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The Breast Cancer Society of Canada

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Posts Tagged ‘My Cancer Story’

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.

 

“Research is a shared responsibility of participants and investigators”

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Becky S., 37, calls herself “a girl on a winning streak.” That might sound a bit strange after you learn that she is a breast cancer survivor who has had an extensive history of surgery and chemotherapy. Yet, Becky truly believes that her hormone-sensitive stage II breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 2016, has been a stroke of luck, unlike other forms of the disease. “With my particular type of cancer, I seem to be eligible to participate in a clinical trial to become pregnant. I must take tamoxifen for five years. Hopefully the trial will give me a chance to have a baby safer.”

It has long been thought that pregnancy increases the probability of breast cancer relapse and the appearance of distant metastases, especially for women with estrogen-positive (ER+) disease. Estrogen plays a significant role during pregnancy, but it also provokes ER+ cancer cells growth and can awaken cancer cells that remain in the body even after the heavy treatment.

Clinical Trials Word CloudYet, findings from a multicenter retrospective study show that for women with a history of ER+ breast cancer, pregnancy can be safe. The findings of the study were presented at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting by lead study author Dr. Matteo Lambertini (the Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels, Belgium).

Just a year ago, Becky had never heard words like “retrospective study” or “clinical trials”.  Her immersion in the field of breast cancer research unfolded gradually after a casual chat with her co-worker Lizzy at a party last year. Lizzy’s grandmother died of breast cancer many years ago, when tamoxifen was not available. The only option for endocrine therapy for women with ER+ breast cancer was oophorectomy, i.e. ovary removal. This procedure left women unable to have any biological children.

“Lizzy told me – Hey, you keep your ovaries inside, so technically you can have a baby! Science is constantly evolving. Just ask your doctor about the options for you,” recalls Becky. “Lizzy’s words firmly caught my mind. But my husband said pregnancy may be dangerous. He said, ‘I don’t need a child in exchange for your life.’”

Undeterred, Becky began searching for information on pregnancy after breast cancer treatment. She faced a lot of controversial opinions and specific medical terms. “I’ve read through so many specialised websites that I consider myself a kind of a self-taught researcher,” says Becky with a smile. Now, she confidently differentiates randomised controlled studies from, say, meta-analyses and reads a PubMed without having to double-check what a P-value is.

“It is not that overwhelming. Rather, the opposite, in fact. I would recommend all cancer survivors to be aware of what is going on in the field. Since I started learning more about cancer research, I feel calmer and a bit more protected. I see how hard researchers work on a cancer cure and how much has already been done to fight breast cancer. It’s highly supportive.”

Recently, Becky heard about The POSITIVE study that will research breast cancer and pregnancy. This study will evaluate the pregnancy outcomes and safety of interrupting endocrine therapy for young women with endocrine responsive breast cancer who wish to become pregnant. In other words, the goal of this study is to assess whether it is safe for breast cancer survivors to temporarily stop taking their hormone blockers such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors, which are normally recommended for 5-10 years after initial treatment and may be dangerous for a fetus. The study also aims to evaluate different specific indicators related to fertility, pregnancy and breast cancer biology in young women.

Becky S Quote

“This study is exactly what I need,” says Becky. “I believe it is my chance to both become a mother and show other women that hormone-positive breast cancer is no longer a sentence to childlessness.”

Participants will put endocrine therapy on hold for up to two years to enable pregnancy, delivery and breast-feeding. Then, therapy will be resumed. Participants will also be followed for 10 years after enrollment in the study. More information about the POSITIVE study can be found on ClinicalTrials.gov (Registration # NCT02308085).

The good news is that The POSITIVE is currently active in Canada. I met with Becky at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, one of the participating institutions, where she came to learn more about the study. As a curious patient, she has already familiarized herself with all the details available on the Internet and compiled a list of questions to ask a clinical trials professional.

“Clinical trials and research are a shared responsibility of participants and investigators,” says Becky. “Some folks who are aware of my plan told me that I will be a kind of guinea pig, but they are completely wrong. I will become a teammate with a very special role, and hopefully I will become a mother some day despite the breast cancer in my past.

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).

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