Sunday, August 31, 2014

#BlogElul: Search With Your Gut

My sister always says that when it comes to guys, apartments and jobs, it's best to go with your gut.

In the new year, may our guts lead us to the things for which we search -- whatever they may be -- and may they help us to decide in which ones we will find the most fulfillment and joy  Amen.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

#BlogElul: To Know or Not to Know

When I lived in Los Angeles more than a decade ago, the father of one of my colleagues had breast cancer.  In light of the diagnosis, his doctors suggested that my colleague have genetic counseling and possible testing for a BRCA gene mutation.

"No, I don't want to know," she told them.  "Whatever will be will be."

By contrast, more than two years ago, on the day after this blog post about BRCA awareness went live, a different former colleague wrote to say, "I just wanted to tell you that I found your blog so inspirational."

A few weeks ago, she wrote again:  "Hey Jane.  I wanted to tell you that
my father and I met with a genetic counselor to assess my risk of getting breast cancer  My dad was tested for the BRCA gene and it ended up being negative.  Thanks so much for talking about your experiences in a public manner.  It really inspired me to check out my own health."

I responded with this:  "Plonit -- thanks so much for your message!  I'm thrilled that your dad's test was negative and that my experience prompted you to get tested.  That's exactly why I do it!  Thank you!!"

Needless to say, I'm pleased to know that my efforts to raise awareness about BRCA mutations, especially within the Ashkenazi Jewish population are meeting with some success.  I'm glad to know, too, that my friend's father tested negative for a mutation and that she and her siblings are not at any greater risk for cancer (breast, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic and melanoma) than people in the general population.

As for my friend in Los Angeles, I hope she knows that even though she's opted not to test for a known BRCA gene mutation, she (and her daughter, beginning at age 25) should be doing surveillance as though they had, in fact, tested positive.  The regimen includes a mammogram once a year and an MRI six months later, meaning that they'd be getting each mode of testing no more than once a year (so insurance will cover the costs), but also getting two chances in one calendar year to be checked, increasing the likelihood of finding disease, if any, in its earliest, most curable stage.

Whether or not individuals want to know their BRCA mutation status, it's critically important that they know and understand the risks associated with these mutations and that they use that knowledge to make decisions about testing that are right for them and their families.

For more information about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome or to locate a certified genetic counselor who can help your family assess its risk, check out the website of FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.

In the year ahead, may we all have access to the knowledge and resources necessary to make the best possible decisions for ourselves, our families, and our loved ones.  Amen.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

#BlogElul: Keeping the Weeds of Acceptance in Check

Life is full of conditions and scenarios -- significant and mundane -- that we don't understand.
Why do healthy people who take care of their bodies get cancer?
Why can't we obliterate racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, and all the other -isms that plague the world -- and the people in it?
Why do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?
Why do bad things -- airplane crashes, ferry sinkings, terrorist attacks, depression, fires, freak accidents, drugs and alcohol, drownings, suicides, homicides, heart attacks, and more -- happen to good, innocent people?
Why are we plagued by political corruption, famine, disease, violence, and what, if anything, can we do to ameliorate these ills?
I wish we had all the answers...

But since we don't, the best that we can do is to "grow where we are planted."

For some, growing means taking social action -- writing to lawmakers, lobbying, or protesting cruelty, injustice and inequality.

For others, growing means conducting cutting-edge scientific research, advocating on behalf of those stricken with a particular illness, or delivering a meal (and a few extras for the freezer!) to a sick friend and staying for a visit while she eats.

For still others, growing means running a marathon for a cause, stocking a food pantry, serving meals to the hungry, or donating blood or platelets.

Sadly, some people don't take too well to growing -- to soil and fertilizer or to water and sunlight.  They'd rather accept the status quo.

I believe, though, that learning and growing help us to accept what we do not understand.  Sometimes they can move us closer to a partial understanding, even if there's not complete clarity or comprehension.  Nonetheless, those of us who grow and thrive where we are planted help to keep the weeds of indifference, apathy, and blind acceptance in check.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam for enabling us to learn and grow where we are planted, and, when necessary, to accept those things that we cannot understand.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

#BlogElul: An Abundance of Blessings

Many years ago, the URJ's now defunct Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living, in conjunction with URJ Books and Music, published a daily blessings card.

