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Event Made us Fizzically Aware

Some of those at the event in Raanana (from above left) Bonnie David and Lori Deutsch, Jon and Sam Mendes, sons of Shari Mendes, founder of the Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, Oran Aviv and Jeannette Michaeli Van Opdorp 

The Lemonade Fund

Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief

Second Annual Women's Health Awareness Evening Raanana 

There were lemons, lemons, everywhere; jars, plates, cakes, and tangy fruit drinks arranged like lemon trees in an orchard, each with a straw in waiting. The hall was bright and upbeat, a comforting environment for an evening whose primary focus was to be breast cancer detection, treatment and survival.

The Women's Health Awareness Evening took place on Wednesday evening, May 4, in the attractive Tali School auditorium in Raanana. The venue was generously donated for this event by the school. Two hundred and thirty participants attended, including this writer. For fun and information, a collection of informal stations was offered: Yoga, Pilates, stress reduction, nutrition, massage, and others.

Shari Mendes hosted the evening. Mendes founded the The Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Fund in August 2011, one year after she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. She nicknamed the fund "Lemonade", from the adage, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. In that vein, entertainer Matan Rosenberg, an international magician and mentalist, kept the lemonade coming. His magic put a smile on the evening.

Three distinguished breast cancer professionals shared their time, knowledge and experience with the forum: Professor Eitan Friedman, Oncogeneticist Director at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer Hospital; Dr. Tanit Allweis, Breast Surgeon Medical Director, Sarah Markowitz, Breast Health Center, Kaplan Medical Center, and Dr. Sharon Galper Grossman, Radiation Oncologist - former Attending Physician - Radiation Oncology, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard University, Boston.

Professor Friedman informed the participants about the BRCA gene. Mutations in this gene are known contributors to breast cancer. The gene is prevalent in Ashkenazi Jewish women at a much higher percentage than in the greater population. Sephardic Jewish women are also known to carry the gene. "We face a great challenge in Israel," he said, "as the percentage of BRCA mutation carriers is higher than elsewhere in the world."

Dr. Allweis focused on the latest advances in breast cancer detection and treatment. Mammograms remain the most used method of breast cancer detection. Annual mammograms are critically important, Dr. Allweis emphasized. In some cases, for a variety of reasons, additional detection methods are performed. These include MRI, imaging and ultrasound.

Dr. Grossman titled her presentation, "Halachic Perspectives on Angelina Jolie". The actress recently announced that she is a BRCA carrier and that she underwent prophylactic (precautionary) mastectomy and oophorectomy (ovary removal) surgeries. This raised a number of Halachic issues. Is it permitted to remove a healthy organ? Does elective surgery violate the prohibitions against wounding oneself and castration? Does prophylactic surgery prevent the woman from being fruitful? Is the BRCA carrier obligated by Halacha to undergo surgery? Halachic scholars differ in opinion on these issues,so for an opinion consult the spiritual guide of your choice.

A breast cancer diagnosis is frightening at best. A treatment plan generally requires 38 weeks. The treatment will include meetings with surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, diagnostic procedures, surgery and, finally, recovery. In her treatment, Mendes was struck by how costly it was to be sick. She became concerned for patients who were dealing with breast cancer and poverty at the same time. "I consider myself lucky," she said, "I had full family support;- not everyone is so privileged." Mendes recognized a need for a breast cancer emergency assistance fund. She researched and found that there was none in Israel, and then made it her business to create one.

Women in breast cancer treatment see their income reduced due to many workdays missed, while their expenses increase due to added transportation and child care costs and necessary purchases such as prostheses, wigs, bras and specialty clothing. Some of these expenses would be reimbursed, but not for months. Treatment can not only break a family financially, but challenges even the most solid coping capabilities. Today, in Israel, thanks to Mendes's foresight and caring, patients don't have to go it alone. Any patient in Israel in advanced stages of cancer is eligible for Lemonade Emergency Fund assistance.

The evening came to a close with the dazzling doings of magician and mentalist Rosenberg. "Where are you from?" he asked me. "California," I answered. We'd met only moments before. "I'm going to study your eyes for a moment and tell you which county in California you're from." And he did, Orange County. Could it have been the lemon-orange connection?

Volunteers Tamara Mendelson and Naomi Mendes

If only magic and mind reading could detect cancer – but they can't. Annual checkups can. The clear message from all the evening's presenters was early detection, early detection and early detection.

Commit to your annual checkup. To borrow from a long past US charitable campaign: – Fight Cancer with a Check-up and a Check.

To donate to the Lemonade

If you, or someone you know needs help, call Anat at ESRA on 09 950 8371.

Gabriella Bat-Aviv is a Kfar Saba-based writer



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