More than 40% of Canadians will hear “You have cancer” in their lifetime. Over the next 15 years there will be a 40% increase of cancer cases in Canada. According to the World Cancer Research Fund International
Canada is the 10th
country in the world with the highest cancer rate. That is the frightening reality we face.
But You and Me, We're in this Together.
The moment a patient enters the main doors of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Cancer, it becomes a shared journey. Our oncology teams and support staff are world class and we all share one common goal, to Conquer Cancer in Our Lifetime.
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world. Our passion to lead the way for all Canadians in Personalized Cancer Medicine inspires us and focuses our efforts. The Princess Margaret has expanded its scientific and clinical research in key areas including epigenetics, bioinformatics, and drug development. Those advances are needed to reach the potential of personalized medicine. The Cancer Centre also leads the way in immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s own immune system to kill cancer.
Real cures come from discovery research. Support immunotherapy at The Princess Margaret. We’re in this Together.
SarahRose Black and Nicole
“You see Sarah, this woman who is going around with this healing tool – everyone wears a stethoscope and she wears a keyboard.” - Nicole
That’s how long Nicole has been battling a rare type of brain cancer, a journey that began when she was a teenager. She lost her sight and recently she received tragic news, she only has six months to live. She says she wouldn’t have been able to deal with these circumstances if she didn’t have the support of the mental health team at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Enter SarahRose Black, a music therapist. After studying and teaching music, she did an internship at The Princess Margaret where she developed a music therapy program with the Department of Supportive Care at UHN.
“My whole world was turned upside down, my mind was blown. I learned so much about what it means to be with someone in music at a time that can be very vulnerable, intimate, difficult, beautiful, and challenging,” says Black, who uses her keyboard to inspire patients.
It turns out that music therapy was just the release Nicole was looking for, and she was hooked immediately. “I think it was after the second class with her that I said, ‘I am going to find a way to get $10 million so that you can have a room here that is dedicated to music and music therapy,’” she says, her grin growing with each word.
An avid lover of music and singing, Nicole believes that music therapy is vital to not only her own well-being, but other patients as well. “You see Sarah, this woman who is going around with this healing tool – everyone wears a stethoscope and she wears a keyboard.”
Black describes the first notes being sung as a moment of connection with a patient. “It’s a window into someone’s world,” she says.
The sessions are only one hour long, but to Nicole that one hour makes a huge impact in her life. “Sometimes there aren’t enough words, or the right words…the music’s coming from my soul, but the piano is coming from hers and we’re converging. She’s just kind of bracing me up as we walk along,” says Nicole. They spend the first half-hour of their sessions just chatting and catching up with each other before moving on to the music.
“It’s a funny thing. I can’t see Sarah, I’ve never seen her. I’ve never seen what we look like in these sessions. But all I know from the way I feel is that it’s absolutely beautiful, so she must be absolutely beautiful, too.”
And that $10-million room she wants to give Black? “Well I bought a bunch of lottery tickets, so, we’ll see how that goes.”
Dr. John de Almeida and Jennifer Cicci
“There’s amazing gratification in seeing someone like Jennifer three years out and being free of her cancer.” - Dr. John de Almeida
Jennifer Cicci and her oncologist, Dr. John de Almeida, are keeping track of one another.
He’s been watching over Cicci during her cancer journey, providing support for her as she has gone through surgery, radiation and other challenges in her treatment for tonsil cancer.
She remembers that her doctor’s young son has a birthday around the corner. It’s an event that falls around a key anniversary of her own – a third year has passed since she first had cancer surgery. These events are tied together in both Cicci and de Almeida’s lives, as patient and doctor remember the milestones that have occurred during the course of her treatment.
“It’s a very personal, intimate relationship,” says Cicci, while meeting up with de Almeida at the Cancer Centre to talk about the support she has received from her doctor and other staff at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Dr. de Almeida feels the same way.
“You get to know cancer patients very well over the course of time because you see them in follow-up, you see the ups and downs they go through,” he says.
