Carmelina and the Nipple Sisters – Helping women own cancer

In 2014, Carmelina had a feeling that something was not right with her health and consulted her doctor about it. Her intuition was right. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer that same year. Carmelina’s diagnosis left her feeling alone, but she was determined to push through with love and laughter. Through this journey, she has found her purpose by creating a business in artistry, in which she does tattoo Areola Restoration for women who have undergone mastectomies. Carmelina and her business partner, Kacie, were coined the ‘Nipple Sisters’ through their incredible work. To this day, they continue to help women OWN their cancer journey by restoring their body confidence through tattoo artistry.

This is Carmelina’s story…

 

Tell us about yourself…

I was born in Calgary Alberta and am the second eldest of 6 kids.  My mother is Irish & Métis, and my father was born in Italy.  Growing up in both Italy and Canada, I have always strongly identified with my Italian roots.  I love to cook and take care of those I love.  I appreciate art and culture and the beautiful and simple things in life. It led me to a career in artistry, makeup and fashion.  I am really passionate about my career which I believe to be my purpose because it is the fusion of my passion and experience as a breast cancer slayer.  (I like to use the term slayer rather than survivor). Did you know that the word slayer in slang means to overwhelm, as with laughter or love?

 

Laughter and love are the two most important things to me.

 

How did your cancer journey begin?

I had a feeling something was not right in my body and insisted my doctor looked into it.  At first, he didn’t see the need to, but I continued to insist because like I said- I had a feeling something was not right.  

“I see Cancer in your breast, and it’s moved to your lymph nodes.” Those words from my doctor’s mouth have never felt real.  Cancer?  But I was healthy?  I am young… no one in my family has cancer… My life instantly changed, and nothing made sense at the time.

Shortly after I was bombarded with calls, CT Scan appointments, MRI appointments, blood work, bone scan appointments, and echocardiogram appointments.  There was no space. At that point, I was meeting my chemo oncologist and my surgeon biweekly!

My head was full. My emotions were on a roller coaster.

 

I did not want to die.  I did not want to lose my hair. I did not want to lose my breasts. Everything I once took for granted was in jeopardy.

 

The initial diagnosis was a lot to process, and I felt really alone.  I had many friends and family who supported me, but it is different when someone has not experienced it.

There is no one way or right way to deal with a diagnosis.  I chose to believe that I wasn’t sick.  Some would call that denial.  I call it mind power.

The power of the mind and meditation helped me.  I started to do things in my material life to honor the letting go process- like cutting my own hair off. That day, I was surrounded by friends and supported.  It was like a ceremony, and I felt like I was honoring what I was coming into… the unknown.

When my hair began to fall out- I shaved my head.  There is nothing you can do about the inevitable BUT there is a lot you can do in the space of the unknown.  I love to dance, and the process became a dance of releasing, letting go, clearing and bringing in.

My first round of chemo was my birthday on Dec 12, 2014, I had 8 rounds all together, radiation and surgery.

It was a slow surrender and the longest journey of strength.

How are you doing today?

I am doing good today, and I am very conscious and aware of my health. I was healthy before but it’s a complete lifestyle now. Now, I regularly get vitamin drips for immunity, I strength train and do yoga, I meditate and take supplements. Also, I have not had a drop of alcohol in 5 1/2 years. I am fully present and committed to living, and I am grateful to be alive.

Tell us about your treatment…

I was treated at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, and I felt completely supported by the staff and the system.  Everything sort of happens so fast and there was constant help assisting me with all of the moving parts and navigation.

What was the inspiration behind the Nipple Sisters?

The Nipple Sisters was a true marriage of passion.  The initiative was established in response to the cancer-related death of Kacie’s father in 2007 and my breast cancer journey. Together we believe we can make a difference by joining forces to help make women feel whole again.

We work together as certified paramedical pigmentation specialists focusing on Areola Restoration through a give back initiative called Procedures for a Positive Purpose.  As the nipple sisters, we have a lighthearted approach to a very serious matter.  We want women to feel good, confident and whole again.  Areola Restoration is symbolic of the end of the journey.  It is emotional and triumphant.

 

What is your favourite part about your work?

