The first time Jane Loeb Rubin dealt with cancer, she tried to put the whole experience behind her as quickly as she could.
The second time, 10 years later, she took a very different route — delving deep into all that the illness illuminated for her.
Rubin, who lives in Randolph, began writing — about fear, loss (including her first marriage), resilience, and love.
She published a book, Almost a Princess: My Life as a Two-Time Cancer Survivor, this spring and has been using it as vehicle to meet audience after audience, in an effort to help others.
As she says in the book, it is addressed “to those who have struggled with serious health challenges and are determined to live each day to the fullest.”
On Sept. 18, she was at the JCC of Central New Jersey, as a guest speaker at its Fitness and Wellness Center. She will speak in West Orange on Oct. 16, in Manhattan on Oct. 17, and in Maplewood on Oct. 22 (details are at her website, almostaprincess.com).
Half the proceeds from sales of her book go to the Mathilda Fund, which Rubin set up and named in memory of her paternal great-grandmother. Mathilda, she discovered, died in her 30s or mid-40s of a euphemistically named “women’s disease,” probably cancer. The money will go to fund the participation of Morristown and Overlook medical centers — both part of the Atlantic Health System — in an innovative screening trial for ovarian cancer.
She pointed out that 21,000 women a year in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and about 15,000 die of it. However, with the 25 percent of ovarian cancer detected early, the survival rate is higher than 90 percent.
Rubin’s efforts are fueled in part by the disproportionately high genetic propensity for breast and ovarian cancer in the Ashkenazi population. Among those focusing on cancer awareness among Jewish women are Sharsheret, a Teaneck-based organization that has linked up with Jewish Family Service of Central NJ, and Trinitas Regional Health Center, which has held a number of programs at the JCC and at the YM-YWHA of Union County.
With October designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month, breast cancer activists will have a higher than usual profile.
While celebrating the advances in breast cancer care, Rubin stressed the need to bring the same effort to other forms too. Research into ovarian cancer is decades behind breast cancer, Rubin said. “There is a lot that we don’t know, and research is where the answer will lie.”
A hospital administrator for over two decades, she is now director of neuroscience for Atlantic Health System. It was through that job that she met Nancy Gross, who leads a long-running and very popular course in narrative medicine at Overlook in Summit, encouraging people to write about their experiences with illness and recovery.
Writing gave her a way to take control of what she was feeling. “It was very cathartic,” she said. Establishing the fund, and dedicating the proceeds to it, helped also to follow her husband David’s advice not to “look down” at her predicament, but ahead, to where she was determined to get.
Her approach isn’t sugar-coated. She doesn’t favor the pink bows used to symbolize breast cancer. Instead she wears a medallion she had designed for the Mathilda Fund, an oval with loops of different colors. “Cancer isn’t about tidy bows,” she said. “A lot of hearts get tied to this disease, entangled together.”
Her breast cancer was diagnosed 13 years ago, and later tests showed she carries the BRCA 1 gene mutation. Rubin had prophylactic surgery to remove her remaining breast and a total hysterectomy. She also began a fastidious regimen of regular check-ups.
That didn’t prevent the next round. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer. However, she said, her regimen might have saved her life. The new growth was discovered during one of those check-ups, years after others might have decided they were in the clear. She underwent chemotherapy, and is doing well.
Happily married for the second time, Rubin has three grown children and is delighting in her first grandchild. It’s very clear that she likes her life and wants many more years of it.
“I’m monitoring my C-125 level, and it is always going to be monitored from here on in,” she said. “You play the hand that you’ve been dealt. At some point, your health catches up with your circumstances, and the question is how you deal with it.”