Presenting at ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology)

Presenting at ASCO, the world’s largest cancer conference, was a great opportunity to strategically represent lung cancer survivors and cancer survivors worldwide.

It was a terrific experience, so good to work with awesome co-presenters and bring significant contributions along with them on our panel discussion:

Where Do You Go When You Put Your Best Foot Forward? Challenges After Upfront Use of Next-Generation TKIs in Driver-Mutated NSCLC. We gave a 60 minute panel session during which we discussed cases in an interactive manner with the audience. Here is the multi-disciplinary team:

ModeratorLyudmila Bazhenova
An International Academic Oncologist PerspectivePilar Garrido
North American/Community Oncology PerspectiveMakenzi Evangelist
A Patient PerspectiveJill Hamer-Wilson
A Radiation Oncologist PerspectiveMatthias Guckenberger

As far as we know, only two lung cancer survivor advocates presented at ASCO, and this is the first panel discussion with a patient/survivor/caregiver advocate. Here is a tweet from our moderator:

I echo our moderator’s Tweet: Great job, ASCO! Thank you for including this survivor advocate as a co-presenter at #ASCO22! May there be many more of us to follow! Well done, team! Thank you for caring about your patients. A real pleasure to present with you. An extra big thanks to ASCO for changing things up to including me in an online format when health would not allow me to present in person. This shows that ASCO values the survivor voice. #grateful

Here are some of the things we spoke on … biopsies, holding targeted therapy during radiation, questions about increased toxicity with potentially no clear benefit, different kinds of lung cancer like ALK, EGFR, EGFR C797S …

Before the presentation, I reached out to some people affected by lung cancer from here in Canada as well as the United States and around the world to bring their input into the presentation, to be able to represent them as best as possible. They brought a lot of good input, and the time was definitely too short to say it all. Here are a few of the things I said …

Each patient is unique, and every patient-doctor relationship is unique. I urged oncologists to not make assumptions (e.g. that we can’t afford it), but instead to ask questions, discuss options with us. Please inform us of the pro’s and con’s. Empower us to make good decisions with you. And always be empathetic, because getting a lung cancer diagnosis can be traumatic.

Here is the link if you’re interested: https://meetings.asco.org/2022-asco-annual-meeting/14236?presentation=205915#205915https://meetings.asco.org/2022-asco-annual-meeting/14236?presentation=205915#205915 You may need to sign in, and I think it’s free for survivor advocates but I’m not sure about others. You may have to ask the good folks at ASCO and I’m sure they’ll help you out.

A number of cancer researchers and organizations are working on figuring out how to engage with people affected by cancer. Some are effectively including patients/survivors/caregivers at the table. This is best practices.

Many of our advocacy efforts have been about strategically creating pathways to make it easier for others to also do advocacy. Two lung cancer survivor advocates presenting at ASCO this year? Let’s work for many more in years to come!

#hope

#pathways for advocacy

#strategic

Disappointing News

One advantage of needing help getting into the cancer centre is being allowed to bring a friend into my appointment with the oncologist. I’m very grateful that I could bring dear friend and awesome lung cancer survivor advocate, Andrea Redway, into the little room to talk with the oncologist about test results. It means a lot to have her ears and wisdom, and know that she will feel free to speak up with questions and ideas. (Of course I ran it by the oncologist beforehand.)

Part of the disappointing news is that there is no news from the blood biopsy that was sent to Canexia lab in Vancouver BC. Just because they didn’t spot any cancer info doesn’t mean there is none present, similar to the way we don’t find a chunk of chicken in every spoonful of a bowl of chicken soup.

My awesome oncologist looked back over several ct scans, comparing multiple scans rather than merely the most recent to the one previous scan. When he put five scans in a row, it became clear that it looks like slowly progressing cancer growing. Disappointing news.

We control what we can control.

There are several potential options to consider choosing. I would love to participate in a clinical trial, but unfortunately the cancer is growing in a way (without “measurable disease”) that does not meet criteria for the trials that we’ve looked into so far. Currently I don’t qualify for any trials that we’ve found. I’m very grateful for the team who have influenced our thinking, including patients, survivors, caregivers, doctors and researchers, very thankful for those who have offered input to guide our choices. My oncologist and I have been communicating with each other, and including the thoughts of other experts.

A big shoutout to Colin Barton and the ALK+ Research Acceleration Committee who are made up of patients, survivors and caregivers. They not only stay on top of cutting edge research related to the type of lung cancer we’re affected by (ALK+), but also drive research. They are a brilliant bunch who also care.

Another big shoutout to our Canadian team of doctors and researchers. Through years of advocacy it has been a privilege to get to know and partner with many top lung cancer researchers, surgeons and oncologists from across the country, as well as around the world.