My favourite part of my work is to meet each woman and to listen to their story and then to see the look in their eyes when they look in the mirror after the procedure.  You can feel that look.

What does the new Calgary Cancer Centre mean to you?

One huge missing aspect for me were integrative oncology resources at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.  I strongly believe in mind, body, and soul healing. This healing integrative therapies. Fortunately, these resources will be available at the new Calgary Cancer Centre, which is a huge win.

 

Let’s create some awareness about the women’s stories who are thriving after a diagnosis.  Every journey is different, we can learn from one another and tap into some strength.

 

Let’s create awareness about HEALTH and prevention. Let’s create awareness about HEALING.  Have you seen the HEAL Documentary.   Your mind is powerful.  Watch this movie.   I am living proof that this is not “whoooo whooo”.

I completed my treatment plan with other natural and holistic protocols, and I am grateful I am here today to tell my story.

 

You can find Carmelina on Instagram, @Carmelinabaccari or her website at www.carmelinabaccari.com.

You can find the other half of the ‘Nipple Sisters’, Kacie, on Instagram, @kacierainey or her website at www.kacierainey.com.

 

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 on cancer research and treatment and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

How Jodie Tilley is owning colon cancer

Born and raised in Australia, Jodie Tilley moved to Canada in 1996 after falling in love with the Rocky Mountains during a ski trip. After living in Halifax for several years, Jodie has been a resident of Calgary since 2005, and has made Canada her home for more than half of her life. It would be at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre, where Jodie would be treated for colon cancer.

For the last 13 years, Jodie has been working in the medical field – 8 of those years in breast cancer reconstruction and cosmetic surgery and the last 5 in medical aesthetics. Along with her business partner, she opened two medical injectables clinics in Calgary. Although she leads a busy life running her business and raising her 7-year-old twin sons, she has always considered herself a healthy person. “I’ve always exercised, and always focused on what I put into my body,” she says.

 

During Thanksgiving of 2021, Jodie was admitted to the emergency room after suffering a complete bowel obstruction for three consecutive days. At first, she was misdiagnosed and sent home; but upon returning to the ER only an hour later, she received a CT scan and discovered that there was an obstructing tumor in her colon – and her colon was on the brink of rupture. She immediately received emergency surgery.

 

After a foot and a half of her colon was removed, it was also found that the tumor had eaten its way through her colon wall and metastasized to surrounding lymph nodes. Her doctors estimated that the tumor had begun growing approximately 10 years earlier.

 

Jodie recalls her thoughts from that day. “This is impossible, this must be something else.”

 

Before her diagnosis, Jodie had experienced certain signs and symptoms; for about 6 months, she had been feeling intense abdominal pain after large meals, as well as inconsistent bowel movements.

 

But because of the pandemic, Jodie explains that it would have taken about 6-12 months to see a specialist after going through her physician. She suspected that he had developed food intolerances, and rather than going through the time-consuming process of waiting to get into a GI soecialist, she decided she would try to figure it out on her own through the process of elimination and cutting out certain foods from her diet.

She also wondered if her symptoms were an early sign of ulcerative colitis, as her mother had developed it around her age. Jodie was also exhausted a lot of the time, however, she chalked it up the stressed of mothering of two young boys while running a business and a household.

 

“I had zero risk factors,” Jodie says, explaining how she has no history of cancer in her family and her overall healthy lifestyle.

 

After her surgery, Jodie spent 9 days in the hospital recovering. Unfortunately, the tumor had already metastasized, so she would undergo very aggressive chemotherapy treatments. She would have 12 rounds, which is the maximum amount. Her surgery and treatment spanned over 8 months.

 

Jodie explains that the side effects of her chemo treatments were cumulative; the more rounds she did, the more severe the side effects became. A few of her cycles of chemo even had to be postponed due to the severity of her symptoms.

 

Fortunately, Jodie completed her treatment in May of this year. Since then, she has been cancer-free and has been on her cancer survivorship journey.

 

Since then, Jodie has been trying to focus on restoring not only her physical health but also her mental health. Although she is cancer-free, she, like many cancer survivors, lives with fear of recurrence.

 

“You can’t control that,” she says. “It’s terrifying… It changes your perspective on life because you don’t know if you’ll be here this time next year or in two years, so you make the most of your time now and control what you can,” Jodie resolves.

