OlymPINK Masters Challenge

Join us and help make a difference. Help us help The Ottawa Hospital Breast Centre by swimming or supporting the OlymPINK swim meet fundraiser.

About OlymPINK

In 2018, OlymPINK became the first swim meet fundraiser of its kind in the Ottawa area. With the help of 120 swimmers, supporters, breast cancer survivors and 6 Olympians, the very successful swim meet raised almost $19,000 for The Ottawa Hospital’s Rose Ages Breast Health Centre. Last year we raised an even more astonishing $44,000. On April 18th OlymPINK will be back — bigger and better and with your help, will be making an even bigger splash in the quest for funds for important technology and other needs for The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre. Our Olympians know what it’s like to strive for gold and so does The Ottawa Hospital! Help us make a difference for the benefit of every patient that will walk through the doors of The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre.

Our Olympians know what it’s like to strive for gold and so does The Ottawa Hospital! Help us make a difference for the benefit of every patient that will walk through the doors of The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre.

Event Details

  • Saturday, April 18th, 2020
  • Warmup: 8:30am
  • Meet starts: 9:30am
  • Estimated end time: 2:30pm
  • Brewer Pool, 100 Brewer Way, Ottawa, ON K1S 5T1
OlymPINK logo

Learn more about OlymPINK’s Master Challenge

Sign up to fundraise or donate today

Undeniable gratitude from a young mom and her family

Eternally grateful for the care she received, Gina Mertikas-Lavictoire knew she wanted to give back to The Ottawa Hospital—she felt that she needed to.

Exceptional care makes young mother want to give back

When Gina Mertikas-Lavictoire received the good news that she had gone from breast cancer patient to cancer survivor, she knew she wasn’t done with The Ottawa Hospital.

Eternally grateful for the care she received, Gina knew she wanted to give back—she felt that she needed to.

“After my treatment was done, I asked my oncologist, Dr. Mark Clemons—who’s one of the best doctors in the world—’how can I give back?’ I need to do something to give back.” – Gina Mertikas-Lavictoire

Gina was 34 years old with three young children at home, the youngest just 12 months old, when she felt something was wrong—there was an unusual firmness in one of her breasts. A breast cancer diagnosis followed and rocked her family’s world. She immediately went into survival mode. “The first thing I asked my doctor was when can I have a mastectomy and when can I start my treatment. I never looked back,” Gina says.

Despite the alarming health news, she faced the disease with sheer determination. “I received excellent care at The Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital. I went through chemotherapy and radiation. I’ve had four surgeries including a hysterectomy and a double mastectomy.”

An unimaginable experience for a young mother, but the gratitude Gina has for The Ottawa Hospital is undeniable in her desire to give back.

Paying it forward

“When I received the news that I would be able to watch my children grow up, that’s when I put the wheels in motion to help others,” recalls Gina. She came up with the idea of selling a calendar to support cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital.

Today, she’s feeling great and is solely focused on her fundraising efforts, which have exceeded her wildest expectations.

“From the get go, the calendars kept selling out. They were just flying off the shelves. What I’m surprised by is the amount of support that I had, not only friends and family but from all of Ottawa and across the country. People are supportive. We’ve even shipped calendars into the United States,” says Gina.

Gina Mertikas and Katerina Mertikas
Gina and her mother, Katerina Mertikas, a renowned local artist

Gina hasn’t done any of this alone. Right alongside her during her diagnosis, treatment, and now the furious fundraising efforts is her family, including her mother Katerina Mertikas. Katerina is a local artist, who is renowned across the country for her beautiful paintings. It’s Katerina’s art, which is featured each month in the calendar.

Research is transforming care

For Katerina, it was extraordinarily difficult to watch her daughter go through the treatment and surgeries. “There are no words,” says Katerina.

However, the mother of two knows cancer research played a role in helping her youngest daughter recover. “My own daughter has benefitted from research through the treatment she received, which was Herceptin—a chemotherapy drug. It was originally used in a clinical trial before becoming a standard of care for patients,” acknowledges Katerina. It’s for that reason this mother-daughter duo is working together to help others facing the disease.

With calendars from 2019 and 2020 under her belt, and $25,000 raised for cancer research, Gina wants to see this continue for years to come with the help of her own children. Her eldest daughter, Katerina, has been introduced to philanthropy and what it means to give back. For Gina, she’d love to one day hand off the calendar project to the next generation. “I’m hoping someday my kids will take over this calendar and it will continue on,” says the proud mother.

