Read the latest news and research breakthroughs happening at the BC Cancer Agency
“I speak about cancer. I ride my bike. I do these things because I want to change the story. I want a different ending.”
In 2008, Patrick Sullivan lost his young son Finn to an extremely rare form of cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma. A few months later, he was approached by two close friends: “They told me about this fundraising bike ride to Seattle, the Ride to Conquer Cancer. They wanted to put a team in it – and do it in honour of Finn. That was the start of Team Finn.”
Every member of Team Finn is inspired by a little boy who lived every moment of his short life to the fullest. Their distinctive pink jerseys read “Run. Jump. Bounce. Dance. Sing. Love. Smile. Ride,” words that celebrate Finn’s approach to every day.
Finn showed how to live life with courage and joy, and his example has helped Team Finn achieve extraordinary success in raising funds for the BC Cancer Foundation. In just three years, they have raised over $1 million to support cancer research. As Finn’s father says, “Doctors couldn’t change Finn’s story. ‘Incurable’ was his ending. If I could change that for somebody else, then every moment of time is worth it.”
Just over a year ago, Jackie Ellis had a week that changed her life. The athletic Vancouver resident had been troubled by shortness of breath, tightness in her chest and a racing heartbeat for several months. Finally, on Thursday, July 29, 2010, she was given a diagnosis: lymphoma. Within the next four days, she’d met several specialists, had two biopsies and a CT scan. By Tuesday, she had started her first round of chemotherapy: “I still can’t get over how quickly I was treated and how well I was cared for.”
While getting her chemo, Jackie recalls, ”I could see the BC Cancer Agency Research Centre across the street. I would pray that some brilliant scientist would make a discovery that might help me.” And they did.
Researchers in the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer – a team led by Dr. Randy Gascoyne and Dr. Christian Steidl – found a critical genetic mutation in the same type of lymphoma Jackie had. This will speed development of new treatments, such as targeted chemotherapy for individual patients.
Jackie celebrates her good health by returning to the things she loves, like riding her bike on the Stanley Park Seawall and entertaining her many friends. And she remains impressed by the close collaboration between BC Cancer Agency researchers and clinicians as supported by the BC Cancer Foundation: ”It’s inspiring.”
As a police officer since his early twenties, Mark Applejohn has faced everything from undercover narcotics work to a brick to his forehead during the Stanley Cup riot. So three years ago when he was told that he had metastasized cancer of the neck, his own well-being wasn’t his biggest concern. “I don’t believe in worrying. Worrying doesn’t make things better. I think you have to deal with whatever you face. But the thought of telling my wife or my two sons – that was a very tough day for me.”
Even through his lengthy radiation treatment at the BC Cancer Agency Fraser Valley Centre in Surrey, Mark focused on keeping his family’s spirits up. He gives a lot of credit to his care team: “I knew I was in the right hands. Everyone – from the radiation technicians to the oncologists – impressed me. They really cared. I wasn’t just a number.”
Now back at work for over a year, Mark remains grateful. “I know I got a second chance. I’ll do anything I can to support the research of a world-class organization like the BC Cancer Agency through the BC Cancer Foundation. I want everyone to have better odds.”
As with so many breast cancer stories, Laura Startup’s journey began when she felt a lump. When a biopsy confirmed that she had cancer, her first thoughts were of her family: “I wasn’t sure how to tell my husband. His mother and sister both died from breast cancer. I’m not scared of dying. I’m scared of leaving my children without a mother. “
Even after four years, her memory of the treatment is still fresh: “I had a mastectomy, then chemotherapy, and then radiation every day for six weeks.”
Yet despite the difficulty of her treatment, she remains deeply grateful: “I know I’m lucky to live in BC. The care I received is really outstanding. Yet I don’t want my daughter – or any woman – to experience what I went through. I benefited from research done in the past, and I know the only way to continue improving treatment and care for cancer patients is to support the kind of research funded by the BC Cancer Foundation.”
“We believe you only need three things in life: a companion, enough money, and friends. Everything else you should use to help others.”
Jimmy and Doris Ho moved to Vancouver from Hong Kong in 1996 to retire and enjoy the relaxed West Coast lifestyle. But in October of 1997, they knew something was wrong.