 

Jodie wants to be an advocate for colon cancer and educate the younger population, who like her, are too young for screening. The screening age for a colonoscopy in Canada is 50, and being 47 at time of diagnosis, Jodie was not recommended for it. She speculates that if the screening age were lower, her cancer likely would have been detected earlier – she may not have had to endure advanced colon cancer and therefore had a less aggressive treatment plan and better outcomes.

 

Her goal is to help others who are going through a similar experience. “If I can help prevent other people from getting a colon cancer diagnosis then that’s owning cancer.”

 

Jodie also recalls the support of the nurses and staff that she received during her time at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. “The nurses in the chemo ward are so fantastic,” she enthuses. “You never really felt alone. They were always there to listen and to support.”

 

One missing aspect for Jodie were integrative oncology resources at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Jodie sought it out on her own, which she found to be a valuable experience. Fortunately, these resources will be available at the new Calgary Cancer Centre, and Jodie is excited about it.

 

“Make sure that you are using those integrative resources,” Jodie says. “[And] do your own research on nutrition,” she adds, explaining about the importance of eating well during chemotherapy treatments, as certain foods – especially meats – may contain hormones and cause inflammation.

 

colon cancer patient focuses on a holistic lifestyle after diagnosis

During her treatments, Jodie always brought a unique and fun perspective to the cancer ward. For starters, she would bring a chemo buddy each session – such as her husband, her best friend, and friends who flew in from Halifax, Toronto and LA.

 

She also wore socks with humorous sayings relating to her cancer, and brought weights to lift, and did lunges and squats around the ward. One day, she even wore a Superwoman outfit. “I [would] always try to bring humour and cheers to the chemo ward.” Jodie did this in the hopes of not only lifting her own spirits but to also inspire other cancer patients.

 

“It is doom and gloom, so what can you do to cheer yourself up, cheer up other people in the chemo ward?”

 

Colon cancer patient brings joy to chemotherapy ward

Jodie also found a supportive community online. She openly shared her cancer journey on social media and was met with an overwhelming amount of encouragement from existing friends and made many new friends. Some of which were going through a similar journey.

 

Jodie has some poignant words for owning cancer: “[I’m] owning cancer by kicking it in the butt so much harder than it’s kicked mine,” she declares, “and by becoming an advocate for bowel cancer, I own it because I can educate and prevent others from getting the butt cancer diagnosis. Colon cancer is preventable, so let’s own it by preventing it.”

 

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 on colon cancer research and treatment and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

How GEDfest is supporting the Calgary Cancer Centre

GEDfest is a celebration of the impact Gordon Edgar Downie of the Tragically Hip had on Canadian culture and music. Behind the music, dancing, and good times had at this event is a purpose. For Keith, the organizer of GEDfest Calgary, the purpose is to ensure better outcomes for Alberta’s cancer patients.

“It is meant to be a celebration that brings the community together under the spirit of live music and charity.” – Keith Dyck, organizer of GEDfest.

Keith Dyck, co-founder of GEDfest.

Gordon Edgar Downie, the lead singer of the Tragically Hip, passed away from Glioblastoma brain cancer on October 17, 2017. Each year since, on the closest Saturday to October 17, GEDfest takes place to support a cancer charity. With tribute bands, like Trickle Down, playing hits by the Tragically Hip and conversations brewing about the Gordon Downie’s impact on Canadian culture and the cancer community, this event is a time to reconnect and take part in a good cause.

Keith knew he wanted to support cancer care provided in Calgary, having seen the incredible work taking place at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

Keith’s first glimpse at the care provided at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre came when one of his dearest friends, Terry, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

GEDfest founders, Keith and Julie, and the funds they raised for the Calgary Cancer Centre.

When asked about Terry’s journey, Keith responded, “Through his battle with cancer, he talked about the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, the care he received there, and how amazing it was. He was given six months to live, and nine years later, he is a healthy, robust and beautiful man at 74. [Terry] would say, outside of his oncologist, the Tom Baker Cancer Centre saved his life.”

Keith’s wife, Julie, had also volunteered at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

With the new Calgary Cancer Centre opening up in 2024, Keith saw an opportunity to help advance cancer care for Albertans.

