Happy World Cancer Research Day!

Biomarker Testing + Research + Access = Life

I’m alive today because of biomarker testing, research, and access to new treatment options. Yes, and great care from my oncologist, Dr. Garth Nicholas, and healthcare team at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre.

I was diagnosed with stage 4 ALK+ lung cancer in 2013 when my children were only 6, 10 and 12.

I started on chemo, then four different targeted therapies … Most treatment lines lasted only a year or two; each gift of time meant more life, more time with family and friends, more opportunities to serve as a lung cancer advocate

Every month, every year has meant memories and milestones, opportunities to celebrate life and be with my kids as they have grown. 

My youngest was just about to start grade one when I had a cold with a cough that wouldn’t go away which was eventually diagnosed as lung cancer. Now she is in grade 9, just started high school. My middle child can play almost every musical instrument and will graduate high school this year. My oldest, who was in grade 7 when I was diagnosed, is now in third year university, studying Electrical Engineering and Physics.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am to still be with them. Very thankful for biomarker testing, research and access to new treatments… and my terrific healthcare team.

Targeted therapy is such a game changer. New targeted treatments are so much better than chemotherapy – it’s a night and day difference – and these new treatments keep getting better and better!

Targeted therapy means more energy, more good days, more ability, more time for the people we love, more time for what matters, more life.

My children are my top priority. I am also passionate about lung cancer advocacy. I started on Lorlatinib in 2018, and it has given me great quality of life, so I have been able to invest about 30-40 hours a week in lung cancer advocacy.

This is an excerpt from a presentation I’ve been making (as part of a team) to a number of groups this month. Next come many slides with pictures and quotes from people affected by lung cancer, people who I love, who are like family to me. They are living life more fully, because they have access to new life-extending treatments called targeted therapies. These are people who matter and are worth fighting for. I’m honoured to “bring them with me” as part of these presentations, and appreciate very much their willingness to share pictures and stories with the goal of increasing access to new drugs.

The presentation is about the importance of fighting for people to get access for new targeted therapies, because this is a matter of life and death and people matter. Research alone isn’t enough. We need to enlarge the boundaries of our concept of research to also include biomarker testing and access.

What are new drugs worth if we don’t do biomarker testing to find out which people will likely benefit from the new treatment? With 100% biomarker testing we will know specifically which type of cancer more people have, and be able to match more people with effective treatments. With 100% biomarker testing, we will also be able to more quickly accrue more patients to our clinical trials so the trials will show results more quickly, and effective new treatments can get approved and funded sooner.

What is the value of researchers working hard to develop effective new treatments, if people cannot get access to them? Access matters. It is often a matter of life and death. We must work to close the gaps and make sure people can benefit from research. Could you imagine how hard it would be to be a dying cancer patient who knows there is an effective treatment that would very likely extend their life, but they can’t get access to it? How hard would it be to be the patient’s loved one? The patient’s oncologist?

Biomarker Testing + Research + Access = Life

On this World Cancer Research Day, let’s celebrate research and researchers! Let’s celebrate fundraisers, administrators and patient partners! Let’s celebrate the entire research team! Let’s broaden our concept of research and fight together for more people to benefit from effective new research.

#BiomarkerTestingMatters #ResearchMatters #AccessMatters

#Hope #ResearchWorks #WorldCancerResearchDay #PeopleMatter

(Note: photo above is Dr. Vicky Forster, Toronto; photo’s are all pre-COVID.)

Scan results

Scanxiety is real… the anxiety many of us can feel around scan time. Most who’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer are on treatment, whether it’s a targeted therapy in pill form, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or a new kind of therapy devised by researchers to keep us living longer and better. Whether alone or in combination, most are on treatment and get regularly scheduled scans to see if the treatment is working.

Sometimes some get cues that the cancer may be growing or shrinking, side effects that may be indicators, that might give an idea of what is happening inside our body. Often it’s a mystery. Lung cancer can be sneaky.

