Fourteen-year-old Tulia Davidow has been aware for some time that one in eight women in America will contract breast cancer, but she recently learned something that could save her life.
"I learned there are little steps we can all take each day to prevent it," said Davidow. "It's simple and gives us the responsibility."
It's called Check It Out, a breast cancer early detection and education program sponsored jointly by the Sequoia chapter of Hadassah and the American Cancer Society.
More than 400 students attended the recent presentation at Palo Alto's Gunn High School, where they heard the real-life experiences of 73-year-old breast cancer survivor Donna Myers of Los Altos.
"Most people do survive breast cancer," Myers told the students. "Twenty-seven years ago I discovered a lump in my breast and had a mastectomy. Then two years later I had another one when I discovered a lump on my other breast." At the time, she knew little about breast cancer.
Myers told the audience how she has continued to maintain her active lifestyle. She plays competitive tennis on five teams. She was also president of the Reach to Recovery program for the American Cancer Society in California from 1981 to 1990. Cancer survivors visit patients, giving them practical information.
"Having a cancer survivor relating to everyday life makes it real," said Melanie Jacobson, 17. "It shows me you can go on with your life."
After Myers' presentation, the students watched an American Cancer Society video, also called "Check It Out," which detailed breast self-examination. It emphasized the importance of a healthy lifestyle including exercise, weight control, and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and fiber.
Hadassah members provided each student with a packet containing breast health and nutrition information. A breast-form supplied by Hadassah was also included. After the video, students practiced examining the breast-form for lumps.
"I did not know how to examine my breasts before," said Sharon Brimer, 17. "The video and breastform practice helped a lot."
Students were encouraged to take home the materials to discuss with their families.
This was the first time the Check It Out program was presented on the Peninsula. Hadassah introduced the program in May 1992 in Corpus Christi, Texas. Since then, chapters in 11 other states have adopted the program. To date, more than 40,000 students have attended the presentation.
Sequoia chapter President Yetta Heynick, a former math teacher at Gunn, said the organization is "committed to healing, teaching and research on the physical, spiritual and cultural levels."
She pointed out that breast cancer is the No. 1 killer of Israeli women and the No. 2 killer of American women. Hadassah funds treatment for 400 new breast cancer patients each year at the Moshe Sharett Institute of Oncology in Jerusalem and supports ongoing research there. It's also an advocate for increasing funding to fight the deadly disease.
Dr. Marsha Seifanick, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford, told the students that there is an unusually high incidence of breast cancer in the Bay Area. Contributing factors include the aging population, heredity, alcohol consumption, earlier puberty and later menopause.
Seifanick observed, however, that the death rate is not higher here. "Women are detecting this disease sooner by breast self-examination and mammography."
Noa Greenberg, 17, who emigrated from Israel two years ago, said she found the presentation especially valuable.
"Although I had known of this disease, I feel there is not as much awareness going on for women in Israel," she said. "You mainly hear about it from your doctor. Here in this country we are continuously reminded through the media and other educational materials. This program brings it all together."