> Komen News
Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Israel Mission Delegation Trip - Day Three Recap
Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Israel Mission Delegation Trip
Day Three Recap with Dr. Ruth Oratz
Jerusalem – Oct. 27, 2010 –Today got off to an amazing start. We arrived at the Israel Conference Center where the Beit Natan Women's Cancer Support and Resource Center ran a full day health fair for the Orthodox community. Beit Natan was founded in response to the needs of orthodox Jewish women facing the challenges of breast cancer. Because of the unique traditional values of this community, Orthodox women will not be joining us in the Susan G. Komen Israel Race for the Cure tomorrow. So today, with the help of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Beit Natan put on this wonderful parallel event. We heard first from Chaya Heller who founded the organization in the memory of her grandfather Nathan. In her comments she reminded us that Natan not only refers to her grandfather's name (Nathan) but to the meaning of the word in Hebrew: to give. "In order to give you must have a receiver. And then in turn we get back from our women multiples of what we have given. So the circle is completed." All Komen volunteers and everyone who has joined us in the remarkable effort to launch the Race for the Cure in Israel should feel proud to be part of this circle of giving.
Beit Natan focuses on bringing education, services and help to Orthodox Jewish women in a culturally sensitive environment and in a language that they can relate to. Workshops in art therapy, movement, support groups, volunteers who reach out to help patients and their families and even grief counseling are provided. Most remarkable is the "Retreat for Recovery," a three day holiday for women who are recuperating from breast cancer treatment. The retreat is open to women who are secular, traditional, religious and ultra-Orthodox. It truly represents Komen's mission to allow all women to share their experiences and learn from one another. Cancer survivorship is a major concern of Beit Natan and their volunteer program is aimed at making sure that each woman who contacts them is helped in a way that is most appropriate for her. In addition, Beit Natan with the help of Komen has brought female doctors to the community in order to teach and perform breast examinations.
We heard next from two breast cancer survivors who have been part of the Beit Natan program. The first, a young mother of nine children, shared her story with us - telling us how terrified she was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and how reluctant she was to speak about it, let alone reach out for help. She saw a flyer about Beit Natan in the hospital Oncology Unit and after a great deal of hesitation, she called the hotline. She was then matched with a volunteer who lent support, encouragement and also dispelled some of the fear and misunderstandings that she had about her diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. This woman is now herself in the Beit Natan volunteer training program. Her mentor then spoke, also telling us not only about her personal journey through breast cancer diagnosis and therapy, but about the important role Beit Natan has played in her survivorship. As Chaya Heller reminded us, these women are not victims, they are heroes!
The health fair was a smash success. More than 2,000 Orthodox Jewish women crowded into the Convention Center. There were booths set up with everything from juicing to wigs and children's toys. Simultaneous educational sessions on screening, exercise and family health were ongoing. Beit Natan truly represents all that Komen is about.
We wanted to spend more time at the health fair but our guides reminded us that we were scheduled to visit Hadassah Hospital next in order to see firsthand how Komen dollars could make a difference in research and treatment. Together with Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker and Nancy Falchuk of Hadassah, the founding organization of the hospital,l we toured this most extraordinary facility. Set high on a hill above Jerusalem in the very beautiful Ein Kerem neighborhood, where it is believed that John the Baptist was born and the Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth, sits Hadassah Hospital. In the words of Nancy Falchuk "Hadassah Hospital is what peace in the Middle East can look like." Here all patients are treated not only with state of the art medicine and technology, but with respect and compassion. Israeli Jews, Arabs and Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority, come for care. The hospital was established 98 years ago when Henrietta Szold realized the need for one in Jerusalem. Today the Cancer Unit sees more than 20,000 outpatient clinic visits per year, houses a 32 bed in-patient unit and accommodates up to 90 patients a day in the Day Care Unit. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Israel and accounts for 25 percent of the cases seen at the Hadassah Oncology Department. We learned from Dr. Asher Salmon about a new molecular approach towards functional diagnosis of genetic predisposition to cancer. He is presenting his data to the US FDA in upcoming weeks, and we may indeed have a new, cost-effective tool to help identify women at increased risk for hereditary cancer. Dr. Tamar Peretz, a renowned medical oncologist, along with a team of surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, oncology nurses and other health care specialists care for the women who come to them for breast cancer screening, diagnosis and therapy.
Of note Professor Salmon emphasized again the real need for special attention to the diversity of the population, and the care that is taken to approach each woman in an individual and sensitive manner as 60 percent of their patients are Israeli Jews, 30 percent are Arab and 10 percent come from the Palestinian Authority territories. He also spoke of the Ethiopian community and pointed out that many of these women come with a completely wrong concept of cancer. Some believe that cancer is itself an animal, male or female - and if female, can lay eggs which are metastases. Communicating with these women, explaining why and how treatment will proceed, presents real challenges. I was reminded of the mission of the YVEL jewelry center and school which we visited last night, and Isaac and Orna Levy's dedication to educating this community in other ways. As Dr. Salmon said, "We must educate ourselves as much as we educate the women who come to us."
