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For one Jewish family, education about family cancer history pays dividends

When Sue Gorlin was a child and away at camp during the summer of 1960, her mother received some awful news: She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and doctors gave her six months to live. 

But she underwent surgery and, defying the odds, made a full recovery. 

Not long afterward, Sue’s aunt was diagnosed with the same illness, and in this case the outcome was bad: She died within two years. 

Still a teenager, Sue didn’t quite understand what was going on because she was kept largely in the dark.

“Back then, it was called ‘the big C.’ Nobody talked about it,” Sue recalled in an interview. “My mother and her sister both had ovarian cancer, but they were never going to tell me. That’s how secretive it was.”

Only by chance in the mid-1990s did Sue learn the truth, when a cousin revealed the story and urged her to get tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations. Those mutations render carriers far more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer than otherwise, and approximately one of every 40 Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent is a carrier — compared to about 1 in 400 women in the general U.S. population.

 Sue, who at the time was living in Silver Spring, Maryland, got tested and learned she was not a carrier of a BRCA mutation. But she nonetheless decided to get an annual pelvic sonogram and ultrasound just to be on the safe side.

That decision would end up saving her life. About 10 years later a sonogram revealed a malignant growth on one of her ovaries that had not yet spread. She had surgery to remove it, then underwent five months of chemotherapy.

Today Sue, now 79, lives in Israel with her husband, Jacques. Their Gorlin Family Foundation is a major benefactor of Sharsheret, the American Jewish nonprofit that offers education, counseling and support to women facing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

October has been recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month since 1985, and several weeks ago President Biden proclaimed September as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

This October, Sharsheret is holding five webinars focused on the cancers, from “Facing Scanxiety” (Oct. 16) to “Artificial Intelligence and Breast Cancer: What Does the Future Hold?” (Oct 30), and coordinating hundreds of in-person events at schools, Jewish community centers, and synagogues across the country. 

Marking breast cancer and ovarian cancer with two specially designated months is a lifesaving reminder: It gives people an opportunity to learn about their risk for cancer and about how to find the resources they need to protect their health,” said Sharsheret CEO Elana Silber. “During these two months, people are paying attention and understanding the urgent concerns in our community. As a result, we are seeing more investment in critical support programs and medical research.”

Because they are in a heightened risk category, Jews have extra reasons to undergo genetic testing and research their family history.

“If it hadn’t been for Sue knowing her family history, who knows if she’d be around today?” said Sue’s husband, Jacques. “When she discovered her ovarian cancer in 2009, there were no clinical trials, and we didn’t know about the services of Sharsheret.”

Knowledge of her family history also made all the difference for Sue’s daughter, Michal Gorlin Becker.

“Because of my family history, I was considered high-risk and already had genetic counseling years before,” said Michal, 49, a mother of four living in Jerusalem. “I knew that my mother had ovarian cancer, and that my great-aunt had died of it. So in 2016 I had my ovaries taken out.”

She continued to monitor her health. In April 2020, after Michal’s doctor at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center had her do a biopsy, she received some bad news: She had breast cancer. The news arrived on the morning of her 46th birthday, just as she was preparing for her daughter’s bat mitzvah.

 “I was expecting it, but not necessarily on that day,” Michal said. 

Annual pelvic sonograms and ultrasounds helped save Sue Gorlin’s life, enabling her to catch a malignant growth in her ovaries early on. Sue, 79, now lives in Israel with her husband, Jacques Gorlin. (Courtesy of Gorlin family)

Fortunately, her cancer was at an early stage and had not yet metastasized. Michal started chemotherapy the day after the bat mitzvah. She did eight rounds of chemo every two weeks; the course of treatment took four months.

“I was very lucky in that the type of cancer I had — HER-negative — wasn’t biological, and it wasn’t related to any hormones, so I didn’t have to continue with pills,” Michal said. “I had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. It was major surgery, but I’ve done the best I can to prevent any sort of recurrence.”

Michal attributes her success fighting the cancer in part to her physical fitness at the time of her diagnosis. She had run back-to-back marathons in January and February 2020 and felt she was in the best shape of her life. 

“I was strong and positive,” Michal said. “This is why I was able to get through it.”

Still a runner, Michal ran the TCS New York City Marathon last year with Team Sharsheret. 

Her mother, Sue, eventually retested herself after technological advancements made BRCA testing more discerning. Updated versions cover genetic deletions as well as mutations, and Sue discovered she had a deletion that had not been picked up in earlier tests. Now Sue sees her oncologist once a year but has MRIs and mammograms every six months, as well as the CA125 blood test recommended for ovarian cancer survivors.

It’s important to keep in mind that breast and ovarian cancers are not limited to those with genetic mutations and often have other causes, said Sharsheret’s genetics program manager, Peggy Cottrell.

“When we see multiple cases of ovarian cancer in the same family, the likelihood of it being an inherited cancer is higher,” Cottrell said. “If someone tests negatively for hereditary cancer but has a very strong personal and family history of cancer, an updated test or even a research study may be helpful. Speaking with a genetic counselor can help clarify the best course of action.”

Chicago attorney Daniel Gorlin, 44, who is the youngest of Jacques and Sue Gorlin’s four children, credits his mother’s survival and his sister’s health in part to education about the importance of knowing one’s family history of illness — a message Sharsheret emphasizes in its educational outreach. 

“This knowledge is what saved their lives,” said Daniel, who is a member of Sharsheret’s Illinois Community Advisory Committee. 

Daniel has gotten himself tested for the BRCA genetic mutation. (Men are also susceptible to breast cancer, and carriers of the mutation are at higher risk of not only male breast cancer but also melanoma, prostate and pancreatic cancer.)