Small enough for a wallet or purse, it includes the appropriate blessings to recite for various foods, life moments, wonders of nature, learning, social action, and upon embarking on a journey.

My well-worn blessings card is always with me because I just never know when I might hear good news, narrowly escape danger, or see a rainbow.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam zokher hab'rit v'ne'eman bivrito v'kayam b'ma'amaro.

We praise you, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who remembers, is faithful to, and fulfills Your covenant with and promise to creation.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam who has the power to write and seal us in the Book of Life and grant us abundant blessings in the New Year -- restored health, rewarding relationships, satisfying work, healing from sorrow and loss, sweet memories, opportunities to help others, contentment, pleasure, and peace.  Amen.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#BlogElul: Acting from the Heart

Mishkan Tefila, the Reform prayer book, includes this passage as an alternate prayer:
Pray as if everything depended on God.
Act as if everything depended on you.
In the context of Elul, this passage can serve as a reminder that:
  1. It is our responsibility to act as God's partner in the work of tikkun olam (repair of the world).
  2. It is important to make every act -- large and small -- count.
  3. We should strive to make all of our acts intentional, thoughtful, and meaningful. 
If we attempt to follow these guidelines, we won't be acting at all.  Rather, we will be living as our genuine selves, acting only from the heart.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

#BlogElul: My Elul To-Do List

In no particular order, these are things I'd like to do, continue to do, or strive to do better during Elul:

  1. Read for 20-30 minutes each night.
  2. Send a few "just because" greeting cards.
  3. Continue to rendezvous with my "treadmill buddies" at 6 a.m. three mornings each week.   
  4. Continue to pray for my sister, just as Moses did for his: "O God, pray heal her!"
  5. Write regularly.
  6. Treat a friend to coffee.
  7. Be patient, especially with my dad.
  8. Speak my mind.
  9. Explore my city.
  10. Ask good questions.

What's on your Elul to-do list?

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Sister, the F***ing Warrior!

One day when my sister was in fifth or sixth grade, she returned home from school very upset.  Several classmates -- Linda, Lori, and Lisa -- had given her a hard time when she told them that, like them, her Hebrew name was Leah.

No, they told her, that couldn't be.  Her English name was Amy and therefore, according to them, there was no way her Hebrew name could possibly be Leah.

In fact, Amy's Hebrew name is Leah -- Leah Meryl -- in memory of our father's maternal grandfather, "Grandpa Louie" and a maternal cousin, who always was known to our mother and Aunt Claire as Tante Mina.

Here's what Kolatch -- in his Complete Dictionary of English and Hebrew First Names -- has to say about Leah:
From the Hebrew meaning "to be weary."  Also, from the Assyrian meaning "mistress, ruler."  In the Bible (Genesis 29:17), the daughter of Laban and the first of Jacob's four wives.  Lea is a variant spelling and also a French form.  Leia is the Hebrew form  Lia is an Italian form.  Lea and Lee are pet forms.
When I spoke with her earlier today, she told me that she was "moving slowly." Although that's uncharacteristic behavior for her, it's no surprise that she would "be weary."  After all, she's trying -- as are we all -- to wrap her head around the breast cancer diagnosis she received on Thursday, after a routine annual mammogram on Tuesday that was followed by a biopsy on Wednesday.

Once she processes this information, I hope she will ditch her weariness, embracing instead the Assyrian meaning of Leah so that she can be the "ruler" over this disease.  More to the point, I hope that going forward she will take on the persona suggested by one of her friends and prove herself to be a "F***ing Warrior" in the weeks and months ahead.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Here Comes #BlogElul

I think I've been working in the Jewish world too long.  Otherwise, how would I know that there are seven Shabbatot between Tishah b'Av and Rosh HaShanah? And, how would I know that once we hit that first Shabbat of Consolation, the High Holy Days are as good as here?

The surest sign, however, that the High Holy Days are on their way is the appearance of Ima on the Bima's annual #BlogElul topics -- one for each day of the month that precedes Rosh HaShanah.

It is during Elul that we Jews conduct a spiritual reckoning of our behaviors and actions of the past year -- the moral equivalent of cleaning the chametz from our couches and cars just before Passover -- and begin to think ahead to the coming year.

Thanks to the Ima and her #BlogElul themes for 5774, I truly can begin to reflect upon the year that's drawing to a close, ponder the potential of the one that has yet to arrive, and grapple with the ways that -- individually and collectively -- we can make this one the best yet, for ourselves and for the world.

