How Carolina Diaz owns cancer

At eight months pregnant, all while mothering a two-year-old, Carolina Diaz discovered a lump on her breast. The Columbian-Canadian knew immediately that there was something deeply wrong. While her gynecologist told her not to worry, that it just had to do with her breast milk, Carolina knew in her heart that this was not the case, “I kind of knew it was something bad”. The lump grew after her baby was born, and Carolina was insistent that something was not right. On May 5, 2021, she received her breast cancer diagnosis.
“I couldn’t believe that was happening to me,” Carolina says.

Three weeks after her diagnosis, and after giving birth to her now one-year-old, Carolina went into surgery for her cancer and began an intense treatment that would take a full year to complete. In addition to the raging hormones and usual parental stress she was experiencing after giving birth to herdaughter, Mila, Carolina was forced to face a devastating diagnosis at a time in her life that was meant to be happy and full of life.

Young mother with breast cancer and her daughter

Carolina’s stress at this diagnosis was largely centered around her children, “I cannot die because this baby needs me to live”. To add on to the stress, Carolina’s family was still in Columbia. She called her cousin, who is a doctor, to break the news. Her cousin’s words shifted Carolina’s mindset in a way that would change her journey for the better going forward: “You have to put into your mind that you’re not going to die of this”.

From that day forward Carolina practiced meditation and shifted her mindset to a more positive one and focused on her wellbeing. Her mother flew all the way out from Columbia to care for her new born baby as her husband worked and she focused on her own wellness.

For Carolina, good family support was the “key” to not only surviving her cancer journey, but thriving throughout it.

Young woman with breast cancer receiving treatment

Despite this dark chapter, things began looking up for Carolina and her family. “After the diagnosis, blessings started coming,” says Carolina, who shifted her focus to strengthening important relationships, bettering her mindset, and pursuing adventures that she has always wanted to go on.

Stepping into the Tom Baker centre, Carolina was met with positivity and empathy from all who work and volunteer there, “I felt like I wasn’t alone”.

She also felt the gaze of other patients at the centre, and heard remarks about how young she was, and how terrible it is for this to happen to someone so young. She met all of this by going to the store and buying a variety of colorful scarves with which to wrap her newly bald head (which her daughter, Luciana, helped her shave).

With her head held high, Carolina got dressed up to receive treatment, “if people are looking it’s because I’m beautiful,” she says.

Young woman with breast cancer shaving head

Throughout her treatment Carolina recalls beautiful memories shared with her family. She recalls a wig made out of her own hair, which she was originally intending to donate her self, as well as her cousin’s and her sister’s hair, gifted to her.

She also recalls shaving her head with little Luciana, and celebrating baby milestones with baby Mila; and fondly, a beautiful Christmas basket gifted by some donors that made her cry, and so much more.

Her children provided extra light and love during what would otherwise be a very dark time. The eldest, Luciana, described as the “chaotic” child of the family, always brought a smile to Carolina’s face throughout her treatment with her antics and sense of humor. Mila, short for Milagro, translates from Spanish to “miracle”, and Mila was just that for Carolina.

“She is my miracle, she came into this world to help me through hard times”.

Now, Carolina is recovering from some of the after effects of her treatment, and focusing on spending even more time with her children. She is excited for the new Calgary Cancer Centre, and given her positive experiences at the Tom Baker she can only imagine what awaits at the Calgary Cancer Centre when it opens.

Overall, Carolina feels fortunate to have gone on this life journey in Alberta, as she recognizes the generosity of Albertan donors and all of the resources that were available to her through such generosity.

Mother with daughters after cancer diagnosis

“I feel really lucky that this happened to me in Alberta,” says Carolina.

Despite the hardships that arose from her diagnosis, Carolina has pulled some important life lessons from this experience. In addition to learning to let go, she has learned the importance of a positive mindset, and of also recognizing the significance of one’s experience in the grander scheme of things.

