Saturday, July 20, 2013

Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered: A FORCE for Good

Earlier this evening, I posted this status update on Facebook:
Happy erev mammoversary to me! Tomorrow is two years since the 12-hour surgery that saved my life...and I wasn't even sick! 
I have no doubt that the surgery—a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy (PBM) with micro-surgical reconstruction using my own abdominal tissue and blood supply—saved me from a diagnosis of breast cancer.  Knowing that I had a pre-surgical lifetime risk of developing the disease that hovered somewhere in the 80th percentile, I wasn’t willing to sit around and wait for the odds to play themselves out.

Although there were many factors that propelled me down the road to surgery (an option that isn’t necessarily the right one for every BRCA-positive woman), I’m not sure I could have taken those first tentative steps without FORCE and the women I’ve met through the New YorkCity chapter of the national organization devoted solely to individuals and families affected by hereditary cancer syndrome, most often because of the presence of a BRCA mutation.   I attended my first FORCE meeting just weeks before the hysterectomy that preceded my mastectomy by about six months.  As wonderful as it was to get some terrific ideas about preparing for surgery, the best part of the gathering was being together for the first time with so many BRCA “sisters,” many of whom were dealing with the same difficult choices and hurdles I’d just had thrown in my own path.

Needless to say, I was hooked, and I’ve hardly missed a local FORCE meeting since.  I’ve also attended the last two annual conferences in Orlando and, most recently, joined another member as a volunteer Outreach Coordinator in New York City.  I believe that if sharing my experiences and the knowledge I’ve gained as a result of being BRCA positive can ease others’ travels, I am fulfilling a part of my obligation to partner with God in repairing our fractured world.

As I’ve noted on this blog before, because FORCE is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization on a shoestring budget, it faces a constant need for funding.  The New York City chapter is in the midst of a fundraising campaign that ends on July 31.  I’m grateful to those of you who have made generous donations to this cause that has become so very important to me and hopeful that others might consider a contribution to this incredible organization that’s been there for me and given me the tools and training to be there for others.  Your support on behalf of FORCE will help ensure that none of us in the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer community ever has to walk this bumpy path alone.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Are You Shayna Maydelach or Shayna Punim?

As I noted the other day on my Facebook page, we're having a heatwave in New York City.  It's the kind of weather that used to prompt my grandparents to set up a bridge table in the bedroom of their Sunnyside Queens apartment where, with the door closed, the window-unit air conditioner could actually do its job.

There they'd spend time reading, playing cards and just keeping cool.  Unwilling to"light the stove," as my grandmother always said, in such raging heat, she would use whatever ingredients she had on hand to prepare cool, no-cook meals.  Often that meant a concoction of cut up vegetables with cottage cheese and sour cream that she called chazerei.  Imagine my surprise when, many years later,  I learned that chazerei really means junk, garbage, pig's feed or anything of little value, and is derived from the Yiddish word for pig -- chazer.

I've blogged about my grandmother before, describing her in a previous post as "someone who saw Kaiser Wilhelm II ride into town on a white horse, remembered the sinking of the Titanic, watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, and still described air conditioning on a hot day as a mechaiya."  When my friend Rebecca posted a comment in response to that blog post, I not only chuckled, but also learned that I'm not alone in occasionally misinterpreting the meaning of a Yiddish word:
"When I was in ulpan, our teacher asked if anyone knew the word for 'air-conditioning.'
She about fell out of her chair, laughing, when I proudly answered 'mechaiya!'"
Another friend, Merry, is guilty of the same offense.  As she wrote recently, "I grew up thinking my 'Jewish' name was Shayna Maydelach!"

Hey, wait a minute... Isn't every Jewish girl named Shayna Maydelach or Shayna Punim?!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Shabbat D'varim: A Top 10 List

 Credit:  Words with Friends
A while back, I wrote a Top 10 List for Shabbat Kedoshim.  Today was a different kind of Shabbat…

10. I kept hitting the snooze button…on both the alarm clock and the iPhone.

9.  When I finally rolled over at 10:13 a.m., my minyan buddies were getting ready to open to page 172 for Ma Tovu.  I was still in my jammies.

8.  Once I got out of bed—at about the time they probably were finishing t’filah ha-lev and turning to the Torah service—I didn’t bother making it.

7.  By noon, when services were over and everyone was putting a schmear on their bagels, drinking the brown mud that passes for coffee and opening their Plaut-Bamberger Torah Commentaries, I was reading the paper leisurely.

6.  I caught up on my emails and played a few rounds of Words with Friends.

5.  I also took care of a bit of long overdue blog maintenance…and wrote this post.

4.  I shmyed around on Facebook, vacationing vicariously with friends at Arches National Park, Tanglewood, San Jose and Kutz Camp, where today was Celebrate Dorothy Walrond Day.

3.  I read a bit in my latest book, The People of Forever are Not Afraid.  Stay tuned for a review.

2.  To be fair, I also read a few pages in Les Miserables.  After all, tomorrow is Bastille Day.

1.  Later, when it’s time to go to bed, I won’t have to unmake my bed.

Shavua tov!