Stay tuned for the first of this year's #BlogElul post, which will make its appearance here on Wednesday, August 27.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Funding for FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered

Dear Friends,

Although asking friends and family to donate to a specific cause is not among my favorite things to do, I'm willing to do it once a year on behalf of FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, whose 2014 fundraising campaign is underway.  I wholeheartedly believe that I would not be where I am in my BRCA journey today were it not for this incredible organization that is devoted solely to providing up-to-date information, resources, and support to the individuals and families that are at risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome.

As readers of this blog know, I have been exceedingly open and forthcoming about my BRCA mutation and the steps I've taken in the last several years to reduce my personal risk.  I'm not going to retell my story here, but if you want to read about it, there are plenty of details elsewhere on this blog. (Just put one or more of these keywords in the search field in the upper left hand corner on this page and you should get lots of posts from the past:  HBOC, breast cancer, BRCA2 mutation, BRCA BRCA awareness, breast cancer awareness, FORCE, gene mutation, mastectomy, prophylactic mastectomy, and/or breast cancer awareness month.)

I will say, however, that I am proud and honored to give back to FORCE as one of two volunteer outreach coordinators in New York City. In this role, I work with my partner coordinator to schedule, organize and help facilitate peer-to-peer support meetings on topics of interest to the hereditary cancer commuity; provide one-on-one support to members dealing with emotional and physical impacts of their BRCA status; and manage regular communications to members of FORCE's NYC group.  I also speak and write frequently about BRCA gene mutations in an effort to raise awareness about their presence, particularly in the Ashkenazi Jewish community, where one in 40 individuals (both women and men) is a carrier, and most of these people are unaware of their status.

Indeed, until four years ago, when my sister (thankfully, she's negative) and I took the initiative to get tested after we lost our mom to exceedingly virulent breast cancer, we, too, were unaware of the presence of a BRCA mutation in our family.  Although we'll never know how different our family's story might have been had we known about the mutation sooner, if my work with FORCE can prevent even one other family from enduring what we did because we didn't know, I believe some good will come from our experience and that my endeavors will contribute to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam -- repair of our world.

Because FORCE has been been -- and continues to be -- a tremendous blessing to me and to so many others, I would be exceedingly grateful for your support during this year's fundraising campaign.  (Donating through my FirstGiving page is simple, fast, and fully secure.)

Thank you, as always, for your support of me and of FORCE, the organization that means so much to me.

~ Jane.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Love Letter to Margate

Dear Margate,

Although our time together this week was short, we certainly made the most of it.  Thanks to you, a wonderfully gracious hostess, and her lovely, welcoming home, I relaxed enough that the stress-induced crick in my neck and shoulder nearly disappeared, my face got sun-kissed, and I spent time in a part of my home state that I don’t visit often enough. 

You’re a beautiful place, and you accommodated my friends and me well, serving up generous portions of warm sunshine, gentle breezes, and soft sand.  Mesmerized by the waves and their rhythm as they curled and dove into bubbly white foam that lapped at our feet, I could have walked your beach endlessly – north to Ventnor and Atlantic City, south past historic Lucy and on to Longport. 

In fact, when we weren’t sitting in sand chairs on the beach – talking, laughing, and watching the passing scene – we did lots of walking, strolling the boardwalks in Ventnor, Atlantic City, and Ocean City.  In that last spot, we sampled a few summer favorites, including popcorn, fudge, and Kohr Brothers frozen custard.  Needless to say, that wasn’t all we ate.  Seafood at Mike’s in Sea Isle City, pasta at Gaspare’s in Egg Harbor, and freshly prepared Asian fare at Little Saigon in Atlantic City – all washed down with Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (my new favorite wine!) – made for wonderful dinners.  Plentiful breakfasts and lunches – fruit, yogurt, and salads, deli, sticky buns, and other sweet treats – generously prepared by our hostess, rounded out our meals.

Alas, all too soon, our rendezvous was over, and I found myself back in Manhattan.  I’m doing my best, though, to hold on to the ease you inspired and the relaxation you encouraged, as well as to appreciate fully the priceless gift you gave me – good times and good friends with whom to share them. Thanks again for everything, Margate.  I’m grateful to have spent time with you.


~ JanetheWriter.