GEDfest, in Calgary, decided to support the new Calgary Cancer Centre through the OWN.CANCER campaign this year. Keith and Julie have made a commemorable effort to ensure that 100% of the proceeds from GEDfest go directly to the OWN.CANCER campaign.

“The Calgary Cancer Centre opening, we certainly want to be a part, albeit a very small part, of seeing that across the finish line.”

– Keith Dyck.

GEDfest, 2022.

When asked what OWN.CANCER means to him, Keith explains, “It is about community ownership… it is up to all of us to OWN.CANCER.”

It is certain that GEDfest brings the community together, all in the spirit of taking back the power cancer has over us. We are grateful for the support GEDfest has provided to the OWN.CANCER campaign and the Alberta Cancer Foundation in years past. It is clear to see the positive impact it has on our Albertan communities.

 

Here is how you can support GEDfest:

  1. Attend the live event. (On the Saturday closest to October 17 each year)
  2. Donate to their portal through the OWN.CANCER site.
  3. Go to GEDfest.ca to learn more about the event and the people who created it.
  4. Follow GEDfest on social media.

 

“Music brings people together. So my function in anything I do is to help bring people closer in.” – Gordon Edgar Downie

 

At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Learn more about the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Krissy Chutskoff on her breast cancer journey

Krissy Chutskoff was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37. Navigating this disease at a young age came with challenges, yet throughout her cancer journey, she found hope in her loved one’s support, leaning into feel-good activities and learning about the new Calgary Cancer Centre.

Here, she shares her story…

Tell us about yourself…

“I’ve lived in Calgary for over fifteen years now and share a home with my husband, Chad, and our free-roam house bunny, Flirt, who makes us laugh and brings us so much joy every day. My husband and I are both originally from Saskatchewan, so we are both devoted Saskatchewan Roughrider fans and enjoy travelling back to the province regularly to spend time with our families.

“Although my husband and I are homebodies, who enjoy staying in with a good book, movie, or crossword, we also enjoy supporting local live music, entertainment, and food with our friends.”

Krissy’s bunny, Flirt.

How did your cancer journey begin?

“I found out that I carried the BRCA1 gene in 2009 when I was 27. Because of that, I was set up with semi-annual mammograms, MRIs, ultrasounds, blood tests, and physical exams for breast cancer surveillance.

“I stayed on this surveillance program dutifully until December 2019, when I went in for a regularly scheduled surveillance MRI. I wasn’t overly concerned about it since my most recent mammogram, and a recent physical exam, didn’t show any cause for concern. With this, I was in high spirits for the holiday season.

“A day after my MRI, while driving home for Christmas, I received a call from my Doctor that the MRI had shown a large mass and a swollen lymph node in my left breast. Given my BRCA1 gene status and this mass’s seemingly rapid growth rate, this likely was something of concern. I returned from the holidays, on January 2, I was sent in for a biopsy. On January 8, I was officially diagnosed at the age of 37 with stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which had spread to my lymph nodes.

Krissy with her husband,

“I had 18 months of active treatment, which included neoadjuvant chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, 25 rounds of radiation, and 6 months of additional oral chemotherapy.”

How are you doing today?

“Today I am just over a year out of active treatment, considered NED (No Evidence of Disease) and doing quite well! I’m still getting used to my “new body” and struggle the most with fatigue, brain fog, sore joints, and other fun symptoms that go hand in hand with a post-cancer and surgical menopausal body in your thirties.

“Daily workouts and walks in our beautiful neighbourhood help loosen up the body, and I recently completed the 8-week brain fog course through Wellspring, which armed me with many wonderful tools to utilize and help with that. I also had a prophylactic oophorectomy to decrease my chances of developing ovarian cancer (the BRCA1 gene also greatly increases the risk of that).

“From the moment I was diagnosed with cancer, there was a plan in place and no messing around. My experience at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre felt like a well-oiled machine.”

How did you feel supported by the healthcare professionals and staff at the Tom Baker?

“I remember the first chemo treatment that I had alone. I couldn’t open my snacks (one of the many reasons caregivers are so important, snack help) because my hands were in ice mitts to prevent neuropathy. I started to cry, an RN saw me struggling, and she ran over immediately to help. The excellent Tom Baker Cancer Centre staff, and the caregivers supported me as much as possible in a constantly changing situation.