Gina proudly displaying their fundraising calendar.

For this family, there is undeniable gratitude toward the care team at The Ottawa Hospital, which helped Gina when her life depended on it. The impact has been profound on the family and for Katerina, especially from one doctor in particular.

“Dr. Mark Clemons is a very special doctor,” says Katerina. “He made us feel so comfortable. He helped a lot with his attitude. He gave it his all—so how could we not give back? I wish we could give more.” – Gina Mertikas-Lavictoire

Every grassroots fundraising campaign has impact. Create your own fundraising initiative today to ensure all patients, like Gina, have a chance to spend more time with their children.

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Patients and donors band together for emotional support and prostate cancer awareness.

Hope despite aggressive skin cancer diagnosis

Hope because of scientists who never gave up; who were determined to turn the tables on cancer and to create a better chance of survival, for patients like Dan Collins.

Hope despite aggressive skin cancer diagnosis

Diagnosed with a stage 4 melanoma at the age of 62, Dan Collins feared for his life when he learned about the aggressive form of cancer. However, immunotherapy treatment gave him a reason to hold out hope. Dan had hope because of scientists who never gave up; who were determined to turn the tables on cancer and to create a better chance of survival, for patients like him. Hope that a cure is coming.

Discovery of a mass

Four years ago, Dan had been travelling for work, when he started noticing some pain when he’d lean his head back to rest on the plane. He recalls turning to his family doctor to get answers. An ultrasound revealed there was something inside the back of his head that looked like a cyst.

After an initial biopsy, Dan was referred to a surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre. Another biopsy revealed the cyst was actually a mass. It was melanoma. “I was scared. Cancer had stripped my family of so much. I lost both of my two older brothers and my father to cancer. I feared for my life,” recalls Dan.

Unfortunately, the mass starting growing – and it was growing fast. By the end of July, just two months later, the mass went from being not visible on the back of his head, to the size of a golf ball.

His surgical oncologist, Dr. Stephanie Obaseki-Johnson, initially wanted to shrink the tumour before surgery to remove it. However, the mass was growing too quickly.

Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong of The Ottawa Hospital in a patient room.
Dan Collins with Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong.

Time to act

On August 11, 2015, Dan had surgery that lasted most of the day. When it was over, he had 25 staples and 38 stitches in the back of his head. As he recovered, Dan was reminded of a saying that helped him through recovery, “Never be ashamed of your scars. It just means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.”

He would need that strength with the news that awaited him. Only two weeks later, the mass was back. His doctors also discovered a mass in his right lung and shadows in the lining of his belly. He had stage 4 cancer – it had metastasized. This was an aggressive cancer that left Dan thinking about the family he had already lost and what would happen to him.

The next generation of treatment

Soon, he was introduced to The Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Michael Ong and was told about immunotherapy – the next generation of treatment, with the hope of one day eliminating traditional and sometimes harsh treatment like chemotherapy. Dr. Ong prescribed four high doses of immunotherapy. At the same time, radiation treatment began for Dan – 22 in all. His immunotherapy treatments were three weeks apart at the Cancer Centre and between each, he would have an x-ray to monitor the tumours.

“Each x-ray showed the tumours were getting smaller. That’s when the fear started shifting to hope.” – Dan Collins, patient

By December 2015, Dan finished immunotherapy treatment and the next step was to wait. “This transformational treatment was designed to train my own immune system to attack the cancer. We would have to be patient to see if my system would do just that,” says Dan.

While the shadows in Dan’s stomach lining had shrunk, the mass in his lung had not. That’s when Dr. Ong prescribed another immunotherapy drug that would require 24 treatments.

Dan learned from his oncologist that melanoma has gone from being an extremely lethal cancer, with few treatment options, to having many different effective therapies available.

“When I started as an oncologist a decade ago, melanoma was essentially untreatable. Only 25 percent would survive a year. Yet now, we can expect over three quarters of patients to be alive at one year. Many patients are cured of their metastatic cancer and come off treatment. We are now able to prevent 50 percent of high-risk melanoma from returning because of advances in immunotherapy,” says Dr. Ong.

Dan completed his last immunotherapy treatments in September 2017.

Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong posing with armed crossed at The Ottawa Hospital.
Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong of The Ottawa Hospital.

