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February 13, 2021

Cancer, 10 years later: I am not the story of my life – opinion

The Jerusalem Post | Tamir Gilat
What comes after being diagnosed with both metastatic pancreatic cancer and metastatic kidney cancer?
A TECHNICIAN works in the Breast Cancer Research Lab at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. (photo credit: KEREN FREEMAN/FLASH90)

A technician works in the Breast Cancer Research Lab at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. (Photo Credit: Keren Freeman/FLASH90)

If my original prognosis had become a reality, I wouldn’t be sharing this special day with you, the 10th birthday of my new life. My life should have ended nine-and-a-half years ago, in the middle of 2011.

In the first week of February 2011, I received my first death sentence. I was diagnosed as having two types of cancer: metastatic pancreatic cancer and metastatic kidney cancer. This was the first time I heard the words “You have about six months to live.”

Not long after the diagnosis, I underwent more than nine hours of surgery during which some of my internal organs were either removed or cut. I started preventive chemotherapy, and after 11 treatments, I felt that the metastases were spreading in my body. The next morning my suspicions were confirmed, and I was diagnosed as having metastases in my liver.

My second death sentence arrived four months later, but this time with no right to appeal. It was the second time in my life that I heard “You have about six months to live,” but it was the first time that my doctor, Dr. Talia Golan from Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer told me, “We have no more therapeutic options for you.”

That night I went to sleep knowing I must prepare my family for a final goodbye. The next day, Dr. Golan called and offered me the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial intended for women with breast and ovarian cancer BRCA gene carriers. They decided to add a group of pancreas cancer patients who were BRCA carriers to the trial. The objective was to prolong life of an acceptable quality by several months. Four hundred people from Israel and the United States took part. After 13 months, I was told the trial ended, since all the participants had died. I continued to receive the trial drug for a total of 51 months.

Tamir GIlat (Photo Credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

In September 2015, I received a third death sentence due to metastases spreading through my body. After another significant surgery, in which the rest of my internal organs (except for my lungs and my heart) were either taken out or cut, I joined yet another new clinical trial led by Prof. Raanan Berger from Sheba Medical Center.

This time it concerned a breakthrough immunotherapy drug. The hope was for a possible extension of life of up to two years. I have now been treated with this drug for more than five years and take it once every three weeks. In addition, I take dozens of pills and injections daily to readjust my body.

SPOILER: AFTER this long-detailed introduction to my complex, shuddering and empowering journey on this roller-coaster on which I live, understand that I am not really the important part of the story. The important part involves the two drugs that were developed thanks to two experimental clinical trials in which I took part.

These lifesaving drugs are now part of the list of authorized medications. The first, Lynparza, is intended for breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer patients – all BRCA carriers. The second is a cocktail of Yervoy and Opdivo for immunotherapy treatment for melanoma, kidney cancer and non-small-cell lung carcinoma.

My story really is about the great cancer researchers of Israel. We have just celebrated International Cancer Day, and I had the privilege of celebrating it for the 10th time since I was first diagnosed – nine times more than my initial prognosis. Every day I bow deeply to cancer research and the cancer researchers to whom I owe my life. The story of my life is about the breakthrough research that led to the drugs that saved my life and today save the lives of so many. I am the lab rat who has proven that cancer research works! The way in which I show my gratitude is to dedicate my time, voluntarily – subject of course to my health – to act as the chairman of The Israel Cancer Research Fund – ICRF Israel.

One out of every 2.2 men and one out of every 2.8 women will have cancer during their lifetime. Every year about 30,000 people in Israel join this circle of morbidity. No family in Israel is free of cancer. I am a veteran of the cancer family. I was 23 years old when my beloved father, Isaac, died in my arms of cancer at age 51. Three-and-a-half years ago, my beloved wife, Keren, died at the age of 46 after fighting metastatic breast cancer heroically for 13 years.

For 10 years I have been dancing the tango with death, bowing my head with deep humility. In these 3,650 cancer days – not even one of them free from cancer – I have learned to live with the questions and uncertainty as the cornerstone of my new life: 3,650 days of trial and error, of fear and hope, of pain and joy through hard days of side-effects and wonderful days with moments of grace. I have learned to live every day as if it is my last one – to experience every moment the changes and the temporary nature of life – to learn how to die and be reborn every day.

My rebirth summoned the gratitude and the giving way to my new way of life. I chose to dedicate my new life to volunteering in the cancer field. My goal and purpose in life is to raise awareness of the importance of supporting great cancer researchers in Israel, and accompanying cancer patients and their families spiritually and mentally on this difficult path. I am the proof that cancer research is making great strides and is happening here and now. That is why I decided to volunteer and serve as the chairman of ICRF Israel.

MY 10-YEAR journey is described at my TED Talk, which can be found on YouTube under “Outliving your expiration date.” Outliving your expiration date expresses the essence of my new life, the inheritance that I wish to leave for my three daughters, and the way of life I suggest for us all. I distilled my path into a formula which I call the 3 TGs: Goals (worthy goals), Giving (life for others) and Gratitude (life with thanks and gratitude).

The ICRF was founded in 1975 in the US by American Jewish cancer researchers who realized that cancer would be the 21st century’s plague, and that the only way to overcome it is through research.

The ICRF focuses on raising money to finance the research of leading cancer researchers in Israel. It enables Israeli cancer researchers to carry out their work and promote their professional career in Israel and prevent the “brain drain” phenomenon that has damaged Israel research. ICRF activity preserves the vitality of cancer institutes in Israel, promoting the most important resource for all of us: outstanding scientists. The Israel Cancer Research Fund adds an important layer to the promotion of cancer research, thanks to our unique platform for the selection of cancer research proposals.

Once a year, we convene a neutral peer view of the fund with a committee comprising around 50 volunteers, all leading cancer researchers from the US and Canada. The members of the committee evaluate the research proposals of Israeli cancer researchers solely according to the feasibility and the expected impact they will have on breakthrough research, based only on scientific criteria with utmost objectivity. From about 150 award applications, 25 are chosen to be the ICRF’s “dream team” for the year.

Since 1975, the Israel Cancer Research Fund has granted 2,569 research awards totaling $78,019,667 to leading researchers in Israel whose laboratories are situated in all the leading research institutions in Israel.

In 2020 alone, the fund supported 71 research awards with a total sum of $5,151,335.

Supporting cancer research in Israel is a societal responsibility for everyone. I ask each and every one of you to join me on this special day and make a donation to the great cancer researchers of Israel. Each donation saves lives! The Israel Cancer Research Fund researches for life!!

Donate to ICRF Israel at to save lives.

The writer is celebrating 10 years of dealing with cancer.

This article was originally published on

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