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I know firsthand how important research is – Ruth Ackerman

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Ruth Ackerman’s story inspires the kind of work the Breast Cancer Society is funding. We hope you will also find inspiration in her story and take part in Giving Tuesday on this November 28th, by giving to life-saving breast cancer research, because Research Matters

Ruth Ackerman became a pharmacist because she always was good at chemistry and math and the curriculum looked interesting. “I have never dreamt of inventing any magical pill,” she says smiling. “But my education helped me enormously in my cancer journey. As both a pharmacist and cancer survivor, I know firsthand how important research is.”

“We need research to gain evidence that something works. Yet, it is equally important to make sure that something does not work in the way we hoped it had to.” Let’s listen to the voice of Ruth, a 17+ year survivor of triple-negative breast cancer, and take part in Giving Tuesday. Because research matters.

Ruth Ackerman - BCSC Giving Tuesday 2017

It all began in 1999, when I asked my family physician if I could go on birth control pills. “You are in your 40s now, and I want you to have a mammogram before you start taking the pills,” she answered. The mammogram was fine. After just a month, however, I found a lump in my breast. “That’s weird,” I thought, but I was not worried much as I had just had a clear mammogram. But when I found a lump in my armpit a couple of months later, I was quickly in the surgeon’s office to have a biopsy.

He did a fine needle aspiration biopsy, showing cancer cells. Because the tumor was large – 4.5 cm –  I underwent a full mastectomy. I had 20 lymph nodes removed as well, and 17 of them had cancer cells. Shortly after that, I was given a diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, stage III. The pathology report showed that the tumor was estrogen-receptor-negative, so I had no hopes for hormonal therapy. My treatment plan included 6 months of chemotherapy and then 7 weeks of radiation. My breast cancer was very aggressive, and they treated it aggressively.

Then and now Ruth had triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) – one of the most dangerous types of the disease, which is negative for estrogen, progesterone, and HER2 receptors. But at that time Ruth did not know yet that her disease is called TNBC. The HER2 testing was not used as routinely then as it is currently. Ruth’s test for HER2 was performed in 2004, and result came back negative. Patients now in the same situation often start their treatment with chemo before having surgery. It has been proven that such a regime shows better results in treating TNBC. Research matters. 

Because my tumor was so aggressive, I was referred to a researcher who explored high-dose chemotherapy with stem cells transplant in breast cancer. At the time, this regimen was showing good results in treating high-risk breast cancer; however, it was a controversial and undeniably toxic treatment modality.

While I was eligible to have the treatment, I was very worried about it. From a pharmacist standpoint, it seemed right, but I did a lot of research and realized that I could die from the treatment itself. And frankly, after 2 rounds of chemotherapy, I didn’t know how I would continue to work at my job if I went through with even more toxic treatment. After much thought, I said, “No, I want to do regular chemo.” Researchers later concluded that stem cell methods work well for blood tumors, but not for solid tumors like breast cancer. The high-dose approach to treating breast cancer was debunked.

Obviously, any chemotherapy may cause various side effects. I remember my physician telling me that he was going to drop my chemo dose to 75% as I had experienced protracted febrile neutropenia and had been hospitalized. After he saw the look on my face, he said, “I don’t want to kill you, Ruth. What I am trying to do here is to cure you.” I think that was the first time he said “cure”. It sounded extremely encouraging.

Ruth Ackerman - BCSC Giving Tuesday 2017

I am aware of how insidious cancer is. When I was diagnosed with cancer a second time, part of me was like “I know this.” It occurred in the same area which had been irradiated in 2000 and getting a proper biopsy proved difficult. After 4 months and 2 biopsies, I was told my new tumor was malignant on Christmas Eve. It was hard. My reaction was, “Ok, so then get it the hell out of me!” The tumour was completely excised 3.5 long months later in 2016, and I hope to never have to face cancer again.

Then and now Breast cancer patients benefit today from more accurate strategies that have been put into clinical practice in recent years. One of them is new radiation regimens that use improved equipment. They cause fewer complications. A lot has been done as well to introduce such methods as trucut biopsy, MRI, PET-CT scan, HER2 routine testing, personalized targeted treatment, etc. Research matters.

