RIP Brigitte Levigne

It is with profound thankfulness for her life and advocacy, and with deep sadness we share that our dear friend and lung cancer sister, Brigitte Lavigne who is also known as B or Bee Thevine, passed last week. She and her dear friends and family have participated in lung cancer advocacy, including making ribbons as part of The White Ribbon Project and supported others of us affected by lung cancer. They have been awesome supporters and advocates. Brigitte was one of my big encouragers, and I know many other members of the lung cancer community would say the same. We are so very grateful to have known her, and to have connected with her community.

Brigitte loved Easter. Last Easter she gave me flowers and a card. She gave so much joy. She was a silver lining of lung cancer for very many of us.

Here is her beautiful obituary (pasted below):

Obituary of Brigitte Lavigne

Peacefully on Thursday, April 14,2022 surrounded by her family at the Ruddy Shenkman Hospice, Brigitte leaves behind her caring and supportive husband, Kyle, beautiful and courageous children, Kiera and Liam, wonderful brother, Ben, attentive sister-in-law Laura, lovely niece, Simone, loving parents, Michele and Ron, gracious parents-in-law, Brian and Janet, and thoughtful sister-in-law, Kathy.

Brigitte is ever so grateful to her strong community of friends, colleagues, and neighbours, who accompanied her and her family during these difficult times and throughout her life.

She will be missed by her strong and influential besties from Montreal, the poker princesses, University friends, the Bel-Air babes, her training partner and the girls from Toronto and PEI. These friends helped shape Brigitte in more ways than they could know.

Her amazing medical team was held in high regard. Compassionate and caring  oncologist, Dr. Nicholas, kind and concerned respirologist, Dr. Graver, palliative care doctors, supportive family physician Dr. Bordeleau, home care nurses, specialists, hospice caregivers. Brigitte benefitted from specialized care at the Ottawa General Hospital Cancer Centre, the IGFCC, and was regularly seen at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital. She had nothing but positive words about the medical care she received and referred to them as her dream team.

A loyal public servant who dedicated her career to public safety, Brigitte enjoyed running, spending time outdoors, engaging with people in her community and being a mom. Her children were the centre of her universe.

Brigitte was supported by a strong network of lung cancer sisters whom she fondly spoke of as her sisterhood. She learned about advocacy and was actively involved in The White Ribbon Project, participated in cancer patient research, donated her cells to a cancer line project and was a member of the ROS1ders. 

Brigitte was honoured by the ICAN International Cancer Advocacy Network through the Brigitte Lavigne Research Advocacy Program (Rare Resistance Mutations) to promote resistance research.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the ROS1ders, Please click Here or the Ottawa Race Weekend Team raising funds for Lung Cancer Canada in honour of Brigitte,Please click Here

A private gathering will be held for family. A Celebration of Brigitte’s Life will be held at a later date.

To express your condolences or make a donation please visit http://www.hillcrestfuneralhome.ca

A Tree of Remembrance for Brigitte will be planted at the McAlpine Forever Forest, Vankleek Hill.

Funeral arrangements in care of Hillcrest Funeral Home Ltd., 151 Bond Street, Vankleek Hill, ON K0B 1R0 (866) 678-2002.

The picture above is from when I first met Brigitte in person and was privileged to give her White Ribbons with love. Right from the start she wanted more than one so she could also give Ribbons with love. This picture was taken before she was ready to publicly show her face or share her name, March 17, 2021.

Some of the pictures below are from our Ottawa Community Ribbon Build in August 2021, when Brigitte and her good friend, fellow advocate and The White Ribbon Project teammate Jesse, and her two children came to work on Ribbons. Brigitte loved all her people, but her children especially meant the world to her. We were so glad they could come to the build and we could meet them. It was great spending time with them and Jesse that day, as well as Brigitte. Brigitte gathered a community of amazing people, and spoke often of her family, friends and community. Other pictures are from a later date when Brigitte came over to put labels on and receive more Ribbons to give away. The day of the Ribbon build was so hot and humid that the ribbons showed no signs of drying anytime soon, so we had to be patient. It brought Brigitte so much joy to put on French labels. She knew that The White Ribbon Project is about love, that ribbons are given with love and received with love and that language matters. This was a good fit for Brigitte who was bilingual. She loved and advocated in more than two languages.

