October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. In Judaism, chai, represents life. During October, pink symbolizes life, the lives of the thousands of women and families that are affected by breast cancer each year. Athletes wear pink socks, pink ribbons at the grocery store, pink is seen everywhere. This symbolism of life perpetuates throughout our lives for an entire month. This parallels the idea of chai being a constant in our lives. Recognition is important, but a true analysis of the numbers is troubling.
A breast cancer diagnosis will result in approximately 40,000 women’s deaths this year, with a disproportionate number of those women being Ashkenazi Jews. One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews - both men, and women - carry a mutation on the BRCA gene. To compare this with a well known Jewish gene mutation, one in 30 Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier of Tay-Sachs. When compared to the risk the general population faces, which is about one in 345, this is an alarming statistic! These BRCA mutations dramatically increase people’s chance of getting not only breast cancer but also ovarian cancer. Women who have a BRCA mutation face an 80% chance of developing breast cancer. There have been many breakthroughs in the treatment of breast cancer, but there is still much more work to be done. More and more breast cancer survival stories are being told, and early detection is the key to winning this terrible war.
At the national level, many organizations, such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, are holding programs in October to raise awareness. UF Hillel has partnered with Sharsheret, a non-profit organization that aims to assist young Jewish women who are affected by breast and ovarian cancer, and educate about the hereditary predisposition that Jews have. Sharsheret means “chain.” One of the most important things that a victim can do is seek the support of their family, and surrounding community. Sharsheret is essentially a “chain of support” between families, communities, and healthcare professionals.
In support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, on Friday, October 5, UF Hillel, along with AEPhi and Sharsheret, are hosting our annual Pink Shabbat. Students and community members from the Gainesville area will gather to recognize the importance of breast cancer education and detection, especially among Jewish women.