Using research to identify what really matters to cancer patients – Dr. Nancy Nixon

Dr. Nixon is a medical oncologist and researcher at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.


When we think of cancer research, we often think of treatment options. But understanding and improving the patient experience and care is just as important for doctors, researchers, and patients. “Research is fundamental in helping us identify new treatment options that allow patients to live better for longer, and increase the number of patients we can treat. It’s also really important in helping to identify what really matters to patients,” shares Dr. Nancy Nixon, a medical oncologist and researcher in Calgary.

Like many Albertans, Dr. Nixon’s family has been impacted by cancer, and it is a large part of why she has focused her time and research improving the lives of metastatic breast cancer patients.

“I lost my mom to breast cancer in 1994, and that’s had a big impact in my life. It’s been behind my motivation to do what I do for a living, pursuing clinical trials and new research. I think it’s exciting to see how the landscape of cancer treatment has changed over time.” 

Dr. Nixon has focused much of her research on understanding and responding to patient priorities. By listening to her patients and understanding what matters most to them, she aims to improve the overall journey of Albertans facing metastatic breast cancer.

“I think it’s important for patients to have some autonomy and control over how they’re treated, and why they are treated in certain ways. It really does make a difference, being able to take power over cancer and not let it control us.”

Through her research, Dr. Nixon is currently focused on supporting patient understanding of treatment options, clinical trials, additional supportive care and networking groups by creating better access to accurate information for metastatic breast cancer patients. 

For Dr. Nixon, the new Calgary Cancer Centre is an opportunity to start from the ground up, to think to the future about what doctors and patients will need and what cancer treatment will look like. It will allow her, along with countless others, to have a more patient-centred approach with its centralized resources, dedication to research and some of the best and brightest minds working to improve cancer treatment and care. “Having resources, along with surgeons and radiation oncologists and medical oncologists all in the same space will really facilitate that patient-centred approach. We won’t be split up in our separate towers. We’ll all be working together in one place as a single group focusing on cancer.” 

Learn more about how the Calgary Cancer Centre will focus on improving the patient experience and helping patients OWN.CANCER in their own terms.

Dr. Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia – Improving care for young cancer patients

Battling cancer – and winning – is just the beginning for survivors, especially those who beat cancer in their teens or young adult years. “Compared to children or older adults, cancer in adolescents and young adults has generally been overlooked in research globally, and that’s why I wanted to work with this group of cancer patients,” says Dr. Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia, Ph.D.

“Young cancer survivors have complex needs related to the challenges of being diagnosed with cancer during critical development, social, and reproductive years.”

The cancer epidemiologist is deeply passionate about improving cancer care for adolescent and young adult (AYA) survivors. She uses data linkages and questionnaires to understand the health and economic impacts of their experiences later in life, from chronic health issues and infertility to sexuality, premature ageing, delayed milestones and financial stability. This paves the way for new prevention strategies, supports, policies and care pathways.

“These individuals have decades of life ahead of them that may be affected by their cancer. That’s more time for things to happen. Anything we can do to help improve their lives and prevent adverse impacts – that’s immense,” she says.

Dr. Fidler-Benaoudia trained in the United States, the U.K. and France, including as a post-doctoral fellow with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. She chose to join the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute because of the strong commitment from Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary to support adolescent and young adult (AYA) research and the unique opportunity to study more comprehensive patient data offered by Alberta’s single health authority. 

“We are able to understand the full journey of the survivor through Alberta’s health care system. It’s a major opportunity to access big data and comprehensively understand these survivors’ needs during treatment and afterwards. This is an area of research that Alberta could lead in the country and world.” – Dr. Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia, Ph.D.

Plans to house AYA cancer research and clinical care all under one roof at the new Calgary Cancer Centre (CCC) will be the difference-maker, she says. Patients and survivors can meet up to support each other and participate in age-specific research, across all cancer types.

Opportunities to explore risk factors in this patient group at the CCC could help identify triggers for AYA cancer, which are less understood because it’s rare. This, as the number of teens and young adults newly diagnosed with cancer is growing. She’s excited for the opportunity to help young survivors own their cancers and the rest of their lives, by better tailoring care to the needs of this age group.