“Not to mention, I have no doubts that if I did not receive routine screening due to my BRCA1 mutation, I would not be here today.”

What were some challenges you faced through your journey, and what advice do you have for others who may face the same challenges?

“The hardest part of my diagnosis was the worry it caused my family and friends. I know that my parents would have given anything to take the pain away for me and seeing how hard it was on my husband (the ultimate caregiver) was very difficult.

“A piece of advice I lived by was even though it can be uncomfortable to ask, just do it. People genuinely want to help, so let them know what you need if anything (rides, dinners, help cleaning). That and don’t feel the need to purchase a ridiculously overpriced wig. Amazon has endless fun ones for a fraction of the cost.”

How do you OWN.CANCER?

I had a prophylactic oophorectomy to decrease my further chances of developing ovarian cancer (BRCA1 gene also greatly increases the risk of that). I have been working hard at trying to keep a healthy but balanced lifestyle to help prevent recurrence but also still enjoy the things I love. I am also participating in clinical trials and research geared towards women’s health and early onset cancers as well as utilizing courses offered by Wellspring.”

What does the new Calgary Cancer Centre mean to you?

“I distinctly remember sitting alone in one of the dark and aged Tom Baker basement waiting rooms watching the TV as it displayed renderings of the new Calgary Cancer Centre – showing the bright open atrium – and feeling an overwhelming sense of hope for future patients.

“When someone knows they are receiving state-of-the-art care and it looks and feels new and shiny, it gives people extra confidence in their journey.

“The state-of-the-art technology, treatment, research, and clinical trials that will be offered at the new Centre means that many more lives can be saved.”

 

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 Krissy, and donate to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

New gift to OWN.CANCER campaign builds on renowned Calgary strength in cancer-focused emotional and psychological research and care

OWN.CANCER Campaign Co-Chair John Osler (left) and philanthropist Patrick Daniel unveil a plaque in honour of the Daniel Family Foundation's gift

OWN.CANCER Campaign Co-Chair John Osler, left, and philanthropist Patrick Daniel unveil a plaque in honour of the Daniel Family Foundation’s gift. Photo by: Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary.

Cancer patients and their families will benefit from a new multimillion-dollar gift through the OWN.CANCER campaign (a partnership between the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Cancer Foundation) to advance Calgary’s world-leading psychosocial oncology research and care.

The $5 million contribution by Calgary philanthropist Patrick Daniel and his family will support a world-class clinician-researcher through a new research Chair in Psychosocial Oncology in the Department of Oncology and Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute — a joint entity of Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary.

Psychosocial oncology (PSO) is a cancer specialty that addresses the social, psychological and emotional issues that arise with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, as well as survivorship. With one in two Albertans currently expected to face a cancer diagnosis, this work is essential.

Calgary’s already world-renowned program will benefit greatly from the gift, as well as a new collaborative space in the Calgary Cancer Centre. The Daniel Family Foundation Psychosocial Oncology Hub will bring clinicians, researchers, care teams and families together — under one roof — to collaborate on the cancer challenge in a way that hasn’t previously been possible.

A family affair

Patrick Daniel's mother, Catherine Daniel

Patrick Daniel’s mother, Catherine Daniel, was passionate about psychosocial oncology after her cancer diagnosis in the late 1970s. Photo: Courtesy Patrick Daniel

The retired energy executive is a long-standing champion of psychosocial oncology. Daniel’s connection to it is personal: his mother, Catherine Daniel, truly owned her 1978 lymphoma diagnosis and years of treatment by researching and developing her own emotional and mental well-being plan. Daniel says she did this four years before the first meeting of early experts on psychosocial oncology in Canada even occurred.

“It was a very unusual thought at the time; not very many people connected your mental and emotional health with your physical health. The fact that she believed so much in it made me want to do something to help,” Daniel says. Catherine went on to enjoy spending time with her children and grandchildren for another 14 years before she died in 1992, he adds.