What is one of the worst things about having breast cancer in your early 40s, which is when my cancer story happened? You feel pretty strong. You rely on your body and you feel perfectly fine. Breast cancer is tricky because there are no symptoms in the early stages. When you have been told you have “that thing” in your breast it is scary. It shakes your self-confidence. It changes a lot around you.

I like helping people and also value the help of others. I used the support of breast cancer support groups throughout treatment and beyond.  There was a diverse group of many women. Some of them had been 20 years cancer-free. Some had been newly diagnosed or were currently in treatment. But they all were so warmly inviting and supportive. They inspired me to fight and gave me strength and support.

Later, as a Peer Support Volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society, I provided telephone support to those who had breast cancer. During our conversations I was someone who had “been there” and gone through what they were facing. It is such a wonderful feeling to talk to somebody who is so scared and give them some hope! We would chat about everything. Strikingly, the number one thing we always started with was their question “What did I do to cause this?”  The women said, “I had children, I breastfed them, I don’t smoke, I exercise, and here I have breast cancer. Why?”

Ruth Ackerman - BCSC Giving Tuesday 2017

Researchers know a lot about what may cause breast cancer; however, there is still much that is unknown. I have a history of breast cancer in my family. My two aunts and grand-aunt had breast cancer, and one of my aunts was diagnosed at 42 (the same age I was at diagnosis) and died at 43. It happened very quickly. My grandfather had male breast cancer, which is very rare! My genetic tests showed a negative result though. Subsequently, due to the most recent cancer I had in 2016, I was again referred to do genetic testing and once again it came back negative. Whatever I had, it is not genetic. Although my second cancer was likely caused by the radiation treatments I received in 2000, my first one seemed to be just random. This is what we know now. I believe we are always learning more about the cause of breast cancer since research is constantly evolving.

Then and now In the 1990s, achievements in genetics opened up the prospect for genetic testing to recognize mutations in BRAC genes associated with breast cancer. Ruth underwent her first BRAC test in the early 2000s. In 2016, her geneticist suggested that Ruth redo it because the BRAC test used in 2000 gave many false negatives. Since then, the technology has rapidly improved, and patients can now do more precise genetic testing. Because research matters.

As a pharmacist, I truly believe in research. Research is expensive because researchers must make sure that their research is accurate and always have to check and double-check the data. They need to have a significant cohort of patients to make sure that what they are researching they are getting right. I’ve been disease-free for more than 17 years. Research is a key for cancer patients because it gives them hope.

“Research matters because life is priceless.”
– Ruth Ackerman

Your donation to The Breast Cancer Society of Canada will help fund breast cancer research. Give today, help save lives by supporting life-saving breast cancer research because, Research Matters. Prefer to give using your phone? Text GIVE to 41010 to donate $5 

Ruth’s story was transcribed from interviews conducted by BCSC volunteer
Natalia Mukhina – Health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate

Natalia Mukhina - Health Journalist

Natalia Mukhina, MA in Health Studies, is a health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate with a special focus on breast cancer. She is blogging on the up-to-date diagnostic and treatment opportunities, pharmaceutical developments, clinical trials, research methods, and medical advancements in breast cancer. Natalia participated in numerous breast cancer conferences including 18th Patient Advocate Program at 38th San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. She is a member of The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ).

 

Kathy Steffan – What’s My Breast Cancer Story?

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Kathy Steefan - BCSC

Throughout my professional career, I have been involved with many non-profilt organizations, both as a board member and as an auditor/advisor. I feel that this is my most significant board involvement because of my personal connection with breast cancer. It involves my own baby girl, Nicole. Actually, she hasn’t been a baby for a long time, except to me.

Nicole’s story starts in 2006, at age 22, when she found a painful lump on her breast. Because she was young, healthy and active, she thought it meant nothing. Over the next 2 years the pain slowly got worse, and several doctors dismissed the lump as a benign cyst, because, of course, she was too young to have cancer. Finally, she had an ultrasound in Toronto and was eventually diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. Nicole started treatment at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto with a plan that included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Within 7 months of the initial diagnosis Nicole received a clean bill of health. Her annual check-ups were good news for the following seven years.

In early 2015,  Nicole was 31 years old and living in Calgary,  pursuing a successful career in Commercial Real Estate. That Spring, she started to feel pain and discomfort in one of her ribs after any physical activity. All of her doctors, including her original oncologist in Toronto, said it was a broken rib that would need time to heal. When the pain persisted into the Fall, a doctor in Calgary ordered a CT scan. This time, Nicole had stage IV metastatic breast cancer, and it was in her lungs and her bones–which had led to her broken rib.

