North Seattle resident Jill Cohen got to use a few of her 15 minutes of fame when she was quoted in the April 9, 2007, edition of People magazine.
The quote concerned Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Presidential hopeful John Edwards, and her announcement that she had metastatic breast cancer, the same disease Jill has been living with for five years. When Edwards made the statement, Jill had just arrived in Las Vegas for a meeting of the Young Survival Coalition (www.youngsurvival.org), which supports younger women with breast cancer.
“I got there on Thursday and turned on the TV, and who’s plastered all over [it], but John and Elizabeth Edwards. Of course I couldn’t turn it off,” says Jill.
“The breast cancer world is filled with women who have…been cured,” she muses. “There’s very little information about women who have recurring disease, what I call the darker side of pink.”
Pink, of course, is the “color” of breast cancer research fundraising and awareness.
“I can’t think of any public figure, who has metastatic breast cancer,” adds Cohen, “so I was fascinated by the coverage.”
People’s reporter reached Jill through Young Survival, and they spoke for about an hour. The end result was a short quote in a sidebar. (A longer quote was shortened to make room for related news of White House press secretary Tony Snow’s recurring colon cancer.)
Jill was diagnosed with and treated for Stage Two breast cancer in 1999.
“Everyone thought I’d be fine because we found the cancer early,” she says.
Three years later, Cohen had a sore leg. “It felt like a pulled muscle,” she says. An X-ray revealed extensive bone metastases in both femurs. Later that day that bone broke and she required emergency surgery to pin the leg bone to the hip bone.
An MRI uncovered metastases in many other places, including her skull, femurs and thighs. She couldn’t walk unassisted for four months.
“My oncologist would tell me ‘bones heal slowly, you’re going to be fine.’ He [Dr. Sheldon Goldberg] believed I could get better, so I believed.”
By April 2003, Jill was walking, and she and her husband, Rik Katz, a Washington Middle School teacher, started, as Jill says, “doing the things I wanted to do.”
This included trips to Paris and Israel and buying a house.
Jill’s cancer responds to estrogen blockers — so far she’s been on four of them.
“They work for a while,” she explains, then stop. She gets a monthly infusion to strengthen her bones and occasional radiation for new metastases.
Well-known in the local Jewish community, Jill worked at the Stroum Jewish Community Center for many years and was a fundraiser for Hadassah. For four years she ran the Northwest AIDS walk. She is also an active member of Congregation Beth Shalom.
“Every day I outlive the original prognosis is a day I didn’t think I’d get,” she states. “I wanted to talk to People to let women who had a diagnosis like Edwards’ know you can live a long time with this.”
Cohen gets up each morning and says the modeh ani, the traditional morning prayer that begins, “Here I stand before you God…”
“I focus on ‘I am standing’,” she says. “I do it as a reminder that I am alive and able.”
On Christmas day, she was eating dinner in a busy Chinese restaurant with friends and “my girlfriend said, ‘next year we should come for lunch.’ I said, ‘let’s do that.’ Then I went home and realized I’d made a plan for a year from today without thinking twice.”
Jewish Day School teacher Rita Zohav recently received an award for innovative curriculum from the Jewish Educators Assembly. The award was given for unique and creative thinking in new classroom material. Zohav was one of three teachers to receive this honor.
“I wanted to make it more accessible,” says Zohav of the oral law curriculum she was using with her 7th Graders, a curriculum developed by JDS assistant principal Rabbi Stuart Light. “I felt that by having the rabbis become more like real people,… if they really saw them as people with personalities and lives, the kids would have some kind of feeling and connection.”
With that goal in mind, Zohav created a set of rabbi cards, similar to baseball cards. Each student was assigned a rabbi and researched his biography, then presented the information to the class. Zohav displayed the cards around the room according to their time period.
“They learned more,” reports Zohav, who says that some of the rabbis were more colorful than the students may have expected. Simon bar Lakish, for example, was known to have been a gladiator and a bandit before become a student of Torah.
Zohav and Rabbi Light have developed another curriculum for which they hope to get grant funding. It gives students the opportunity to create a beit din, or rabbinic court.
“Once a week the students play rabbis in the court,” says Zohav. “We videotape a scenario and students discuss it in groups of three.”
They use Jewish texts to look at both sides of the issue and, “they get to learn that the Talmud is not monolithic, that you are allowed to see both sides of the argument.
“We take modern scenarios and see what Jewish law has to say about it.”
Before moving to the Seattle area with her husband, Pinhas, about three years ago, Zohav was in administration for a number of afternoon Jewish schools in the Philadelphia area. She attended the Melton Center’s senior educators program in Jerusalem for a year before coming here, where Pinhas has some family.