Some novel methods will soon be used by UJA-Federation in the fight against breast cancer. Realizing that Orthodox women with large families will not hang breast self-examination cards in their showers, it will ask mikvehs to hang the cards in their showers.
And to entice immigrants from the former Soviet Union to get mammograms, UJA-Federation will offer them free cosmetics.
These are just two of a new series of initiatives UJA-Federation and its affiliated agencies, community centers and hospitals are preparing to launch in coming weeks in response to heightened concerns about breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“There’s a UJA-Federation-funded breast cancer project in every county that is 100 percent funded by donor dollars,” said Bob Wolf, the organization’s assistant executive director for planning and allocations.
“If you put pins on the map, we have sites everywhere and a bunch of the key sites where we have targeted the underserved population are in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens,” he said. The three targeted populations are the elderly, immigrants and the Orthodox, including chasidim.
The projects are an outgrowth of a UJA-Federation Task Force on Breast Cancer that began meeting 18 months ago.
During one of the meetings, a participant mentioned that mobile mammography equipment was used several years ago at the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck, Queens. That visit revealed a spot on the breast of at least one woman that required follow-up examination, according to the chair of the task force, Nancy Hirschtritt.
“Our task force then focused on how we could bring that equipment to the Russian-speaking and the Orthodox Jewish communities, where there are cultural issues that have to be addressed,” said Hirschtritt. “Mobile mammography is not a new idea, but we had to decide how best to use it and to market it with sensitivity.”
Wolf said UJA-Federation’s Jewish Board of Family and Childrens’ Services was then called upon to work with Cancer Care in reaching out to the targeted populations. He said JBFCS has done a “fabulous job in working with local rabbis and other community leaders on the issue of domestic violence during the last three years. It has received the cooperation of all Orthodox yeshivot and it got a rabbinical ruling [toward that end]. It used the basic operating principle that saving lives comes before everything, and I expect to get similar cooperation [with respect to breast cancer].”
Wolf said JBFCS would be approaching mikvehs in the Borough Park, Flatbush and Midwood sections of Brooklyn over the next few months to ask them to post the breast self-examination cards.
Observant married Jewish women go to mikvehs seven days after their period, before resuming sexual intercourse with their husbands. Wolf said that “happens to be the perfect time of the month to do a self-examination. We are going to start this in Brooklyn as a pilot project.”
Regarding immigrants, Wolf said a number of those from the former Soviet Union fear the radiation of mammograms. But he said those familiar with the emigre community believe the women will undergo screenings if they are offered free cosmetics.
“We got a cosmetic company we work with to donate cosmetic sampler bags that we’ll give away to serve as an incentive,” he said. “And we have a Russian-speaking social worker who will do follow-ups with those who test positive.
“This is a wonderful bringing together of diverse UJA-Federation resources. And if we can save the lives of emgire women who would not have been tested, that will be worth ten times as much as we put into this effort.”
The breast cancer detection projects being initiated in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens involve a consortium of organizations whose lead agencies are Cancer Care and the Jewish Healing Center, which recently became affiliated with JBFCS.
Pinchas Berger, JBFCS’s director of Jewish community services, said the projects involve providing an educational seminar about breast cancer at five sites in those boroughs. That will be followed later by breast cancer screening using mobile mammography equipment.
Janet Sherman, director of the Jewish Healing Center, said dates for this project are still being finalized to ensure the mobile mammography equipment will be on site just a week or two after the educational program. She said they want to schedule the screening soon after the seminar so that the information will be fresh in everyone’s minds, and women will return for the breast cancer screening.Berger said the mammograms will be free for those without health insurance.
The five sites selected for the project are: the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island; the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst; the Shorefront Y in Brooklyn; the Sephardic Community Center in Brooklyn; and the Northeast Queens Jewish Community Council, which includes a network of synagogues and the Samuel Field Y.
Berger said that because of the large number of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union who now live near the Shorefront Y and the JCH of Bensonhurst, those seminars will be offered in both Russian and English. All material distributed will be bilingual.
The seminar will include a discussion of breast health issues, such as the need for regular checkups, and a demonstration of how to conduct self-examinations.
Preliminary studies indicate that a small percentage of Ashkenazi Jewish women have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, which some believe lead to a greater predisposition to contracting breast cancer.
Also to be discussed will be the latest medical advances in the fight against breast cancer. Last month, an advisory committee recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve two drugs to fight breast cancer. One, tamoxifen, cuts the risk of breast cancer in some healthy women. The other, Herceptin, could help many advanced cases of breast cancer.
Despite the recommendation, some doctors have been wary of prescribing tamoxifen for patients who have a high risk of the disease, apparently because of its side effects. Although it can cut the risk of breast cancer by 45 percent in women, it may cause fetal abnormalities if taken by women who are pregnant and has been found to more than double the risk of uterine cancer.
Some doctors surveyed said they have instead been prescribing raloxifene, which has been approved by the FDA to prevent osteoporosis. It appears to have fewer side effects, is not toxic in the uterus, and protects against both breast cancer and osteoporosis.
As part of the new initiative, Berger said support groups for breast cancer victims and their families will be developed at each of the five sites.
Ruth Perelson, chair of UJA-Federation’s Task Force on the Jewish Woman, said a support group is a welcome idea because “there is nothing more isolating than going through a major illness — you feel terribly alone.”
She noted that UJA-Federation is now working on a resource directory to list all UJA-Federation resources in the New York area dealing with breast and ovarian cancer. According to plans, the publication will include a list of all UJA-Federation affiliated hospitals and agencies that offer programs directly related to Jewish women. The directory is slated for publication by the end of the year.