For Cicci, there have been some tough times. Since being diagnosed with HPV-related tonsil cancer, she’s had more than one operation, as well as radiation treatments.
But today, things are looking good – good enough to make her doctor feel good, too.
“There’s amazing gratification in seeing someone like Jennifer three years out and being free of her cancer,” says Dr. de Almeida.
Cicci says she feels Dr. de Almeida has been in her corner since the moment they met.
“I really felt a sense of trust right away,” says Cicci. “I knew when I met him that I was in the right place with the right care provider and I felt really confident going forward that I had made the right decisions and just being here really helped me.”
Dr. Vikas Gupta and Michael Brady
“He is a very motivated patient. I use his story as inspiration to tell other patients who have to go through a transplant.” – Dr. Vikas Gupta
Michael Brady’s cancer journey began in 2006, when he began having severe migraines. After consulting a neurologist and a hematologist in Hamilton, he was diagnosed with polycythemia, a type of Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN)—a blood cancer.
“It was hard. I would tell myself I will do whatever I have to do to survive. At times it was despair, because it was sad to see my family have to go through that and it was very challenging for them on many levels,” says Brady.
Over time, Brady’s disease became high-risk. His hematologist recommended that he seek the care of Dr. Vikas Gupta at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre—a physician and researcher who has gained international recognition for his ground-breaking work on MPNs.
“He was a fantastic doctor in many ways. When you entrust your care in somebody, there are different things you sense or feel or evaluate. Everything from my perspective with interacting with Dr. Gupta, has been beyond expectations,” Brady says.
Brady’s disease grew more debilitating, with an onslaught of regular nightly sweats, insomnia – even going up the stairs becoming a difficult task. He was officially diagnosed with myelofibrosis – a more aggressive MPN – in February 2014.
Brady, then 41, was told his life expectancy was two to four years, with additional drug therapy. He looked to Dr. Gupta for support in preparing himself for what was to come.
“I think I was very lucky to have Dr. Gupta and The Princess Margaret behind me,” Brady says. “I can’t describe the care at Princess Margaret other than it being the best in the world from my perspective. The care, was beyond care.”
Dr. Gupta recommended an intense treatment strategy for Brady. He recommended that Brady have a stem cell transplant and that he enroll in a clinical trial, in combination with a modified chemotherapy regimen.
“He is a very motivated patient. I use his story as inspiration to tell other patients who have to go through a transplant,” Dr. Gupta says.
Brady’s cancer is now in remission. He says his progress, under Dr. Gupta’s care, would not have been possible without the support from The Princess Margaret.
Alketa Kumbaro and Erik Couture
“The Magic Castle was a really nice break. We’re not from town, so we don’t have the large family structure here. It’s really nice for Sophie to have someone to go hang out with.” - Erik Couture
Erik Couture knew something was terribly wrong.
He’d been experiencing extreme pain for some time and was hopeful his family doctor could get to the root of the problem.
But in May 2016, he received devastating news.
He was diagnosed with sarcoma, a type of cancer that affects nerves, muscles, joints, bone, fat and blood vessels.
That life-changing diagnosis put Couture, his then-pregnant wife and their eldest daughter on a path to The Princess Margaret, some 700 kilometres away from their home in Timmins, Ont.
“We moved here for my ongoing treatments – it’s changed our lifestyle, but it’s a small price to pay in order to receive treatment at a Cancer Centre that is world class,” says Couture. “It gave us our best shot of dealing with this.”
The Princess Margaret was able to offer treatment he could not access where he was living.
Couture says his treatment regime has been intense. Chemo sessions sometimes last anywhere from four to five hours.
Couture and his family rely on the daycare program at The Princess Margaret. When he needs treatment, he drops off his daughter Sophie at the Magic Castle and he heads to the Cancer Centre.
“It’s really great that it’s a world class place that takes care of us,” says Couture.
Couture says at one time he was at the Cancer Centre almost every day of the week.