My oncologist reached out to several people including Dr. Alice Shaw, MD, PhD, also known as the Queen of ALK. Dr. Alice Shaw remembers me as the Canadian advocate who chased her from the escalator and interviewed her for this YouTube video at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in Atlanta, 2019. #AACR19

Dr. Ross Camidge spoke to the importance of testing to find the most appropriate treatment. Here he is at an event in April 2019 at The Ottawa Hospital where Dr. Paul Wheatley-Price obtained permission for me to invite people to be part of a special presentation to patients. Dr. Camidge also fielded questions from people across the country who were able to participate remotely. Dr. Christine Lovly is another top ALK doctor/researcher who genuinely cares about people and remembers us. They are part of our lung cancer team, and they are terrific teammates! So very thankful! (I also included a few photo’s below from our ALK+ family summit in Atlanta in August 2019. Such a great gift to be with these amazing people.)

But back to the news… my oncologist has asked a thoracic surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital about doing a procedure to get a biopsy to test. I’m waiting to hear back. Waiting is hard, but we can only control what we can control.

In the meantime, we continue the same course of treatment which is holding back much of the cancer, and we also take symptom management steps ahead. This seems to be a slowly progressing cancer, and being slow is a mercy which we’ll take.

The pain and symptom management clinic at The Ottawa Hospital gave an appointment next week. Research shows that people whose symptoms are well-managed tend to live not only better, but also longer. I’ll take it!

Yesterday morning I presented a White Ribbon to my awesome respirologist, Alyson, who came by to replace the oxygen machine which had started beeping. She has listened to a lot of advocacy talk about lung cancer, is very informed and empathetic. She goes above and beyond. Very thankful for her.

#hope

This just in! A call from the doctor’s office for a phone call appointment to discuss the potential procedure on Friday afternoon, April 29. (I asked and they don’t have a cancellation list.)

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

My Roller Coaster Adventure Ride

Well, that bump was bigger than expected! Sadly the radiation in October did not do the cancer-crushing work we were hoping it would. My recovery wasn’t going as well as anticipated, and tests showed I had pneumonia as well as cancer growth. My oncologist and I discussed chemotherapy, which is the only treatment option available to me currently.

My oncologist and I both reached out to some Canadian lung cancer researchers to investigate whether there might be a clinical trial suitable for me available in Canada, either now or in the near future. I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that there is nothing on the horizon.

There are some possibilities in the US, so I applied for the “ALK Second Opinion Program”, which is funded by some generous people affected by the same kind of lung cancer that is affecting me (ALK). I learned within a couple of hours that my application was accepted, so the program will pay for me to have an online appointment with one of the top ALK researchers in the world. I have met most of the doctors on their list, and it is a tough decision because they are not only brilliant but also very kind. I plan to go with the Boston team because, although Dr. Alice Shaw is not spending much time seeing patients there now, they may have a clinical trial appropriate for me in future, and Boston is much easier to travel to than Nashville or Colorado. My oncologist has very kindly offered to participate in the online appointment with me, and one of my dear ALK sisters has offered to walk with me through this process. I’m very grateful for the support.

I had my first chemo of 2020 on Monday November 30. It hit pretty hard, and I had to go to emergency with a fever which turned out to be another round of pneumonia. Antibiotics helped a lot, and I’m feeling much better. I’m still very tired, coughing a fair bit, and having problems swallowing (since August). Thankfully there is soup, and I’m very grateful for friends who have brought so much soup!! It’s great to have different kinds of soup that I don’t typically make, and it’s so nice to not have to make it myself!

My next chemo is Monday December 21, which will get me through the holidays, as my awesome oncologist noted. The following one is scheduled for January 11. Apart from the blood tests on the Fridays before, I’m hoping to not need any additional hospital visits! 😀

This is quite a change from the targeted therapy lifestyle, which tends to be much more smooth sailing, with fewer appointments and blood tests. I’m so very grateful for my many years of reasonably good health while living with stage four lung cancer. I never expected to live seven years past my diagnosis, and now I have much more hope than I did at diagnosis. I am hopeful for new treatment options. I hope that the chemo I’m on now will work more effectively with fewer side effects than the older harsher chemo I took in 2013-14. I hope researchers will develop new treatment options that will be available just when I need them. That has been my roller coaster adventure ride with lung cancer these seven years, and I hope for more! Oh yes I do!!

More than that, I hope for more research to extend the lives of many more people affected by lung cancer, because there are so many of us and we all want life and need hope. So if you know any lung cancer researchers, please thank them for the good work they are doing and encourage them to keep up the good work with diligence and urgency. So many of us are counting on them!

I’ve worked hard to keep doing light weights, stretching and walking through the Fall. My daily step count has fallen below my usual 9000-10,000, but I haven’t given up hope!

So grateful for friends, for so many delicious soups (and other yummy things!), and for so many calls and messages. This has really sustained me and helped keep me buoyed up.

I don’t talk about my faith a lot, and I would never want anyone to feel like I’m pushing Christianity on anyone. I want to be clear, please stop reading if you are feeling offended. My relationship with God means so much to me, and keeps me going. God is good all the time, and I am grateful for the love of God poured out through Jesus, and the ever-present comfort of the Holy Spirit. It’s the love of Jesus that motivates my advocacy, and any good I do is because of God working through me.

#hope

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