My 13th round of chemo was on Thursday August 12. I also continue to take a daily targeted therapy, Lorlatinib. This combination has growing popularity with some of the top lung cancer doctors in the US. I’m thankful to be able to have access to both treatments here. Lorlatinib is very effective at keeping the cancer from spreading to the brain. My CT scan was Monday morning (the 23rd), and results just came in: all is stable or slightly better! Such great news when someone gets good scans!

In the past few months, Several dear friends have gone through progression and questions about what kind of treatment path to take forward. Some have faced serious health challenges. These can be scary times. So grateful every time there is good news. We keep holding onto hope for more research to bring more treatment options which will help further extend life. Often there is uncertainty, and it can look like the research may not be keeping up with the need. And then there’s the issue of access: what about people who cannot use a treatment because they can’t get it? Maybe it’s too expensive or not available where they live or when they need it?

Lorlatinib is a drug that has helped keep me alive and living very well for years. I’m very grateful for it and have been working with others for some time to get better access to Lorlatinib for more Canadians. I’m thankful for the compassionate release program from Pfizer which has meant that every month a package of life-extending medicine, probably worth over $10,000/month, is delivered to the door at no charge. This morning, a cheery FedEx employee handed over the small box with a lovely greeting. He had no idea how thankful I am for that delivery.

Very grateful to continue to receive free Lorlatinib and that scans are good. Very thankful for researchers, clinical trials opening space, terrific care teams, dedicated advocates, and hope. It’s so important to hold onto hope.

(Apologies for the older photo’s. My phone is not currently working.)

Our ALK+ Family Summit July 31 – August 1

I spent the week-end enjoying our ALK+ Family Summit, and learning about the latest in research for our particular kind of rare lung cancer. Don’t let the term “rare” fool you: we had over 700 people register for our summit. I enjoyed the hospitality of Jo-Ann and Craig Smith for the first day: together we watched the Summit in their awesome space and enjoyed great conversation while they served terrific food and drinks.

I opted to participate in the Summit from home on Sunday since I was leading a “Breakout Room”, which meant that I talked about The White Ribbon Project five times in a row, to five different groups of people who came into the breakout room for 20 minutes each session. It was a great was to spend a chunk of the day, interacting with people I knew, meeting people for the first time, and talking about one of my favourite subjects: lung cancer advocacy!

The White Ribbon Project is an inclusive, unbranded, international grassroots movement, changing public perceptions of lung cancer. As I said in my presentations, we are looking for regional ambassadors – champions – who will host Ribbon Builds and distribute Ribbons. If you are interested in learning more about The White Ribbon Project, please check out our new recently launched website. You can also connect with us through email or social media.

I filled the slide deck with pictures of some amazing people who are part of The White Ribbon Project, many of whom are part of our ALK community, some of whom participated in the breakout room today. In case you’re interested, I’ve put copies of most of th slides below. Heidi and Pierre could not be part of the presentation today, but generously pre-recorded a five-minute video which was part of the slide deck, but not included here.

A big thank you to everyone who is in the photo’s and/or took photo’s! Special shout-out to Heidi & Pierre, Chris, Anne, Michelle, Bonnie, Rhonda and Dave – The White Ribbon Project #team.

www.thewhiteribbonproject.org

Quick update

A quick update to let you know I’m doing well, and I hope you are too. I’m enjoying this beautiful summer, spending some time with friends, doing lots of jobs around the house, and loads of lung cancer advocacy.

Very thankful that the chemo is working. Twelve rounds since November 2020, and I’m feeling well, better every round. So very thankful, and holding onto hope.

If you’re facing chemotherapy and feeling nervous, be assured that chemo today is not like it used to be, not like the movies have portrayed it. Many people never lose their hair, and there are great new drugs to deal with nausea. It’s much more effective now, and much less toxic. Cheers to researchers! #ResearchMatters

Cheers to everyone who has ever gone through chemo, or supported someone going through chemo. #SupportMatters Being on chemo can be a mental / emotional battle as well as a physical one. It makes a real difference to receive kindness and care. We all need support and encouragement.

