This truth might be obvious, but still it doesn’t hurt to say it — the more we know about how to take care of ourselves, the healthier we’ll be.
The more we learn about wellness — the art and craft of making ourselves as healthy as possible — the better stewards of our bodies we will become.
The more we know about our bodies — not only how to keep them healthy, but also the genetic makeup that predisposes us to some diseases — the more we’ll be able to fight the disease we cannot help getting, including heart diseases and cancer.
And the more relaxed and open the venue in which we can hear about both the science and the art behind wellness, the more we can learn, incorporate, and do.
For the third year, Dr. Sharyn Lewin, the medical director of gynecological oncology at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, is offering a panel, “Own Your Own Health,” that gives people the chance to listen to experts and then ask them questions. The morning —at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake — is free, brunch and babysitting are included, and the mood purposely is both serious and unintimidating. (See box.)
“I will be speaking about wellness and cancer prevention, and also about hereditary genetics,” Dr. Lewin said. “We will have the ability to do onsite genetic testing for people if they meet national criteria. They can have a panel for the BRCA gene, as well as any of the other clinically actionable genetic mutations.” The morning also features onsite counseling.
It is likely that many of the people who show up to listen to the panel already have been tested for specific genetic mutations, but Dr. Lewin thinks that many of them should be tested again. “The guidelines put out by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network says that panel testing rather than testing for just a single syndrome is the way to do it,” she said. The network is a nonprofit alliance of 28 cancer centers across the country; its advice is put out by experts, and other experts pay very real attention to it.
The genetic testing at Temple Emanuel will be done either by mouth swab or blood draw, Dr. Lewin said, and it will take a few weeks for results to come back. The counseling that accompanies it is free; the testing itself will be paid by the insurance policies of anyone who qualifies.
Qualifying will be disquietingly easy. “The guidelines for the criteria are continuously evolving,” Dr. Lewin said. “People who might not have met the criteria in the past might meet it now.
“Jewish women do not have to meet a lot of criteria to be tested — just to be Ashkenazi, and then have one other criteria. If there is breast cancer in the family, of someone of any age, then they meet the criteria.”
The tests are for everyone, of any age or gender.
“One in three women and one in two men will be diagnosed with cancer,” Dr. Lewin said. “The data supports that half of all those cancers — which is a huge number — could be prevented if people made some lifestyle modifications.
“When you tell people that they have that risk, but they can modify it, that is a powerful message.
“One of the leading causes of cancer now is obesity,” Dr. Lewin continued. “It’s been linked to about 11 different kinds of cancers. Losing weight is difficult, but the impact of having a healthy body weight and eating a healthy diet is huge. And the data supports that finding.”
There are five things that someone can do to cut down his or her risk of being diagnosed with those 11 cancers. They are, first, “staying in an ideal body weight.” Dr. Lewin suggests using a chart that shows suggested BMI.
Second, she said, eat a healthy diet; that and maintaining an appropriate weight “go hand in hand.” Third, exercise 150 minutes a week, which comes out to 30 minutes five times a week. Forth, don’t smoke; fifth, limit alcohol intake.
These are not necessarily easy goals, Dr. Lewin acknowledged, but their effect on a person’s life makes them well worth the effort.
Dr. Lewin is enthusiastic about the three speakers on the panel. They are Debbie Besson and Zankahana Raval of Holy Name; Ms. Besson is a nutritionist and Dr. Raval is a cardiologist. Dr. Lisa Weinstock is a radiologist.
“We really have an all-star panel,” Dr. Lewin began. “Debbie Besson is a phenomenal nutritionist who has an expertise in cancer prevention and wellness. She has spoken at many events, including our last two.”
Among Ms. Besson’s skills are her aptitude at debunking. “There is a lot out there on social media about which diets and which foods are good for cancer prevention,” Dr. Lewin said. “Debbie can give you true data.” Some of what people hear is true, she continued. “Debbie can talk about the keto diet and intermittent fasting. Those are good things.
“Some things are evidence based, and some things are not, and she can talk about which is which.”
Next, Dr. Raval is “a phenomenal cardiologist, who will talk about the optimization of cardiovascular health for both men and women, of all ages. A lot of it goes into exercise and diet.
“Cardiovascular disease is a bigger killer than cancer,” Dr. Lewin said. “It’s more common and more prevalent than cancer. So it’s very important to learn ways to keep cholesterol and blood pressure low, and to develop strategies to avoid heart disease.
“Dr. Weinstock works with breast imaging, and she will talk about that, mammograms, and ultrasound. People who are dedicated breast imagers are different from regular radiologists.
“There is a lot of controversy about ideal intervals for breast screening. She will talk about that, and also about dense breasts, and what that means. She also has a lot of expertise in genetic testing, so she’ll talk about that too.”
This morning will offer something different, Dr. Lewin said. It’s not a standard auditorium-based, frontal discussion. “It’s unique and one of a kind because of the panelists we have and the subject matter we will be talking about. We not only tell people what we think they should do, but we explain why.
“There will be a relaxed format; the speakers will be sitting on a couch, like Ellen DeGeneres, and the audience will have a lot of time to ask questions.
“In the past, we have had robust discussions, because people in the audience got their questions answered and panelists had a unique level of expertise.”
The morning is sponsored, at last count, by eight organizations, including Sharsheret, the Teaneck-based nonprofit that offers support to young Jewish women facing cancer and their families. Dr. Lewin is on the group’s medical advisory board, and Elana Silber is its executive director.
She’s glad to be sponsoring the panel.
“Any time that we have the opportunity to raise awareness and highlight women’s health, we are happy to do it,” Ms. Silber said. “Living a healthy life before, during, and after cancer is critical to continued health at any stage. The way in which women can really improve their quality of life is by establishing and continuing a healthy lifestyle.
“We share information about genetics and the risk of cancer, because even women who are healthy need to understand their risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and the things they can do to protect their health.
“Dr. Lewin is on our board, and we are supportive of the work she does,” Ms. Silber continued. “She certainly is a superstar. We commend the incredible work she does. She refers her patients to us for the psychosocial supports we give, which complements the medical care she gives.”
She also knows Dr. Weinstock, who is “a well-respected radiologist who really understands the issues of women with breast cancer,” Ms. Silber said. “She has written blogs for Sharsheret.” Dr. Weinstock also “takes an interest in the issue of dense breasts.
“It is important for women to explore the issue of dense breasts when they go for screening,” she continued. “The challenge is that younger women tend to have more dense breasts than older women do.” Sharsheret’s target population includes many of those women. “The modality is mammograms, but it is good to complement them with ultrasound, because it is harder to read a mammogram on dense breasts.”
But, she cautioned, she is not a doctor, and her staff are not doctors either. “We want to educate about how important it is to see a doctor, and to talk to a doctor.” Ask about dense breasts, she said; in fact, ask about anything that troubles you. If you do not know the answer, ask a doctor. If you do not understand the question, ask a doctor.
And that is exactly what everyone who goes to the panel Dr. Lewin will moderate can do. Ask a doctor. Get tested. Get counseled. (Also get brunch and get babysitting.) Dr. Lewin and her panel of experts will be able to answer you.
Who: Dr. Sharyn Lewin, medical director of gynecological oncology at Holy Name Medical Center and executive director of the Lewin Fund
What: Will host and moderate a panel, “Own Your Health”
When: On Sunday, May 5, from 10:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.
Where: At Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, 87 Overlook Drive, Woodcliff Lake
How much: Free
For more information or to register: Call (929) 224-2293
or go to TheLewinFund.org