Susan Hyman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, the same disease that took her sister at just 46 years old.
Today, Hyman, who received treatment at Einstein Medical Center, helps support other women battling breast cancer and fundraises to support programs with the Breast Cancer Action Group, an arm of the Friends of Einstein Healthcare Network (formerly the Einstein Auxiliary).
After Hyman was finished with treatment, she and a friend, also a breast cancer survivor, learned of an educational symposium the early form of the Action Group was holding and decided to go.
“We liked it and became as active as we could be,” recalled Hyman, who now serves as the co-vice president.
With the group, Hyman, who is Jewish but no longer belongs to a synagogue, helps organize breast cancer education programs, outreach in the community, symposiums and evening programs where physician panel groups speak about different breast cancer topics.
A key program the group supports is the Women in Need (WIN) program, which started in 1997 to provide breast diagnostic services to women who otherwise could not afford it.
“It’s very important to us that every woman receives the treatment that she needs, even if she can’t pay for it or she doesn’t have insurance,” Hyman said. “No woman should be without treatment just because she can’t afford it or if she needs a wig — whatever she needs.”
Two weeks ago, the group met for an annual fundraising evening and symposium, featuring speaker Jennifer Hayden, author of Story of My Tits, and Lisa Jablon, breast surgeon and director of the Women’s Breast Health Program at Einstein.
The event was held in honor of Janet Lewin, a longtime board member and member of the Breast Cancer Action Group. A breast cancer survivor herself, Lewin died of another cause this past January.
A foundation was created in her name, for which the group also raised money at the event. Hyman noted she isn’t sure yet how it will be doled out, but it will be related to breast cancer.
“We’re really all about breast cancer education and action and support,” Hyman said. “Anything that we can do, that’s what it’s all about.”
The Breast Cancer Action Group evolved from an initial symposium created about 35 years ago by Robert Somers, who recently retired after 50 years as a longtime breast surgeon and former chairman of surgery for Einstein, and his wife, Ronnie Somers.
Robert Somers performed his first lumpectomy in June 1980. A neighbor at the time felt a lump on her breast, and he checked it out for her. He knew of successful studies on lumpectomies and performed one for her when she agreed. This patient recently celebrated 37 years cancer-free.
More women heard about his practice and came “out of the woods” for lumpectomies.
“I became the first breast surgeon in Philadelphia and it began to expand to the point where in a couple of years, I gave up all the rest of my practice,” he said, noting he started in general surgery. “When this started, some of the doctors got together — medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, mammographers — we used to meet once a week to discuss every active patient and started the breast health program at that time.
“It looked like it was catching on,” he continued. “The hospital was interested and began to support it and in the early 1980s, I began to have an annual symposium for women.”
They filled the space of the Gouley Auditorium and brought in speakers such as author and journalist Betty Rollin, and it grew to the point where the symposiums were broken up into smaller groups.
This evolved into the Breast Cancer Action Group.
“I presented that idea for this group to the then-president of the Auxiliary at Einstein,” Ronnie Somers recalled, “and the women voted on it and it became official that it was an arm of the Auxiliary.
“The Breast Cancer Action Group is dedicated to empowering women in the fight against breast cancer. Survivors, their families, their friends, and those who have lost loved ones to breast cancer get together to save lives through breast cancer awareness efforts,” she added. “Our group focuses its energy on advocating [for] patients’ rights and sponsoring education and outreach programs on all aspects of breast health.”
For the two, who are longtime congregants of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am, one of the most important goals of the group is giving women knowledge.
“With all the programs, the educational programs and support programs and symposiums we have, we give women knowledge,” Robert Somers said. “And the more knowledge they have, the more control they have over their own decisions.”
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