Brigitte activated a team who rose up doing advocacy. Even in this last month, Brigitte and her team did powerful work, delivering The White Ribbon Project Ribbons to our hospital and cancer centre in the west end of Ottawa, where she received much of her care, where I received my first rounds of chemotherapy back in 2013 and 2014. She participated in as many The White Ribbon Project community zoom calls as she was able, and yearned to be part of them when she wasn’t able. She and her team have made and will continue to make Ribbons. So far they have made 24 and 6 more are in process. They have given 20 of these ribbons with love, in addition to the several Brigitte was given by me. She also received a special honour with a named program that would focus on Research Advocacy on Novel Therapeutics for Resistance Mutations, i.e. a Brigitte Lavigne Research Advocacy Program (Resistance Mutations in Rare Cancers). She kept advocating until she could not any more, and she died knowing her community would step further into advocacy.

She powerfully loved people her whole life, and that did not change after her lung cancer diagnosis. A cherished member of our Ottawa Lung Cancer Support Group, she reached out with love to members of the lung cancer community locally and all over. She cared about people with her specific kind of lung cancer, and people with any kind of lung cancer. So many people talk about the difference she made for them. She loved us and she messaged us so much! She also loved her care team, spoke highly of them and thanked them. She made a special presentation at the West end hospital where she received much of her care and they did a special story about her. She embraced the inclusive nature of The White Ribbon Project, and gave Ribbons to a wide variety of people connected to lung cancer in various ways, including members of her care team. Even in the short time I knew her I could see that everywhere Brigitte went she brought joy and love. I’m so thankful to have met her, loved her and welcomed her into the lung cancer community. I’m so very thankful for our oncologist who encouraged her to connect and told her about our support group.

Port update and today’s advocacy highlights

Several people have asked how things are going with the port, so it seems good to tell you that it’s going well! I’ve had chemo through it twice now, and having it changed the whole flavour of the chemo appointment. Instead of wondering with some measure of dread how many pokes would be required before success, each time the nurse had success on the first poke. Such relief! No more heating of the arms, no more slapping or pressing in search of sneaky veins. Both times the nurse simply inserted the needle into the port and all was well. Such relief!

Full disclosure: it hurts a little when the needle (for chemo) goes in. But so much less than when the nurse has to poke around for the vein. There are several pain relief options which could be used. Also, the phlebotomists at the Cancer Centre lab need to poke for blood draws for the blood test that we do every 24-48 hours before treatment, since they are not authorized to use the port. Blood draws don’t tend to hurt, and usually work on the first attempt.

Advocacy highlights: Great day today! Two significant conversations this morning to tell you about: one with someone diagnosed with lung cancer looking for support. She is interested in doing some advocacy also. The other with another person diagnosed with lung cancer who has set up a meeting for us with her MP to attempt to move access to Lorlatinib further forward. We spoke this morning to discuss strategy and make specific plans for this upcoming zoom meeting. I really appreciate being teammates with people who care and who appreciate the value of being part of a good team. Advocacy and life go better with good teammates.

Of course there were many more things on the agenda for today, but those are two being highlighted for today. Those and also this lovely card which just arrived from Martina, another good teammate and fellow cancer research patient representative good teammate. What a treat to receive such a thoughtful gift from a good teammate! #blessed #grateful #team

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.)

Testing and Treating Lung Cancer

When I was diagnosed with lung cancer back in 2013, The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre tested for two specific kinds of (non-small cell) lung cancer: EGFR and ALK. How thankful we are that they routinely tested for ALK because knowing my specific diagnosis has made a huge difference in terms of my treatment. Because we knew specifically what kind of lung cancer, we could choose the best treatments which have kept me going for over eight years! How thankful we are for testing and treatments.

During those eight years, advances in lung cancer research have been outstanding! Now we can treat so many more kinds of lung cancers. It can be challenging for hospitals to keep up with testing, to keep testing for all the treatable types of lung cancer. I’m happy to report that now The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre tests for eleven specific types of lung cancer: PD-L1, EGFR, ALK, ROS1, RET, KRAS, BRAF, HER2, MET, NTRK, and PIK3CA.