She urges those going through their own cancer journeys to recognize that they are not alone, “many people go on this journey… you have to find something to hold on to”. Carolina is closer to her family than ever before, and now donates the Alberta Cancer Foundation every month as a way to give back. She is looking forward to having more time on her hands so she can volunteer as well.

Now, Carolina is up to any challenge, and knows she can face anything with her positive mindset and the help of her family.

“You cannot let cancer define you”.

 

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 and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

How Sam Kwong is helping us own cancer

Sam Kwong recently joined his first marathon as a fundraiser, in which he decided to support the Alberta Cancer Foundation. To say his efforts were successful would be an understatement. Sam ran over 21 kilometres and raised over $5,000 for Albertans facing cancer. With the Calgary Cancer Centre being an initiative he is passionate about, we wanted to learn more about his ‘why’.

 

Tell us about yourself…

My name is Sam Kwong and I am married to my wife, Amanda Keay, who I met in Calgary 14 years ago. We have an eighteen-month-old daughter named Chloe and she is expecting a baby brother this October 2022!

I have worked multiple jobs starting from the age of 14 years old. During the time frame between 14 to 18 years old, I worked as a day camp volunteer, newspaper sales personnel, cashier, sales representative, landscaper, lot attendant, janitor, dishwasher, host, line cook, and served at multiple restaurants. I place strong emphasis on character building and work ethic because I find them as core fundamentals to a successful career and life.

I graduated from a degree in business with a major in accounting and pursued my CPA, CMA designation after graduating. I now currently own and operate two small and humble businesses: one in educational development (www.evolutionlearning.org) and the other in recruiting for high growth startup companies in Silicon Valley (www.clearmatchtalent.com). My favorite job of all though, is my journey in learning to become the best father and husband that I can be for my family. My commitment is to be there for them and spend as much time as possible with them. Monday to Sunday, if you come knocking on our door we are very likely home together, so feel free to come in for some food and beverages!

International travel is by far the most impactful investment that I have made in my lifetime. I am blessed to have studied, worked and lived abroad on many occasions. Together these experiences have convinced me that multiculturalism and the power of diversity are pertinent attributes to creating a more harmonious and prosperous world. To date, I have traveled to 23 or more countries, and my ultimate goal is to expand my perception of the world by seeking to understand others from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Curiosity flows through my DNA and is a big contributor to why I prefer having deep and real conversations about any open topic, with anyone, anywhere in the world. The latest book I have been reading is Survival of the Nicest: How Altruism Made Us Human and Why It Pays to Get Along by Stefan Klein.

Time flies, so I constantly educate and dedicate myself to areas and situations in which I am able to make a difference. When the intentions are good, we ought to just let it flow naturally. No matter the industry or career, I truly believe in aiming to be the best at everything you do, in order to reap what you sow.

 

What inspired you to fundraise for the Alberta Cancer Foundation? What do you hope to see accomplished with this funds?

I finally stopped making excuses and built up the courage to run my first half marathon on May 29, 2022. I had decided to raise funds by contributing to a cause that our network and communities may all have unfortunately faced – cancer.

The beginning of 2022 started off a little rocky. I had lost my Aunt Ping to cancer rather abruptly. Ping was awesome and lived a simple life. Her three favorite things were Dim Sum, Newspaper, and Chinese New Year Red Pockets (I mean who doesn’t like good fortune and some extra cash to spend?). I miss her and her authenticity to truly be herself throughout all these years.

As a result, I personally dedicated my first run to Aunt Ping and the funds raised to help support the efforts of Alberta Cancer Foundation. In less than 3 weeks we had raised over $5000! Many who know me understand that my friends are considered my family and vice versa. The success and recognition goes to my network of friends and family who have been there since day 1. I am humbled and blessed to have a strong support group with such big hearts. They are the real champions!

I hope the funds help in accomplishing two things.