A long-standing champion for PSO, he’s given generously to the field — first through Enbridge, where he served as president and CEO from 2001 to 2012, and later through the Daniel Family Leadership Chair in Psychosocial Oncology at UCalgary. With this new gift, he hopes to capitalize on the opportunity for growth through the Calgary Cancer Centre and OWN.CANCER campaign

“UCalgary’s work in psychosocial oncology has been world-recognized and makes a real difference. It is very satisfying to be supporting such globally impactful work,” says Daniel.

On the map

Dr. Barry Bultz, Ph.D., is a global founder of psychosocial oncology whose work put Calgary on the map in this field. Bultz, an Alberta Health Services psychologist and UCalgary researcher, led the development of some of the very first protocols for screening for cancer-related distress — known as the ‘sixth’ vital sign in cancer patients — which are now embraced as the standard of care in cancer hospitals around the world. Earlier this year, he was recognized with the Order of Canada for his work.

“The way we treat cancer goes beyond the tumour to address the whole patient and their unique journey. In Calgary, we have focused our research on really understanding the psychological needs and social well-being of patients with cancer, both during and after treatment,” says Bultz, the Daniel Family Leadership Chair in Psychosocial Oncology.

“We are placing a major research emphasis on survivorship and identifying new strategies to help patients transition to life beyond cancer.”

UCalgary clinician-scientists were also among the first to use their own research to develop and customize mindfulness-based therapy programs and relationship workshops for patients coping with cancer. Current research includes integrative oncology, as well as examining the unique needs of survivors of pediatric cancer. This work is bolstered by philanthropy, including the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Enbridge Research Chair in Psychosocial Oncology and the Button Family Initiative in Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology and Survivorship.

Catalyzing opportunity

The new Daniel Family Chair in Psychosocial Oncology will lead psychosocial oncology research and care for the next 10 years at the new Calgary Cancer Centre, harnessing strengths around access to psychosocial patient outcome data through Alberta’s unique province-wide electronic health record system and UCalgary’s research partnership with Alberta Health Services (AHS).

UCalgary offers powerful capabilities to analyze the data. New data-driven research will enhance real-time communication among researchers, care providers and patients and families, and foster a learning healthcare system where care is continuously improving for other Albertans who enter the Calgary Cancer Centre’s doors.

“This generous gift from Patrick will enable us to attract additional internationally recognized leaders to build on our research excellence in the psychosocial space — providing a power-up for this critical work. It will attract talent, international collaborations, and research funds to Calgary to fuel projects of significant global importance,” says Dr. Jennifer Chan, MD, director, Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute.

“The Daniel Family Foundation Psychosocial Oncology Hub at the new Cancer Centre will support research, clinical care and community engagement centralized under one roof,” says Dr. Don Morris, MD, Ph.D., head of UCalgary’s Department of Oncology; and facility medical director, Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the new Calgary Cancer Centre, Alberta Health Services.

“It will allow resultant multidisciplinary teams to provide cutting-edge psychosocial cancer care for our patients and their families. The opportunities afforded by this chair will significantly expand the scope of the new cancer centre’s reach to address the diverse needs of pediatric, young adult and adult cancer populations, and encourage new and collaborative partnerships with underserved communities.

“In addition, this gift will allow the recruitment of the best and brightest trainees as part of the next generation of psychosocial oncology researchers and clinicians.”

UCalgary President Ed McCauley, Ph.D., agrees: “World-class research and education are absolutely driving better care. This targeted and proactive approach can help mitigate further cancer-related challenges — reducing overall healthcare costs and allowing patients and families to return to work faster and live their lives more fully.

“We are so grateful to the Daniel Family Foundation for their philanthropic vision and commitment to changing the trajectory of cancer.”

Learning to live again without fear

Beth, breast cancer survivor, and her husband Chuck

Beth Fortin with her husband, Chuck Fortin

Beth Fortin, a Calgary breast cancer survivor, mother and supervisor in the insurance industry, finished her treatment in April of this year. While the cancer is no longer in her body, it left behind serious symptoms of trauma and distress. She says the psychosocial oncology care she continues to receive through Tom Baker Cancer Centre has been tremendously helpful for both herself and her partner, Chuck.

“No matter what your stage of cancer is, you are going to end up with psychological trauma, because you have to learn to live every single day with the possibility of recurrence. The counselling I received has empowered me to start living again without fear,” Fortin says.

