Why I work hard as a lung cancer advocate:

Six years and seven weeks ago, like many other parents of young children in the schoolyard that year, I had a cold with a cough which persisted.

Six years ago I was constantly coughing, and beginning to realize that the inhaler the doctor prescribed wasn’t working. I coughed so much I had to step down from the choir I had been rehearsing with to sing Messiah. 

Six years ago we had started to suspect something was terribly wrong. I could hardly speak a sentence without coughing. When faced with a flight of stairs, I wondered if I could climb them. 

We knew something was wrong, but had no idea it could be lung cancer. I started undergoing a myriad of tests, and when we finally got my diagnosis that December, it seemed impossible. When I learned I had advanced lung cancer I had no hope.

I did not know what to expect, but I never expected this: that six years later I am living life!

I had no idea I would still be alive six years later, never imagined I could be this alive and vibrant.

I never dreamed I would live this long. 

Shortly after my diagnosis I read the research on Crizotinib, the first new targeted therapy pill my oncologist mentioned. I rejoiced that so many of the people on Crizotinib were still alive six months later. Six months seemed like such a long time, such a lot of opportunity to live, such a great gift for someone with lung cancer…  and here I am, six years later.

Six years: chemo, Crizotinib, Clinical Trial: Ceritinib, Alectinib, Lorlatinib. Cutting edge new research keeping me alive these years. Every time the cancer outsmarted a med, a new treatment has been available – typically just in the nick of time – so very grateful! Research is giving me so many days to celebrate, gifts of countless moments, memories, milestones.

My children were 6, 10 and 12 when I was diagnosed. They have had a Mom right with them as they’ve grown these six years. My daughter is now 12, my sons 16 and 18. My oldest started University this Fall (Electrical Engineering and Physics, still living at home!). I’m still in the picture. I still get to talk with them, cook for them, hug them, encourage them, love them.

“Grateful” is only the beginning of how immensely thankful I am to be alive and living so well six years later. I thank God for lung cancer research and the difference it makes. 

#ResearchMatters 

STARS in Spain

The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) has a new program for training patient research advocates, called STARS. The six-month training process began back in May when five Patient Research Advocates were chosen from around the world. It continues with webinars, calls and mentoring, culminates with the IASLC World Conference on Lung Cancer next week, and concludes with presentations in October.

The IASLC Supportive Training for Advocates on Research & Science (STARS) program aims to increase the number of Patient Research Advocates (PRAs) equipped to provide accurate scientific translation in their online or real-life lung cancer patient/caregiver groups and to provide the patient perspective for lung cancer research and policy.

More here.

I am very happy to report that Canada was chosen for one of the STARS positions. Our very own Kim MacIntosh, who lives in Cornwall Ontario and is part of our Ottawa Lung Cancer Support Group, is one of only five STARS worldwide! She has been learning more about lung cancer research and advocacy through webinars and conversations. Each one of the STARS is paired with a mentor for six months, and I’m delighted to be a mentor for Kim. We are both treated at The Ottawa Hospital.

Kim (with Chris Draft and me) at our #LungCancerStrong event in May 2019. Kim was a valuable planning team member who got the tee shirts printed and organized.

The IASLC World Conference on Lung Cancer (#WCLC19) is the world’s largest international gathering of clinicians, researchers and scientists in the field of lung cancer and thoracic oncology. This year it takes place September 7-10 in Barcelona. Kim and I will be there, representing Canada, along with Christine Wu who earned one of only five IASLC patient advocacy travel awards for her hard work in lung cancer advocacy. Among other achievements, Christine helped start the Winnipeg support group. I look forward to connecting with people, examining best practices and exploring partnerships that will best serve the Canadian community.

We know that representing Canada at #WCLC19 is a privilege and responsibility. We welcome questions, and will do our best to track down experts there to answer them. We will be sharing information about new lung cancer research with other lung cancer advocates who are leaders in their communities, and posting on YouTube, facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Please follow us and share the news about lung cancer research. It’s up to all of us to share about the exciting advances which are changing outcomes and extending lives.

Christine (above) and some Canadian survivor advocates & friends who have been to LUNGevity’s Hope Summit, Washington DC, 2019 and 2018 (below right)

I owe a debt of gratitude to many people and partners who helped prepare me for this mentoring role in the STARS program. I am especially grateful for the American Association for Cancer Research Scientist <–> Survivor Program, which I participated in last Spring at the Annual Meeting in Atlanta, #AACRSSP19. There cancer advocates were engaged, equipped, and honoured for their work. I am also very grateful for the ways I am learning through serving as Lung Site Patient Representative for the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, and the mentoring of International Lung Cancer Advocate Chris Draft.

Are you going to #WCLC19? Is your doctor? If you or anyone else you know is going, please be in touch and encourage her/him to connect with me. I’m looking forward to meeting more members of our lung cancer community!

What is happening at your local cancer centre for Lung Cancer Awareness Month (#LCAM)? At The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, our team of survivors plus Ottawa Hospital people have already started planning our second annual survivor-driven Lung Cancer Summit, geared to the Ottawa community. This is a great opportunity to share exciting new research from the World Conference for Lung Cancer out into the community.

Dr. Paul Wheatley-Price is a stellar Ottawa Hospital oncologist, and President of Lung Cancer Canada. Andrea Redway (in the background with the white hat), is a great friend and Survivor Advocate. I am grateful for such dedicated teammates.

Cancer Centres plus advocates are a great combination! If we don’t tell people about exciting advances in lung cancer research, who will? It’s up to us to spread the news about the difference lung cancer research is making for survivors! #ResearchMatters #ResearchWorks

Please let me know what is happening in your community.

Jody of The Ottawa Hospital is awesome! She works hard to make her administrative endeavours appear effortless. She is a great support and encourager!


#Shift

This past week has been one of the best of my life! It has been enormously transformational: I will never be the same. What an honour to represent Canada, to represent lung cancer, and to help spread a little bit of the tremendous amount of hope which is available.

I come home a new person with a deeper calling. I have an even bigger love for people affected by lung cancer, a stronger passion to make things better, and an unbendable will to work hard toward that goal.

It was an honour and responsibility to represent Canada and to represent lung cancer patients at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting. I worked hard to make you all proud.

Twenty-three thousand people dedicated to fighting cancer gathered in Atlanta, and I wish I could have met them all! Thank you MP Catherine McKenna and your team for the Canada flag pins! I gave out almost 100 Canadian flag pins, and well over 100 business cards, telling our lung cancer story every time. I was honoured by these cancer fighters, and met brilliant leaders in the field, people who cared and listened. They are dedicated to improving outcomes for cancer patients, and research makes a difference! More research means more survivors. I thanked them for their work, and felt honoured when they thanked me for mine.

On my way to share my advocacy story at my poster session

I have many stories to tell, many photo’s to post, and more video posts to come on YouTube. I have been honoured to bring hope to people affected by lung cancer and other cancers, living in Canada and around the world. It brings me tremendous joy to serve as a channel of hope for the lung cancer community. #ChooseHope! … and keep your eyes open for more

I’m so grateful for all I’ve been privileged to experience this past week. It was an honour to represent, and I will keep working hard for people affected by lung cancer.