- About Us
- How We Help
- News & Media
- Get Involved
- Donate Now
The holiday of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. It is recorded that the people heard thunder and lightning, and clouds and smoke filled the air. The experience was overbearing to the senses. The children of Israel shook with fear. Ever have one of those days?
I imagine that those of you who have heard the words “You are BRCA positive,” or “You have cancer,” or “The cancer has come back,” experienced an overwhelming burden to your senses. Perhaps you, too, shook with fear. The ensuing thoughts that recur after hearing these words can be more agonizing than the realities. We are often overachievers when it comes to imagining worse case scenarios.
While we can’t stop intrusive thoughts from entering our lives, we can respond to the thoughts in a way that feels calming and empowering. When an intrusive thought comes my way, I imagine myself putting my arm around it, similar to the way that I would put my arm around someone’s shoulder, and I “say” to the thought: “I knew you were coming. I was expecting you. You can hang out, but I have things to do.” I find the more I welcome the thought, the less it overcomes me.
One woman in Sharsheret’s Embrace group for women living with advanced breast cancer shared, “I know that I feel more anxious when I’m waiting for test results or going to appointments. Those days I take the anxiety with me. All the days in between belong to me and the anxiety needs to find someone else to hang out with.” These wise words can calm the thunder and comfort the soul.
Finding a Mother’s Day gift for my wife Aviva is impossible. Let’s just say for her birthday in March, she got a sponge cake…that she made herself. The one reasonable gift I could get her is flowers, but she says she dislikes them because they’re expensive, die quickly, and make a mess when the petals fall off.
It was surprising to me, then, when Aviva and her sister Tova decided to sell flowers for Mother’s Day to benefit Sharsheret. Their mother passed away from breast cancer over ten years ago and they wanted to honor her memory with this sale. But why flowers, I wondered?
In their description of why they chose this fundraiser, Aviva and Tova wrote:
“As soon as Spring arrived, our mom would be outside working in the yard. We have amazing memories of helping her pluck weeds, plant perennials, and setting up the sprinkler perfectly to make sure each flower got watered. One year, we bought her a hydrangea bush for Mother's Day and each year after we would take pride in its growth and admire its beautiful lilac flowers.”
I never knew this about Hindy. Aviva and I started dating in December of 2001. Her mom was already sick then with her second diagnosis of breast cancer. She was still active at the time, but didn’t have the energy I so often hear people speak about when they mention her. By the time the summer came along, she was at the end of her life and watering flowers was the last thing on anyone’s mind. They had a beautiful yard, but I never knew how much Hindy worked to make it that way.
Aviva has picked up those same traits. She is the gardener in our house - trimming the bushes, planting flowers, even chopping down trees. It always amazed me how dedicated she was to making our garden beautiful and I never knew how much of it was influenced by her mother.
That’s the difference, I believe, between buying flowers and growing a garden. Toiling away at the garden is hard work with great rewards. Buying flowers is the easy way out. They are beautiful, but they don’t give you the same satisfaction as working on your yard. Gardening can be frustrating and can take years to truly perfect, but in the end, it’s something you can be proud of. In essence, it’s no different from parenting. You cultivate your kids over time and as they grow, you try to mold them into good, respectful people. It’s no surprise that Aviva, the yard expert, is also an amazing mom. Hindy, her mother, was exactly the same.
In memory of their mother, Aviva and Tova aren’t just selling flowers. They are working hard to cultivate a living memory by donating a Jewel to Sharsheret. They worked hard on finding a florist, writing copy, and spreading the word about Sharsheret. These flowers were not easy to buy; they were earned and cultivated, a trait they learned from their mother. I think she’d be proud. I know I am.
To make a donation in support of Sharsheret, please visit their online fundraising page at http://bit.ly/12oVX0A. Thank you so much.
We are going to be running the Baltimore Marathon 5K on October 12th in memory of our grandmother, Ruth Merwitz. Our "Mom Mom" passed away this past January from Primary Peritoneal Cancer which has symptoms very similar to Ovarian Cancer. Mom Mom was a very warm and caring person who had a very unique way of making everyone around her feel special. Everyone loved her because she was such a joy to be around. She loved to laugh and enjoyed everything about life. She cared with such kindness and such a big and open heart and so unconditionally. She was truly an amazing person. All of us, her 8 grandchildren, thought we were her favorite because of the way she made us feel- so loved, so cared for, so special, so complete.
Being Jewish was something that was very important to Mom Mom. We always loved spending time with her having sleepovers, playing games, and going on outings. But we especially loved being with her for the Jewish Holidays. We do not think we will ever taste matzo ball soup as good as hers! Mom Mom will forever live in our hearts and we will always remember the special times we spent together.
Doing things for others is what truly made Mom Mom happy. To honor the loving person she was, we have decided to support Team Sharsheret for our Bat and Bar Mitzvah projects. We hope that we can help save lives and prevent other families from ever having to feel the pain of losing someone they love. Please consider either joining our team on October 12th or supporting us by clicking here to make a donation to Sharsheret in honor of our very special Mom Mom, Ruth Merwitz.