1. Dramatically increasing the survival rate of cancer patients to 100%.

2. At a minimum, mitigate patient suffering through accelerated technologies and innovative progress against cancer.

 

Have you or a loved one been impacted by cancer? What did this journey look like?

Yes. Earlier this year, I had lost my Aunt Ping and she was taken from us rather quickly. Unfortunately, Ping’s journey through cancer was short lived. We had a little less than 1 month with her since she was diagnosed and in the blink of an eye she was gone.

Similar to many of us, we hear of many cases of close family members and friends battling this chronic disease. As a community we have made significant advancements to cancer treatment however until cancer is put to rest we still have work to do. These tragic life experiences teach you many many lessons. One of the main lessons I learned is to smile often, and cherish the people and relationships you have around you. Dance through the ups and downs of life’s experiences with them one day at a time, and remember to have fun while doing so.

 

What does the new Calgary Cancer Centre mean to you?

To me, the new Calgary Cancer Centre means that we have a significantly larger force of hardworking passionate people that are making their best attempt to put cancer to rest for good. Cancer is a topic that can be dark and morbid, but I firmly believe that we must continue to fight and the Calgary Cancer Centre is a dedicated space to do just that. I look forward to the day when we can rid this disease away once and for all!

 

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.

Brandi Perron and Her Cancer Journey

It was a day like any other when Brandi found a lump that would change her life forever. “I swear it wasn’t there in the morning. I was getting in the shower, it was so noticeable I could see it in the mirror.” Without hesitation, Brandi contacted her doctor. They sent her in for scans, a mammogram, and an ultrasound. By the time Brandi left the examinations, she knew she had cancer. “I could tell by the look on their face,” she recalls.

On December 23, 2020, a time that was supposed to be joyous was rather stressful as Brandi went in for a Biopsy. “It was right before Christmas. It was also the day of one of the biggest storms we have had in years. I told them that I didn’t know if I could make it. They said ‘just try your best, it doesn’t matter what time you get here. We’ll still do it.’”

A couple of weeks passed by over the holidays. Brandi then received the fateful call from her Doctor on January 4, 2021, and was told she had cancer. Brandi’s doctor set up a meeting with a surgeon at the Breast Health Clinic at the Foothills Hospital. Through this meeting she would be briefed on her diagnosis. Even though the mass was large, they felt they had caught it early. With this in mind, they asked Brandi how she would like to move forward.

“The crazy thing about getting diagnosed with cancer is they give all these choices and at the end they are like ‘what would you like to do’ and I remember thinking ‘I don’t know.’”

For about a week, Brandi stepped away to think over the options she was given with one of her closest friends by her side, a nurse at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and someone who joined her for all of Brandi’s appointments. After discussing her options with her friend and doing her own extensive research, Brandi decided to go with a double mastectomy.

Still navigating the changes today, Brandi said, “No one can prepare you for what happens when you have your breasts removed.” After her double mastectomy, pathology showed cancer in the lymph nodes and Brandi was sent to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre to start chemo.

“My Oncologist is Doctor Webster… my experience with Doctor Webster was amazing. He allowed me a lot of say in my treatment and provided me with a lot of information. I was very into holistic medicine before I got cancer and he allowed me to have space to talk about some of those kinds of treatments as well.” Providing this space for conversation helped bring a sense of autonomy during a confusing and overwhelming time.

When her chemo treatments came to an end, Brandi then started radiation. “Radiation is also scary, but it’s a different kind of scary.” However, she was happily surprised by the treatment she received from two radiologists at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. “When I originally arrived [for her radiation appointment] and found out it would be two men who would be doing my radiation, I almost refused to go in. I almost felt ‘man, I’ve been through enough already and I don’t want two men doing my breast cancer radiation treatment. Those two guys turned out to be probably the best part of my experience. They were amazing and did everything to make me comfortable and then some.”

