Joan Berkowitz: Support Group Facilitator with a Passion for SHARE

joan_berkowitz 40_for_40

When and how did you get involved with SHARE?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer 24 years ago. I first came to SHARE a couple of years later when I saw Brooklyn SHARE advertised in a local newspaper. My husband, a physician, had shown me a study that demonstrated that those who attended a breast cancer support group had a median survival rate two-­and-­a-­half years longer than those who didn't attend a support group. Based on that research, I decided to face my fears and attend SHARE"s support group, located at that time in the Kings Plaza community room.

In what ways have you been involved with SHARE over the years?

After I attended the group for a couple of years, Susan Rosenthal tapped me to be a facilitator. I didn't think I had the qualities to be a facilitator, but with Susan's encouragement I agreed to attend training led by Jane Soyer to see if I felt differently after the training was over. Upon completion, I still didn't feel quite comfortable with this new role until a SHARE board member complimented me publicly and urged me to reconsider. I decided that I needed to push myself to try facilitating and so I agreed to lead a newly­ diagnosed group that SHARE was initiating at the Kings Bay Y.

The facilitating experience has been extremely rewarding. Making the confusing and frightening process of dealing with a diagnosis of breast cancer easier to navigate for others gives me tremendous personal satisfaction. The members of this group are very committed. I am still in touch with two of the very early members; they have become a part of my family, and we celebrate holidays together in my home.

I worked for years with the SSI disability program in a Social Security office. Whenever I encountered people through that program who were facing breast and/or ovarian cancer, I referred them to SHARE. Social Security was my paid job, but SHARE is my passion.

How has SHARE helped you?

SHARE was invaluable to me when I was facing breast cancer. I was in despair, fearing I might become metastatic, and worried that my young children might be growing up without their mother. Through SHARE I was able to talk with others who helped me get through it.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was a stay-­at-­home mom, with too much time on my hands to think horrible thoughts. I also relied on my husband for information; I wasn't empowered. Through the SHARE support group, I learned I needed to be in control of my health decisions.

What is your 40th anniversary wish for SHARE?

That there should be no breast cancer or ovarian cancer; that medical advances continue and accelerate so that people don't have to face these diseases. I also hope SHARE continues as long as needed to do the work it does for as many women as possible.

See all the 40 for 40 series posts here!