“I feel proud to live in a city with this calibre of expertise in cancer-specific psychosocial therapy and I would encourage every cancer patient to seek it out.”

Like Catherine did before them, the Daniel Family Foundation is delivering a tangible impact on the lives of countless cancer patients.

“There’s so much yet to be done. We’re only really scratching the surface in terms of emotional and mental health and what it does for physical health,” says Daniel

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.

As originally published on UCalgary News.

How Nicole Maseja owns cancer

Nicole was born in Calgary, raised in both BC and Alberta, and graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Arts in French and a minor in Linguistics.
In 2016, she met her partner, Josh, who was from Australia and pursuing his PhD in engineering at the U of C. They were both only 25 years old when Josh was diagnosed with cancer in his spine – a rare and aggressive type of cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma.

 

“It took a while to diagnose it because it was so unusual. It manifested as back pain at first,” Nicole recalls. Josh underwent many surgeries and complications, and Nicole spent every day with him at the hospital, becoming his main caregiver.

 

young cancer patient

Nicole (right) with her husband Josh (left)

The following year and a half involved chemotherapy and radiation. However, Josh, unfortunately, passed away in January of 2019, a month after he and Nicole were married in December.

Still, Nicole is glad to have been his caregiver. “It was definitely one of the most fulfilling and beautiful experiences. I feel really lucky that I could be there for him.”

In fact, Nicole explains that it changed her trajectory of life. Her original passions to pursue teaching and study linguistics shifted to something else. “While both very great fields of study, they didn’t feel as meaningful anymore.” Instead, Nicole felt more drawn to the field of health sciences.

 

“Some people never want to look at a hospital again after this kind of experience,” she says, “but I was quite the opposite and felt drawn and pulled towards it.”

 

With support from her late partner’s family and peers, she decided to go back to school and is now pursuing a Bachelor of Health Sciences Honours program at the U of C, specializing in health and society. Nicole finds great joy and purpose in it. “I feel very fulfilled and very inspired and motivated to keep learning.”

 

Nicole presenting her research at Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute Summer Student Research Day

This past summer, Nicole was involved in her first cancer research work through a summer studentship with Dr. Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia. Her focus was on adolescents and young adults (AYAs), and their experience with cancer symptoms and outcomes. Nicole was also able to present her research at the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute Summer Student Research Day, which was a great experience for her.

 

Expressing her gratitude for her mentor and supervisor Dr. Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia, Nicole shares that she was “wonderfully supportive and inspiring.”

 

Nicole also hopes that her cancer research can help shape the care that adolescents and young adults (AYAs) will receive at the new Calgary Cancer Centre, which will be completed next year.

 

“The care that [Josh] had was extraordinary the whole time at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre,” she reflects. “[The Calgary Cancer Centre] is going to take it to a completely new level.”

 

Nicole is also excited about the Centre having a dedicated section for adolescents and young adults (AYAs). As there is a lot of attention and funding for children and older adults with cancer, Nicole wants to advocate for the adolescent and young adult (AYA) age group, who may be forgotten in relation to cancer. “They’re in this in-between stage of life,” she says, explaining that they are discovering their self-identities, often going to school or just starting their careers, and trying to navigate life on their own.

 

“As a result, the AYA age group has unique needs that we are striving to meet by advocating for targeted resources.” Nicole explains.

 

Drawing from personal experience, Nicole also explains about how she and her partner often felt isolated, as they were most likely 30-40 years younger than others around them during most cancer treatments.

Young male cancer patient

Nicole’s favourite picture of Josh

Overall, Nicole feels positive about sharing her story, and feels fortunate in her involvement in the health science field of study. “While it’s very emotional at times… overall more than anything, it feels very empowering. And I feel really, really lucky to be where I’m at having the opportunity to do this and hopefully make a tiny difference.”

 

At the Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Learn more about how we plan to OWN.CANCER through the Calgary Cancer Centre here.

How Randy Thompson owns cancer

Randy Thompson has been working as a Social Worker for over 30 years. Although his professional experience helped him navigate through his cancer journey, it was the consistent support from his family and loved ones that gave him the strength to persevere.

Here, he shares his cancer journey and what OWN.CANCER means to him.

