*This message appeared in the special edition of The Jewish Federations National Women’s Philanthropy (NWP) newsletter
It is with great honor that I write this D’var Torah. The women of Federation and National Women’s Philanthropy are some of the strongest, most interesting, and caring women I know. So, to have a chance to share some thoughts about Toldot is a chance I would not, could not, pass up. But what to share? I went back and re-read the parasha. Should I discuss the story of Jacob and Esau; their struggles over birthright and blessings? No, that’s not what interested me the most. At the beginning of the parsha there is a line that Rebekah says: “And the children struggled together within her and she said ‘If it be so, wherefore do I live?’” (Gen. XXV, v. 22)
I started to think about this. The struggle with things that happen in one’s body. The questions that we ask as we struggle with our bodies. My thoughts turned from pregnancy to struggles I have experienced. In 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although I could not feel it, surely there was a huge struggle going on in my body. Cancer cells were trying to take over. The good news is that I am six years cancer free.
Rebekah, when faced with the struggle in her body turns to G-d. Rebekah asks, “wherefore do I live?” In the case of my cancer, I needed to find ways to live with the struggle that was going on inside of me. Like Rebekah, I turned to G-d, but in addition to G-d I looked for sources of strength here on earth. I turned to my Rabbi and I turned to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles partner Sharsheret. Sharsheret is a national organization whose mission is to support Jewish women and their families facing breast and ovarian cancer. It was my husband who urged me to call Sharsheret. “What do they have for me?” I asked, cranky because I hadn’t slept since hearing I was to have a biopsy. He pointed out that they might have strategies to help me sleep, which would be a blessing for everyone, and so I called. Little did I know that not only would they have help for me, Sharsheret was a resource for my entire family. They provide free, confidential and personalized support for women at every stage of cancer: before, during and after diagnosis and treatment. They help caregivers too. Thank goodness my husband spoke to them; it helped him and it helped him help me.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. One in 72 will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews (men and women) are carriers of the BRCA gene mutations making you at even higher risk for breast, ovarian, prostate, melanoma, and pancreatic cancer. There are many more mutations that can increase your risk as well including CHEK2, PALB2, etc. It’s not IF someone in your circle will be affected by cancer, it’s a matter of WHEN. Like Rebekah, your loved one will face this struggle in her body. And at that moment, you have a resource to give her to help navigate that struggle.
By now, at the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you are probably over seeing pink ribbons and hearing about pink initiatives. But it can’t be stressed enough, how important it is to pay attention to your health. If a month of pink ribbons saves a life, then so be it. This is the reminder to be vigilant in your screenings – not just for breast and ovarian cancer – but for all health issues. The women who read this are the backbone of Jewish life in this country. We need to be healthy for so many different reasons. Pandemic or no pandemic, take a moment to make sure you have made the appointments you need to make.
Okay, I’ll get off my soap box. Let’s think again about Rebekah, marveling at her body and the struggle within. Our bodies are marvelous, and we need to treat them as such. But when we struggle with our bodies, it’s important to remember that there are resources out there to help us navigate those struggles. Sharsheret was there for me when I needed it, and it will be there for you, your families, and your friends, should you ever need them. Pick up the phone and call. You won’t regret it.