Nicole on her 33rd Birthday in July 2017 with her fabulous puppy Bobby.

Nicole on her 33rd Birthday in July 2017.

We had expected that she would have to endure chemo, radiation and much more. However, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that because Nicole’s breast cancer is 99% estrogen, the treatment would be three weeks of radiation, followed by ongoing hormone treatment and ovarian suppression. Three months later, all of the tumours were reduced significantly and we continued to hope.

It is now September 2017 and we all feel very fortunate that the treatment is still working. In Nicole’s case, metastatic breast cancer has become a chronic disease that can be treated, which is a huge contrast to what it was in the past. And if the current treatment becomes less effective, there are lots of options.

Notably, the treatment that Nicole is now receiving did not exist in 2009. Her outcomes would have been very different. The advancements in treatment in even the last five to 10 years have been incredible. This is the core of the reason that I am involved in the Breast Cancer Society of Canada (BCSC). Because I am convinced that the research focus and mandate of the (BCSC) will make a difference. I feel confident that my involvement will actually make a difference.

I am encouraged and excited about the hope that exists, and look forward to the future when we finally put a stop to this disease.

Like Kathy Steffan start making a difference today give to life-saving breast research. Learn more about ways you can give at bcsc.ca/donate.

 

Marc Guay – What’s my Breast Cancer Story?

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Marc GuayMarc Guay sits on the Breast Cancer Society of Canada board of directors, we recently asked him what his cancer story is. This is the story he told us, this is Marc Guay’s cancer story.

It never really occurred to me that it would happen. And happen. And happen.

The first time was twelve years ago when I lost my beautiful sister-in-law, Kim. She was 38 at the time and the shock sent ripples of absolute devastation through our family.

Soon after, I lost my dear friend and colleague, Teri, to the disease as well. She was also 38—an equally devastating tragedy. And if that wasn’t enough—both my mother and another close colleague, Anne-Marie, were both diagnosed and are survivors of breast cancer—an absolute blessing. And it was these two positive outcomes that made me realize that there is hope and that there is a lot I can do to help.

Today, you will not likely find a single person who hasn’t been touched by the disease. In fact, in Canada, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death and one in 30 Canadian women will unfortunately die from it—startling statistics wouldn’t you agree?

It is for this reason that my family’s mission is to actively support, raise awareness for and donate time and money to help fight it. Advances in medicine today are improving survival rates dramatically, and I strongly believe that both Kim and Teri would still be with us today if science, then, was what it is today. If we can save one mother, one wife, one daughter, sister, family member, friend and colleague, then it’s a fight worth pursuing.

Throughout my career, I have been in positions where I’ve engaged people in initiatives, projects and programs, developed to further the business objectives of my organization. I then decided that I wanted to use those skills to do the same for important causes, such as breast cancer. Having been touched by the disease so many times, I have and continue to be actively involved in the cause—taking part in Walk for Breast Cancer among other things—as well as being actively involved in raising funds to further breast cancer research.

Marc and Kim dancing on the dock at the cottage before she succumbed to the breast cancer.

Marc and Kim dancing on the dock
at the cottage before she succumbed
to the breast cancer.

Today—a retired business executive—I am dedicating a large portion of my time to breast
cancer research, which is why I am now serving on the Breast Cancer Society of Canada board of directors and am chairing its Fund Development Committee. Joining BCSC is very important as it allows me to make a difference and, of course, honour Kim and Teri—whose lives were taken too soon. Simply, breast cancer steals lives and I want that to end.

There is hope. And we can do this. Let’s work together to make it happen.

Like Marc Guay start making a difference today give to life-saving breast research. Learn more about ways you can give on bcsc.ca/donate

Miss Teenage Toronto supports BCSC

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Miss Teenage Toronto 2017 (Alexia Antonio) has been very active this July, volunteering and running fundraising events across Toronto in support of a number of different charities, including ours! Alexia will be hosting a number of tables in the Bay Adelaide Centre concourse, on July 25, 26 and 27, between 9am and 5pm. She will be located across the Second Cup in the PATH concourse for the centre.

