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Hereditary cancers aren’t just a women’s problem. Jewish men need to take precautions too.



Bill Harris, a veteran Los Angeles photojournalist, didn’t think much of it when one morning in 2012 he woke up and found a tiny blood spot on the T-shirt he’d slept in. The next morning, he found blood in the same place on his chest — and went straight to his computer.

“Online, I could find only three things that would cause a man’s nipple to discharge blood: being an avid runner, which I wasn’t; having a subtropical fungus, which I didn’t; and breast cancer,” he said. “That was a pretty big shock.”

Harris, then just a few weeks shy of his 61st birthday, immediately called his doctor, who ordered a mammogram and ultrasound. They confirmed a cancerous growth in his right breast. Ten days later, a biopsy came back positive. The next month Harris got a right mastectomy, followed by the removal of his left breast half a year later.

“I walked into a woman’s imaging center and had to get into a pink paper robe,” he recalled. “All the women in the waiting room were staring at me.”

Like many other Ashkenazi men, Harris never had considered that he might have been born with a harmful mutation of the BRCA gene, which elevates the risk not only of breast cancer, but also of melanoma and prostate, ovarian and pancreatic cancer.

“Hundreds of other mutations in the BRCA gene are just as dangerous, but they’re not specific to Ashkenazim,” said Dr. Robert Sidlow, director of the Male BRCA Genetic Risk Program at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews (those of Eastern European descent) carries the harmful mutation, compared to about 1 in 400 in the general population.

“The vast majority of patients I see are relatives of women who have breast or ovarian cancer and then get tested,” he said. Of BRCA mutation carriers, Sidlow added, “Most men are pretty happy to enroll in some kind of surveillance program once they get over the initial shock.”

Sidlow is on the Men’s Leadership Council at Sharsheret, the national Jewish nonprofit organization that educates the community about cancer risks and supports those with breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Elana Silber, CEO of Sharsheret (Hebrew for “chain”), says it’s crucial that men with a family history of cancer undergo genetic counseling screening for BRCA and other hereditary cancer mutations.

Genetic testing is possible via a standard blood or saliva sample.

While Sharsheret is primarily considered a women’s organization, it has been using November — nicknamed Movember for its focus on men’s health — for an awareness campaign focused on Jewish men’s cancer risks.

“This is not only a women’s issue,” Silber said. “Family history is so important. When a man shares his family history with his doctor, he may not realize that he should mention that his mother had breast cancer or that his sister had ovarian cancer, as these are not generally ‘men’s diseases.’ They are not aware that these cancers could mean that they themselves are at increased risk for cancer and that they can pass on these mutations to the next generation – their daughters and their sons.”

If someone discovers he (or she) is a carrier of one of the genetic mutations with elevated cancer risks — not just BRCA but also such mutations as ATM, TP53, CHEK2, and PALB2 — there are various precautions they can take for themselves and their children. They can monitor their own health more closely, they can get encourage their children to test to see if they are carriers and, for any future children, take steps to prevent the mutated genes from being passed down.

For example, couples can conceive via in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and then test the embryos before implantation to ensure that only those unaffected by the genetic mutation are implanted.

While most women are aware of the risks of breast cancer, men generally are not — even though the disease strikes 2,500 men in the U.S. every year and kills about 500 of them, according to Sidlow. About 1-2% of men with the BRCA1 mutation and 6-7% of men with the BRCA2 mutation will develop cancer by age 80.

“This is why we recommend periodic mammograms starting at about age 50 for men who carry a BRCA2 mutation,” Sidlow said. “We like to educate these men on how to check their chests once a month and have a clinician do a breast checkup on them once a year.”

Since the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations also make prostate cancer more likely, men with either mutation should get PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels in their blood tested annually beginning at age 40, rather than 50, the age at which screening generally begins, Sidlow said.

Sharsheret has been promoting the importance of learning one’s family history, genetic counseling and screening among both men and women. The 20-year-old organization also runs various peer support networks, offers financial assistance to cancer patients, provides mental health counseling and guidance to patients, caregivers, and their friends, and seeks to educate the broader Jewish community about cancer risks and support.

Peggy Cottrell, a certified genetic counselor at Sharsheret, said men in general are more reluctant to get regular checkups than women.

Ashkenazi Jewish men are at elevated risk not just of breast and prostate cancer but also of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult because it’s tough to detect early enough and hard to treat. The five-year survival rate is only 11%. About 2% of BRCA1 carriers and 4% of BRCA2 carriers will develop pancreatic cancer, Sidlow estimated.

“Usually by the time pancreas cancer is clinically detected it has already spread microscopically to the liver,” Sidlow said. “But pancreas cancer is potentially curable if caught when the tumor is extremely small.”

Even among those with elevated risks, certain behaviors can improve one’s odds, such as avoiding obesity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Harris, the California photojournalist, is still fighting at age 71. While he overcame breast cancer 10 years ago, last year he was diagnosed with ampullary cancer, a rare disease related to his BRCA2 status that was discovered thanks to his participation in a UCLA study. Surgeons have removed his gall bladder, half his pancreas and part of his small intestine, and he has had to endure eight rounds of chemotherapy.

“I’m still working through the aftereffects of the chemo. I have to eat smaller quantities than before and take enzymes to supplement my digestive processes,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, his 37-year-old son discovered that he, too, carries the BRCA2 mutation, and he had a double prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction at age 30 — just to be on the safe side.

“If there’s any history of breast, ovarian or prostate cancer in your family, get tested genetically so that you’re informed,” Harris advised. “Diagnoses happen way too late for men, and the danger is too big.”

The post Hereditary cancers aren’t just a women’s problem. Jewish men need to take precautions too. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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