Chemotherapy can often be a challenging period for a cancer patient. Brandi recalls her experience with this treatment as strenuous. “I was supposed to have six courses of chemo, but I only had four. I had really bad headaches, jaw pains, and two times I had psychosis after my treatments. Which was really scary for my family, my kids especially.” Treatments can impact patients in different ways. The side effects of chemotherapy became too dangerous for Brandi, ultimately leading to the decision to stop chemo at four treatments.

Brandi’s radiation treatments occurred five days a week for five weeks. During this physically demanding treatment, Brandi’s holistic interests came in handy. She often used organic ointments to help soothe and heal her radiation burns.

In December of 2021, Brandi was given a No Evidence of Disease diagnosis. She recognizes, however, that because her cancer was estrogen positive, she will always be at high risk for reoccurrence and is now on preventative treatment, including medication to put her in a medical menopause. “In some ways this is harder than active treatment. When you’re done treatment, you’re just done. Everything just goes back to what it was except for you.”

Brandi still experiences symptoms from her treatments, such as pain in her bones, insomnia and headaches. The psychological impacts often outweigh the physical ones. “It’s just a constant worry that every ache and every pain is just the cancer coming back. But all the meds give you the exact same symptoms as what it would feel to have the cancer coming back. I stopped calling my doctor every week, which I am sure he is grateful for.” She chuckles.

When asked how she found support during this harrowing experience, Brandi opened up about the online community she had found. These groups provided space for her to open up about all aspects of her breast cancer journey, and she does the same for them.

“Those women online have saved my life repeatedly.”

A constant theme running through our conversation was the idea of support and the deep gratitude Brandi held for those who lent her a helping hand. “My family doctor called me every other week,” She explains. Her family doctor would even check on her children to see how they were coping with their mother’s diagnosis. “I appreciated this so much because I felt like I didn’t have the capacity to support my family.” The not for profit agency she worked at also provided her with time and support to navigate her diagnosis. Along with family, friends, the breast cancer Support clinic in Calgary and the community she found online, Brandi found herself in the midst of a solid support system.

The financial burden of cancer is something that is not talked about often. Brandi opened up about her experience with this saying, “The financial burden of cancer is crazy. I don’t think many people know about this, I certainly didn’t. I am just starting to catch up.” This experience is more common than most of us know. There is support out there, check out Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Patient Financial Assistance Program here.

Being a Calgarian and going through all of her cancer treatments at Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Brandi is excited to see what the new Calgary Cancer Centre brings. “The new Calgary Cancer Centre is probably going to be off the hook. I think it’s amazing. Tom Baker is so busy and there isn’t enough space. It’s the busiest place I’ve ever been.” Brandi also explains that she is grateful that the Calgary Cancer Centre not only will be there for those facing cancer but has also brought jobs and opportunities to our city. “I am excited that the Calgary Cancer Centre is going to be there for people.”

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 and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

How Lorne Miller owns cancer – Father’s Day Highlight

Lorne Miller, a born and raised Calgarian, Fire Fighter, loving husband, and father to two young children, was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2021. After experiencing some abdominal discomfort and swelling, Lorne was diagnosed with liposarcoma. A volleyball-sized tumour, along with some of his small intestines, was removed a month later. As a man in good health who enjoyed staying active, like hunting and fishing with his dog Maggie, this news came as a massive surprise to him.

As a father, this news was devastating to hear. Lorne explains, “Having to tell your mother, wife, and daughter that you are sick, and there is nothing they can do about it, was the worst day. I’m the one person that is supposed to be invincible, and to have to tell them that you are not, was incredibly painful. That said, if someone had to take the statistical bullet with this disease, I’m glad it was me and not any of them. With our kids being so young, they don’t have a full understanding of what happened last year. So, unfortunately, the brunt of that fell onto Lindsay [Lorne’s Wife]. For us, the diagnosis really reinforced the vows we took on our wedding day to be there for each other and our family in whatever comes our way. News like this is always difficult for a family to process and as one of my Doctor’s said last year, ‘this is the hand you’ve been dealt, how you play it is up to you.'”