A big shoutout to my great care team, including the nurse who found a vein on the first poke today. That’s always good! My oncologist is kind, humble, wise, hard-working, and a great oncologist. So much to be thankful for.

Shout outs go to researchers and all who work to make the world a better place for people who are affected by cancer, whether it’s awareness, early detection, biomarker testing, treatment, research, survivorship…

Sending love out to all who care about and support me. It means so much. Thank you.

#TheWhiteRibbonProject now has our website up: TheWhiteRibbonProject.org

#thankscoach

#12rounds

#grateful

Kindness

Last June I asked a really lovely medical oncologist/researcher friend, Dr. Narjust Duma, if she knew the YouTuber @chubbyemu. I was thinking that my son would really like it if @chubbyemu reached out to him. COVID was turning everyone’s world upside down, and I knew my son was a big fan, so I hoped it might help make his world a little better. Turns out she didn’t know him, but chose to reach out on our behalf anyway, and @chubbyemu said he would be happy to connect with my son. I got all teary when I read her message, and I’m feeling the emotions again as I reflect on it now. So very grateful!

@chubbyemu emailed my son, and my son was thrilled. I was very excited too, and messaged @chubbyemu to thank him. I also mentioned that if he ever needed a lung cancer advocate, he could reach out.

In September, @chubbyemu messaged to ask if I would be willing to share my lung cancer story. A conversation ensued, culminating in this video shoot and release in March. Here is the link for the video on his @HemeReview YouTube channel: Interview with a Stage 4 Lung Cancer Survivor (Jill Hamer-Wilson) .

What an exciting experience that was, especially since we were filming it separately in different countries, and Dr. Bernard was masterminding the production and helping me navigate various technical challenges at a distance!

Naturally, The White Ribbon Project was part of the 25 minute interview, and we were honoured to send Dr. Bernard (aka @chubbyemu) a White Ribbon, with sincere thanks for his support of people affected by lung cancer and The White Ribbon Project.

It’s so important that people affected by lung cancer know that they are not alone, they are loved, they are welcomed, they belong, you are loved, you are not alone. If you or someone you know would like a White Ribbon, please reach out. The White Ribbon Project is about #love and #hope.

It also matters that we recognize The White Ribbon Project is inclusive, including lung cancer doctors, nurses, researchers, fundraisers, administrators, physiotherapists, social workers, technicians, cancer centre CEO’s, media, newly diagnosed, care givers, people who have lost a loved one, survivors, former smokers, current smokers, never smokers, early stage, late stage, surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, pharmacists, cancer centre staff, managers, social workers, respirologists, primary care physicians, health educators, friends, family members, speech-language pathologists, YouTubers, bloggers, and so many more! #inclusive

Thank you, Heidi and Pierre, for making the first Ribbon with love, making this particular Ribbon with love, and sending it with love to Dr. Bernard.

Thank you, Dr. Bernard for supporting The White Ribbon Project, this lung cancer survivor advocate, and so many other people affected by lung cancer. Thank you for raising lung cancer awareness. Thank you for your compassion, generosity, and kindness. Thanks also for the great photo’s! #thewhiteribbonproject

Thank you, Dr. Narjust Duma for choosing to reach out to a stranger to do a great kindness for the son of a lung cancer advocate. Thank you for being a fierce thoracic oncologist, Asst. Prof, researcher and advocate! Thank you for supporting people affected by lung cancer and The White Ribbon Project. We are grateful!

#gratitude #kindness

Together We Make a Difference

A huge thank you to all you wonderful people who wrote letters, called and/or emailed for people with ROS1 to get access to Crizotinib. I asked you in a blog post on September 13, 2020, to write officials requesting for Crizotinib to be added to the formulary for people with ROS1 lung cancer. I heard from over 30 of you who took the time to help save lives. Thank you! Together with all the other people who communicated, our voices were heard and Crizotinib was approved! Together we make a difference!

