Friday, March 15, 2024


In a recent interview with Long Island cancer support advocate, Ms. Geri Barish shares her uncompromising passion for her life’s work.  As co-founder of Hewlett House, Ms. Barish established a well-loved community learning resource center for cancer patients and their families. She and her staff have been serving the local community for over 28 years and have served tens of thousands of cancer patients and their families.

INTERVIEW with Geri Barish
“Hewlett House is all about human connection: since its opening in 2000, it has become a safe haven for cancer patients and their families.”  Their patients come together to network and receive accurate information in a comfortable home environment. The Hewlett House facilitates discussions that help patients come to terms with their cancer and treatments, all while maintaining strict HIPAA standards of privacy. Their services rely primarily on the generosity of our supporters and local communities.

I'm a five time cancer survivor and was originally diagnosed with breast cancer at 38.  I see people with cancer all the time and if I knew then what I know now, maybe I could have helped so many more.  What I say all the time is “you have to be screened! Cancer starts young.” It doesn't start at 50 and 60 and 70. It's not just an old person's disease. 

I'm fighting right now for younger women to be screened – and to know their history. We have too many young women in their twenties getting breast cancer. Our last meeting had 27 new patients, mostly under 31, either breast cancer survivors or still in treatment. I think that's pretty serious. When they come down with breast cancer, it's often very aggressive because they weren’t screened and didn’t know their history.  I am advocating to push for younger women to know their history and to get screened.

Part of this advocacy is addressing the need for people to get ultrasounds, and insurance isn’t always covering it.  When the doctor writes a prescription it should be adhered to. So when you go for an ultrasound it is often out of pocket, $3-$400. It is outrageous. Because of this, we just put together a bill with New York State Senator Steven D. Rhoads  that would require Breast Cancer ultrasounds to be covered.

Starting next week I am doing a radio program about exploring “what does early detection really mean?” … and what is the age group? I'm out there really pushing for younger and younger women to go to their doctor to be screened. If you feel something, if you know there's a history in your family, whether it's prostate cancer or another kind of cancer, you need to speak to your doctor. We're just seeing too many young people get cancer across the board. 

The Hewlett House itself is a national landmark that was deeded to the Hewlett-Woodmere school district for educational purposes. Unfortunately the house had fallen into neglect and disrepair. County executive Bruce Blakeman had worked with me on cancer issues and thought I could have use for this building for our cancer patient support initiatives. He arranged for the legislature to buy the house for a dollar, and we took it over with major support from caring volunteers. We converted this 387 years old house into our patient haven. (See photo tour of the Hewlett House.)

We started out as breast cancer support, but today Hewlett House services all kinds of cancer patients. We see men, women, children and we have served over 37,000 people since we opened our doors. All services are free and we work with all hospitals. 

I sit on the advisory board for cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital and I'm a special assistant to the Commissioner of Health of Nassau County. I work for the health department. I also sit on the Medical Society board for Nassau County. My outreach goes everywhere - it doesn't stop at the front door of Hewlett house.

For me, this all started when my son had cancer. In 1974 my son Michael was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, at the age of 13. In 1986, a week before he died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38. I remember coughing one night and I put my hand to my chest. I felt something hard and round like a pea. It was towards my clavicle. I thought, “God, I wonder what that was?” I was so involved with my son that I didn't even think about it. Looking back, my mother had died from breast cancer and I wasn’t making the connection. I was more concerned about Michael. Then I went to the doctor and he said, “no, it's very hard – let's try taking a biopsy”. Lo and behold, it turned out to be cancer. The day I was supposed to start radiation was the same day as his funeral. 

That was in 1986, and the breast cancer recurred in 1987. I had skin cancer in 1990. I had breast cancer again in 1993. In 2015 I had lung cancer. I just keep going because of my son. I made him a promise and I'm writing a book right now— it’s called “I made him a promise”. He asked me “what did I do wrong, why do I have cancer”. I said “you did nothing wrong”, and I promised him I’d find out why. I'm not going to stop. We've come very far and there's still a long way to go.

Our location allows us to work well with the five boroughs. We also work with a group of young women across the United States called the BREASTIES, all under 32. We had meetings a few times a year to discuss environmental impacts on cancer cases. 

