A young mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. It's a devastating diagnosis for any woman, but she has four children and as the wife of a respected rabbi, the community has also come to count on her. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she could talk to and confide in someone in a similar situation?
"Through our network of more than 10,000 women, we found someone not just in a similar situation but the exact same scenario, and we connected them," says Elana Silber, executive director of Sharsheret, a Jewish organization whose main goal is to support women and their families facing breast and ovarian cancer.
In Hebrew, "sharsheret" means chain. It's the perfect metaphor for an organization that links women so they can gain emotional support from others who have gone through the breast cancer and ovarian cancer experience before them. "We connect women by phone, by Facebook, by any means necessary," says Elana.
Since 2001, the Teaneck-based, national non-profit organization has offered women a wide variety of support, whether it is speaking one-to-one with an experienced genetic counselor; working with a clinical team of skilled mental health professionals; learning how to guide their children through the cancer journey; and even addressing the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation with make-up products and tips to help with hair loss and changes in skin tone.
"With each stage of cancer, women have so many questions and concerns," explains Elana. "They still have to go to work, take care of their families, meet up with friends, celebrate the holidays, date. They want to look and feel as good as they can, despite being sick. That's where we come in."
Since it was first founded at the dining room table of Rochelle Shoretz, a 28-year-old Jewish mother with breast cancer, Sharsheret has worked with local hospitals and other organizations with the mission of helping women during their darkest hours.
Sharsheret shares a partnership with Holy Name Medical Center and Sharyn Lewin, M.D., director of gynecologic oncology at the medical center. Dr. Lewin serves on the organization's medical advisory board. "I am very excited and honored," says Dr. Lewin, whose role as an advisor is mainly educational. "I write for Sharsheret’s blog, am involved in speaking engagements, and participate in webinars."
In many ways, this partnership is another incredible link in the chain for patients with breast or ovarian cancer, says Dr. Lewin. Holy Name treats the entire patient rather than her illness. Joining forces with Sharsheret, she says, gives patients all the more reach, and, therefore, a greater chance to help improve lives. "I also have an interest in hereditary genetics, so helping to educate the community about the importance of genetic testing has been a big priority of mine for a long time," says Dr. Lewin.
It is particularly important for Jews to be aware of their cancer risk, she says. "One in 40 Ashkenazim carry the BRCA mutation, increasing the risk for breast and ovarian cancer," says Dr. Lewin. Sharsheret offers women the opportunity to speak with their genetic counselor about family history, concerns about cancer risk, and the implications of genetics.
Although Sharsheret's expertise is focused on young women and Jewish families, more than 20 percent of those the organization serves are not Jewish, and the programs serve all women and men. Holy Name, a Catholic medical center, is equally culturally sensitive. "I have a lot of patients of many faiths; this is a unique environment that aligns with Sharsheret in many ways," says Dr. Lewin.
Sadly, in 2015, Rochelle Shoretz lost her battle with breast cancer. But her calling to create a place for young women to turn to, to find the strength to face their fears, goes on. "And that is with the help of their sisters, with whom they share the cancer journey, transcending blood ties," says Elana.
Sharsheret is a national not-for-profit cancer support and education organization and does not provide any medical advice or perform any medical procedures. The information provided by Sharsheret is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Sharsheret sponsors a number of events throughout the year. For more information, please visit: https://sharsheret.org/
If you are concerned about your risk of breast cancer or to make a mammogram appointment, please visit Holy Name's Breast Center: https://www.holyname.org/breastcenter/ or call 201-833-7100.