Many of us have had the shocking and sad experience of hearing that a mother, sister, grandmother, daughter, or friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The medical community is immediately engaged, procedures are done but what comes next?
What came next, for more than 30 years, was an eight-week free program created by the National Council of Jewish Women that included swimming and exercise guided by a registered physical therapist and group discussions led by a psychologist or a clinical social worker.
Ruth Cowan displays the new "History of ABCs" book at last month’s convention in Chicago of the National Council of Jewish Women.
That program, called After Breast Cancer Surgery, or ABCs, was discontinued last year, but a new book, "History of ABCs 1976-‘007," records its achievements.
Begun by Ruth Cowan, a licensed physical therapist in Teaneck, and her friend in NCJW Shirley Hart, the program served some 1,500 women and two men, over the years, from the ages of ‘7 to 85. From 1976 to ‘007 meetings were held weekly: for 14 years in the Jewish Center of Teaneck and for ‘1 years in the YJCC in Washington Township with support from the YWCA of Hackensack.
The issues that confronted the participants from putting on a bathing suit to removing their wigs if they were receiving chemotherapy had to be handled with the greatest of sensitivity to this emotionally drained group. The discussions focused on relieving depression, pain, fear of metastasis, loss of femininity, and reducing anxiety.
The ABCs program became the prototype for other programs nationally. It was an active voice in the field of advocacy to encourage mammograms; supported the Breast Cancer Protection Act in Congress, which guaranteed a minimal hospital stay of 48 hours for a person who had had a mastectomy; collected signatures to promote federally supported breast cancer research; and was a founding member of "Follow the Money" to ensure that monies for breast cancer causes were being appropriately used.
But by ‘007, Cowan told The Jewish Standard, improved early detection with mammography, the fact that fewer women are on hormone replacement therapy, and improved surgical procedures eliminated the need for the program. It had given "people courage to continue their lives," she said, "learning from others."
Also, she said, it showed that "people of different backgrounds can work together to produce a wonderful outcome."
The National Council of Jewish Women-Bergen County Section will host a reception and presentation of the book at Temple Emeth in Teaneck on Tuesday, April 15, from 1′:30 to 1 p.m.