Why Canada Life supports the OWN.CANCER Campaign

In support of the Calgary Cancer Centre, Canada Life has made a generous donation to the OWN.CANCER Campaign.  

  

A campaign of this magnitude doesn’t happen without the support and dedication of our community. Canada Life is passionate about giving back to the community and Albertans facing cancer, and they have generously donated to the OWN.CANCER campaign in support of the Calgary Cancer Centre opening in 2023. Through their help, we’re closer to reaching our $250 million fundraising goal in supporting the Calgary Cancer Centre.  

  

Canada Life is committed to improving Canadians’ financial, physical, and mental well-being. A longstanding supporter of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Canada Life is proud to contribute to the redevelopment and expansion of the new treatment centre called the Calgary Cancer Centre. 

  

“We’re proud to support OWN.CANCER because we believe in the power of research and expertise. We know that health diagnosis and treatment play a vital part in creating strong and healthy communities. We’re inspired to work with forward-thinking, collaborative organizations committed to creating positive change for the well-being of all Canadians.” 

  

 Beyond the campaign, Canada Life also supports the rehabilitation program designed to help Canadians regain control in many aspects of their lives during and after treatment.  

 

“At Canada Life, we believe we can work together to make a lasting change for the better – we want to help the Calgary Cancer Centre put an end to cancer.” 

 

 

How Sarah Geddes owns cancer

Sarah Geddes from Calgary is a wife and mother of two. She is the founder of a modern marketing agency, Press + Post and works on marketing, PR, social and digital campaigns for a fantastic roster of lifestyle brands. 

“To sum it all up, I’ve curated the best life I could imagine for myself and my family.  And then there was cancer,” she says.

Here, she shares her cancer journey and what OWN.CANCER means to her. 

“I received my malignant diagnosis in February 2018.  I recall the day vividly as it was the day before Valentine’s Day, February 13th.  I was standing at my son’s hockey practice when I received the call, and the next thing I remember was being picked up off the floor.  

To back up…

During a routine dental x-ray in December 2017 (which I only did as my benefits hadn’t been used, so why not?), a “cyst” was detected around my upper jaw bone that was significant enough for them to schedule a full head scan the following day.  I had no symptoms that would have been concerning, and the only thing I can recall is feeling like I had a clogged sinus.  I had a cold for a month, so it didn’t seem suspicious. They scheduled me for a biopsy surgery a few days before Christmas following the head scan. Given the holidays, I figured it would be a few weeks before receiving the biopsy results, so I went on vacation and tried to enjoy myself with my family with everything parked in the back of my mind.

In early January, when we returned, I visited my surgeon for a follow-up on the biopsy, and he let me know the specimen was benign.  He also indicated those who looked at the results had not seen a specimen like that before and asked if I’d be okay with him trying to learn more. It turns out I would owe my life to his curiosity.  After a couple of tests, I got the fateful call on February 13th. “Are you sitting down?”  The results were false. “You have cancer.” I blacked out for a few minutes, but it wasn’t the most surreal part.  He mentioned having a colleague, Dr. Graham Cobb, who had just performed the first surgery of its kind in Alberta for the cancer I had, with positive results. My surgeon had spoken to him about my case and that Dr. Cobb was willing to meet with me the following day (Valentine’s Day) to see if I was a candidate to be the second patient in Alberta to have the surgery.  That’s not the surreal part.  The hair on your neck part is that I went to high school with Graham (or Dr. Cobb) in North Bay, Ontario and had no idea he was out here.  

