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Over the course of 2022, Sharsheret has distributed $446,000 in financial subsidies to improve the quality of life for 482 … Continue reading →
The poet Yehuda Amichai must not have been privileged to have an encounter with Rochelle Shoretz, the founder of Sharsheret, when he crafted the poem:
A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose.
Ecclesiastes was wrong about that.
Rochelle Shoretz, a woman who embraced her gifts and used them to navigate her challenges, was 28 years old and had just finished clerking for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court when she noticed an indentation in one of her breasts. It was Stage II cancer, and she beat it. While on chemotherapy, she opted to decline lucrative and prestigious legal jobs, and instead began Sharsheret, an organization that supports thousands of young women with breast cancer.
I think it best to help each of you understand exactly how incredibly special Rochelle was by sharing with you her own words from a journal she kept a few years later in the aftermath of receiving a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer. One of many poetic entries read:
This morning I went to say Birchat Hachama – a blessing on the sun that is recited every 28 years-with my friends…I had heard about the blessing in Synagogue last weekend, but I didn’t quite recognize the significance of the event until my friend came to visit last night. She insisted that I go this morning and taught me that at the end of the recitation of the blessing, you are supposed to turn to your right and to your left, and tell each person standing next to you, “See you in 28 years.”
I’ll take 28 years.
So this morning, as the clouds parted to make room for the sun, I recited the blessing with friends and we promised to meet back in the park in 2037. Then we danced…It was cold, but the sun was shining and I was in the park with the people I love….”
Rochelle, otherwise known as Rochie, by those of us privileged to really know her, did not receive the gift of those 28 years. But she knew how to make every single moment count, so her “years” were longer than most of ours.
Her secret was that she “stayed in the sunshine,” after all as she herself often cited, “It costs the same as staying in the clouds.” A dear friend of hers who spoke at her funeral expressed that “Rochie’s life was painted in huge brushstrokes. She always fired on all 6 cylinders.”
Testimony to that energy is that precisely when first undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy at age 28, she founded Sharsheret (Hebrew for “chain”), a national organization supporting young Jewish women facing breast cancer.
When diagnosed for the second time with metastatic breast cancer, Rochie wrote:
“As someone living with a sharpened sense of the value of time, I appreciate, that although I have done a lot of amazing things in 40 short years …..nothing has given my life more meaning than sharing Sharsheret’s unapologetically Jewish message worldwide.”
Sharsheret began as an organization of forging links between women who share a language of experience. It offered peer support, and continues to do so, in a very real way, for so many women. Rochelle herself was the first link. The organization established educational programs; cosmetic support for young women undergoing chemotherapy with a “Best Face Forward” initiative; and Busy Boxes filled with age appropriate toys for the children of young women undergoing chemotherapy to help keep the children happy and occupied.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik expounded in an essay entitled Kol Dodi Dofek that when one is suffering: “I ask one simple question: What must the sufferer do so that he (or she) may live through his (or her) suffering? We ask neither about the cause of suffering nor about its purpose, but, rather, about how it might be mended and elevated.”
This is precisely the question Rochie incessantly asked herself. And answered.
Rochelle Shoretz chose to “stay in the sunshine.” She shared that “they often say when you lose one of five senses, your others are enhanced….I wonder if life feels so much more powerful and vibrant to me precisely because I lost some of my health.”
She approached her illness not as fate, but as destiny, building Sharsheret and thereby forging close, critical relationships not only between herself and others but also forging critical connections for a multitude of women who otherwise would have remained so isolated by their illness. What a powerful role model for each of us.
Hackensack, New Jersey (July 27, 2004) — Sharsheret, a national not-for-profit organization supporting young women facing breast cancer, has launched Best Face Forward, a new program to help young women address the cosmetic side effects of breast cancer treatments. More than 250,000 women under 40 in the United States are currently living with breast cancer. Side effects of standard radiation and chemotherapy treatments include hair loss, thinning eyebrows and eyelashes, dry skin, and changes in skin tone.