For Couture, the future is uncertain: “My prognosis isn’t great, it’s a 3-5 years kind of thing.”
While his treatment is ongoing, he’s also thinking about the needs of his family, which now includes his newborn daughter, Emily.
“We’ve got to enjoy every day that we can.”
DR. PHILIPPE BEDARD, MIKE ALLAN & REBECCA MCKINNEY
“They saved my life.” - Mike Allan
Mike Allan finds it tough to talk about his cancer journey.
But it’s easy for him to describe what the people at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre have done for him.
A year and a half ago, Allan learned he had a type of testicular cancer. He came to The Princess Margaret for help.
That’s how he met Dr. Philippe Bedard, his medical oncologist, and Rebecca McKinney, a specialized oncology nurse at The Princess Margaret.
Allan says the care he received from the Cancer Centre staff has been second to none. And he felt that way from the moment
he became a patient.
“It was the kind of care that I had never experienced before. Both in the quality of the medical aspect, but also in the human aspect. Far more than I had ever anticipated,” Allan says.
He’s gone through a lot since learning he had cancer, including chemotherapy and a two-week stay in hospital.
But today, Allan is very grateful for the treatment he’s received. And he feels fortunate to have been able to have walked through the doors of The Princess Margaret.
“This was the best place for me to be,” says Allan.
ROBIN FORBES AND MARMEL ROBUCK
“I am proud of myself. But I fought really hard.” - Marmel Robuck
Marmel Robuck celebrated her 79th
birthday on January 28th
– one week before World Cancer Day.
Coincidence? Yes, though her ties to the disease run much deeper.
On September 29 2015, Marmel got a phone call that changed everything. At the hospital with her daughter, who has just undergone a double mastectomy, Marmel was informed she had mesothelioma cancer, a cancer in the lining of the lung and diaphragm.
But this wasn’t the first time she’d received a call like this. Marmel is a survivor, having battled breast cancer 24 years ago.
“I was devastated,” Marmel says. “It hasn’t been an easy journey, it’s been a very hard journey. I’ve felt very bitter, very upset, I didn’t think I could do it.”
After the diagnosis, Marmel had some very difficult decisions to make. It was here she met Robin Forbes, a social worker at The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
“She saw me all the time, not just me, it was Don and me. He was with me, and the girls, I have three daughters, a niece and nephew, and I was never alone,” said Marmel. “And Robin was involved with everything. I say that she’s pulled me through, to where I am today. And I’m in a much better state than I was when I started.”
“You’re in a much better state than the last time I saw you,” says Robin.
In a room with Marmel, her husband Don and Robin, they seem like old friends.
Speaking with Marmel, just months after the surgery to remove her lung and diaphragm, she is poised, serene and bright. Combine that with her lively and light-hearted relationship with her husband Don, you’d be quick to forget she’s nearly 80 years old.
“My husband, he’s been there 100 per cent, taken me everywhere, done everything, and I have to pat him on the back for that,” Marmel says, “which I usually don’t do.”
“I would say I survived through support,” says Marmel. In the five days leading up to her surgery she underwent radiation. Each day a family member walked her into the room, even her grandchildren – including one grandson who travelled all the way from Arizona.
Marmel lost her sister to lung cancer at the early age of 54. Her sister’s children and grandchildren have become her own. Theirs is a family bound together in the good times and the bad.
The support continued with a family celebration for the pair’s 60th
anniversary that saw the whole family – three children, seven grandchildren and nieces and nephews – gathered together.
“I didn’t give them a choice,” jokes Don. It was the first time in 10 years every single member of the family was in the same room.
Marmel is now cancer free. “I am proud of myself. But I fought really hard,” she says. “There were many times I came in crying to Robin and I walked out of here feeling reassured.”
“My job is just reminding people the strengths they already have within them and help them find those again and apply them to their situation,” says Robin. “It’s seeing how you can come through these really difficult times and seeing how resilient you are.”