Steve and I spent our Valentine’s Day meeting with Graham, who described this ‘jaw in a day’ surgery.  It was beyond what I could wrap my mind around, but I had full trust in him and the system and was so grateful at that moment to live in Canada and have access to such amazing care.  I cannot lie, the surgery(s) he described was a bit much to digest, and all I could think about was, “how did anyone sign up to be the first to do this?’. In simple terms, my cancer had lodged itself in my jaw bone, so to account for margins, my upper right jaw, teeth and hard palette would all need to be completely removed. No big deal, we’ll take your fibula bone, recreate a jaw bone from that, use your leg tissue around the bone to recreate tissue on the roof of your mouth to replace your hard palette and then we’ll do a skin graft from your thigh to replace the lost skin in your lower leg.  And we’ll run a few blood vessels from your neck to give blood supply to the new palette tissue (insert head blown emoji).  And when the healing is all over, we’ll create a prosthetic implant for you, so you have teeth.”  Can you imagine being the first patient or surgeon to attempt that? 

My initial surgery came on quickly and required three talented surgeons:  maxillofacial, head/neck/throat, and a plastic surgeon.  The initial surgery was 17 hours long. Recovery in the ICU and beyond was not fun as I had to relearn how to speak (I had no teeth for multiple months and a large mass of tissue clogging my mouth), swallow and walk.  I was on a liquid and then blended diet for three months and visited the wound clinic to deal with the leg graft and possible infection every three days.  I was not prepared for the nerve pain in my leg, foot or face.  It was excruciating.  And then I got used to it, and it’s now my new normal. 

Now on the other side, given the rarity of my condition, I’m incredibly fortunate to have been a test case for this type of surgery to determine new protocols for head and neck cancers moving forward.  Since then, I’ve had four additional minor surgeries (minor in terms of surgical length, not healing), and while I will never be the same, I can say I am as close to it as humanly possible.  I owe my life to Dr. Graham Cobb and the team he assembled, and I am so happy I bugged him to pay attention in biology class in high school.


No day, hour or minute is the same regarding how I feel about cancer.  Sometimes my gratitude for being alive is overwhelming, and sometimes my fear of losing that feeling is unbearable. What’s consistent is a shift towards gratitude and empathy and not wanting to forget what I have overcome and why I fought as hard as I did…my family.  My kids learned life isn’t always easy. Sometimes things are complex, sometimes you win, and sadly, sometimes you lose.  But you show up.  And you be grateful, always.   

I owe my life to the innovative care I received from my team. Still, when I look towards the future of cancer care and what the Calgary Cancer Centre can facilitate, I see a 360 approach to cancer care: mind, body, and community. We need as much innovation in the physical treatment of cancer as we do the mental, familial and societal outcomes. 

Cancer is a club you really don’t want to join, but if you have no choice, the membership dues should include being able to live your best life possible for as long as you can.  That means feeling empowered to take care of your mind, body, and community. 

I truly see the opportunity for this centre to shine as an innovator in complete cancer care.  We can’t control everything, but we can own our journey.  I get to tell cancer how it can deal with me.  Not the other way around.”

Sarah is grateful for the care she received and knows that with the Calgary Cancer Centre, those facing cancer in the future will have access to world-leading cancer care, research and education. She thanks the donors who support the OWN.CANCER campaign from the bottom of her heart.

“Your donations not only bring outcomes but also inspire. You create hope and optimism and inspire others to do the same.  And you make survivors feel seen.  Finding a cure is the ultimate goal, but making the journey more bearable for those who hold hands on this path is equally noble and such a gift and legacy.”

At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Help make an impact for patients like Sarah, and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

How Ashley Yoisten owns cancer

In January 2020, Ashley Yoisten, a young mother of two, didn’t expect her life to change forever.

 

When the now 35-year-old began to notice irritation in her breast, she consulted her family doctor, who suggested she go for a mammogram. Although they were hesitant to do a mammogram given her young age, they decided that it was the best thing to do given her symptoms.

When her mammogram results returned as calcified breast tissue, she was told not to worry. However, this didn’t sit right with her doctor, who referred her to a surgeon.

“I never thought that it would be cancer at any point in time.I truly just felt that it was a cyst or a blockage of some sort,” said Ashley.

From there, Ashley received an ultrasound as directed by her surgeon, where the worry struck. Immediately after, the doctor and nurse came into the room to perform an urgent biopsy. They later determined that there was, in fact, a bigger problem.