A cancer diagnosis often turns a person’s world upside down. For Lorne, he knew it would come with its challenges, especially as a parent. When asked if his perspective changed on what being a father meant to him, he said, “Absolutely. I learned that time is our most valuable commodity, so I have become extremely calculated on how I spend it. As a parent, all you ever want to do is protect your children, and when the ability to do that is threatened, you realize what it means to be a protector. As soon as we had our kids, my goal has been to work hard at providing a good example to them on how to be a good father, son, husband, friend, and how to give back to the community. It’s always been really important for me to leave this place better than how I found it. After my experience last year, I’ve realized that the opportunity to do that cannot be taken for granted and needs to be actioned right now. As parents, we need to take full advantage of the time we have with our kids because things can change in an instant. The reality is that none of us know what the future entails, so my goal is to leave a legacy for my kids so they will be proud of the person I was, and the things I did to give them a better life and make this community a better place to live.”

“As parents, we need to take full advantage of the time we have with our kids because things can change in an instant.”

Helping him on his journey to recovery, Lorne found support in his loved ones. “I am very fortunate to have a great support network of family, friends, coworkers, medical professionals, and even strangers. I’m a firm believer that, in situations like this, the right people will be in front of you at the right time. Once I accepted the reality of my situation and stopped resisting the unchangeable, I was able to open myself up to vulnerability and the help others were offering. It can be very difficult for a father to accept help in looking after his family, or himself, but I’m so glad I did. I wouldn’t be where I am today without doing that. Once I leaned into the support network that I had, I could really focus on the important things, and still be as present as possible for my family. In terms of tangible solutions that have helped me, I’ve really focused on regaining my physical and mental health to a productive state. I’ve worked hard at getting myself back in shape with physiotherapy, regular workouts, and a clean diet. I’ve explored naturopathic remedies to compliment the fantastic care I have received and continue to work diligently with my therapist to make myself more mentally resilient to past and future challenges. I’ve found that a well-balanced approach of taking mental and physical health seriously has allowed for a successful recovery, and ultimately, allowed me to resume a lot of my previous roles and responsibilities.”

Lorne recently celebrated one year of being cancer-free on the same day as his 39th birthday. A lot can change in 365 days. When we asked how he is doing today, he said, “All things considered; I’m doing absolutely incredible. This time last year, I would have given anything to be in this position today.” It comes without saying, Lorne radiates positivity into the lives of those around him and for us as well. He states, “I’m beyond grateful for the incredible support I have received during this process. Although challenging, this last year has been an incredible gift and second chance to make the most of my time here. I have, and will continue, to work hard at paying back all the love and support our family has received by being living proof of the good things that can happen with the power of faith, and community.”

Lorne expressed his gratitude for the care he received and knows that with the new Calgary Cancer Centre, those facing cancer in the future will have access to world-leading cancer care, research and education. 

Happy Fathers Day to all of the incredible Dad’s out there, like Lorne.

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 and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

How Sher Harkins Owns Cancer

Sher Harkins would make this daily walk from her chemo appointments back to work on the new Cancer Centre at Foothills Medical Centre. Leah Hennel / AHS

For years, Sher Harkins had a little voice in the back of her head wondering not “if” — but “when” — she would get cancer. She’s no stranger to cancer and has lost many loved ones, including both her parents (dad in 1995, mom in 2017).

In April 2018, Harkins had just started her new job as an electrical material purchaser for the new Calgary Cancer Centre, when her doctor called to say: “We found cancer”.

“Those words go through you, and it echoes. It really is like something out of a movie. I sat there, stunned. I cried a little.”

As she put the date of her oncologist appointment in her calendar, she told herself: “I guess I have a fight ahead of me.”

Ultimately, that appointment led to a journey of treatments which included five rounds of weekly chemo, 25 consecutive days of radiation, followed by three weekly doses of brachytherapy (a type of internal radiation therapy in which seeds, ribbons or capsules that contain a radiation source are placed in your body, in or near a tumour).