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It’s true when they say time flies when you’re having fun.
This summer I had the privilege of interning at Sharsheret. I cannot believe that it has already been nine weeks, and my time at Sharsheret is almost over!
When I first heard about Sharsheret, I did not understand how breast and ovarian cancer were Jewish concerns. I did not understand genetic risk or culturally relevant support. However, over the past nine weeks, I have watched Sharsheret staff with inspiration as they provided individualized support to callers, matched peer supporters, worked with healthcare professionals to provide culturally relevant support to patients, worked on national outreach programs, attended conferences, organized teleconferences, webinars, and medical symposia as resources for survivors and tools to educate others about the most up to date cancer research, and worked with athletes and volunteers to raise awareness about Sharsheret’s mission.
Sharsheret is an extremely welcoming place. I remember how nervous I was my first day as an intern. However, Sharsheret staff went out of their way to make me feel welcome as a member of their team, even on my first day. The passion, dedication, and kindness of Sharsheret staff is contagious, as one cannot help but smile in awe when walking into the Sharsheret office. The office is always bustling with volunteers, students, and staff. The phone is constantly ringing in the clinical office, and the fulfillment center is always bustling with activity as Thriving Again kits, Busy Boxes, and Best Face Forward kits are being sent out to women.
Each day I am more and more amazed by Sharsheret. The callers, the volunteers, the impact, and the energy the organization has is unmatchable. But I am most inspired by the women. The links that keep Sharsheret’s chain growing. The women who debate undergoing genetic testing. The mother newly diagnosed who is already looking to serve as a resource for others. The wife who just finished her first round of chemo. Women at all different stages in their cancer journeys, diagnosed at various stages. The woman who called Sharsheret right before surgery to thank us for our support. We must thank these women for their bravery, courage, and constant inspiration because without them Sharsheret would not exist.
As I near the end of my time at Sharsheret, I want to thank all the women, volunteers, staff, and Sharsheret supporters that help make Sharsheret the incredible organization that it is. I am sad to be leaving, but I look forward to continuing to support Sharsheret and spreading the word about this amazing organization!
Hackensack, New Jersey (July 26, 2005) — Sharsheret, a national not-for-profit organization supporting young Jewish women facing breast cancer, will publish and distribute 40,000 new booklets entitled “Facing Breast Cancer as a Jewish Woman” with support from The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. This booklet is the third publication in Sharsheret’s booklet series, the only culturally sensitive resource available to Jewish women and families facing breast cancer nationwide. Continue reading →
The summer after graduation, I stumbled upon a job listing for a Program Associate at a non-profit organization named Bay … Continue reading →
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.
Hackensack, New Jersey (July 26, 2005) — Sharsheret, a national not-for-profit organization supporting young Jewish women facing breast cancer, will launch three new programs in time for October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The programs will address the specific concerns of women living in the advanced stages of breast cancer and the needs of family members and caregivers, and will include a moderated web-based forum to build community and provide support for young Jewish women facing breast cancer nationwide.
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Hackensack, New Jersey (October 7, 2005) — Sharsheret, a national not-for-profit organization supporting young Jewish women facing breast cancer, will launch three new programs in time for October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The programs will address the specific concerns of women living in the advanced stages of breast cancer and the needs of family members and caregivers, and will include a moderated web-based forum to build community and provide support for young Jewish women facing breast cancer nationwide.
Continue reading →
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.
Teaneck, New Jersey (December 15, 2005) – Sharsheret, a national not-for-profit organization supporting young Jewish women facing breast cancer, has launched Family Focus, a program to address the concerns of the Jewish family facing breast cancer. The Family Focus Program includes Sharsheret’s new booklet, “The Jewish Family Facing Breast Cancer,” along with a packet of resource materials to guide family members and caregivers through treatment and beyond. Continue reading →