“I remember getting on the table and asking them, “Am I allowed to go back to work after this?” they looked at me like I had five eyes and said, no, you can’t, you need to take some days off,” said Ashley.

Not long after, Ashley went back to the surgeon’s office when she found out that she had a Carcinoma in situ. After a second biopsy, it was determined that Ashley was HER2+, grade 3, stage 3A. While waiting to define the likely next steps, Ashley got even more heartbreaking news – her mom was also diagnosed with cancer.

“It was alarming to realize that it could be genetic and that my sister could be at risk as well or potentially my kids or my nieces and nephews,” said Ashley.

From there, she decided to move forward with a double mastectomy, scheduled for October 28. After receiving the pathology report, she found out that she had four other tumours within her breast wall and Paget’s disease, cancer in the nipple. Her cancer originated from her nipple and spread from there, affecting her lymph nodes.

“I believe very highly in the power of positive thinking, and so when it was all seeming to fall apart, I just tried to keep a positive attitude as much as I could about it.,” said Ashley. If I was having a bad day or having a moment… I did allow myself the space to feel those feelings… but I just tried not to stay within that mindset for very long.”

Throughout her journey, Ashley thought of her late step-father, who also faced cancer. Ashley recalls his positivity and outlook on life, especially when he was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. Unfortunately, her step-father’s cancer was very aggressive and was inoperable. However, she believes that his positive outlook made him outlast his 18-month life expectancy, turning it into four more years of memories.

“I always admired that strength. So when I got my diagnosis, I just remembered that and just wanted to be as positive as I possibly could be no matter how hard it was.”

Along with her step-father’s optimism, Ashley is grateful to her family and friends. To say that going through cancer treatment during a pandemic is easy would be a lie. Ashley was fortunate enough to have a close group of friends and family safely join her cohort, where she could be with them in person.

Ashley, an independent person, who rarely asked for help, leaned on the kindness and support of her family and loved ones who supported her through every step of this journey.

“There was so much love and support for me, my kids and my husband. They were there to catch us and support us for everything we needed,” said Ashley.

Ashley is also incredibly thankful for her loving husband, Matt and resilient sons, Mason (9) and Nixon (6), who supported her, cared for her and loved her endlessly. With her sons being so young, Ashley still needed to be there for them in any way she could.

“I did my best to be as honest with them as I could about my journey and tried to include them where I could,” said Ashley. “I want them to understand that cancer is a part of life. It happens.”

Ashley completed her treatment in April, doing 25 rounds of radiation and even ending up in the ICU at one point. It was a difficult three months of treatment. Unfortunately, not long after, in May, Ashley and her family got in an accident on their way to a family camping trip, which took a toll on her health. Happily, she is starting to feel like herself again. She allowed herself time to heal and spent lots of time working hard on getting better and back to a place where she felt “normal” again.

“I did all the work; I told my care teams and physios that “I will be your best patient if you just tell me what I have to do, I will do it” because I need to get back to where I was or come back better,” said Ashley.

Recovery was not what Ashely initially expected. She thought she would feel better as soon as her treatment was complete, but she had to learn to be patient and listen to her body. She focused on fueling it with nutrition and respecting it every step of the way, taking the time to focus on not just her body but also her mind.

“Be kind and gentle on yourself and allow yourself that space to heal. This is your journey and no one else,” said Ashley.

Ashley took the time out of her treatments and recovery to share her story on social media. For her, it was an outlet to share with family and friends, but in turn, she found a community going through the same thing. Her journey has and continues to be a massive inspiration to many.

“I found that sharing this helps them know that they can do it too… When they tell me my story brings them comfort – it brings me joy that I can help someone,” said Ashley.

You can continue to follow her story on Instagram.

At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Help make an impact for patients like Ashley, and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

 

 

Supporting young women with breast cancer – Dr. May Lynn Quann, MD.

