By Sophia Scanlan
After losing her mother to breast cancer last March, Juliet Solit ’16 and her family officially launched the Cheryl Tessler Solit Foundation (CTSF) to honor Cheryl’s “interminable positivity, strength, and love of life,” Juliet said. Cheryl was diagnosed with a very uncommon form of breast cancer, micropapillary, at age 36 but was able to battle her cancer until age 44, when she passed away from chemotherapy complications.
Richard Solit P’16 launched the foundation the day of Cheryl’s passing as a way for people to honor her through their donations. The foundation’s two-part mission means funds will go toward two causes, Juliet said: funding early stage cancer research and providing support for lymphedema sleeves to breast cancer survivors.
Juliet’s father, an ex-surgeon and current biotech investor, uses his background in science to manage the part of the foundation dealing with early stage cancer research. He has used a portion of the funds to make a contribution to New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), which collects tissue samples from women who have been diagnosed with micropapillary breast cancer and analyzes them to try to find the genetic cause.
“They hope that, with this research, we could one day screen for this rare cancer and determine the best treatment for it in a more advanced way,” Juliet explained.
The second part of CTSF’s mission centers around lymphedema, which Juliet defines as a swelling of the hand and arm due to excess build up of lymph, which often occurs after lymph nodes are removed during breast cancer treatment.
“Not only is it painful, but it also decreases the quality of life and confidence in women who have had breast cancer because, if left untreated, lymphedema can lead to prominent swelling and loss of mobility,” Juliet said.
Lymphedema sleeves are flexible pieces of fabric that tightly compress against one’s arm to minimize swelling. Juliet recalled her mother’s need for these expensive sleeves during her cancer treatment.
“Insurance often does not cover the cost of compression sleeves,” Juliet noted. “The sleeves can range from $50 to $300 or more, and women not only need to purchase multiple sleeves to begin with, but they also have to replace the sleeves after the elasticity wears out.”
With the thousands of cancer foundations that exist, Juliet recognizes it might be difficult to see what makes CTSF “unique.”
“So often the onus of cancer fundraising, understandably, is put on research to find a cure, and CTSF will also contribute to that cause,” she explained. “However, CTSF is special in that it also will help breast cancer survivors right now to have a better quality of life.”
So far, Juliet has spoken with representatives from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and MSKCC in New York, both of which are interested in partnering with the foundation. Nancy Downer, Assistant Vice President of Major Gifts at Dana Farber, said there is a “great need” for these women to be treated at their institutions for lymphedema sleeves.
Juliet also took a season off of sports during the winter to devote more time to working on this project. “It is a big time commitment, and I needed time just to focus on it,” she said.
During her season off, Juliet worked closely with her advisor, History Teacher Lizanne Moynihan, who described herself as a “cheerleader” for Juliet and met with her weekly during the winter to assist in the development of her goals for the season. Some included getting on the phone with CEOs of respective companies, speaking to heads of hospitals, and creating a website for the foundation—which, though completed, has not yet been published.
“Juliet told me where she wanted to be by March, and she had it all done by February,” Ms. Moynihan said. “This is her true passion, and she’s doing it for a really, really important reason.”
Ms. Moynihan is not the only one impressed by Juliet’s work—Dr. Solit said he noticed Juliet’s maturity and responsibility when he listened to her on the phone with the CEO from LympheDIVAS, a local lymphedema sleeve company in Massachusetts that is seeking to partner with CTSF.
“When I overhear Juliet working the phones, she sounds exactly like her mother on the phone doing business, and she sure doesn’t sound like a 17-year-old,” Dr. Solit said. His daughter, he added, shares his late wife’s warmth, organization, and persuasiveness.
According to Ali Sloan ’16, Juliet’s efforts have also impressed and inspired her peers.
“It’s absolutely incredible what she’s doing, and her ability to push through—how she’s handled everything—is just inspiring,” Ali added.
With the guidance of Community Service Director Meena Kaur, Juliet just received a grant from the Parents Independent School Network to be used in accordance with the foundation. Juliet hopes to use these funds to involve more local Cambridge schools with CTSF.
As she continues to work on this foundation with her father, brother, and maternal grandparents, Juliet’s goal is to net $5,000 through fundraisers before college, and even more afterward. Over the summer, she plans to work in a breast cancer lab at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the potential candidates to receive sleeves from the foundation.
“I am looking forward to participating in research that aims to identify the DNA mutations that drive certain breast cancers,” Juliet said. “I love that the work I will be doing is relevant to the formation of new cancer treatments today.”
Tax-deductible contributions can be mailed to the Cheryl Tessler Solit Foundation at:
200 Clarendon Street
Boston, MA 02116