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This past year, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. My team of doctors prescribed chemotherapy and a dizzying array of tests and surgeries. As of this writing, my last surgery occurred a little over four months ago. There are moments when I think about what I’ve just been through and am stunned by the intensity of this last year and the fact that I am still here.
Though being sick is terrifying and at many times, infantilizing, cancer is a profound teacher. I’ve learned a great deal this past year, especially, that in addition to having a physical immune system, I also have a spiritual one. My spiritual care evolved in many ways. My brother and cousin flew out here to be with me and one of our rabbinic interns came to my apartment to sound the shofar as I wasn’t able to attend the High Holiday services last year, acts of kindness which I will never, ever forget. Many amazing friends from my synagogue community and from other parts of my life reached out and helped me with meals and with taking me to treatment appointments and holding my hand during chemo. Sharsheret was a huge part of strengthening my spiritual immune system. From pairing me with a peer supporter, connecting me to their staff genetic counselor who patiently explained complicated issues relevant to my being a BRCA carrier, to sending me a pillow so that I could rest more comfortably after surgery, the people at Sharsheret understood what I was going through.
As I continue my journey of transitioning from being a cancer patient to being a cancer survivor, it has become more and more important for me to pay it forward and help the next person who is diagnosed with this disease to navigate the world of coping with a life threatening disease. May we all continue to go from strength to strength.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, some people want to keep the news to themselves or share it only with a small group of loved ones. I was the opposite. I wanted to tell all of my family and friends. I wanted to serve as a “cautionary tale” to prompt my friends in their 30’s and 40’s to perform regular self-exams and get annual mammograms. I also wanted to surround myself with as many well-wishers as possible.
I am fortunate to have a wide circle of friends and family who are loving and supportive. People from all over the country asked me, “What can I do? How can I help?” I came up with the idea of making my mastectomy date “Wear Pink for Tammi Day”. I asked everyone to send me pictures of themselves, their family members, and even their pets wearing pink as a way to cheer me up after my surgery.
The response was incredible. On July 14th, the day of my surgery, I received more than 50 photos from friends, acquaintances, and friends-of-friends I didn’t even know, all of them wearing pink and wishing me well. When my parents and husband visited me in the hospital they wore matching t-shirts airbrushed with my name and a pink ribbon. When I came home from the hospital, our nanny had decorated the entire house in pink. She and my young sons made a photo collage on pink construction paper of themselves wearing pink and hung it in my bedroom so I could admire the photos as I recuperated in bed. My neighbor’s daughter made a pink beaded bracelet for me and I wear it every day.
I understand that this approach might not be meaningful to everyone, but for me, it was the best I could ever ask for. I felt completely enveloped in love and support which kept me in a bright disposition even on days when I was in pain or scared. I believe that this love and support helped fuel my recovery and I feel truly blessed to have such wonderful people in my life. I am very grateful to Sharsheret’s staff for the care packages of literature and comfort items they sent, and especially for providing ongoing support and connecting me with peer supporters. I recently signed up to serve as a peer supporter for other women facing breast cancer and look forward to sharing the kindness and compassion I received with the women of Sharsheret.
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By: Ruthie Arbit, Sema Heller Netivot Shalom Summer Intern
After 10 weeks of interning at Sharsheret, I can safely say that I went from a state of bewilderment from when I initially heard about Sharsheret in April to a state of admiration. Then, I was struck by the cause; I didn’t know that breast cancer and ovarian cancer were Jewish issues and I wondered what Sharsheret was doing to help Jewish women facing these illnesses. Now, I am in awe as I think about the callers, the peer supporters, and the volunteers who help us at Sharsheret do what we do.
The Sharsheret office is an incredible place. On any given day there is a string of devoted volunteers popping in and out, Team Sharsheret athletes coming in to meet with the staff, and the daily visit by the postman who picks up packages filled with hundreds of breast cancer and ovarian cancer brochures to be delivered to women and families, health care professionals, conferences, and Jewish organizations nationwide. Add all of this to the hard work that the dedicated staff at Sharsheret puts in – providing emotional support to women living with cancer and their families, answering countless questions from health care professionals about the unique needs of their Jewish patients, planning outreach events to spread the word about Sharsheret’s programs and services, coordinating medical symposia, and processing generous contributions from donors. It’s no surprise then that after only 10 years since its inception, Sharsheret has become an esteemed national organization with 11 programs, more than 1,200 peer supporters, and thousands of volunteers and supporters.
However, what impresses me most about Sharsheret are the women. The women who call Sharsheret for support as they ponder the potentially life-changing decision of whether or not to undergo genetic testing, the women who have just finished their final round of chemo and are already volunteering to be peer supporters, and those who are living with metastatic cancer and finding value in every day moments.
All of these women amaze me.
So, as I near the end of my internship, I want to say thank you to the women whose strength fuels the energy of Sharsheret. I am sure that this won’t be the last time I will be surprised by the amazing work of Sharsheret, its staff, and its women. Although my internship is ending, my connection to Sharsheret will remain strong. I look forward to joining Sharsheret’s volunteer force and contributing my time and skills to this wonderful organization.
© 2014 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer
Sharsheret is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization ID# 13-4198529
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