This is wonderful news for so many people, including B. who dropped by to chat and pick up two The White Ribbon Project ribbons today. She was diagnosed fairly recently with ROS1 lung cancer and is taking Crizotinib. She’s a lovely person with a family and strong support community who love her. It meant so much to give her two ribbons with love: one for her and one for her to give to a supportive friend.

Thank you to Bill and Lisa Weir, Canadians who make each ribbon with love and give each ribbon with love. Following the lead of Heidi Nafman Onda and Pierre Onda , making and giving ribbons with love. Thank you Lisa Weir and Bill Weir for working with care, ensuring that each ribbon is exactly like the originals. Same measurements, same materials, same fonts, same stickers. Strength in uniformity. Love in every single detail. #thewhiteribbonproject bringing people together, reminding us we’re not alone. #love #team

#thewhiteribbonproject #inclusive #supportive #anyonecangetlungcancer

Thank you!

Made in Canada with Love

Advocacy in my DNA

When I was a little girl, my Mom was a neighbourhood activist. She connected with people from all over our neighbourhood and worked to change traffic patterns. My mom worked with a team who mobilized the community with teams and block captains. They fought City Hall and won! Our neighbourhood streets were slated to become arterial thoroughfares, but because people took action, our neighbourhood is now one of the most desirable and most walkable areas in the city.

It seems advocacy is in my DNA!

Advocacy brings me joy. I love connecting with people and doing meaningful work. Advocacy can include amazing things like working with teams of people to decide which international research proposals gets funded (prepping for this tomorrow), or giving input into Canada’s cancer research priorities for the next five years (online meeting tomorrow). It’s important that people affected by lung cancer are represented in these kinds of conversations.

I’m keeping quite busy with my regular lung cancer advocacy work. I have a number of regular meetings and ongoing projects, and there are also frequent additional opportunities to learn, connect, and/or serve in some way.

On Saturday, for example, I worked with someone from an organization I’m connected with to shoot a brief video via zoom for an upcoming conference, participated in a great zoom team meeting for The White Ribbon Project, and had a prep meeting via zoom for a speaking engagement that I was invited to do through my volunteer work with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group. I’ll be team speaking with a dedicated cancer advocate and an oncologist about clinical trials at a big online meeting in May.

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time connecting with lung cancer advocates from across North America, which I really enjoy. Advocacy is accomplished through relationships and teamwork, a lesson I learned as a little girl from my Mom and have seen repeated over and over again. I am grateful to get to know so many amazing people! This is one of the silver linings of lung cancer.

Advocacy work lights my fire!

#lungcancer #advocacy #lcsm #CCTG #thewhiteribbonproject #joy #relationships #team #Mom #itsup2us #grateful #neighbourhood #walkable #teamwork #work

So much gratitude!

You may already know I had a very rough time healthwise in the Fall of 2020. We added radiation to the targeted therapy drug with hope that this one-two punch would knock out the progression I was facing, but sadly it didn’t do the job. I got pneumonia, suffered more progression, started chemo then got pneumonia again. It was a difficult time, and it became hard to keep up with walking the (large) dog twice a day. I was very weak and tired, could not swallow hardly anything, and had no appetite.

I’m so happy to say that I’m doing much better now. I continue to feel a little better each day, and am very grateful! I haven’t had any further swallowing appointments or procedures, but gradually I’m able to swallow a slightly increasing range of soft foods. The chemo is definitely working to kill the cancer, and it’s not too hard on me.

I seem to have settled into a rhythm each three week chemo cycle, and the side effects seem to be getting more manageable. Every three weeks I have about five rough days, when I feel extremely tired and experience side effects like nausea, general unwellness and a rash.

We are given a prescription for pills to counteract the nausea, to be taken as needed. I’ve used them a few times, but generally find that the anti-seasickness bracelets (that I also used to reduce morning sickness during my pregnancies) take the edge off enough for me to manage. Combine that with eating frequent small meals, and I feel quite well. The nausea only hits for a few days out of a three week cycle.

