SHARSHERET BENEFIT LUNCHEON MAY 17, 2009
Good afternoon and, on behalf of the Board of Directors of Sharsheret, thank you for being here. I am Rochie Shoretz, Founder of Sharsheret and President of the Board. In these challenging economic times, we so appreciate your continued support of Sharsheret – a support that is even more vital this year for women and families facing costly medical challenges of their own.
Not many people can claim that they enjoy Board meetings of any kind. But over the years, I have had the privilege of working with an incredible group of men and women who have helped shape Sharsheret’s growth in a way that is truly inspiring. This past year, our Board of Directors undertook an extensive strategic planning process to map out the expansion of our organization to address the needs of Jewish women living with ovarian cancer, and we look forward to sharing the results of that effort with you all in the years ahead. Please join me in thanking my fellow Board members for their tireless service and their selfless dedication to Sharsheret: Sherry Cohen, Keith Mendelson, Amy Mines Tadelis, Tani Mirsky, Dana Norris, Jacob Plotsker, Nikki Sausen, Ariel Schochet, Naomi Spira, and Lauryn Weiser. None of our grand ideas as a Board could be implemented without the Director of Operations at Sharsheret, Elana Silber, who keeps us on track and moving forward, and always with a smile – no matter how great the task. And anyone who has met our staff and our interns – Shera Dubitsky, Ellen Kleinhaus, Rebecca Schwartz, Michael Lowy, and Malke Grunberger – knows how truly blessed we are at Sharsheret. Please join us in thanking Elana and the staff of Sharsheret for today’s beautiful event and for all of Sharsheret’s meaningful programs.
When I look around this room and see all 450 of you, it is hard to imagine a time without Sharsheret. But eight years ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time, there was no organization dedicated to supporting young Jewish women facing breast cancer. I was 28 years old, raising two young children, and more than anything, I felt alone.
I have often said that Sharsheret’s success is not the product of one woman’s efforts – that there are thousands of angels who are sitting on my shoulders as Sharsheret grows at a remarkable pace. But these past few months, I have had the privilege of sitting on Sharsheret’s shoulders as I face breast cancer a second time. After my mastectomy in February, I received a Pillow of Support from Sharsheret to elevate my arm, just as so many of you have. Sharsheret’s Link Program has connected me with another woman who opted for the same reconstructive surgery that I was considering. And as I struggle with the concerns of a woman living with Stage IV breast cancer, I have had the support of Sharsheret’s Embrace Program, designed to address the needs of those living with advanced breast cancer. The Sharsheret, the chain, of support that I began eight years ago has come full circle. I began as a link in that chain and now use the strength of other links for my own support.
I am no longer alone in my journey. I have a Sharsheret family.
You are all a part of that Sharsheret family. And, as with all family, we will share good news and we will share sad news. I know that my latest diagnosis is difficult for all of us, and the staff and I thought long and hard about how and when we would share that news. Eight years ago, there was nothing more frightening than the thought of being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer for which, as yet, there is no known cure. But I want to reassure you all that, like so many of our Sharsheret callers diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, I am living and enjoying life, one day at a time.
A friend recently invited me out late at night and though I’m always game for fun, I replied via text that I couldn’t meet because I was “headed to the DR” the very next day. Two days later, I received a very thoughtful email from the same friend who wanted to know how my doctor’s appointment had gone. “I’m on vacation in the Dominican Republic”, I texted back. “DR”, as in “Dominican Republic” – not “doctor”.
The moral of that true story is: I’m living life. I’m not lying on an examination table every day. Sometimes, I’m just lying on the beach. Yes, I am busy with treatments and scans, and I spend lots of time in waiting rooms. But I will continue to weave all this into the fabric of my REAL life – a life that is full of laughter and overflowing with the love of friends and family – my sons, Shlomo and Dovid, my parents and siblings, and of course, my Sharsheret family.
Our guests of honor today – Rochelle Hirsch and Naava Parker – formed their own unique family and, together, created a resource to help other families with young children who are facing breast cancer. Rochelle and Naava, both breast cancer survivors, were introduced by a mutual friend and co-authored “Lumps and Bumps”, a book for children that has recently been purchased by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for its youth support program. Like all of Sharsheret’s links and callers, these incredible women began as strangers, but became fast friends, as they used their talents and their shared experience to help others facing the same challenges they had faced years ago.
This is not Rochelle’s first entrepreneurial endeavor. The founder of the 18 year-old Creative Playschool at Fifth Avenue Synagogue and its current chairman, Rochelle and her husband of 37 years, David, were also the original founders of the Upper East Side Hatzolah.
Naava has served as a Sharsheret link for many years and, with her family in Englewood, has been active at the UJA, Emunah, Congregation Ahavat Torah, Ramaz, and the Moriah School.
Naava Parker and Rochelle Hirsch are stellar examples of women who use the experience of their own difficult journeys to smooth the path for those walking behind them. I know firsthand what an impact a book like theirs can have on a family struggling with breast cancer. The morning of my most recent surgery, I woke up to find my boys reading “Lumps and Bumps” to each other at the breakfast table. Naava had thoughtfully dropped off an advance copy of the book at my home, and the boys flipped through the pages as they prepared to start their day. I know that the book reassured them that breast cancer happens to lots of other families. But more important, “Lumps and Bumps” reassured me, their mom, that my childrens’ experience had been validated.
Rochelle and Naava’s undertaking in light of their own experience is an inspiration to all of the women of Sharsheret. They have continued the Sharsheret tradition of turning adversity into opportunity. For their contribution to the breast cancer community and to the community of women and families we serve, Sharsheret is proud to recognize Rochelle Hirsch and Naava Parker.