Revolutionizing Support for Russian Women with Breast Cancer
When Lara Troyanovsky’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1980s, she did not want to undergo surgery. But family members encouraged her to have a mastectomy so that she could live longer and be present for her children.
“After her surgery, she never returned to her regular self,” said Lara. “It was a huge tragedy that could have been avoided. If breast cancer had been less stigmatized in Russia and if she had had more support, it would have made all the difference.”
Lara, a passionate woman with a can-do spirit, is a wife, mother, full-time television producer, and co-creator of “Torah Quest,” a weekly Russian-language Torah vlog that she runs with a JWRP sister. But, since her mother’s experience, she had also wanted to find a way to support women in Russia who suffer from breast cancer. When Lara’s Trip Leader shared her own experience with discovering that she was a BRCA gene carrier and deciding to have a mastectomy, Lara felt inspired to take action.
“In Russia, you can’t even get tested for the BRCA gene. When women find out that they have breast cancer, they often have no idea where to get treated,” said Lara. “Doctors who do know how to treat breast cancer often do not have good bedside manners. So if they can afford it, many women travel to Israel or Europe for treatment.”
During a JWRP Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, Lara, together with other JWRP sisters, hatched an idea for an organization that will provide support for Russian women with breast cancer. The organization, which has not yet been named, will include a one-stop shop for breast cancer diagnosis and follow-up support. During a two-hour visit, women will be able to get tested for the BRCA gene, have a mammogram and ultrasound, and receive additional support.
The organization will also include an informational portal that features vital answers to questions that Russian women with breast cancer are often too embarrassed to ask. Questions may include, “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. What are the next steps?,” “Where’s the best place to have surgery?,” and “How long will treatment last?”
Through the JWRP community, Lara and her JWRP sisters have tapped into a network of women with the know-how to get this initiative off the ground. Recently, JWRP City Leader Dvori Mandel connected the director of Rambam Clinic in Moscow to the director of Noga Clinic, a medical center in Jerusalem for women with breast cancer. Within minutes, they were discussing their experiences and future ideas and reconvened at the Noga Clinic. Rambam would like to partner with Lara's future organization and house the one-stop shop to meet the needs of women who have breast cancer. Dvori also connected with Hadassah, which publishes educational material about breast cancer treatment, and Lara hopes her organization will be able to translate the material to Russian and distribute it locally.
Women's Health, a Russian organization that hosts support groups for Moscow-based women who have breast cancer, runs a training program to educate doctors in small Russian towns about appropriate breast cancer follow up. Lara would like her organization to help expand the program someday. She is also looking forward to leveraging her professional connections to gain exposure for her budding organization. Though Lara says that she and her JWRP sisters are only just in the initial planning stages, they are excited to build this organization that may revolutionize support for Russian women with breast cancer.
“In Russia, women feel like breast cancer hurts their womanhood, so they’re ashamed to talk about it,” said Lara. “But, when women share their experiences and support one another, they can get the help they need and also look and feel amazing.”