I’ve worked at being proactive, preparing for the phases of the cycle as best as I can. I take steroids for three days around the day when I get chemo, to help keep my body from reacting too strongly to the chemo. The rough days are largely a reaction to stopping the steroids. I make sure to plan to eat well and keep hydrated. I prepare foods in advance that will entice me to eat when I’m struggling from loss of appetite. I greatly reduce my expectations about what I’ll be able to accomplish those days, though I do find light exercise and phone calls with friends energizing.

I’ve been using aloe vera to help with the rash, and last cycle I applied it preemptively, before I had any rash symptoms, and did not get much of a rash at all! My skin was only a little pink, and not hardly itchy! Now the nerd in me is thinking we should do research on this, dividing patients into randomized trial groups to see if it was the aloe vera that worked, or merely gradual lessening of side effects, which is common as the body adjusts to a new treatment. I’m so curious, but I don’t want to experience the itchy rash again so I plan to apply it preemptively again next time!

We’ve been the recipients of so much generosity and kindness. What a difference that makes! Thank you so much to all who have brought or sent flowers, food, masks, food, prayers, food, lovely cards, kind thoughts and words, or food. We have been strengthened and uplifted with the love and support of so many. Thank you! So much gratitude!

I’ve also had the great gift of getting several sheets of exercises from two different oncology physiotherapists to help improve breathing and some trouble with my neck / shoulder region. I’m grateful to be seeing some improvement. It’s hard to know how much is the multiple sheets of exercises that I do every day, and how much is the cancer mercifully shrinking away. Either way, so very grateful.

I’ve been very busy with lung cancer advocacy, like the ongoing work as patient representative for the Canadian Cancer Trials Group Lung Site, 3CTN, The Ottawa Hospital, International Lung Cancer Foundation, and new connections with research teams in other cities. There is so much to tell you about how The White Ribbon Project is growing, and how people have stood up to raise awareness and proudly represent in eight Canadian provinces already! So exciting! Also continuing this month I’m part of a team exploring how to accelerate new drug approvals for people with lung cancer, and continuing conversations with a YouTuber who wants to help raise awareness about lung cancer. There is so much important work to do. It takes a team!

I’m so very grateful for lung cancer research that is helping to keep so many lung cancer survivors alive so we can do the things that matter to us.

More research means more survivors.

Research is life.

Research matters.

I really want to make sure you know I’m alive and quite well, doing a little better every day, and oh so very grateful.

Strengths, Stories and Opportunities

Team Draft works hard every day to encourage, uplift and strengthen lung cancer advocates. I have been the beneficiary of that encouragement and advocacy training in various ways since I first heard of Team Draft through this video What’s the Biggest Cancer Killer? made by Team Draft with our friend Keith Singer and the Catch it in Time team. I met Chris in person in 2018.

Team Draft has traveled worldwide to connect with the lung cancer community in cancer centres – over 60 in the first year – as well as meeting people in restaurants, at games, and in people’s homes. It matters to Team Draft to really get to know people and help them develop their strengths. Seeing people in their contexts is the best way to more fully understand their story and better support them. Team Draft works strategically, developing leaders and encouraging everybody.

With COVID Team Draft has quickly pivoted to making the most of opportunities. Thanks to online platforms such as Zoom, they meet regularly with a wide variety of people in many places, right from the comfort of home.

Team Draft values the importance of following best practices, such as researching our audience and tailoring our messages to our listener. Team Draft embraces the power of story and audience-appropriate messaging for advocates: “We have to know our audience and we need to know our ask.”

Through Zoom, Chris has introduced some lung cancer advocates to his friend Dr. Dennis Rebelo, a professor, coach and consultant who has developed an effective method for helping people tell their stories better. It’s called StoryPathing, and as we’ve started down this path it’s helped us more deeply explore the power in our stories. This process has great potential for helping advocates tell our stories better.

Advocacy is about relationships and storytelling. More effective storytelling means more effective advocacy and in this case, that can mean better outcomes for people affected by lung cancer.

I’m pumped about the possibilities!

Thank you, Chris Draft, Team Draft, and Dr. Dennis Rebelo!

Lung Cancer Screening Matters!

