This month, pink is the new black. That’s because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a partnership of national public service organizations, medical associations, and government agencies who’ve united to promote breast cancer awareness, to share information on the disease, and to provide greater access to screening services.
This year, for the 25th anniversary of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Repair the World spoke with Elana Silber, Director of Operations for Sharsheret, a national nonprofit organization supporting Jewish women and their families facing breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2011, there will be an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer among U.S. women. Elana, took the time to tell us why Jewish women are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer (and also ovarian cancer), and how the work they’re doing on campus and elsewhere has effectively made breast cancer a Jewish issue.
How do you serve women and families facing breast cancer?
Sharsheret offers a continuum of care from every stage – for people at-risk and pre-diagnosis all the way through treatment and survivorship. In addition to programs and resources for Jewish women facing breast cancer, we also have programs for family members, educators, caregivers and healthcare professionals. [Check out the list of programs here.]
One of our main programs is our national peer support network. We match women with similar diagnoses and lifestyles from across the country to help support each other and share their experiences on a peer-to-peer level. We have a database of 1,340 peer supporters, so we can make very tailored matches. The support calls are also monitored by clinical staff who follow up with them afterward.
Are Jewish women more likely to get breast cancer than other women?
Yes, one in forty Ashkenazi women carry a mutation in their BRCA gene which increases the risk of getting breast cancer by 82% and the risk of getting ovarian cancer by 40-60%. In the general population, only one in 345 women carry that gene mutation, which means a Jewish woman’s risk for breast cancer is 10 times greater than her neighbors.
Who tends to get involved with or be supported by Sharsheret’s work?
It’s rare to find someone who hasn’t been touched by breast cancer in some way. That’s why we serve women of all backgrounds from Hasidic and ultra-orthodox Jews to secular Jews and non-Jewish women married to non-Jews and raising Jewish children. And our network of supporters and advocates includes everyone from bnai mitzvah kids to grandparents.
We also have a program for college kids called Sharshert on Campus. We work with over 100 college campuses, partnering with Hillels, Chabad houses and Jewish sororities to raise awareness about breast health and breast cancer on campus. We offer materials for students to plan a Pink Shabbat, where they host a Shabbat dinner to raise awareness. Breast cancer has really become a Jewish cause on campus – so far, we’ve been able to reach over 10,000 students.
What’s the best way for people to get involved with Sharsheret’s work.
We just launched our new website in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re really excited about it. Visiting the site and reading our blog is a great way to stay informed on what we’re up to. We have a resource page with booklets and other educational materials about breast cancer, an events section and a get-involved section with opportunities to support Sharsheret through volunteering and donations. The website is very interactive and speaks to the diverse group of people we serve.
Find out more about Sharsheret’s work and how you can get involved here.