“I was always healthy throughout my lifetime, until my cancer diagnosis at 54 years old. I am a sports fanatic and enjoy playing, which has been good for my physical and mental health. I also have a bit of a sense of humor, which has also helped me deal with the “dark days” of treatment and recovery.

I’ve learned the importance of balance throughout my journey.”

How did your cancer journey begin? Where were you treated?

“For approximately one month, I felt that something wasn’t right. I completed a FIT test as per my GP, and sure enough, it failed. I was then scheduled for a colonoscopy which confirmed I had cancer. My initial diagnosis was on March 25th, 2020, and then confirmed stage 4 on March 27th, as the disease metastasized with liver and rectal cancer.

It is amazing how quickly life can change in a split second and how quickly the medical community responds to such a diagnosis. Also, due to the severity of my condition, I was immediately referred for treatment at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. After a battery of tests, further investigation and recommendations, we began aggressive chemotherapy with the hope that I would qualify for surgery in one year.

With an amazing medical team, huge support from family and friends and some difficult side effects to overcome, my body responded extremely well to treatment and at the ninth month period, I was scheduled for surgery to remove any existing tumours.

After a successful surgery in December 2020, I was essentially considered “cancer free”, which was nothing short of a miracle, despite having to manage with an ileostomy for a few months. This was a small price to pay knowing the surgeon could reverse it when it was safe to do so, which was reversed approx. 7 months later.

I lived cancer free from that day up until a scheduled CT scan in 2022, where my oncologist noticed a “spot” on my lung that hadn’t been there before. While quite small in nature, was confirmed as cancerous and I was immediately referred to a thoracic surgeon for a consult and plan. We agreed that surgery would be the most assured path of treatment and I had a successful resection surgery in June 2022. Unfortunately, there was a post-op complication of a pneumothorax, which landed me back in the hospital for 14 days in recovery.

Having recovered from that, I am now cancer-free and resuming regular bloodwork and scans at Tom Baker.”

 

How are you today?

“I feel blessed being cancer free and continue to recover from my most recent medical procedures. I continue to OWN.CANCER with the confidence in my medical support team and support network, and know that we will overcome any obstacles that come our way!”

 

What were some challenges you faced in your journey, and what advice do you have for others who may face the same challenges?

“There are many challenges that cancer patients face throughout their journey, beginning with the emotional impact of hearing “you have cancer”. In treatment, you will face a number of side effects that can zap your energy, bring on other sicknesses and weigh on you mentally. It was important for me to remember that cancer treatment is a journey, that it’s a marathon not a race.

It is important to open yourself up to help from others and focus on the end-goal. There will be good and bad days and know that that’s ok. It was important to be honest with how you are feeling and to share that with others. Everyone’s journey is different. Listen to your body, ask questions and trust in the process. Always keep hope alive!”

What does the new Calgary Cancer Centre mean to you? How do you OWN.CANCER?

“As the province’s leading health care facility, the new Calgary Cancer Centre will mean a lot to cancer patients and their families, as a place of hope and healing. With advancements in clinical trials, innovation and research, they are finding new ways to detect cancer earlier, which will result in better outcomes for cancer patients.

This Centre is dependent on funding through various means and one of the ways I OWN.CANCER is through sharing my journey through social media and dedicating time through volunteering with the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the OWN.CANCER campaign. I was extremely proud to be a part of the OWN.CANCER commercial, which was integral to the Centre’s key fundraising campaign and will continue to support the campaign and others in their cancer journey, throughout my lifetime.

Let’s all OWN.CANCER and not let this disease define us. There is great strength in “hope”, even in the most dire of circumstances. The new Calgary Cancer Centre will be that hope!”

 

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 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, and so on. I place a strong emphasis on character building and work ethic because I find them as core fundamentals to a successful career and life.

A few years ago, I graduated from a degree in business with a major in accounting and pursued my CPA, CMA designation after graduating. I 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 the most impactful investment I have made in my lifetime. I am blessed to have studied, worked and lived abroad on many occasions. To date, I have travelled 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.”

 

Calgary Cancer Centre FundraiserWhat 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.”

 

Calgary Cancer Centre FundraiserWhat 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. Learn about how you can help us OWN.CANCER.