The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer holds the World Conference on Lung Cancer every year. This beautiful picture was taken at WCLC19 in Barcelona. COVID has not stopped lung cancer research, but due to COVID-19 WCLC20 has been happening this month, virtually rather than in Singapore. I’m going to briefly summarize two key presentations below. (After I tell you about these amazing smiling people below)

#WCLC19 Barcelona

I love looking at these amazing advocates from several continents, gathered in Barcelona in September 2019 to learn and celebrate research. We know that research means life, and lung cancer research is extending many of our lives. Many of us are now taking treatments that did not exist when we were diagnosed. Some of us are holding onto hope for new research to come up with an effective new treatment to help keep us alive before our current treatment stops working.

At the time of that photo, nine of us were on treatment (later stage diagnosis), two diagnosed early stage (had curative treatment), three never diagnosed, and all fourteen fierce lung cancer advocates. I’m grateful that though some of us have gone through very bumpy paths, all are still alive. How happy we are that we were well enough to travel to Barcelona and be physically present together with top researchers in the world, learning the newest potentially life-extending news!

For people affected by lung cancer, research often means the difference between life and death. For those of us who know many people affected by lung cancer, losing people we care about is far too common. Most of us are diagnosed at a later stage with a very poor prognosis. If more people were diagnosed at an earlier stage, way more would live much longer.

Let me get to a quick summary of the research!

First, experts are saying we can double lung cancer survival in four years! Sounds great, and it’s not complicated. We need to educate doctors and implement lung cancer screening programs. Here’s the beginning of the article from IASLC Lung Cancer News. You can read the whole thing at this link: https://www.iaslc.org/iaslc-news/ilcn/improved-screening-uptake-could-help-double-lung-cancer-survival-2025, but the basic summary is that more doctors need to know that lung cancer screening works.

Lung cancer screening works, and more doctors need to know it.

When we test people using low-dose CT scans, way more will be cured. Lung cancer screening has the power to shift the stage when the majority of people tend to be diagnosed from late stage to early stage, which makes a huge difference for survival. In very broad strokes, when we don’t screen, about 3/4 of the people will be diagnosed later stage (with very poor prognosis). When we screen, about 3/4 of the people who are diagnosed will be early stage with a very good chance of living long and not dying of lung cancer.

Lung cancer screening makes sense!

Second, a new study from Taiwan (“TALENT”) shows the importance of lung cancer screening for ALL high risk individuals. Most screening is done for people with a long history of heavy smoking. These researchers from Taiwan did lung cancer screening for people who had never smoked but were at high risk from other things like family history or cooking without ventilation. They found lung cancer in a larger percentage of people than is typically found in a screening study with heavy smokers. This “TALENT” study found lung cancer earlier and people will live much longer because of that.

If you’re interested, you can read the article here: https://www.iaslc.org/iaslc-news/ilcn/lung-cancer-screening-never-smokers-east-asia-catches-very-early-stage-disease.

Screenshot of my Tweet

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lung cancer screening matters for all people at high risk, not just smokers. Anyone can get lung cancer.

Anyone. People who eat broccoli and blueberries. Triathletes, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, moms, dads, friends. Lawyers, nurses, teachers, receptionists, reporters, pharmaceutical reps, professors, personal trainers, doctors, administrators, health educators, financial experts, engineers, ministers, vice principals, social workers, writers, rocket scientists…

Maybe even you, dear reader.

I definitely don’t want anyone to get lung cancer, but if you’re going to be diagnosed, an early stage diagnosis is a way better diagnosis than a later one.

Lung cancer screening can mean the difference between late or early stage, a poor prognosis or a cure.

Early detection matters! Let’s catch it early!

Lung Cancer Screening matters – for all people at high risk!

Tell your doctor. Tell a politician. Get a white ribbon and tell the world.

Let’s act now!

Awesome Ottawa lung cancer survivor advocates Andrea Redway (lawyer), Kim MacIntosh (nurse) and me.
All diagnosed later stage, all very grateful for life-extending lung cancer research.