Dr. May Lynn Quan, MD, Photograph by Todd Korol

A breast cancer diagnosis is scary for anyone. But for women under the age of 40, breast cancer comes with a unique set of challenges: The potential loss of fertility, prolonged hormonal treatment and managing young families and careers during treatment. University of Calgary researcher and cancer surgeon Dr. May Lynn Quan, MD, is developing an online self-management tool (an app) to support the unique needs of these women.

 

Quan’s team interviewed 34 women diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 or younger, who were at least one year from finishing active treatment. These women identified key elements they would want in an app, including one-on-one peer group support, age-specific sexual health and fertility information, and increased support when living beyond the end of treatment. 

 

Quan will take all the feedback to develop a supportive tool that she says is “by the women for the women.” This innovative app will be tested by a network of clinics across Canada when complete.

 

“When talking to these young women, we realized they need more support than they are getting,” says Quan. “Currently, their care is very fragmented – there’s a new patient clinic at one site, a surgical clinic at another and treatment at another,” says Quan. “The new Calgary Cancer Centre will bring all those services, that expertise, along with research, under one roof,” says Quan.

“To me, I think the biggest benefit of the cancer centre is that we will finally be in a comprehensive breast centre. Currently, breast cancer care is very fragmented – there’s a new patient clinic at one site, a surgical clinic at another and treatment at another. The new Calgary Cancer Centre will bring all those services, that expertise, along with research, under one roof and to capitalize (or leverage) on the proximity and necessary collaboration and coordination of services in a more organic way. “

 

“Right now, women are literally driving all over the city to get the care they need. It will make it easier for a natural marriage between our research efforts and bringing those into clinical reality. Actually implementing it and building these support tools with the patient in a collaborative way,” says Quan. 

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

You can help clinicians and researchers like Amanda perform world-class cancer research by making a donation to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Click here to Donate.

 

 

Data is power – Dr. Winson Cheung, MD, researcher and oncologist, believes that big data can be used to gather health information more efficiently

Dr. Winson Cheung, Medical Oncologist and Provincial Director of Cancer Health Services Research. Photograph by Jared Sych.

Vast amounts of health information are collected across Alberta. This information, called ‘big data,’ is stored in massive databases and includes diverse, de-identified information about many people. A UCalgary team is using this big data to mimic clinical trials.

Randomized control trials (RCTs) are the gold standard to evaluate a new cancer drug or treatment. In RCTs, participants are randomly assigned to one therapy or another to compare effectiveness. While very valuable, RCTs can be expensive and last decades, and only represent less than 10 per cent of the population.

Dr. Winson Cheung, MD, a UCalgary researcher and oncologist, believes that big data can be used to gather health information more efficiently and on more patients than RCTs.

Using several Alberta administrative databases and the analytical expertise to interpret them, Cheung’s team hopes to provide real-world evidence to support better clinical decision-making. “The global pandemic over the past two years has taught us that data is power,” says Cheung. “Data and lessons learned from current patients can inform, model, and predict how we can improve the care of future patients.”

The new, world-class Calgary Cancer Centre will have hundreds of workspaces dedicated to data sciences. “Data scientists will be able to work side-by-side at the new cancer centre, making it easier to leverage and translate data to improve the lives of cancer patients and their families.”

At the new Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible.

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

You can help clinicians and researchers like Amanda perform world-class cancer research by making a donation to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Click here to Donate.

 

Taking control of blood cancer

Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that often evades treatment. UCalgary scientist and medical oncologist Dr. Paola Neri, MD, PhD, is studying the genetic code of multiple myeloma to determine why it is resistant to many current drugs, hoping to find new, better treatments for fighting the disease. 

Neri has created a tissue bank that consists of bone marrow biopsies from myeloma patients. Information from these tissue samples led to a clinical trial combining two medications to treat relapsed myeloma patients. Her groundbreaking work has led to a better understanding of DNA repair defects in tumour cells. 

