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.

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.” – Dr. Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia

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. Miranda 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.


This is our moment. Our once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the landscape of cancer research, care and treatment. We’re ready to OWN.CANCER with Dr. Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia. Are you with us?

Donate Today