“It’s a different day and age now. People are far more interested in their genetics than before,” Daniel said. “This is a moment in time when it’s too dangerous for these topics to be taboo.”

The key, Sharsheret leaders say, is to take action. Sharsheret offers free and confidential conversations with mental health professionals and genetic counselors as well as connections to peer supporters. They can be reached via email at clinicalstaff@sharsheret.org, by phone at 866 474-2774 or online at Sharsheret.org.


The post For one Jewish family, education about family cancer history pays dividends appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News

We’ve produced a collection of feature articles four times a year since 2022. A special edition of this magazine will appear in mid-September—with reflections on the Jewish year that was. And in December, look out for a reimagined publication with a name of its own. Get future copies delivered to your door as a thank-you […]

The post Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl

Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a meeting with people at a hall on the seashore in Gaza City. Photo: Yousef Masoud / SOPA Images/Sipa via Reuters Connect

A senior US official said that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is the Palestinian terrorist group’s ultimate decision maker and has little interest in reaching a ceasefire deal with Israel, in testimony before a US Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

“At the end of the day, there’s one guy 10 stories below the ground: a psychopath, messianic in his own belief that he has established himself in history, and [he believes that] there’s a sunk cost of having lost thousands of fighters and carnage in Gaza,” said Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.

Sinwar, the top Hamas official in Gaza and the mastermind behind the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has reportedly been hiding in Hamas’ extensive network of underground tunnels during Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the coastal enclave.

Leaf’s comments echo others made by Biden administration officials.

In April, a US official told reporters that Sinwar is single-handedly holding up any progress on a potential hostage deal.

The senior Biden administration official said that while Hamas’ political bureau has shown some willingness to compromise on the terrorist group’s most hardline positions, Sinwar’s maximalist demands continuously win out.

“Sinwar has made the decision he’d rather hold [the hostages seized by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7] than secure a ceasefire, and that’s just the truth of the situation,” the official said.

Leaf, in her testimony on Tuesday, said that Qatar — where many top Hamas political officials are based — has been “squeezing” the group — though to little effect, according to a report from Axios.

“There’s a cadre of political officials of Hamas in Doha, and boy do they squeeze them, I can assure you they squeeze them,” Leaf said.

Israel has described Hamas’ response to the new US ceasefire proposal as total rejection. But efforts to secure an agreement are still continuing, according to mediators in Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.

The Axios report added that Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani met on Tuesday in Doha — Qatar’s capital — with senior Hamas officials in an attempt to reach a breakthrough in the talks about the hostage and ceasefire deal.

Egypt and Qatar — which along with the United States have been mediating between Hamas and Israel — said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan, without giving further details.

The post Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday confirmed the US was still withholding a shipment of bombs to Israel, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Washington to remove restrictions on arms deliveries to the Jewish state and asserted that the top American diplomat had assured him the Biden administration was working to lift any halts on weapons.

The Biden administration is “continuing to review one shipment that President [Joe] Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department.

However, he added, the administration is committed to making sure “that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself.”

Blinken’s remarks came after Netanyahu posted a video online earlier in the day in which he lamented that the US recently paused a weapons shipment to Israel and threatened to block more but said Blinken told him that Washington was seeking to end any halts on arms deliveries.

“When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciated the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war,” Netanyahu said.

“But I also said something else. I said it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” he continued. “Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.”

The Israeli premier then asserted that Blinken told him the issue would be addressed.

“Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks,” Netanyahu said. “I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case. During World War II, Churchill told the US: ‘Give us the tools; we’ll do the job.’ And I say, ‘Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job much faster.’”

Following Netanyahu’s comments, both the White House and the US State Department refuted his apparent claim that Washington was withholding more than a single shipment of bombs.

“Everything else is moving as it normally would move, and again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges,” Blinken said.

The White House echoed Blinken’s comments, saying that only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs had been withheld and nothing else.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We just don’t.”

Jean-Pierre added that the US and Israel have been having discussions about the release of the shipment but that there was no update at this time.

“There are no other pauses, none,” Jean-Pierre said. “No other pauses or holds in place.”

On Monday, unconfirmed reports in both Israeli and German media said that during Netanyahu’s meeting with Blinken in Jerusalem last week, the Israeli premier urged the US to return the frequency of its arms shipments to the level immediately after Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launched the war in Gaza with its massacre across southern Israel. According to the reports, Blinken said that Washington would remove all restrictions on weapons transfers to Israel in the coming days.

Netanyahu also reportedly warned Blinken that the slowing of aid and the perception of America’s weakened support for Israel benefits Iran and its terrorist proxies across the Middle East, including Hamas, emboldening them to intensify attacks against Israel and potentially resulting in a broader regional war.

The Biden administration has been under intense pressure from Democrats, especially those on the progressive left, to condition if not outright withhold US military support for Israel. Critics of Israel have argued the Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed too many civilians and led to a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave. Israel has said Hamas is to blame for starting the war, stealing aid, and intentionally placing its operation centers inside or underneath civilian sites.

Hamas started the war with its surprise invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped over 250 others as hostages. Israel responded with its ongoing campaign aimed at freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas, which rules Gaza.

In recent months, the Biden administration has become increasingly critical of Israel’s operations both in public and private, pressuring Jerusalem to change its military strategy and seek a ceasefire.

The issue came to a head last month, when Biden announced that it would cease a bomb shipment to Israel and threatened to halt more weapons deliveries if the Israeli army launched an offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza and Hamas’ last major military stronghold.

I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem,” Biden told CNN.

Israeli officials and experts have said operating in Rafah is essential to eliminating the last remaining Hamas battalions. Netanyahu said the Jewish state appreciates US support but “will stand alone” if necessary.

The post Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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