this moment. I am tired. I am scared. How should I push forward?”

Many people who left Egypt survived the splitting of the sea, wandering in the wilderness, and the anticipation of the journey into Canaan, wondered about the challenges ahead. Perhaps their story resonates with those of you who are post-treatment. “I am in awe of everything that I have survived to this point. I have learned so much about myself and my family and friends, but there is that little voice whispering in my ear, what lies ahead for me?”

Family members who have a loved one living with breast or ovarian cancer may relate to Moses’ family, who played an active role in the Passover story. “How can I best support my loved one?”

These Four Questions are just a sampling of the questions we hear at Sharsheret on a daily basis. We receive calls from women differing in age and cultural background. Women call us at varying junctures along their breast cancer or ovarian cancer journeys. Although each individual and each family will have a unique approach to coping and navigating this journey, Sharsheret is here to help provide seder (order), to share information, and to offer support along the way. As you continue to revisit the Passover story, we encourage you to revisit Sharsheret along your journey. Here you will find renewed meaning and renewed hope.

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Coexisting With Cancer http://sharsheret.org/coexisting-with-cancer/ http://sharsheret.org/coexisting-with-cancer/#respond Tue, 04 Apr 2017 13:59:53 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=104909 Cancer is not a ‘journey’ nor a ‘gift’ nor did it give me a heightened sense of priorities. It is … Continue reading

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Cancer is not a ‘journey’ nor a ‘gift’ nor did it give me a heightened sense of priorities. It is a disease which must be treated. It cannot be ignored. It is dangerous. BUT, it is also something with which people can coexist. It does not always ruin people’s lives, disrupt them significantly, identify them, or cause unremitting terror every day. I’d always wondered how friends who’d been diagnosed with cancer could ever really enjoy their lives. Why would they bother with manicures or going out to lunch with friends or trying to get tickets to ‘Hamilton’—they had cancer. How could they have fun? The sword of Damocles was always over their heads, waiting to descend. They had to be faking their good cheer.

I realized that I’d done lots of things before July 28, 2014, when I was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. The cancer was always present. The cells were dividing away, maybe invading and traveling and relocating. But somehow, I’d done what I wanted. I just didn’t know that I had cancer. Then, I found out. But I was still able to do what I wanted. I’d just have to incorporate cancer into my life. I can have a life which includes that which is interesting and fun even as I deal with the cancer.

Finally, I do encourage full and thorough knowledge and investigation. Talk with people who have (or might have) cancer. Learn your family history. Get involved. There is no such thing as too much information. Sharsheret is a wonderful and supportive organization which provides so much. It is a source of emotional support, medical data, and resources with which to help cope with life. Yes, there are moments of fear & trembling. But the unsolicited friendship of Sharsheret is amazing. So so so so helpful, and I am so grateful and appreciative.

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Finding Support While In The Darkest Of Places http://sharsheret.org/finding-support-darkest-places/ http://sharsheret.org/finding-support-darkest-places/#respond Sun, 02 Apr 2017 18:57:20 +0000 http://sharsheret.org/?p=104860 I’ve known for 10 years, since the age of 23, that I was a BRCA2 carrier. Choices needed to be … Continue reading

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I’ve known for 10 years, since the age of 23, that I was a BRCA2 carrier. Choices needed to be made at some point, but with my doctor’s advice, I chose surveillance. I’d get married, have my kids and revisit my options at a later date. My doctors said I had until I was 40 years old.

Years went by and three weeks following my 33rd birthday, it finally felt right – January 25th was the day for my PROPHYLACTIC double mastectomy.
During my journey I had reached out to Sharsheret. Two excellent peer supporters gave me tips, encouragement and an outlet for anything I needed, leading up to, during, and after my surgery. I was emotionally moved at the outpouring of love and support I was feeling from people I didn’t even know.

Following my eight hour surgery the doctor emerged to the waiting area where my family sat waiting to hear the good news. The surgery was done and I was doing great, BUT some quick samples taken during surgery indicated that perhaps cancer got me before I got it!

Six days later, my breast surgeon phoned and said, “unfortunately the final pathology report shows a breast cancer diagnosis and while most of the cancer is contained (DCIS), there is an area which has already began to infiltrate the surrounding breast tissue. It’s a very small area and 100% curable.” Tears welled up in my eyes and my heart began pounding out of my chest. How could this happen to me? I’m so young and I had time! I WAS BEING PROACTIVE!

Chemo, radiation, fatigue, frightening my kids because I had no hair; what would the plan be? My life was turned upside down with these unanswered questions. My mind went to the darkest of places. I immediately turned back to Sharsheret who continued to guide me in the worst journey of my life. From emotional support, voices of reason and calming reassurance, to unexpected packages and gifts filled with resources and toys for my kids. It was all so bad, but Sharsheret helped to raise my spirits and hope while caring about me AND my family.

It’s been a rough two months…another surgery, sleepless nights, worrying about my future and my family; but I’ve finally come to peace knowing that I am cancer-free. I’m free from worries about needing chemo and radiation and beginning my new life with new bigger boobs, ongoing cancer prevention with just tamoxifen and surveillance AND a new family – Sharsheret. Thank you, Sharsheret, for all you’ve done for me. I will forever be here for all of you!

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