As she used to always tell us,
we love you to the moon and back!
Ally Merwitz and Evan Feuerman
The New York Times recently ran an article by Susan Gubar, “Living With Cancer: The Good Patient Syndrome”, that questioned the importance of being a model patient. When Susan was first diagnosed, she was agreeable, nodding politely when meeting with her doctors. She worried that if she asked too many questions, she would be unintentionally neglected or harmed by her medical team.
One woman in Sharsheret’s Embrace group for women living with advanced cancer noted that each time she went to an oncologist appointment she felt unnoticed by the office staff and her doctor. One day, she went straight to her appointment from a Brit (circumcision). She was dressed up and wearing makeup. The office staff was quite complimentary and paid her a lot of attention. Her oncologist, who typically spoke to her while reading her file, engaged in eye contact and remarked how wonderful she looked. This woman decided that from then on, she would put on some lipstick and go to her appointments well-dressed. She told the group she felt as if she was now “dating” her oncologist - she wanted to be noticed.
Many women call Sharsheret with questions following a doctor’s appointment or scans – questions that are reasonable to ask their doctor during an appointment. Yet, they are afraid to ask these questions because they don’t want to come across as untrusting. When you have concerns, you may not pick up the phone and call the doctor because you “don’t want to bother them”. You worry about being labeled a “difficult patient”. At the end of the day, it’s your body, it’s your life. Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself because if you don’t, something serious may go unnoticed.
As we prepare for the Passover holiday, we are reminded of how the Jewish people were obedient and compliant for fear of further harm at the hands of the Egyptians. Moses was also worried about his ability to stand up to Pharaoh on behalf of the Jewish people, worried that he would make an already bad situation worse. In reality, it was only when Moses spoke up and advocated for his people that he and the Jews were set free. What would have become of the Jewish people if Moses did not stand up for them? I’m adding this question to the already established Four Questions that will be recited at my Seder as a reminder to empower myself in the pursuit of health and well-being.
Many important studies were presented last week at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer in Los Angeles, CA. Among them were two studies that were covered in multiple media outlets, including the New York Times (click here to read the article). The first study looked at more than 13,000 women with ovarian cancer and found that women are 30 percent less likely to die of ovarian cancer if they have guideline-recommended treatment. Yet, nearly two-thirds of those women do not receive it. Guidelines for ovarian cancer specify types of surgical procedures and chemotherapy, often the need for debulking surgery prior to chemotherapy. The study found that surgeons who were more experienced in gynecologic oncology surgery, and hospitals that treated more women with ovarian cancer, were more likely to follow the guidelines, which translated to better outcomes for their patients. The second study looked at the method of delivery of chemotherapy to patients. Intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, where chemotherapy drugs are pumped directly into the abdomen, utilizes the same chemotherapy agents often administered intravenously. While IP chemotherapy is more toxic, and logistically more complicated than IV chemotherapy, there is clearly a benefit in terms of survival rate.
For you, the patient, these studies underscore the importance of making sure that you act as your own advocate by asking to be treated by a physician with ovarian cancer expertise and experience who practices according to available guidelines. For ovarian cancer information and support, please call Sharsheret at 866.474.2774 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ethan Wasserman, MD
Sharsheret Medical Advisory Board Member
The holiday of Purim celebrates the overcoming of Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews - a pretty serious and scary scenario. And yet, there is an inherent silliness in the celebration of Purim. We dress up in costumes, we intentionally shout out and interrupt the reader of the megillah, and we overindulge in candy, sweets, and wine. We invert the frightful reality of the Jews as the target of an evil plot and find our humor.
The definitive research into the potential health benefits of laughter haven’t been done yet. However, there is a tremendous amount of research that suggests that humor and a good attitude do impact the healing process. Some studies have shown that laughter affects the way our bodies function and we do change physiologically when we laugh. There is also some research that suggests that laughter improves mental functions such as alertness, memory, and creativity. It can also ease anxiety and fear, relieve stress, improve our moods, and enhance resilience and acceptance.
I feel encouraged and inspired that many women calling Sharsheret have found humor as a coping strategy when navigating the very frightening world of cancer. One woman shared the following humorous anecdote:
“Someone told me that the best way to achieve inner peace was to finish things I had started. Today I finished two bags of potato chips, a lemon pie, a fifth of Jack Daniels, and a small box of chocolate candy. I feel better already.”
Laughter is a natural intervention that can be accessed any time. It doesn’t cost anything. There is no need to haggle with insurance companies for coverage. Laughter relies on the natural physiological process to help you manage the emotional side effects of living with cancer. My wish for all of you is that you find humor, and that in turn, that humor will help you tolerate the difficulties, overcome the unexpected, and free your spirit. Happy Purim!