“Jimmy had a lump in his neck,” Doris recalls. “At first, we thought it would go away. But we were dancing at a family party and Jimmy suddenly had a terrible headache. His eye was even bulging a bit.”
Jimmy adds, “I was eventually diagnosed with early stage lymphoma.” Following chemotherapy and medication, Jimmy was given a clean bill of health.
“We were just so grateful, we had to do something to give back,” Jimmy says. “We know that research takes money. So, on top of our regular contributions, we decided to include a gift to the BC Cancer Foundation in our will. It was so easy — we just went to our lawyer’s office and made it happen.”
As Jimmy and Doris approach their 50th wedding anniversary, the couple are back to enjoying their retirement — together.
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One man’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis sparks major initiative to change outcomes of the deadly disease
Vancouver, B.C. – A new research effort at the BC Cancer Agency will seek to understand pancreatic cancer at the biological level, and to improve diagnosis, treatment and survival for patients. The 2012 BC Cancer Foundation Inspiration Gala will advance this momentous undertaking, known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research Initiative.
In the four short months between his pancreatic cancer diagnosis and his death, Bob Hager set the building blocks in place to initiate change and to inspire the development of a centre of excellence in pancreatic cancer research and care in B.C.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in Canada—75 per cent of patients don’t survive the first year post-diagnosis. The disease spreads quietly. Symptoms, if any, emerge when the disease is at a late stage. Once pancreatic cancer has advanced, treatment options are limited and usually offer little added time for patients. The B.C. Pancreatic Cancer Research Initiative is looking to change the grim reality of this deadly disease and offer hope to those diagnosed in the future.
Hager, retired co-founder of the Vancouver-based Phillips Hager & North investment firm, was enjoying a family vacation in Hawaii in March 2011. Less than two months later he was in hospital, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, had surgery and was advised that drug therapies would only offer a few added months of life.
“In Bob’s last four months, he lost 50 pounds, couldn’t sleep and suffered a tremendous amount of discomfort,” says Hager’s wife of 50 years, Judy. “He never complained. Instead, he took the opportunity to seize the time he had left and brought together experts from the BC Cancer Agency and Vancouver General Hospital to discuss a coordinated effort to improve pancreatic care and research.”
Pancreatic cancer has long been underfunded and in need of a champion, and Hager was determined to become this catalyst of positive change.
Less than a year later, the talks Hager initiated have developed into a major new research Initiative, which the BC Cancer Foundation’s 2012 Inspiration Gala is proud to support.
“This Initiative made the last four months of Bob’s life worth living; it was his driving force,” says Judy, who believes research will make the difference. “Now is the time to press forward.”
Nearly 600 British Columbians will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and even with the most advanced and aggressive treatment, only 5 per cent of patients will make it to five years.
Dr. Daniel Renouf, medical oncologist with the BC Cancer Agency, specializes in clinical trials for pancreatic cancer. He believes B.C. has world-class expertise in key areas: genome sequencing, tumour tissue banking, surgical skill and clinical trials to make the Pancreatic Cancer Research Initiative a world leader in pancreatic cancer research and care.
“The tools, technology and specialists right here in our own backyard are offering unprecedented opportunities to better understand, detect and treat pancreatic cancer more effectively than ever before,” says Dr. Renouf.
The BC Cancer Foundation’s Inspiration Gala takes place on November 1, 2012 at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel. As one of Vancouver’s premier fundraising galas, the event will further accelerate the Pancreatic Cancer Research Initiative. Hager’s daughters, Leslie and Shelley, sit on the Inspiration Gala committee and are both inspired by a future where patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have reason to hope.
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:
Allison Colina, Communications Specialist
BC Cancer Foundation
The BC Cancer Agency, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, is committed to reducing the incidence of cancer, reducing the mortality from cancer, and improving the quality of life of those living with cancer. It provides a comprehensive cancer control program for the people of British Columbia by working with community partners to deliver a range of oncology services, including prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, research, education, supportive care, rehabilitation and palliative care. For more information, visit www.bccancer.ca.