A torrential downpour on July 8 did not discourage dozens of women from turning out for Dessert and Brem, an event held at Congregation Ohr Simcha that was billed as an evening of education and empowerment for women.
Chaired by Danielle Storch and Esther Sara Weiner and sponsored by the Chesed Fund with co-sponsors the Mikvah of Baltimore, the Jewish Caring Network, Bais Yaakov School for Girls, Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore and Bikur Cholim of Baltimore, the program also served as a fundraiser for the Brem Foundation to defeat breast cancer.
The story of the Brem Foundation’s founding dates to 2004. During a routine medical appointment, Dr. Rachel Brem, a radiologist and breast cancer researcher who was formerly director of imaging at Johns Hopkins Medicine and is now director of the Breast Imaging and Interventional Center at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., asked longtime patient Sue Apple for advice.
“I have a problem,” Apple recalled Brem telling her.
Brem explained that she needed to purchase a new piece of medical equipment that would help her identify breast cancers not easily found by other technologies. Apple, who is passionate about the cause and Brem’s commitment, got to work. Before long, she had managed to raise the $40,000 needed to buy the machine and had also succeeded in getting its cost reduced by half.
But Apple and Brem didn’t stop there. Once the latest technology was available, they were faced with an unfortunate reality. Many of the women who could benefit from the technology were unable to access it because of financial constraints.
In 2005, they started the Brem Foundation, a volunteer-run nonprofit organization. The foundation ensures that Washington-area women who are uninsured or underinsured are able to receive diagnostic services and also funds the Mammovan — a mobile mammography unit from GW that provides free mammograms to women who meet the financial guidelines. In addition, the Brem Foundation trains breast radiologists in the most advanced radiology treatments and in Brem’s patient-centered style of medical care through its Hayes-Jennings Fellowships.
The Brem Foundation also helps to support physicians’ research into advanced technologies for accurate diagnosis of breast cancer, including screening for high-risk patients using automated whole-breast ultrasound for women with dense breast tissue and molecular imaging to detect breast cancers that might not otherwise be identified.
Storch said she was inspired to bring Brem to Baltimore after hearing from two friends who had found lumps in their breasts.
“I had to do something to help,” she said.
Brem, a Baltimore native, was enthusiastic about coming to her hometown to share her expertise. In her presentation, Brem, a breast cancer survivor and daughter of a breast cancer survivor, stressed that women must be their own advocates. She also discredited recent reports that disputed the value of mammograms.
“Mammograms save lives,” she told the audience repeatedly. “They reduce deaths from breast cancer by 15 to 33 percent. After 40, get your mammogram every year.”
And while she acknowleged that Ashkenazi Jewish women are more likely than others to carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, mutations that increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer by 50 to 85 percent, she also cautioned that 75 percent of breast cancers occur in women with no family history of the disease. Brem advised women to make sure that the person who reads their mammograms is highly experienced.
“Not all mammogram readings are the same. There is research showing that people who do something more often do it better,” she said. “You can ask who is reading your mammogram and demand that it be the most experienced person on staff.”
Brem said that 40 percent of women have dense breasts, which makes breast cancer more likely and also more difficult to detect. Mammograms, she noted, are the only way to find out if one has dense breasts.
“Maryland is one of 18 states that requires radiologists to inform women if a mammogram shows dense breasts,” she said.
She urged women with dense breasts to seek additional screenings such as 3D ultrasounds or breast MRIs.
“If you need a biopsy and your doctor’s office says they can’t do it for two weeks, you should walk out,” she advised. “We don’t believe in sleepless nights. At GW, we do the vast number of biopsies the same day as an abnormality is found. … Never go to surgery for a diagnosis. It should be a minimally invasive needle biopsy. It’s better and faster than surgery.”
Storch plans to follow up the July 8 event with a larger program this fall.
For more information, visit bremfoundation.org.