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I recently completed a fundraiser at my school in Israel, in which we raised nearly $600. I sold candy baskets to my friends as gifts for our hosts over Rosh Hashanah and Succot as well as every Shabbat over the past two months. I never expected it to be so successful. Both my friends and the hosts truly enjoyed being involved in this opportunity to support Sharsheret. As I noticed that we were raising a lot of money here in Jerusalem, I sent out a mass e-mail to friends and family back home in Baltimore. My dad collected an additional $622 to match my efforts abroad. I am proud to announce that my mom, dad, brother, and I will complete this amazing fundraiser with another $178 to reach the final total of $1,400 raised in support of Sharsheret's programs.
I'm sure you're wondering how I got involved with Sharsheret. My mom is a 12-year survivor of breast cancer. I remember the day my parents sat down with me and my brother and informed us that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was young and naive. I didn't really understand the ramifications of this disease, and even to this day, it is difficult to wrap my head around its impact on my life. I remember one afternoon leaving my mom comfortably in bed to go watch the Ravens win the Superbowl. When I returned home, I went immediately into the bedroom and saw her in high spirits despite the effects of her chemotherapy treatment. My mom epitomizes what it means to be a fighter. She has helped me achieve my goals in life and I see this as an opportunity to give back to her.
I heard about Sharsheret at the University of Maryland when its founder, Rochelle Shoretz, spoke at a Hillel event last October. It seemed like an incredible organization that did amazing work for those impacted by breast cancer. I know that the money I raised will be put to good use. Thank you for all of the exceptional work that you do to raise awareness and assist those women and their families who are fighting this disease.
My grandmother died in 1995 after a long battle with breast cancer. In all of the years of her illness, I cannot recall her using the word "cancer". She spoke of being "sick", "weak", "unwell", and she asked me, on her death bed, to remember her. "Don't forget me," she would say repeatedly, frail and bald and unlike the confident Bubby who had pushed me on the park swing as a child, arms made strong from years of sewing sweaters in a factory. I remember sitting beside her, law books in my lap as I studied for exams by her hospital bedside, thinking that her request was odd: "Don't forget me". How could I forget her, my own grandmother, who had helped raise me?
But the reality of my grandmother's generation was that those with cancer were often forgotten. The disease itself was not discussed. Some whispered about "Yeneh Machlah" - "that disease" - in Yiddish. Others would refer to the "C word", without actually uttering the word itself. Fears of "Ayin Harah" - the evil eye - shadowed real conversations about cancer, and concerns about marriagibility among family members forced many into a hiding of sorts.
Eleven years ago last week, I, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time - 28 years old, an attorney raising two young children. And sadly, not much had changed in the Jewish community since my grandmother's diagnosis. Despite the plethora of organizations addressing community needs, there was no Jewish response to breast cancer although 1 in 40 Jews of Ashkenazi descent carries a gene mutation that makes us almost 10 times more likely to develop hereditary breast, ovarian, and related cancers. New research points to genetic susceptibility among Sephardi Jewish families as well.
I founded Sharsheret, a national breast cancer organization addressing the needs of Jewish women and families facing breast cancer, to fill that void. In the past 10 years, we have launched 11 national programs, including one addressing ovarian cancer among Jewish families. We have welcomed more than 1,600 women to our National Peer Support Network. We have responded to more than 24,000 breast cancer inquiries, presented more than 250 education programs nationwide, and educated students on more than 150 campuses across the country. We have been awarded a seat on the Federal Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women and federal grants to develop programming specific for Jewish women and families affected by breast cancer.
Perhaps even more than Sharsheret has accomplished on its own, I am proud that we have paved the way to welcome neighbors into this once lonely community of cancer advocacy and support. Today there are more than 30 Sharsheret Supports partners - Jewish organizations that develop local breast cancer and ovarian cancer programs nationwide - adding to the growing Jewish communal response to cancer.
As I mark my 40th birthday today, a two-time cancer survivor, I celebrate not only the life with which I have been blessed, but the lives of those, like my grandmother, whose cancer journeys - no longer a forgotten whisper - have found their voice.
Only 10 days until the New York City Triathlon and our staff members Rochelle, Elana, and Ellen are ready to take on the triathlon as a relay team if YOU can help us get 1,000 new Facebook fans! Tell your friends to "like" our page – www.facebook.com/sharsheret.org - and post your name on our wall as the person who referred them and not only will you and one lucky friend be eligible to win an iTunes gift card, but Elana will swim in the Hudson, Rochelle will ride her bike on the West Side Highway, and Ellen will lace up her sneakers and cross the finish line in Central Park next Sunday! We're ready to take on the 10-day challenge - are you?!?
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.
We are excited to introduce Team Sharsheret’s 10 athletes who will compete in the Nautica/NYC Triathlon on August 7, 2011. Our athletes have been training hard for this Olympic Distance Race that includes a 1500m swim, a 40k bike, and a 10k run! Please join us in supporting their athletic and fundraising efforts as they take on this incredible challenge.
© 2013 Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer
Sharsheret is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization ID# 13-4198529
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