Neri was recently awarded the Kenneth Anderson Young Investigator Award for her commitment to bringing basic research to the bedside. A mentee of Dr. Anderson, Neri was inspired by his dedication to research and patient care. “From Dr. Anderson, I learned the impact that basic research may have on a patient’s life.”

The new Calgary Cancer Centre will make it easier for Neri to take her research to the next level and provide world-class services for cancer patients. “To me, OWN. CANCER means taking control of your cancer, knowing that all the people involved with you in this complex journey are committed to improving clinical care through dedication to research and high standard medical practice.”

Cancer, aging and DNA

The cells in our bodies rely on the stability of our DNA to survive in a healthy state. When something goes wrong with our DNA, cells are compromised. Usually, the cell will repair itself, but if DNA repair is unsuccessful, this can lead to tissue and organ damage, and sometimes, cancer. 

UCalgary researcher Dr. Aditya Mojumdar, PhD, studies the factors that maintain DNA stability during repair. He has discovered that DNA repair switches from error-free to error-prone as cells age, leading to more mutations. This finding may explain why cancer occurs with age.

Dr. David Schriemer, PhD, and Susan Lees-Miller, PhD, UCalgary researchers in the Robson DNA Science Centre, assembled a team of scientists from Alberta and British Columbia to look at DNA repair and aging using cutting-edge molecular imaging approaches. They are currently seeking funding for a multi-year project that would be the first of its kind in Canada, bringing new state-of-the-art equipment to the Calgary Cancer Centre. 

“Every life-scientist dreams of making a difference in societal health with their research. The new collaborative Calgary Cancer Centre is paving the way for that dream to come true,” says Mojumdar. 

Developing vaccines against childhood cancers – Dr. Aru Narendran

Vaccines have effectively treated and even eradicated, some of the most devastating infectious diseases. Not only can vaccines protect us from viruses and other pathogens, but they can also train the immune system to recognize and destroy tumour cells.

Based on research showing the effectiveness of anticancer vaccines against some adult tumours, pediatric oncologist Dr. Aru Narendran, MD, PhD is developing a vaccine for high-risk, difficult-to-treat cancers in children.

Malignant cells can make unique mutant proteins, called neoantigens, that aren’t found in normal healthy cells. Narendran’s lab gathers and analyzes data from tumours and normal samples of high-risk pediatric patients to identify candidate neoantigens. Once they have this information, they can develop and test effective anticancer vaccines for children with difficult-to-cure brain tumours, leukemias, and sarcomas.

The new Calgary Cancer Centre will significantly boost Narendran’s work by attracting new talent, providing access to critical study specimens and technology, and encouraging more collaborations between adult and pediatric oncologists. “This will help tremendously with important knowledge exchange and learning from each other more effectively.”

Narendran currently holds the Kids Cancer Care Chair in Clinical and Translational Research in Pediatric Oncology. His goal is to transform the treatment of childhood cancers in the future. “For me, OWN.CANCER simply means that we never have to tell a parent that there is nothing more that we can do to help their child with cancer. Ever.”

 

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

You can help clinicians and researchers like Amanda perform world-class cancer research by making a donation to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Click here to Donate.

 

More than a job

Cory Knutson is a project manager with PCL Construction, the company responsible for the construction of the new Calgary Cancer Centre. “I get to see the building come alive a little more each day.  I get great satisfaction from seeing my ideas and direction transformed into physical installations inside the building,” he says.

The construction is more than a job to Knutson, however. His father lost his battle with cancer in May 2020 after a five-year struggle.

Since then, Knutson has had time to reflect on his father’s care.  “The AHS staff were so supportive through all the chemo rounds, ambulance rides, the many research sessions to locate potential treatment options, and the end-of-life home care,” he says.

“I know my efforts will help make this the best possible building for AHS staff to offer quality care for patients like my father.”

“I know what a difference this building will make to those who have yet to start their own cancer journey.”

The Calgary Cancer Centre is set to open in 2023.