Clinical trials can be the best way for some people affected by lung cancer to get the newest treatments, so testing must be aligned with treatments available by clinical trials or compassionate release programs.

Lung cancer research will continue to offer increasing treatment options for people affected by lung cancer. As more advances in the testing and treating of cancer arise, it matters that hospitals ensure that testing aligns with available treatment options.

How many types of lung cancer does your cancer centre test for?

(Note: this testing can also called by other names, for example: biomarker testing, molecular testing, precision oncology, tumour testing, genomic testing, … )

#ResearchMatters

#ChooseHope

Research Matters

On Monday March 14, The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre lab drew blood to be analyzed by Canexia in Vancouver, British Columbia, to test to see if there is a treatable kind of cancer attacking me. We’re still waiting for results and holding onto hope.

Biomarker testing matters.

If the testing comes back with information about a treatable cancer, then taking daily pills could potentially turn my health around. Many lung cancer patients go from extremely poor health to feeling quite well in only a matter of days, once they start taking the right treatment (targeted therapy pills). This is what we are hoping for me. New research, as you probably know, is a game-changer for many people affected by cancer. We are hopeful that there will be some effective new research that will make a difference for me.

It’s possible that I may have to travel to get access to the pills through a clinical trial. We won’t know until we get information from the test. As many of you know, there can be challenges for people affected by lung cancer to get access to the life-extending treatments they need. Advocates fight for drug approvals and funding, for better access to clinical trials and for clinical trials to be offered in more geographical locations. Access matters.

Research matters – it matters for testing, for treatment options and for access to those treatments. Research matters, to me and to so many others, for people with lung cancer and so many other kinds of cancer. Advocacy matters! Research matters!

Getting our affairs in order

I’ve heard people talk so comfortably about end of life matters, but it was never easy for me. With practice it’s been getting better.

My parents were both diagnosed with cancer within one week when I was 20, and within a year they had both died. Those were the first and second funerals I went to. Before that time I did not know much about grief except what I had read in books. That was an incredibly difficult season and grief continues, though not like back then. I’m working to prepare my children for life after my death, even though we are holding onto hope that I will live for many more years. We have had some really good and important conversations.

It’s always wise to make sure our will is updated and the other important things are communicated and ordered appropriately, but at times like this we feel the need to be sure all the more. It’s generally best to involve a lawyer. Specifics vary from place to place, but in Ontario Canada, the main pieces are: will, power of attorney for personal care, power of attorney for property.

There are many resources in communities and online to help.

For some time I’ve been connected with Hospice Care Ottawa, and recently have started taking advantage of some of their services. I’ve been meeting with a grief counsellor regularly since September because I was feeling the weight of many griefs, and this has been very helpful. Lung cancer advocacy can be a heavy load. Those who are uplifting and supportive matter so much. They can make a huge difference.

Some of Hospice Care Ottawa’s volunteers participated in an advanced care zoom meeting, which was filled with good information and resources. They invited us to play a “Go Wish Game”, where you choose your top 3 out of 36 wish statements relating to end of life care. It’s challenging to choose only three, but the point of this game is to get people thinking and talking, and that it certainly did. Many others on the call have also found that having these kinds of conversations with family and friends tended to turn out a lot better than they were expecting. There are lots of good resources and great conversations to be had.

My word for 2022 is “rejoice”, chosen before 2022, before my health took a turn. It’s surprising how much joy there can be, even in conversations about end of life issues. It matters to me that people feel freedom to celebrate, not just mourn. We’ve spoken about grief many times. We acknowledge there is and there will be sadness along with a whole lot of different emotions, but there can also be joy and laughter. My desire is that in addition to sadness people will remember and celebrate the good and happy times.

My beloved three children mean so much to me. They have been living with their Mom having lung cancer for over eight years. They were only 6, 10 and 12 at diagnosis. Now they are 15, 18 and 20. We are very thankful for advances in research that have been a big part of the story, keeping this stage four cancer survivor alive all these years. What a difference research and good medical care has made, along with the support of some amazing people!

