Toby Shylit Mack needed to look no further than her own family for a reason to draft a resolution promoting breast cancer awareness and treatment that was approved at the annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
When her mother was stricken with the disease at the age of 75, Mack said, she got a swift and dramatic education about “the devastating roller-coaster course breast cancer patients endure during chemotherapy, radiation, and recovery.”
Mack is chair of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County.
At the JCPA plenum in Dallas on Feb. 23, the resolution offered by the Monmouth federation was passed after discussion and the addition of several amendments. Signing on as sponsors were Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women, the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, and the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. JCPA is a representative voice of the organized American-Jewish community.
As a child of Holocaust survivors, Mack was without a family health history beyond her parents. Because Ashkenazi Jewish women are more likely to carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, they are at higher risk for breast cancer and she was advised to be tested.
Although she turned out be negative for the mutation, another relative was not so lucky. That woman underwent a double mastectomy and is currently receiving chemotherapy; her prognosis is good, said Mack, because the cancer was caught early through a mammogram.
“Needless to say, this is devastating news for my family,” she said. “My heart breaks for the younger women in my family who will need to address their vulnerability to the BRCA gene mutations.
“The upside is that knowledge is power,” she said. “Because of education and awareness, sophisticated detection technology, and counseling, they will have the opportunity to determine, to the best of their ability and advancing medical protocol and expert advice, the fate of their health and future.”
Mack, a veteran of many fund-raisers to benefit breast cancer research and treatment in Monmouth County, added, “I know too many women, young and old, who have or are survivors of breast cancer” and were feeling “frustrated and helpless.” Then she had a “bashert” encounter.
Last year at the Lion of Judah luncheon at the General Assembly for Jewish federations in Washington, DC, Mack heard Florida Rep. Debra Wasserman Schultz, a breast cancer survivor who is BRCA positive, speak about her ordeal.
Schultz is also the author of breast cancer education and awareness legislation and became the inspiration for Mack to draw up her own resolution.
The JCPA resolution calls for legislation, public health measures, and early education to reduce the risk of breast cancer and provide assistance to individuals diagnosed with the disease. It also advocates programs for genetic and fertility counseling, psychological support, and recurrence prevention training.
It supports the development of materials to assist medical professionals in helping women address the long-term effects of the disease and urges increased funding for research into environmental and other causes. The resolution backs insurance coverage for second opinions on treatment options and diagnosis, urges insurance screening coverage at age 40, and the screening of all women regardless of socioeconomic factors.
“It was a wonderful victory for us,” said CRC director Jill Agate Briggles, who was present for the vote and worked with Mack on the resolution. “This resolution is not only about helping to prevent breast cancer, but also about preventing women from dying from breast cancer.”