Sixty women currently undergoing chemotherapy are cozy and warm under the beautifully designed blankets knitted and crocheted by members of the Cancer Thrivers Network for Jewish Women. The blankets are included in gift baskets distributed to chemo patients by the Living for Music Foundation. But the knitters reap greater gifts by their efforts of tikkun olam as they enjoy the warmth of camaraderie and a sense of purpose in gathering together for an important cause.

Cancer Thrivers Network for Jewish Women was founded in 2008 by Franklin resident Sandy Schwartz, Michelle Passon, now of Tampa, Florida, and Patti Nemer (z”l). Conceived as an empowering network — not a support group — for Jewish women living with or recovering from cancer, the group invites those who want to thrive (not merely survive); to be active, to enjoy life and to share the comfort of others who have had similar experiences. As Schwartz recalls, “When Patti was in treatment, she couldn’t find her place. It bothered her when she saw friends and they asked how are you? with the ‘shiva’ face and voice.”

Sandy Schwartz

“To celebrate life, we all need three bones: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone,”says Sandy Schwartz, running strong in heels, and playfully shown here with the red shoe that’s become enigmatic of Thrivers’ logo.

The collective understanding among the women in the group binds them together without even speaking about their personal experiences. As Rita Sitron, the organization’s co-chair says, “We do not talk about illness.” Said Miriam Cohen, Chairperson of Thrivers, “We are a network of primarily Jewish women sharing a common history, providing opportunities to develop friendships, enjoy life and thrive with others. These are women who might never have met one another  under different circumstances.”

Now in its eighth year, Cancer Thrivers Network for Jewish Women serves the community under the auspices of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Metropolitan Detroit. “One of the ways Cancer Thrivers fits really well with JFS is that over the last many years, JFS has focused increasingly on wellness,” said Perry Ohren, Chief Executive Officer of Jewish Family Service.” And Cancer Thrivers is all about wellness – helping people get well one day at a time, one connection at a time.”

In addition to knitting blankets, members of the organization participate in a wide range of health and wellness programs, including book club groups, community outreach, spirituality and education. Recognizing the need for ongoing fundraising, the Cancer Thrivers Network recently hosted Ruach! Celebrating Life, a fundraising event and an opportunity to share the latest in cancer research and news. “We were honored to host Dr. Daniel Hayes as the keynote speaker at our event,” said Cohen. “A national leader in cancer research, Dr. Hayes is Clinical Director of the Breast Oncology Program at the University of Michigan, working at the forefront of what is happening in cancer prevention today.”

The funds raised from nearly 250 attendees at the event help the group to sustain its programing and activities without charging membership dues. In her remarks to the group, Sandy noted the words so often said by Patti Nemer, of blessed memory: As thrivers, we’ve already paid our dues. But truly, we are grateful to every person who supports our mission to promote a greater understanding of the importance of a safe place for those impacted by cancer and the vital role of survivorship programming.

Reflecting on her own journey, Sandy continued: “When we founded Cancer Thrivers, I was thirty years post-surgery. Now I find myself four years into metastatic disease, and I can say I have truly benefited from the camaraderie and friendship that the Cancer Thrivers Network provides.”

In closing,  Sandy added her own words of Jewish wisdom for thrivers, survivors and friends everywhere, “To celebrate life, we all need three bones: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.”

Cancer Thrivers Report: “What’s New in Cancer?”

The Cancer Thrivers Network fundraising event on Monday, July 11, 2016, at Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield, hosted Dr. Daniel Hayes, President of American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and Clinical Director, Breast Oncology Program at University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Here’s what event attendees learned about what’s new in cancer, as reported by Dr. Hayes:

Cancer Progress

  • Many cancers are less common than they used to be, such as lung, colon and stomach, due to changes in environment, lifestyles and prevention (screening and early detection).
  • Still a major problem: U.S. in 2016: 1,685,210 new cancer cases and 595,690 cancer deaths

Immunotherapy

  • The immune system is designed to get rid of invading germs from outside our bodies, but cannot go after our own cells, even if they are malignant. Scientists now can break these malignant cells “cloak of invisibility.” There are at least seven new drugs that can break the cell’s “cloak” and go after melanoma, colon, lung and other cancers as well.

Precision Medicine

  • Genes are made of DNA. Mutations in DNA lead to abnormal proteins and to cancer. One of the most exciting areas of cancer treatment is to determine what the mutations in DNA are, and develop drugs that “precisely” target them.

Cancer Moonshot

  • The White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force is an initiative announced by President Obama at his final State of the Union address, and is chaired by Vice President Biden. Goals include building exciting “rocketships” of infrastructure for research, funding and to generate passion for the cause.

About Cancer Thrivers Network for Jewish Women

Cancer Thrivers Network for Jewish Women is a program of Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit. Founded in 2008, its mission is to enrich and empower Jewish women through activities, friendship, resources, education and humor. The Network welcomes women who have been diagnosed with any kind of cancer at any time in their lives. For further information: please contact Tracy Agranove at 248.592.2267 or tagranove@jfsdetroit.org

Featured above from the left to right: Back row – Michelle Passon, Sandy Schwartz, Nancy Firestone and Sharon Rocklin. Front row – Sheila Levine, Silvia Marcus, Adele Staller, Miriam Cohen, Pam Goldberg.  (Photos: Susie Yesenko.)

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