Our advocacy has been largely about working to extend and improve the lives of people diagnosed with lung cancer or other kinds of cancer. We’ve worked hard to support people and elevate the value of people affected by lung cancer and the importance of research. It is still possible that I can live on chemotherapy long enough for another discovery to be made and become accessible for me. This is what we’ve been hoping for.

This is how we’ve been living for the past eight years since diagnosis. Seven different lines of treatment: four different targeted therapies, radiation, two sets of chemotherapy … when one treatment option failed another one has always become available, sometimes just in the nick of time. Great timing of accessibility has helped keep me and many others alive. This rollercoaster ride has kept me and so many others going, and we continue to hold onto hope.

We celebrate researchers, fundraisers, primary care physicians, counsellors, storytellers, social workers, advocates, nurses, surgeons, administrators, oncologists and anyone who works as a good team member to help extend and improve the lives of people affected by lung cancer. These good teammates need to be uplifted and encouraged because the load can be heavy, the work can be hard. We are so grateful for those who encourage and uplift teammates. Together we can be a good team. We can drive change.

#AdvocacyMatters

#AccessMatters

#ResearchMatters

#ChooseHope

Inside scoop

This is awesome! The Ottawa Senators care so much about people affected by lung cancer that they set aside time to sign a stack of The White Ribbon Project ribbons to give to people newly diagnosed with lung cancer at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre. The Weir family is a major reason that The Ottawa Senators are part of The White Ribbon Project community.

Bill & Lisa Weir have made 400 The White Ribbon Project ribbons and given 370 of them out. They are very generous people who are giving with love, investing their time, talents and resources into people affected by lung cancer. They care. Their family is tremendously supportive. They have three grown children, twin grandsons and one due in July. Lisa is looking forward to turning 60 this year. Big milestones. In May 2020, Lisa was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Stage four. Both lungs. She started a clinical trial for her specific kind of lung cancer (KRAS G12C) in May 2021, and it’s working well. #ResearchMatters When she and Bill learned about The White Ribbon Project, they wanted to be part of it and reached out in the very early days to ask about making ribbons. By the end of February 2021 they had made 244 ribbons. Their daughter and son-in-law, Sam and Josh (who plays for the Senators), eagerly jumped on board as did many other family members, friends, teammates and more. What a difference their family and community is making for others. “In this family no one fights alone.” It’s so good to know the Weir family. They are kind people, good, generous and eager advocates, silver linings of lung cancer. Thank you, Weir family and extended community.

Dr. Paul Wheatley-Price is another important The White Ribbon Project community member. He is a medical oncologist who has stepped into an even bigger leadership role at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, giving out ribbons with love. He knows the story of The White Ribbon Project and the importance of love in the making and giving of ribbons. He understands the power of the Ribbon to gather, unite and uplift the lung cancer community in love. He came over to our home today to pick this new batch up. (Thank you to first born for taking pictures.) He was at the Ottawa Community Ribbon Build back in August 2021, and gave out a stack of ribbons to the newly diagnosed in the Fall and Winter. He has been showing he cares about people affected by lung cancer for years. He has played a key role in advocacy, and is a terrific partner in advocacy. He helped us get the first lung cancer outreach table on World Lung Cancer Day, August 1, 2018 at the Cancer Centre (and has continued to support them), and he helped Andrea and me with the annual patient-driven lung cancer patient summits that we held prior to COVID. Having someone like Paul be part of the team makes a phenomenal difference. Multi-disciplinary advocacy teams are powerful game-changers. Paul is a real door-opener. We are so glad he has taken on this important role with The White Ribbon Project, giving out ribbons with love in Ottawa.

Below are some pictures showing just a small portion of Paul’s tremendous advocacy (over years) for people affected by lung cancer. He is a powerful force.

Paul was part of Ottawa’s community ribbon build in August 2021.

Here is Paul today, picking up ribbons at our home. Thank you, Paul, for consistently going the extra mile.