The Hadassah Hospital Breast Cancer unit has established a special fellowship to train Palestinian physicians. Three MD's have already completed the two to five year official residency/fellowship program and are registered oncologists - now able to return to their communities to practice. In addition, a radiation therapy unit has been set up in Augusta Victoria.
Elizabeth Thompson, Komen’s president, summed it up when she commented that "Big Ideas can make a difference for large populations - and we should all continue to think BIG!" This is the Global Initiative of Susan G. Komen for the Cure - working on the ground!
Before we left Hadassah Hospital we made a stop in the new trauma unit. On September 11, 2001 just as the hospital board was voting on whether or not to build this new unit, they heard news of the first plane striking the World Trade Centers. Then and there the vote was unanimous - YES. Hadassah Hospital now has the most advanced Trauma/ICU unit built to specifications that would withstand a full-blown terrorist attack or conventional war - and could operate safely, independently and continuously for up to 14 days. Let's all pray that they will never have to lock down for such an emergency.
The afternoon brought us to Yad Vashem. A site dedicated as a memorial to the six million Jewish people who were murdered in the Holocaust. Designed by Moshe Safdye, this magnificent new museum, learning center, interactive library, archive, repository for our collective and individual memories also is built on a hill. Here survivorship takes on a wholly different meaning. After one strolls down the alley of the Garden of the Righteous, commemorating the tens of thousands of non-Jewish Europeans who risked their lives to save Jewish, the magnificent complex which spreads over more than 35 acres opens up. The architect carefully designed the site so that after exiting the museum, and walking through the memorial to the 1.5 million children who perished, you come out first into the dappled shade of a green forest and then the vista of the entire of city of Jerusalem is revealed. Out of the horror of the Holocaust we come face to face with the beauty and reality of modern day Israel. Our afternoon at Yad Vashem was made even more special because of the testimony of Rina.
From ages three to nine, she survived the Holocaust, first escaping from the round-up of the Jewish people of her city when her mother and uncle told her to "run" and run she did, never to see her mother and brothers again. Somehow Rina found her father who had already been deported to a slave labor camp. She was dressed as a boy and worked with him, a six-year-old girl pretending to be a ten-year-old boy, hiding her identity - until they were to be transported again. Worried that her disguise would be uncovered and they would both be killed, he sent her off on her own. Rina was placed in the care of her next "mother" - and so on for the next several years as she survived one after the next of the most unimaginable nightmares until in the end she was alone in Bergen - Belson. On April 15, 1944 she was liberated by British Forces and along with the others who were barely alive, brought to a hospital and then to a DP camp. She lived with a family in Sweden with yet another mother and another name and finally at the age of nine and a half arrived in America. Rina was then adopted by a Jewish family in Brooklyn, where she learned English, went to school, grew up, married, had children of her own, and now after retirement made Aliyah and has come home to Israel. She meets with groups who come to Yad Vashem from all over the world and tells her story, bearing witness, lest we forget. Surviving takes on a whole new meaning for all of us.
This evening we travel to Herzeliya, a lovely seaside city which is home to the American Ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham. As Delegates of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Mission Delegation to Israel we have been invited to dinner at the Ambassador's home. A large tent lit up pink, elegantly set tables and a lively crowd set the tone for our warm reception from the Ambassador. He welcomes us and remarks how just a few weeks ago he hosted the wounded warriors of the Israel Defense Force - who despite their disabilities continue to live full productive and active lives. Like women who have battled breast cancer they continue to strive for a new normal life. Next Senator Joseph I. Lieberman addressed. The Senator came to Israel in support of Komen and all of our efforts to launch the first Israel Race for the Cure in Jerusalem. He reminds us of the Talmudic lesson that to save one life is to save the entire world. And indeed our mission is to save many lives and hopefully many worlds. Ambassador Brinker reiterated the global commitment of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the strong bonds between Israel and the US. As a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and as UN Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control, Ambassador Brinker brought home the message that public health diplomacy is the perfect catalyst for political diplomacy. "We have," she said, "a global army deploying the best minds in medicine and science to find a cure for breast cancer. This is not the final destination, but just a stop along the way. We must continue in our work to increase early detection, find new targeted therapies and manage disease. Prevention is our ultimate goal." As we enjoyed our delicious meal, mingling with new friends, we heard from Elizabeth Thompson, Komen’s president. She inspired us all in preparation for tomorrow's Race as she told us about the yearlong preparations for this event and her meeting with advocacy groups, biotech companies and health care professionals all over Israel to raise awareness and support for our project. None of this would have been possible without the work of the entire Komen staff and all of our volunteers - and especially of Ambassadors Ned and Stephanie Siegel who made all of this real. Our Israeli colleagues Miri Ziv, Director General of the Israel Cancer Association and Dr. Yuli Tamir, President of the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design addressed as well. It was as always later than we anticipated when we said our goodbyes, the time flew by, and though exhausted from yet another amazing day of so many wonderful experiences, we all feel enriched and empowered. Tomorrow is RACE DAY!!!
Dr. Ruth Oratz, a medical oncologist, is a member of the Susan G. Komen Greater New York City Affiliate® board of directors and a delegate joining others from global and Israeli organizations to advance the breast cancer movement in a Susan G. Komen for the Cure® mission trip to Israel Oct. 25-28.