Alice Yaker: Executive Director, Advocate, and Dedicated Supporter

alice_yaker 40_for_40

When and how did you get involved with SHARE?

It has been more than 25 years since SHARE came into my life and became a part of me. That seems like a long time but not when you've known the recently deceased Lee Miller, and others like Sandy Warshaw, Diane George, Roberta Schine, Marion Morey, and Roberta Hufnagel who were SHARE's pioneers.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 1990 just shy of my 48th birthday. It should not have come as a great surprise but it did. My paternal aunt had died of breast cancer in her 50's and her daughter had been diagnosed in her 40's. But, given my belief that mortality was not in the picture for me and having a total lack of information about the disease, I was shocked and terrified.

The social worker at the hospital suggested that I call SHARE for information and support. Despite my concerns about seeking emotional help from strangers (after all I was the lucky one with strong family and a network of friends), I called the hotline. Barbara Kronman, the volunteer co-executive director, answered the phone and even in that first call, I understood what this organization was about and what needs it filled. I talked with Barbara about my fears and vulnerabilities, many of which I had not yet shared with those closest to me. She was caring, thoughtful, non-judgmental, and informative, leaving room for my tears and for silence to digest the information and emotional turmoil.

I attended a support group weekly for six weeks and then, with this group of very different people from different backgrounds, continued to meet periodically over the course of months and years, celebrating our lives and grieving together as we lost our sisters.

What have you done for or with SHARE?

I began to volunteer and focused my interest on advocacy. The National Breast Cancer Coalition had just formed with SHARE's Sue McCain, serving as our representative. We organized an advocacy forum locally to highlight the issues that needed to be addressed legislatively and, nervous about whether anyone would attend, watched in awe as 500 people filed into a synagogue on the upper west side to address and hear from our congressional representatives, local legislators and Jimmy Breslin (who told us to lie down on the tarmac at the airport and stop the planes from arriving and leaving until attention was paid to this crisis).

I joined the SHARE Board and in 1993, left my law practice to become SHARE's first full-time paid Executive Director. For me this was the opportunity of a lifetime…one that brought together my abilities and personal passion and enabled me to integrate both my head and my heart.

During the years I served in that capacity…from 1993-1998 and then, after a 5 year hiatus, from 2003-2012…we staff, board and volunteers, did remarkable work together. We built an infrastructure to support the tens of thousands of people who sought our free services. Programs were expanded geographically throughout the city and region; our breast, ovarian, Latina, and metastatic programs were able to garner funding that deepened the work and made it more substantive and accessible. And we developed a unique doctor-patient communication program. Our advocacy arm, working both statewide and nationally provided an opportunity to educate our legislators and ourselves on the power of patient advocacy. We testified at hearings, took Project LEAD, a challenging program of the National Breast Cancer Coalition that enabled us to sit on the Department of Defense research panels (SHARE had the most Project LEAD graduates of any organization in the country); and built a Project LEAD graduate program within SHARE , led by Helen Schiff, that continues to this day.

We diversified our funding and created exciting venues that brought in new supporters…SHARE-A-Walk which had its first year before I became involved but evolved into an extraordinary event that drew thousands to Central Park and continued for many years; A Second Helping of Life, our women chefs tasting event; Pink & Teal, an event to support our corporate outreach and education program of the same name.

How has SHARE helped you?

I know I'm not the only person who has said that SHARE changed my life. I was diagnosed a second time in 2007 and experienced again the power of this organization. I was loved and cared for by my peers; I was provided with updated information and had partners to help guide my decision-making. My sisters at SHARE sat with me during chemo and respected the sign on my door that said "its not a good day" and then laughed about it with me.

What is your 40th anniversary wish for SHARE?

SHARE has just celebrated its 40th anniversary. I don't know how many more years it will be until breast and ovarian cancer has been eradicated from our lives. But until then, we will continue to support those affected by these diseases, empower women to support each other and encourage the patient community to advocate to make the eradication of breast and ovarian cancer a reality in the lifetime of those who come after us. I feel honored to have been and to continue to be a part of this remarkable place in the world.

See all the 40 for 40 series posts here!