Social worker brings music, support to cancer fighters

Kathy Bearman facilitates the Sharsheret Supports Circle founded in St. Louis a year ago for Jewish women with breast or ovarian cancer. 

BY PATRICIA CORRIGAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

A licensed clinical social worker, Kathy Bearman works with people confronting their mortality and making choices about priorities as they face a life-threatening disease. 

She leads the Sharsheret Supports Circle, founded in St. Louis a year ago for Jewish women with breast or ovarian cancer.

“My work is so fulfilling,” Bearman says. “I help women get to a place where they are listening to themselves, to their own inner guidance, and I help them make connections with others facing similar issues.” 

Bearman also works at Cancer Support Community and has a private practice. 

The Sharsheret Supports Circle, a collaborative project of Nishmah and the national Sharsheret organization, is open to Jewish women facing cancer treatment, after treatment or even longtime survivors. The group meets over dinner from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur. 

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No meeting will be held in December; the next meeting is Jan. 18. The sessions are free, but participants must preregister the day before with Lynne Palan, the coordinator of Sharsheret Supports, at 314-442-3266 or [email protected]

Bearman, a member at Congregation Temple Israel, made time recently to talk about her work. 

 

What led to the founding of this support group? 

We realized the increased need for awareness and education in the Jewish community because of the higher cancer risk among women of Ashkenazi descent. That said, the focus of the group is not religious. It’s about connection and living well.

 

What are the goals for the group? 

We provide a safe, nonjudgmental place where women can talk and develop insights about their feelings related to cancer. We also provide a social connection, one where we relax and eat together. 

 

Why is this important?

Participants can say whatever is on their minds, talk about feelings or challenges. Sometimes it’s hard to do that with family members or friends who may not always be the best listeners or may offer advice that’s not helpful. We laugh, we talk, we cry — anything goes. 

 

What part does education play? 

 Every other month, we invite a speaker to our meeting. We’ve heard from experts on lymphedema, nutrition, and integrated cancer therapies such as massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, guided imagery and Healing Touch. Also, I’ve brought in therapeutic activities, such as art therapy and mindfulness practices. 

 

You are a longtime student of meditation. Have you brought that to the group?

We have done an exercise about self-nurturing, one that provides relief from a chattering mind and allows you to focus on self-compassion. So often, women are taught to take care of everybody else but not of themselves.

 

Talk a bit more about this exercise.

It’s from the Buddhist Metta Prayer, where you wish yourself and others well. I wrote music for it, my daughter sang the words and we recorded it. The music guides you to an experience of nurturing and loving yourself, and you can take home the skills you learn and practice. 

 

Can you share a success story from the group?

One woman with Stage 4 cancer had skipped a few meetings and discontinued chemotherapy. She was just sick of having cancer. But when she came back to a meeting and talked about her feelings, she decided not to give up and went back to treatment. 

 

Previously, you had a career as a professional musician. What draws you to this work?

I want to help people be more in touch with themselves. There is such a need for us to get in touch with what we feel, to talk about what is in our hearts without people advising and judging – and I facilitate that. 

 

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