 

As originally published on Alberta Health Services

Barbara Munroe – Campaign Cabinet Members

A campaign of this magnitude doesn’t happen without the support and dedication of our community. The OWN.CANCER campaign cabinet is made up of passionate Calgarians who are champions for improved cancer research, treatment and care in our province. Through their advocacy, donations and guidance, we’re closer to reaching our $250 million fundraising goal in support of the Calgary Cancer Centre. In this series, we’re sitting down with our cabinet members to learn what the OWN.CANCER campaign means to them and the impact it will have on Albertans facing cancer. 

Barbara Munroe is a former lawyer having retired as executive vice president and general counsel of WestJet Airlines. Prior to that, she held senior legal and executive positions at Imperial Oil, SMART Technologies and Blake, Cassels & Graydon. Barbara is now focused on corporate directorships within the oil and gas (Crescent Point) and utilities (ENMAX) sectors, along with being a Trustee of the Alberta Cancer Foundation. She is also a two-time University of Calgary graduate (BComm ’87, LLB ’90).

 

I am convinced that the Calgary Cancer Centre will change the landscape of cancer care and research, while also providing meaningful and diversified economic benefits to Calgary. It will be the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Canada – that’s impact!

– Barbara Munroe

 

What inspires you to OWN.CANCER?

In May 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My world was displaced at the time I was full-stride in my career. One year following my diagnosis, my mother was diagnosed with cancer in her jaw that necessitated invasive surgery with long-lasting daily living effects, and my father is currently living with metastatic prostate cancer.

Having repurposed myself, I now have more time to give and the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the OWN.CANCER cabinet is the perfect fit to add my voice to the advancement of cancer awareness, prevention, screening and increased funding for research in Alberta, and for the new Calgary Cancer Centre.

I learned that the work of the Alberta Cancer Foundation supports every cancer-related clinical trial in Alberta – and that one positive clinical trial can help out hundreds of thousands of patients. That is real impact and is the practical inspiration that got me involved to advocate and fundraise for the OWN.CANCER campaign.

As the Lululemon tag goes “do one thing a day that scares you”. I am lucky as a survivor that I can try to live in the spirit of that adage – my personal inspiration to OWN.CANCER is that facing cancer should not be one of those things!

Why was it important to you to volunteer and contribute to this campaign?

You can’t help but be impressed with what has been built to date. With an investment of $1.4 billion, the Calgary Cancer Centre is the largest government infrastructure project in the province.

Construction will be complete in 2022 and it is anticipated that this facility will open to the public in 2023. That’s not a lot of time! But a lot of energy is going into attracting world-class clinicians and researchers to make the Calgary Cancer Centre the gold standard in care. Countless hours of professional and volunteer time have gone into this project, and we are on the doorstep of something that is going to be nothing short of game-changing.

It keeps coming back to that for me – the integration of research to optimize care – a collaborative approach with all of the right groups represented. This is what will differentiate the new centre and most importantly, offer hope and save lives! Integrated care and research is a pretty involved subject, but I am convinced that through the partnership with the University of Calgary, the Calgary Cancer Centre will be one of the leading cancer centres in North America.

How do you believe this campaign and the Calgary Cancer Centre will impact Albertans facing cancer?

Experience offers some perspective. While going through my own treatment, and observing that of my parents, the care and options were very good. However, the system, and the scattered and various facilities, were complex to navigate and didn’t result in feelings of being intimately connected to the universe of care providers.

Having everything in one place will alleviate anyone from feeling that they are alone when facing cancer. The feeling when walking into the Calgary Cancer Center will not be one of fear, but rather one of belonging.

I am convinced that the Calgary Cancer Centre will change the landscape of cancer care and research, while also providing meaningful and diversified economic benefits to Calgary. It will be the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Canada – that’s impact!

But most importantly, there will be a one-word answer for patients and their families facing cancer who ask “Where do I need to go?”

Here.

 

Click here to learn more about the OWN.CANCER campaign