We got together as an organization in the late eighties, when Long Island had a very high rate of breast cancer. We started talking about having an environmental study. We got together with Susan Love and we helped to start the National Breast Cancer Coalition in Washington. We marched and we met many people and we started asking questions. I met with the surgeon general asking the NCI for a $5M budget for an in-depth environmental study of Long Island due to the prevalent cases of breast cancer. It is an island with the most open waste sites. The study would need about $5 million. We were directed to Senator Al D'Amato and Congressman Peter King. They helped start our five year in-depth environmental study on water, pesticides, chemicals, and much more. It became known as the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project.

THE WOMEN'S HEALTH COLLABORATIVE gives special thanks to Ms. Geri Barish for a lifetime of generosity, endless support and loving care for all those who have entered the doorway of the Hewlett House- and for the many who call on her for help and resources while battling debilitating diseases.  Since 1990, the mission of Hewlett House is to support cancer patients at every stage of treatment. Ms. Barish and all her volunteers manage this special community resource center that provides all services without charge. They pride themselves in providing patrons with the highest-quality information and guiding them throughout their battle with cancer. Every patron is treated like family and given full access to educational materials, 24/7 peer-to-peer support systems, and a network of cancer survivors and doctors. Hewlett House is open to those fighting cancer and their families. A variety of free services are available, including yoga, meditation and tai chi classes, support groups, wigs, bathing suits, bras and informational services.  For more information, visit: or call 516.374.2385

By: Dr. Roberta Kline
Not everyone who is exposed to environmental chemicals will develop disease or cancer. The outcome for each individual is the result of a complex interplay of their genetic predispositions, epigenetics, and environmental exposures over their lifetime. We all have biological processes to clear many different chemical substances from our bodies. How well these systems function can be affected by many factors, including genetics and epigenetics, along with a person’s health and nutrition status, exposure level, and even stress. The more suboptimal these are, the higher a person’s risk for consequences to their health from environmental toxins.

NYCRA NEWS- Genetic Predisposition (with Special Video PSA by Dr. R. Kline)
By definition, diseases like CANCER are not directly hereditary. Unlike genetic traits and characteristics passed down to children like blood type and eye color, chronic diseases like cancer are recognized to be contracted through the environment (external impact). However, as cancer is a form of genetic mutation, genetic changes that increase the risk of cancer CAN be passed down or inherited.  

Many organizations fundraise through golf club outings and things like that. We thought to do better- by bringing families together under one roof for a memorable night of "joyful noise".  The concept of the Musicfest is an event that we started producing 15 years ago as a fundraiser to support the Are You Dense? mission. For many years, we have done legislative work while bringing awareness and education to the public about the cancer concerns linked to Dense Breast Tissue. The Musicfest was our largest finance producer and we need it every year. It's very exciting to have bands from all over the country come in to perform-- both well-known and not-so well-known groups. 


I had the pleasure of finally meeting the legendary GERI BARISH and THE HEWLETT HOUSE. After one phone interview, Geri's commitment to advocacy and resource giving sparked a unique level of curiosity about her work to see her magical HOUSE on East Rockaway Road for myself - and I'm so glad I did.  From the front steps to every room inside the hallowed house, the love and compassion was literally sprinkled everywhere.  Geri's historical tour included some of the most heartwarming highlights about some of the individuals who lovingly called this place a second home - including those whose lives were cut short by the dreaded disease.  As the director of the NY Cancer Resource Alliance & Firefighters Against Cancer & Exposures (as well as being a fellow Long Islander), I have always known about Geri's work going as far back as 2001.  Admittedly, I never thought my level of philanthropy could ever compare to her achievements or her unending level of commitment.  But having finally met her, I was almost reduced to tears having personally felt Geri's brand of kindness and leadership to help ANYONE in need. As a 5-time cancer survivor herself, Geri understands the emotional tolls and the need for resources that a sufferer undergoes.  There is truly no limit to her will to share and give and help.  At long last, I join the many voices of appreciation and gratitude for Geri Barish - the ultimate role model for altruism, benevolence and moxy for making a difference!  She wins the lifetime 'cats' pajamas' award for "amazingness"!

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