Building Our Jewish Multicultural Family: A Breast Cancer Survivor Story
One of my favorite memories of when my twin daughters, Sophie and Rachel, were three was when they got into trouble with their nursery teacher for telling friends that they hadn’t come from their mother’s womb, but rather their aunt’s. Sophie and Rachel weren’t just a pair of imaginative toddlers telling tall tales. Theirs is an extraordinary life, as is the multicultural Jewish family that my husband, Jamie, and I made with their two other siblings, Levi and Ruby.
This story begins when I was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 years ago, before Sharsheret was founded. I was 28, happily married, and living my best life until I heard those fateful words – you have breast cancer. I was lucky to have the constant and unwavering support of my family and friends, but, still, breast cancer at 28 can be a lonely experience. As I was in treatment, I read an article about another young mom who had been recently diagnosed and was launching an organization to provide support for Jewish women with breast cancer. I immediately called Sharsheret and spoke with the incomparable founder, Rochelle Shoretz A”H. We spoke for hours, and I received the support that I needed, the connection that I had been missing. It felt like the weight of my diagnosis and treatment had been lifted.
As we took on the challenges of breast cancer treatment and surgeries, Jamie and I never gave up on our dream of having children. Luckily, with the support of my medical team, before I started chemotherapy, I began the process of in vitro fertilization and had eggs extracted, fertilized, and frozen. For months we shuttled between home and hospital as I underwent chemotherapy following a bilateral mastectomy and as Jamie studied for the bar exam. Sharsheret was always there, too, to provide personal support whenever and however I needed it.
Revisiting the subject of children after I returned to work, we received conflicting advice from doctors about whether or not I could or should carry a fetus to term. As we were debating and considering our options, my brother’s wife, my sister-in-law, Elizabeth Mines, volunteered the most loving, selfless, and generous solution: she would be our surrogate and carry our child into this world. We were beyond touched and overjoyed. After deep consideration, we gratefully accepted her offer. With incredible courage, support, and medical care, we became a family of four when Sophie and Rachel were born.
But my story doesn’t end there. In 2006, we relocated our family to Hong Kong because of Jamie’s job. Sophie and Rachel were growing up; we always dreamed of having a big family. Having used all of our frozen embryos to have the girls, we needed to decide if we were willing to undergo another round of IVF and all of the hormones associated with it, prior to having my ovaries prophylactically removed. After much consideration, we once again decided to expand our family in a way that would not put me at any increased risk for a recurrence of my breast cancer. We turned to the adoption unit in the Social Welfare Department in Hong Kong where we were living. After months of rigorous assessments, classes, and visits with case workers, we matched with a three-year-old boy we named Levi and became a family of five. In a surprise twist, during Levi’s adoption process, we learned he had a newborn sister. There was no debate; if and when she was available for adoption we would welcome this most special baby girl into our family. After more than two long years of waiting, our precious gift, Ruby Shai, came home. Our beautiful family was now complete.
Our children enrich our lives every day. While Levi and Ruby are Chinese and have converted to Judaism and Sophie and Rachel are of Jewish descent, ethnicity has never been an issue. We are simply a family. Their personalities all come together perfectly.
This past August, I was lucky enough to celebrate my 18th Chai anniversary of being cancer free, a few short months before Sharsheret’s 18th Chai anniversary. From the very first day when I picked up the phone to call Sharsheret, my life has been interwoven with Sharsheret’s chain. Over the past 18 years, I have been fortunate to play many roles at Sharsheret from volunteer to staff member, to even President of the Board of Directors. But the most meaningful role has been benefiting from both sides of our support program —
I have been a caller and a Link, a peer supporter.
As a caller, I sought support and advice for myself on numerous issues including most recently when I learned the upsetting news that my breast implants had been recalled. And, as a Link, I have shared my story bringing strength and hope to others. Sharsheret helped me heal by offering specific support whenever I had a question. Sharsheret also provided me with a purpose and an opportunity to share my experiences in the hopes of making even one woman’s experience with breast cancer easier and just a little bit less lonely.
My Sharsheret story began when I found someone to talk to, who truly understood what I was going through, and 18 years later my Sharsheret story continues to unfold.