Multiple cancers fail to deflate woman’s spirit

Ina Sachar is pictured with her grandchildren. From left: Terry Goble, Kate Steinberg, Sam Steinberg and William Steinberg at the SLOCA Rise & Shine Event.

BY PATRICIA CORRIGAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Ina Sachar did not need the month of September to roll around to remind her that this is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Instead, she needs September to begin her latest course of chemotherapy.

For 19 years, Sachar has been fighting cancer of one kind or another. In 1992, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Six years later she received her first diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Three years later, the ovarian cancer recurred. Three years after that, Sachar learned she had colon cancer. Earlier this year, at the age of 64, she had a second recurrence of ovarian cancer.

Some women would hide in their homes at this point, feeling fed up and defeated. Not Sachar. “I want to do this interview to say that people need to live their lives, take ownership and be proactive of their health,” says Sachar. “I am a private person, but I want to live in the real world, the well world. I am sick, but if I surround myself with just that, then the sickness becomes my whole life. I have to balance that.”

Sachar lives in the Central West End with attorney John Goffstein, her partner of 15 years. She has a grown son and daughter and four grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 8. They all live in the metropolitan St. Louis area.

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Genetic testing has revealed that Sachar, who is of Ashkenazic descent, carries the DNA mutation known as the BRCA gene. It is estimated that one out of every 50 Ashkenazic Jews carries a mutant copy of either BRCA1 or BRCA2, which puts them at a higher risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

In the past 19 years, Sachar has had a hysterectomy, a lumpectomy and a re-section for the colon cancer. “I’m kind of bionic,” she says, laughing. “I’ve also had chemotherapy four times, radiation and lymphedema. But remember – in the last 19 years, I’ve had eight years of remission.”

Sachar was born in St. Louis and grew up in University City, the oldest of five. Her father was a physical therapist and her mother was a nurse. “Health was always part of our growing up,” she recalls. “I had polio and I had allergies, so I wasn’t as strong as my siblings.”

For years, Sachar had a successful career in marketing and sales. When Sachar first got breast cancer, her husband, Byron Sachar, was diagnosed with lymphoma. The couple went to chemotherapy treatments together. He died 17 years ago. When Sachar was diagnosed with ovarian cancer the second time, she quit her job to become a yoga teacher.

Later, Sachar took up “missions,” serving on the boards of cancer support groups such as Gilda’s Club and the St. Louis Ovarian Cancer Awareness organization. Sachar spoke in April at SLOCA’s dinner and auction. “Ina’s poignant talk about her 19-year experience with colon, breast and ovarian cancer was deeply touching and held the audience at rapt attention,” says Beth Hudson, president of the organization. “Ina is a beloved member of the board and a strong role model for other women.”

Interviewed last month, Sachar says she feels great. “That‘s the sneaky thing about ovarian cancer,” she says. “Oh, I’m starting to have that full feeling, like I can’t eat much at any one time, so the symptoms are starting again. But I still have the energy to do yoga and spend time at parks with my grandchildren.”

As Sachar gears up to start chemotherapy for a fifth time, how has she prepared herself? “I have chosen to know I have cancer,” she says. “Because the treatments will restrict me to the Central West End, I worked with my physician – Dr. David Mutch – to make it possible to go to my favorite countries in Europe and to go on vacation with my grandchildren before I face the next onslaught of drugs.”

Sachar says that living with cancer has changed her. “I am both more tolerant – and less. Cancer has also made me hone in on what brings me joy, who I want to be with, what my boundaries are.” She continues: “I also laugh often. John makes me laugh every day.”

Sachar has some advice for anyone newly diagnosed with cancer. “First, I wish I had a magic wand that would make it all go away. Failing that, know that cancer is not a death sentence. You must find a way to be in charge of your life so you know that you are not the disease – you can’t let it define you. And last, I’d say to get involved in something that keeps you in the swing of life.”