Young Jewish women with breast or ovarian cancer have support

Sharsheret, the national Jewish response to breast and ovarian cancer, to visit Providence

Team Sharsheret 2013 /SHARSHERETPROVIDENCE – Sharsheret, Hebrew for “chain,” and the national Jewish response to breast cancer, will present a program on Sunday, Oct. 6, from 3 – 5 p.m., at Brown RISD Hillel, 80 Brown St., in Providence.

Sharsheret, explained Tina Odessa, the event chair, is a nonprofit organization that supports young Jewish women facing breast or ovarian cancer and their families. “Sharsheret is a well-kept secret that should not be a well-kept secret, ” said Odessa, of Pawtucket, whose life has been touched by breast cancer. “It is too important; it should be known by all Jewish women.”

Although callers may access Sharsheret resources on a confidential basis, one local user chose to share her Sharsheret experience with The Jewish Voice.

“Sharsheret matched me with a woman in North Carolina who experienced what I am going through now,” said Sara Masri. (Read Masri’s full story, “The accidental patient” on page 18) “In addition, Sharsheret sent me a ‘Busy Box,’ filled with toys and books that I can dole out to my kids when I don’t feel well.”

“October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so we wanted to hold the event in October,” said Odessa. The initial idea of a “home parlor meeting” was scuttled. “It needs to be bigger,” she said. “We want to include more people.”

Some time ago, Scott Libman, a member of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s Community Relations Council,  had contacted Sharsheret about coming to speak in Rhode Island; the organization then put Libman in touch with Odessa, whose childhood friend, Shera Dubitsky, serves as the organization’s clinical supervisor.

Libman and Odessa were unable to get needed support from the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island (a precursor agency of the Alliance) to bring the program here; after Odessa’s sister died of breast cancer, however, she decided to bring Sharsheret here, no matter what.

Libman, whose mother died of breast cancer and whose family has a fTour-generation history of breast cancer – despite testing negative for the BRCA gene – quoted his late mother, a nurse. “Medical education is so important,” he said, adding that Sharsheret brings education to women with breast or ovarian cancer, offers offsite counseling and preserves women’s dignity. “It’s a mitzvah to the community to have this organization be part of our community,” he said in a phone interview.

Odessa reiterated her belief that greater Rhode Island’s Jewish women should learn more about Sharsheret.

“I’ve wanted to do this for years,” said Odessa, expressing appreciation to Jeffrey Savit and Eddie Bruckner, the Alliance’s chief executive officer and vice president, financial resource development, respectively, for their support.

Her commitment has paid off, as the program, free and open to the community, now has support from the Alliance, Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, Brown RISD Hillel and Sharsheret.

Although the organization’s expertise is young women and Jewish families, said Elana Silber, Sharsheret’s director of operations, “anyone – men and women – can participate in all Sharsheret programs.”

Information and materials are available online, email and U.S. mail, wherever women live, Silber said in a phone interview with The Jewish Voice. All services are free and confidential.

Rochelle Shoretz, a former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (herself a breast cancer survivor), founded Sharsheret after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28.

Sharsheret also “partners with local Jewish organizations across the country – and some of them offer face-to-face support groups,” said Silber.

As 2013 is the organization’s “bat mitzvah year,” Silber said that the agency is in its second stage, with 12 programs that offer support and education to those affected by cancer across the country.

“Our newest program is called ‘Thriving Again,” a support and education program for breast cancer survivors,” said Silber. “Sharsheret was awarded a three-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support and educate young Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Programs are tailored to callers’ specific needs, she explained, with some women concerned about fertility, others about genetic mutations and still others about survivorship. After someone speaks to one of the agency’s clinicians, the caller will receive a packet of resources addressing his or her specific concerns.

Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, said Erin Minior, the agency’s executive director, recognized the need to educate women in the Jewish community about breast cancer. This program is part of a continuum of efforts by JFS to support women who are genetically at risk or who have been diagnosed with cancer, she added.

“Cancer does not discriminate,” said Wendy Joering, the Alliance’s Jewish community liaison, who is working on this initiative. “Cancer affects all of us in one way or another; this program offers everyone in the community an opportunity to learn more and support one another.”

Dubitsky is expected to address an issue that receives, justly, a great deal of media attention – the breast cancer BRCA gene. “Shera will educate the community about the increased risk for Ashkenazi Jewish families,” said Silber. “One of every 40 Ashkenazi Jews carries the BRCA gene mutation [for breast or ovarian cancer] as compared to 1 in 345 in the general population.”

Silber added, “We’d love for every Jewish family to know that Sharsheret is here for them if they need us.”

For more about the Oct. 6 event, contact Wendy Joering. 421-4111, ext. 169 or