LAURIE TUCKER AND BETH MILLS
“ I try to find one thing every day to feel grateful for. And it really isn’t hard. There is a lot to be really grateful for.” - Beth Mills
“All of a sudden I went from feeling fine to going through a tremendous number of tests,” says Beth Mills.
For Mills, being diagnosed with breast cancer meant being in a state of shock. With one appointment, her perspective on life changed completely.
“You look at things very differently,” says Mills. “I never thought that I would be relieved that I was in good enough shape to have chemo but your perspective totally changes.”
That change in perspective led her right to Laurie Tucker, a wig specialist at The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
“Laurie has been incredible,” says Mills. “She has a great sense of humour, she loves what she does and when we came in as a family, she was kind of joking around with my husband and daughter. There was that sense of we didn’t necessarily want to be there but let’s enjoy it.”
Tucker has a knack for making people feel comfortable. She and her fellow wig specialist Sherry Sharareh truly value their relationship with patients.
“It’s all about the patients and making them happy and feel confident,” says Tucker. “The first time they walk in the door, they’re scared and we want to make sure they walk out with a smile on their face.”
“I didn’t think that it would matter as much as it did,” says Mills, “but I realized I was actually quite concerned about what it would be like.”
Mills is radiant with or without the extra hair with a distinct sense of strength. As a school principal, she is down to business, focused on healing and living in the moment. For her, having a wig is a way of feeling like herself, and not having to explain her diagnosis when she doesn’t have the strength.
“How do you introduce it into the conversation? I haven’t figured it out.”
As Tucker places the wig on Mills’ head, her face lights up – the layered blonde cropped cut really suits her.
“I have a fairly big head that I thought maybe I wouldn’t get a wig, but Laurie, bless her heart, managed to scrounge up a wig and it fit!”
For Mills and many others, hair is a large part of identity. Being without it can feel foreign. Tucker’s goal is to make women feel as much like themselves as possible, “to look in the mirror and say ‘yes that’s Beth!’”
With this sense of self, Mills has also applied this approach to her life: “I try to find one thing every day to feel grateful for. And it really isn’t hard. There is a lot to be really grateful for.”
VALERIE HELLER AND RUTH PIKE
“ I just made up my mind, if I'm having a good day then I'm going to do something nice and that's what I've been doing. ” - Ruth Pike
Ruth Pike is a strong, self-assured woman. It comes through in the way she carries herself. The retired University of Toronto professor values her independence.
In December of 2015, Pike was diagnosed with a late-stage cancer that cannot be cured. “I led a very busy life and then all of a sudden, I couldn’t do that anymore,” says Pike, 84.
But Pike is determined to not let this diagnosis get her down. “I just made up my mind, if I’m having a good day then I’m going to do something nice and that’s what I’ve been doing,” she says.
There are some things though, that Pike has learned to admit she needs help with. And so, she met Valerie Heller. Heller is a social worker in the psychosocial oncology department at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “My role is to support patients and families with any psychosocial issues that come up related to the cancer. So I do a lot of counselling, which is the part I like most of all,” Heller says.
If you ask Heller what the best part of her job is, her face lights up: “Oh, the patients! That’s the best part of it all! Direct contact and the privilege of patients sharing their thoughts and concerns.”
Along with her illness, Pike finds herself grappling with loss. A loss of independence as well as a loss of many friends and colleagues in recent years.
“Valerie can talk about that. She knows about that. And that helps,” Pike says.
Upon learning of her diagnosis, Pike had a difficult decision to make. “I had to choose whether to take a chance on really extensive surgery, which may not have worked and would have left me in the hospital for months. That was one of the things that I spoke with Valerie about, and I decided not to do it.”
This decision allowed a determined Pike to regain some of her independence. “I’ve had a few months of reasonable health and I do things that I can enjoy.”
Pike stays connected to her friends, family and former colleagues. She has three sons. She still attends faculty events when she can. These bonds to her network, to Heller, and to her family are very important to her.