Alexia Antonio BCSC FundraiserAlexia has prepared dozens of gift baskets to help support her fundraising efforts. With every donation of $5, $10 and $20, donors are eligible for different types of gift bags with various beauty products enclosed – 100% of all proceeds will go the Breast Cancer Society Of Canada, funding life-saving breast cancer research.

We are looking forward to hearing more about Alexia BCSC fundraising event from her directly, when we interview her about her experience fundraising for us and fund out why she has chosen the Breast Cancer Society of Canada as one of her charities of choice.

More about Miss Teenage Toronto 2017,
Alexia is a kind and an open-minded young woman who is determined to achieve her life goals while making positive contributions in the world. Alexia currently hold the title of Miss Teenage Toronto and strongly supports women’s needs and the empowerment and equality for all women. Alexia aims to spread the message of courage, strength and confidence through her Beauty Inside campaign. Alexia is currently attending York University and her hobbies include swimming, reading and performing in Shakespearean plays. Alexia has a passion for fencing and is currently on the York University fencing team and dreams of competing in the Olympics.

Follow Alexia during her fundraising event for BCSC on
Facebook,  Instagram and her blog for all the up to the moment fun details over the next three days as she supports funding life-saving breast cancer research.  Because #ResearchMatters

Pizza for Research

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Ethan Williams is six years old  and a breast cancer fundraising hero.The questions!  Oh, the many questions of a six year old.  As a breast cancer researcher with a young child I get the usual barrage of questions about life but with a few tricky additions like “why do people get cancer” and “what is cancer”.  For me, these are just questions to try understand my work, a fact that I am very thankful for. I often find myself having elaborate conversations with my son about my research.  His interest in research stems from the innocence of curiosity and is driven by the fascination of how the body works.  Children always have a unique perspective and it’s neat to see this applied to cancer research. He often comes up with ideas that he gets really excited about, such as “Mom, why don’t we train immune cells to attack the cancer cells like they attack bacteria” or the after-bedtime inquiry “what if we broke the parts of the cancer cells that let them move”?

After all the talks about my work and getting happily brought along to various walks-for-cancer he decided that he wanted to do his own fundraiser for breast cancer research. While a walk or run wasn’t an easy event to organize for his kindergarten class, he went for the next best thing: a pizza fundraiser. Let’s be honest, kids probably like pizza more than a 5km walk or run. I should also mention that he insisted on homemade pizza as “it’s healthier and that’s important”. When I asked him why this was important to him he told me that “when I first went on the breast cancer walk/run (the Breast Cancer Society of Canada Mother’s Day walk, a family tradition for 3 years now) I really liked it, I liked that people were raising money for breast cancer.  I wanted to do more to help so I raised money for breast cancer with my class”. He then continued on “because I know some people out there needed it and I really wanted to help people who have breast cancer and with more money we can do more research and know more about cancer and then we can fix it”.   He truly believes in the power of research and seems to really understand that through research we make new discoveries we can actually help people live better lives.

When the big day arrived, we baked a bunch of pizzas unusually early in the day and delivered them to some very eager kids. I was just hoping everyone would have fun and learn something, but when all was said and done, it turns out they also raised a lot more than we expected. If some kindergarten kids can bring together a fundraiser on a random Thursday, I think it proves any of us can do something towards an important cause that touches so many lives.
Karla Williams

Become a breast cancer fundraising hero like Ethan, make a donation to life-saving breast cancer research today: bcsc.ca/donate


Karla Williams
is a postdoctoral fellow who has published several papers on invadopodia in cancer cells.  Ethan Williams is six years old, he attends kindergarten, helps his mom (Karla) make pizza and is a breast cancer fundraising hero!

BCSC thanks all our volunteers!

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As we come to the end of the 2017, National Volunteer week we would to thank all our volunteers for helping make an important positive impact on life-saving breast cancer research. We could not do it without your help! Happy #NVW2017

Thank you Nat Volunteer week

In addition to all our great volunteers, we would like to send a congratulations to Kay-Ann Violette, Pat Brown, Tom Whitelaw, Barb McEwan, Valerie Marzola and Vanessa Martinez all recognized at the Ontario Volunteer Service Awards recently for their many years of volunteer service to BCSC. Thank you from everyone at BCSC.

BCSC thanks all our longest volunteers