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|Amy Tadelis providing a link to hope and healing|
In April of 2001, I was a normal, healthy twenty-eight year old woman. I was living in New York, had a fantastic husband, a great career…life was good. Then, one morning, I felt a lump in my breast while I was showering. I assumed it was nothing, but phoned my doctor just to be certain. He said to me, “Sweetie, you are twenty-eight years old, you have nothing to worry about.
Make an appointment for a sonogram and come see me in a few weeks”.
Unfortunately, he was wrong. I had a lot to worry about. Two days later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The next six months of my life were filled with doctor appointments, surgeries and chemotherapy.
Those six months were long, difficult and, at times, lonely. It was also a very enlightening time for me. It was amazing to learn how many people I knew had been touched by this disease. People called and shared stories about their aunts, mothers and grandmothers who had or have had Breast Cancer. It is said, that your chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer is one in eight, but your chances of knowing someone who has been affected by this disease is 100%. But, even though everyone seemed to know someone diagnosed with breast cancer, no one knew anyone as young as I was.
Although I had the support of my husband, family and friends, they could not fully understand and “feel” what I was undergoing.
The American Cancer Society did have a survivor call me to provide encouragement. Unfortunately, she was almost seventy, and, not surprisingly, we didn’t have much in common. I then was introduced to another young woman who had recently undergone treatment for breast cancer. She was very nice, but again we didn’t have much in common; she wasn’t Jewish or married and wasn’t interested in having children. I appreciated her time (it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only women under forty to ever go through treatment), but that is where my support ended.
As I was recovering from my final surgery, I was reading an article about people in the Jewish community who were making a difference. One woman immediately caught my attention. She was twenty-eight, recently diagnosed with breast cancer and starting an organisation dedicated to addressing the unique concerns of young Jewish women facing breast cancer. Sharsheret, Hebrew for “chain,” was founded in 2001 by Rochelle Shoretz, a former Law Clerk to United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
I called her immediately after reading the article and we spoke for hours. She too was undergoing treatment at the time. It was a wonderful feeling to finally connect with someone, to finally be able to share my thoughts and concerns with someone who could truly understand them. From that call on, I knew I needed to become involved with Sharsheret to help others as Rochelle had helped me.
Sharsheret’s mission is premised on the notion that, often times, women facing breast cancer want to reach out to others who share not only their diagnoses, but also their life background. By the time women diagnosed with or facing breast cancer are prepared to reach out for support, many already have a medical team in place – an oncologist to whom they can ask treatment questions, a surgeon to address their medical concerns and a primary care physician to address everything else. However, women with breast cancer also need a place to turn to for guidance, reassurance and a sense of belonging within their community. Additionally, there are many issues unique to Jewish women living with or facing breast cancer. Such concerns include:
increased genetic risk of developing breast cancer for Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent, and issues surrounding BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing;
For those Jewish women who may not feel comfortable reaching out to general organisations, Sharsheret may be their only outlet for support. And for those who take advantage of other support services, Sharsheret offers the added comfort and security of speaking to someone who shares a common background as part of our unique Link Program, which pairs women on the basis of their individual concerns.
Sharsheret’s focus is currently on meeting the needs of younger women, which is defined loosely as “generally pre-menopausal” women who share common concerns: breast cancers that tend to be more aggressive and hormone sensitive; fewer research studies on which to rely; and concerns surrounding dating, marriage, fertility, and childrearing.
Sharsheret has developed three core programs in response to the needs of young Jewish women facing breast cancer.
The Link Program, a peer support network connecting young women newly diagnosed or at high risk of developing breast cancer with others who share similar diagnoses and experiences;
Education and Outreach Programs, including health care symposia addressing the concerns of young women facing breast cancer. Recent events addressed the subjects of breast cancer and fertility, parenting during breast cancer, breast cancer genetics, and survivorship. Sharsheret has developed a Booklet Series designed to raise awareness about issues many Jewish women face in their fight against breast cancer. Booklets in the series include: Facing Breast Cancer as a Jewish Woman, Facing Breast Cancer as an Orthodox Jewish Woman, and Breast Cancer Genetics and the Jewish Woman.
Additionally, Sharsheret educates general breast cancer organisations about the concerns unique to Jewish women.
Quality of Life Programs, including the Busy Box for young parents facing breast cancer, have been created. The Busy Box provides educational material on discussing cancer with children, as well as, activities to entertain children while their mom might be feeling sick as a result of treatment. Best Face Forward addresses the cosmetic side effects of chemo therapy and radiation treatments, and Embrace, a support program for women living with advanced breast cancer.
Since the organisation’s founding in 2001, Sharsheret has received more than 8,000 telephone calls from those affected by breast cancer, health care professionals, women’s organisations, Jewish organisations, and others interested in learning more about the important services Sharsheret provides. Personally, I have acted as a link to over twenty women. Each time I do I am reminded of how special this organisation is and the void that it fills. My goal is to make that one women’s battle with this disease just a little easier by simply making her know that she is not alone.
For more information on Sharsheret, please visit the website at www.sharsheret.org,
Amy Mines Tadelis is currently living in Hong Kong with her husband and two daughters. She recently celebrated her five year anniversary of being cancer free. She is currently the President of the Board of Directors of Sharsheret.