Jewish Organization Sharsheret Helps Women with Breast and Ovarian Cancer During Pandemic – Jewish Journal

Posted By on October 25, 2020

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, its still important for women to maintain their annual OB-GYN appointments and mammograms. To help answer the myriad questions, should you be diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, the Jewish nonprofit Sharsheret is on hand to help.

Sharsheret (chain in Hebrew), has been providing breast and ovarian cancer support and resources for women and families since 2001. And now, during the pandemic, the organization has been more vigilant in ensuring patients feel comfortable and able to make important decisions about their health.

CEO Elana Silber told the Journal that Sharsheret offers a link for women during this challenging time in their lives, allowing them to share their experiences and lean on each other for support.

Silber, who has an MBA in health care, became involved with Sharsheret in 2002 after seeing founder Rochelle Shoretz, speak at her local synagogue in New Jersey.

Shoretz founded Sharsheret after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28. While her local Jewish community provided support, all Shoretz wanted was another Jewish mom to talk to about all her concerns, including what to tell her two young children. After finding another mother going through the same struggles, she set out to find more, including Silber and current national advisory board member Courtney Mizel.

Rochelle said, I cant do this alone will you help? Silber said. We were getting a thousand calls. I stayed on as a volunteer, then became program coordinator. In 2015, Rochelle was living with metastatic breast cancer and passed away. Ever since then, I took on the CEO position. Her legacy [was her] two [little] boys who are now adults and Sharsheret. I never left. I am compelled to stay because of the mission and the tribute to the founder, and the incredible people we are working with.

Sharsheret continues to provide educational and emotional support and social work resources for breast and ovarian cancer to more than 65,000Jewish women, families, healthcare professionals and students. Thousands of women participate in its national peer support network and thousands more have participated in its education and outreach programs.

Sharsheret continues to provide educational and emotional support and social work resources for breast and ovarian cancer to more than 65,000Jewish women, families, healthcare professionals and students.

Mizel was introduced to Sharsheret in 2009 after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had also recently underwent a double mastectomy. Mizel, who was mom to two young children (3 and 4 at the time) and was in the process of a divorce, was overwhelmed. Then she received a Busy Boxa Sharsheret service that customizes a box of age-appropriate activities and books for children whose mothers are undergoing cancer treatment.

That box gave me something to do when I was unable to get out of bed to really engage with my kids, Mizel said. These amazing books served as resources to be able to talk to my kids about breast cancer as well as follow up information about every part of life.

Due to the pandemic, Sharsheret events have been put on hold, but Silber and Mizel said their virtual presence is more active than ever.

On their website you can find virtual Busy Box activities including webinars featuring medical professionals, social workers, in-house genetic counselors and members of the Sharsheret team to speak with. They also offer other virtual resources so women feel connected as well as 24/7 live chat. Regardless the time zone, support is always offered.

Women were concerned about what they could do for treatment, Silber said. If they postponed [due to the pandemic] would their outcomes be worse? We immediately got oncologists to go on one of our webinarswe had about 800 people who registered for the first one and they could ask their questions. Now we are at the point where medical centers are taking every precaution into consideration. We are sending the message with the medical community: do not delay your appointment.

Silber added Sharsheret has provided a list of questions to ask doctors before confirming appointments. She noted they are receiving more calls from women during chemotherapy treatment so they dont feel alone. We spoke to [women] on the phone [during treatment], giving them encouragement, meditation, something to listen to, because anyone who brings them has to wait outside, she said.

Mizel said another of Sharsherets key components is their attention to resources for the families and caregivers. They recognize the importance of being there for the families [even if they cant physically be with them]. We encourage self-care for the caregiver and identify ways [they] can be better for the woman in their lives touched with cancer.

Today, Mizel and her daughters devote their time and energy to making Sharsheret stronger. Mizel is part of Sharsherets California Community Advisory Committee, and was previously its Chair.

Sharsheret has peer supporters all over the country, Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom. In California alone the organization has peer supporters in more than 60 cities and has partnered with 13 local organizations including UCLA Health, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, UCLA Santa Monica Breast Center and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

The organization also received awards for its research. In 2005 they were named a recipient of the New York State Innovation in Breast Cancer Early Detection and Research Award, and in 2012 they were selected as a member of the LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance. In addition, in 2011 Sharsheret received a seat on the Federal Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women under the auspices of the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Silber said one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carries the BRCA gene mutation that increases the risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This makes Jewish families significantly more susceptible to hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer. According to their website, Sephardic Jews may also be genetically predisposed to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, but their risk to carry a BRCA mutation has not been identified to be as high as the risk for Ashkenazi Jews. In addition, 2.5 million women live with breast cancer with more than 250,000 women age 40 and under living with breast cancer in the United States.

one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carries the BRCA gene mutation that increases the risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This makes Jewish families significantly more susceptible to hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

More people are getting tested [for BRCA 1 and 2 genes], but what you do with that test, information and when you do it for your children is something that is really challenging, Mizel said. Being able to have that discussion with someone at Sharsheret, who can support you through all those things [is] really important.

Silber said its essential for women to get tested early because both breast and ovarian cancer can be cured if they are diagnosed early. Sharsheret helps all Jewish and non-Jewish women figure out what team of doctors they will need as well as providing referrals for doctors in the patients area.

Mizel said while breast cancer education has improved over the last 10 years, Sharsheret continues to debunk misconceptions about breast and ovarian cancer.

[People] dont know that that the BRCA gene can be passed down through the father Mizel said. For me and my conversations, that is the number one thing that comes up.

The second thing people are thinking is that if they test BRCA negative its the end of the story, Silber added. Its not. We still encourage you to call your doctor and call Sharsheret because there are still things you need to do. We arent doing it to scare you. Theres too much information out there. You need to have someone who can channel that and quiet it down a little bit. Sharsheret, with your medical team, is a recipe for success.

For more information on Sharsheret or how to get involved, or donate, visit their website.

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Jewish Organization Sharsheret Helps Women with Breast and Ovarian Cancer During Pandemic - Jewish Journal

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