Harkins says she felt incredibly grateful to work at the new Calgary Cancer Centre construction site during this difficult time. “Could I be in a better place to do all this? I mean really. How blessed am I? I work right here. It was spring, the sun was shining, birds were singing — and I am right here. So, I dug my heels in and went about kicking cancer’s butt!”

She worked every day through most of her treatments, and also walked a quick-paced 10 minutes over to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

“Admittedly, some days, I walked slower and the pep in my step wasn’t what it started off at. In the end, I couldn’t work for the final three weeks for my brachytherapy. It took just too much out of me,” she says.

“I didn’t tell a lot of people at work what was going on, but the people who did know told me that if they didn’t know I had cancer, they would have had no idea. I took that as a great compliment to my strength and tenacity.”

Harkins takes pride in her role in the cancer centre, taking every opportunity to share with her doctors, nurses, and radiologists that she was purchasing all the electrical material for the new building.  In the face of months of treatments, her passion as a purchaser remained strong.

“I’ve watched and participated first-hand in building this new world-class cancer centre. Now when I look at this big, beautiful building, I see me. I see my journey. I see all of us survivors.

“I see all the construction workers who came to work every single day, rain or shine, freezing cold, extreme heat, the smoky summers and through COVID-19. They are showing up every day and getting it done, for all of us.

Harkins adds: “I know that if I am ever a patient in the Calgary Cancer Centre, I’ll be in the best place, with the best people, receiving the best care.”


This article was written by Jennifer Green and originally published at albertahealthservices.ca

How Chris Kucharski owns cancer

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.

Chris Kucharski has had a thriving career as a telecommunications professional and executive, having retired as Shaw’s President – Consumer in 2018. Since then he has split his time in between startup investing in the tech space along with various philanthropic endeavours, including serving as Board Trustee for the Alberta Cancer Foundation since 2019. Staying active and healthy remains a personal priority, along with spending time with family, creative pursuits, and consulting work. Chris also holds degrees from the University of Alberta and Simon Fraser University.

What inspires you to OWN.CANCER?

Certainly nobody wants to hear the words that you have been diagnosed with cancer. Your world is rocked and the mental challenge can become nearly as big as the physical one. When I was diagnosed, my core motivation became about the ones I love – living longer to watch my kids become adults and go through life’s milestones, having new experiences, or just enjoying the simple moments of hanging out together. I’m not always successful at it, but I think I am happiest when I keep gratitude top of mind, and the most important things front and centre. So for me, it comes back to what the core mission of  the Alberta Cancer Foundation is all about – creating more moments for Albertans facing cancer, and the reality of how precious our time here really is.

 

For me, it comes back to what the core mission of  the Alberta Cancer Foundation is all about – creating more moments for Albertans facing cancer, and the reality of how precious our time here really is.

– Chris Kucharski

 

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

I’m a born and raised Albertan, and have lived in Calgary for over a decade.  Making the effort to give back to the community that has been so good to me has become something that matters deeply – and especially so after having gone through my own cancer experience.  I can’t properly convey the gratitude I have for the incredible health care professionals that we rely on here in Calgary and I feel really fortunate to have been under their care at Foothills/Tom Baker. I live nearby the new cancer centre and every time I pass it, I feel so enthused about what this means for our city and community – it’s truly exciting to be a part of.

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

This really is a game changer for Calgary, and Alberta. When it opens in fall 2023, it will be the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Canada, and a major asset for Calgary and the province. Meaning not just a beautiful facility, but one that will gather the right people/talent with the right tools to drive research and transform cancer care and treatment. That includes precision care, where treatments can be planned and coordinated around each individuals physical, mental and social needs. Regrettably, we know that nearly everyone is affected by cancer in their lifetime, whether themselves or someone they love. Helping the new centre realize its potential to improve care and outcomes is therefore extremely motivating, and I’m certain that’s something all of us can rally behind.

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.

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.

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