Birthdays are a big deal for Rhea Goldsmith of Little Silver. When she turns 47 on Nov. 23, it will mark eight years since she was diagnosed with breast cancer — eight months into her pregnancy with her third child.
Goldsmith is one of 14 committee members cochairing the Breast Cancer Education & Awareness Expo from 5 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27, at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal. The expo, which is free and open to the public, will feature a keynote address by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), herself a cancer survivor.
The Jewish Federation of Monmouth County is presenting the expo, which is sponsored by Monmouth Medical Center; cosponsors are the Southern NJ Region of Hadassah, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Sakar ShopRite. Dr. David Sharon, director of Monmouth Medical’s Leon Hess Cancer Center, will moderate a panel of leading medical experts.
The expo, said Goldsmith, will present the latest information on genetic testing and treatment. “There is so much information and so many fund-raisers during October, breast cancer awareness month. It is important not to give people the same info year after year because they will start to lose interest,” she told NJJN.
Going through chemotherapy just weeks before her baby’s birth, Goldsmith said, created a special bond between her and her daughter. Her older children are boys. “I am particularly interested in getting out the newest information on genetic testing,” she said. “This event is primarily about prevention and detection. Obviously our dream is that our children do not have to go through what we did.”
Goldsmith recalled being diagnosed right before a holiday weekend, and her panicked attempts to see a doctor. Dr. Debra Camal — medical director of Monmouth Medical’s Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center, who will serve on the expo panel — was set to leave on vacation but agreed to meet her at the end of the day, said Goldsmith. “She spent an hour and a half helping us figure out what to do. She was so kind and generous with her time and was very instrumental in helping us get through the whole process.”
Knowledge empowers patients, Sharon told NJJN. Genetic counseling is in high demand at the hospital, due to the large Jewish population in the area and the disproportionate incidence of breast cancer among Ashkenazi women, he said.
“There are extreme advancements being made in early detection. It’s important for people to hear positive news because it raises people’s level of hope and keeps them focused on a positive result,” Sharon said. “At Monmouth Medical, we have access to the latest and greatest in technology…including a new type of robotic ultrasound machine and a new breast imaging technology called breast specific gamma imaging.”
Other participants will include oncologist Dr. Seth Cohen, who will lead the panel discussion; genetic counselor Sherry Grumet; Dr. Debra Ray, a specialist in high risk cancer assessment; and Dr. Jorge Pardes, who will talk about imaging advancements.
Event chair Toby Shylit Mack, the federation’s community relations chair, said it’s an honor to have an esteemed panel of experts and a nationally prominent keynote speaker. “It has been my personal mission to help ensure this kind of information is widely available,” she said.
Ashkenazi women are at a greater risk for carrying the BRCA 1 & 2 gene mutations, which drastically changes the protocol for survival, Shylit Mack said. “Genetic testing and other vital information provide choices that can help ensure survival for these women and their female children.
“Armed with the right knowledge all women can be the masters of their fate.”
Shylit Mack also cited Wasserman Schultz’s “courageous personal journey with breast cancer,” adding that the EARLY Act breast cancer education and awareness legislation Wasserman Schultz authored inspired her own advocacy efforts. In 2010, Shylit Mack drafted for the Monmouth federation the Breast Cancer Education Resolution promoting awareness and treatment; it was approved at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ annual plenum in February that year.
Wasserman Schultz, who has served in Congress since 2005, is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and the first Jewish congresswoman elected from Florida.
A representative of another partner organization, Marnee Bloomfield of Wayside, Ocean Township Hadassah’s president, said she is proud to collaborate on this critically important community event.
“It’s an issue that touches everybody. We all know and care for someone who has suffered with breast cancer in some way,” said Bloomfield, who in recent years helped two friends who went through breast cancer treatments. “I can’t think of a more important community outreach event than this.”