Quick update

I’m at cancer centre getting chemo. I needed help getting in since my shortness of breath got significantly worse overnight. Thankful for the new lovely friend who drove me, the porter, the receptionists at the COVID questions table and at chemo, and my good nurse Jessica who went above and beyond. She rolled me in to spend time with (and give a The White Ribbon Project Ribbon to) fellow lung cancer survivor undergoing treatment here at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, Taylor Westerman, and even took the following picture:

Jessica offered to help after seeing us take this one:

Here she is flushing my brand new port, inserted two days ago. Right now chemotherapy is flowing through it, into my body, fighting and destroying cancer cells! So excited and grateful to be using the new port! I know I’m new to having a port, but so far so good. Not painful. Thank you port insertion team. Thank you Jessica!

And thank you to the lovely young woman who brought ice chips!

In case you missed it, my shortness of breath got much worse overnight. I’m concerned and have talked to the nurses and asked for additional symptom control and supportive care. We continue to explore treatment options and hold onto hope.

Hope matters. Research matters. Supportive care matters. Keep holding onto hope!

Hoping and Cheering for Much More Research

Chemo number 19 down this afternoon! I’ve been getting chemo every three weeks since November 2020 and we are so very thankful I’m still going strong. Nineteen rounds, over a year … this is worth celebrating!

Some people are afraid of chemo and / or very reluctant to take it. Chemo is way easier than it used to be. Everyone is unique and chemo affects everyone uniquely so why not give it a try? I’m finding it’s doable, even after a year, even after eight years of cancer treatments. Every three weeks there are several days when I’m very tired, and there are a few other side effects. This is hard but not too hard with plans in place and a good support team. I started chemo with the hope that there would be a new treatment, a clinical trial ready for me maybe even as soon as last summer. I keep hanging on, hoping for research to come through for me and others like me. More research means more survivors and better survivorship.

So many of us are making the most of the gift of time we are being given, doing our best to live well with lung cancer and/or other kinds of cancer, reach more milestones, make more memories. I work hard at advocacy and supporting people diagnosed with lung cancer and other kinds of cancers because I know it really matters and it makes a difference.

Chemo can bring a mental and / or emotional battle as well as a physical battle. I remember well the very first time I had chemo, back in December 2013, five days after I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I had worked so hard to take good care of my body by living an active life, eating healthy, and using only natural, toxin-free products, and here I was at the cancer centre to have a hole poked in my arm to inject toxic chemotherapy. I cried. I still find this process challenging, but I know it’s worth it because although it brings some harm to my body, it’s kicking cancer to the curb. Every scan this year has been good news that the cancer is stable or slightly smaller. So thankful! Definitely worth it!

After eight years of constant treatments (mostly targeted therapies which are generally much easier on people than chemotherapy is) like so many others I’ve suffered a long list of treatment-related side effects, many of which have lasted through these eight years. Like many other people I have experienced nerve damage, especially to the hands and feet, hearing loss, vision changes, skin problems, digestive issues, changes to nails and hair, and many other things. Survivorship is good and it can bring challenges.

I’m very thankful for over a year of chemotherapy which has helped bring my total up to eight years of stage four cancer survivorship. With so many others affected by lung cancer and other cancers, we hold onto hope for a clinical trial or other form of new treatment that will work for us and keep us going strong for years. I know beyond a shadow of doubt that things can change in the blink of an eye! Having lived in Ottawa Canada most of my life, I’ve seen Winter melt into Spring each year and this helps reinvigorate hope and faith! Yesterday I drove into the Cancer Centre for blood work through such ice and snow that had to use my memory and imagination to figure out where the street lanes were. Today it was mostly melted, the sun was shining and the temperature was a balmy 14 degrees Celcius (57 degrees Fahrenheit) with a beautiful breeze! Such a gorgeous and rare weather experience for December in Ottawa Canada!

I got back home in time to see a lovely friend from church who brought a five-day feast (from her and two other dear souls) for the kids and me, then a few calls and messages from caring, supportive friends. Grateful for many kind friends who make being on chemotherapy so much more doable. It takes a team. We all need support. So much to be thankful for!

Nineteen rounds down and hoping for much more research and many more treatment options for people facing cancer!