A family Chanukah party: Latkes have been eaten, candles are lit, and it’s time to gather for a game of dreidel. Everyone finds a position at the table, the chocolate coins are distributed, and the dreidel is placed in the center.
Everyone antes up. A minute has passed, two minutes. The game does not start while the dreidel remains idle on the table. If you stand the dreidel up - it will just tip over. You have to spin the dreidel to keep it standing. You have to spin the dreidel to make the game meaningful. And I love that everyone has their own technique on how to spin the dreidel.
The letters on the side of the dreidel indicate how you will fare during that turn. Will your spin of the dreidel result in needing to put more into the pot? Will you walk away with something? Half? The whole thing? Where will things stand on your next turn?
When you experience medical or emotional challenges, you feel like you are spinning. You may not know where you are going to land. Going through the motions of doctor appointments and treatment is critical for survival. But your own technique of how you spin the experience is helpful in finding meaning. The personal spin you put on it can move you beyond surviving to thriving.
Sometimes it’s hard to find the right spin. You may try to make the best of it, but it’s tiring to have to put a good spin on things during each step of this journey. You may be asked to ante up again emotionally and you worry that your resources will run dry. But there is always the next turn. Stay in the game. Continue trying to bring meaning to this experience. Who knows – on your next turn you may just walk away with a stack of chocolate coins that, when unwrapped, will reveal that you’ve learned something new about yourself.
Wishing you a happy Chanukah!
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
I was sitting shiva after the passing of my father a few months ago when a friend and fellow attorney, Jennifer, stopped by to give her condolences. While we were catching up, Jennifer mentioned that she volunteers at Sharsheret and was helping to coordinate the organization's team at the Making Strides Walk in New York City on October 21st. I had heard of Sharsheret and actually had seen a Sharsheret pen in the kitchen “pen drawer” that morning, but I didn't know what the organization did. Jennifer went on to explain Sharsheret's mission of supporting Jewish women and families facing breast cancer. I was truly moved by her words and Sharsheret's incredible programs and services and knew that I had to get involved with this amazing organization. Part of Jennifer's job was to secure corporate sponsorships for Team Sharsheret. I immediately jumped on board as a Team Champion sponsor. I am proud to lead Team Sharsheret's 2012-2013 sponsors and look forward to a most successful event this Sunday.
Englewood Hospital and Medical Center & The Leslie Simon Breast Care and Cytodiagnosis Center
Geller and Company
Glatt Express Supermarket/Lazy Bean
Shari and Nathan Lindenbaum
Teaneck Radiology Center, LLC
Lisa Altman Foundation
Marble Dental LLC
Debbie and Michael Blumenthal
Hillel International – Hunter College, Brooklyn College, Baruch College
Michael Strauss Silversmiths
Pediatric Occupational Therapy Services
The Rocking Chair, A Women's Wellness Center
The Sixteenth Street Synagogue
Yeshiva University, Stern College for Women
I remember sitting in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a child, watching the clock and counting how many pages of prayer were left in the service. I wanted to run out when the Rabbi began speaking. And the silent prayer – well, that just went on forever. “Oh my goodness, will this ever end?”
As an adult, I now appreciate the High Holiday services. I love the melodies that unite the congregation into one harmonious voice. The Rabbi’s message gives me much to contemplate. That silent prayer, though, is still a challenge. Occasionally, my private thoughts are comforting and invigorating but sometimes, the silence is too much to bear. Either way, it is in this stillness of my mind that I have learned the most about myself.
My true journey takes place in the quietude. All the events that happen in my life are just the junctures - first steps, graduations, jobs, weddings, children, or illness – are all merely points in time. It is in the quiet reflection that I ascribe the meaning.
When facing ovarian cancer or breast cancer, life may seem to swirl around you – doctors’ visits, scans, treatments, and follow-ups, while maintaining jobs and families. These things impact your family life, your financial well-being, and your emotional and physical health. I suspect that at one time or another you may have thought, “Oh my goodness, will this ever end?” As Sharsheret Peer Supporter Beverly Levy shared in her National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month blog post, “I’ve decided cancer is like Whack-A-Mole, the arcade game where you whack a little critter over the head and another one pops up where you don’t expect it. But just like in the arcade, there are good times along the way. You don’t know how many moles you will have to clobber, how long it will take, and how you’ll do it – but you will. I can’t enjoy today if all I can think about is tomorrow and I can’t do anything about it anyway so head up, smile on face, and enjoy all the great things life has to offer.”
In this holiday season, I encourage you to take advantage of the stillness, whether in prayer, meditation, or just finding a quiet time to reflect on how this past year has unfolded, what meaning it has held for you, and what your hopes, dreams, and aspirations are as you move forward. All of us at Sharsheret hope that you will find strength, renewal, and meaning as you celebrate this upcoming New Year.
© 2013 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer
Sharsheret is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization ID# 13-4198529
Designed by Firefly Partners