Today, there is no sign of cancer

When Dan thinks back to the day of his diagnosis, he remembers wondering if he was going to die. “I believe I’m here today because of research and because of those who have donated to research before me.”

He thinks back to when his older brother Rick died of cancer in 2007. “At the time he was treated, his doctor asked if he would participate in a research study. The doctor told him directly, this would not help him, but it would help somebody in the future.” Dan pauses to reflect and then continues, “I like to think, that maybe, he had a hand in helping me out today. Maybe he helped me survive. One thing I do know is that research was a game changer for me.”

The Ottawa Hospital has been a leader in bringing immunotherapy to patients. Research and life-changing treatments available at The Ottawa Hospital altered Dan’s outcome and he hopes that advancements will continue to have an impact on many more patients, not only here at home but right around the world.

To support life-saving research at The Ottawa Hospital that helps patients like Dan, please donate today.

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Local donor rallies community to raise awareness after prostate cancer diagnosis

A day doesn’t go by that Tom Clapp, co-chair of the Eastern Ontario Prostate Cancer Awareness Committee, doesn’t think about how he can raise awareness for prostate cancer. As a prostate cancer survivor himself, Tom knows firsthand the importance of regular checkups and testing – and is encouraging others to get on board.

Tom Clapp didn’t have any symptoms. He thought he was ‘perfectly healthy’. So, it came as a surprise when a routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test revealed that he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer. But a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital saved his life. Today, he’s inspiring the community to give back and is raising awareness along the way.

An unexpected diagnosis

When a routine PSA test, a blood test typically used to screen for prostate cancer, came back higher than normal, Tom Clapp and his wife, Janet Clapp, had their concerns. But neither was prepared for the news they would receive back in February of 2009. It was prostate cancer, it was aggressive, and due to its location, it was inoperable. Tom and Janet were gutted. How could this be happening?

“I thought I was perfectly healthy,” explained Tom. “I didn’t have any symptoms.”

Tom was referred to The Ottawa Hospital and recommended for a clinical trial. His treatment plan was in place; he underwent 42 rounds of radiation, followed by two years of hormone treatment to stop the production of testosterone which was feeding his cancer. His latest tests and scans show he is cancer free.

Hearing the words “you have cancer” is never easy. But from the day of Tom’s diagnosis, he was inspired to make a difference and have a positive impact on the lives of those in our community living with cancer. It was a conscious decision to take positive action during a time when he otherwise felt very little control over how cancer was affecting him.

“On the day he was diagnosed Tom said, ‘This is a gift. Now that I have this, I can talk about it with others’,” said Janet. Janet didn’t know it at the time, but Tom would go on to make a significant difference in the lives of countless individuals through raising both awareness and funds for prostate cancer research and care. His impact has been significant and it started with three of his closest friends.

Tom Clapp, prostate cancer survivor with friends

Tom (center) and his wife Janet (far left) with members of the
Eastern Ontario Prostate Cancer Awareness Committee.

After receiving his diagnosis, Tom encouraged three friends to get their first PSA test. When the results came in, all three of them were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Today they are all alive and well. Tom’s simple act of encouraging his friends to get tested could very well have saved their lives.

Raising awareness

This experience solidified Tom’s passion for raising awareness for prostate cancer and not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about it. Having been diagnosed when he was otherwise healthy, Tom knows firsthand the importance of regular checkups and testing.

“Too many men go untested, unaware that a simple blood test can lead to a diagnosis that might save their life,” explained Tom.

Tom pays tribute to his local family doctor, Dr. John Burke, for monitoring the results of his PSA test which raised concerns, resulting in a follow up at The Ottawa Hospital.

Tom’s own diagnosis, and his drive to raise awareness is what led him to play an instrumental role in developing what is known as the Eastern Ontario Prostate Cancer Awareness Committee (EOPCAC), as well as the Black Walnut Group, a support group for men who have been diagnosed, and their partners.

Strength in numbers

Once Tom received his diagnosis, he made a point to share his experience. He put his story in the local paper, organized a prostate cancer information session, spoke out at a community breakfast, and even went so far as to offer his phone number to those who were going through the same experience. If anyone needed someone to talk to, Tom wanted to be there for them. Over time, his phone started to ring more often. A great number of community members were opening up and sharing their experience with him. Tom recognized there was a real need and wanted to do more.

It was then that Tom suggested they start a support group. Everyone jumped on board. They planned their first meeting and in 2012 EOPCAC was born.

Getting out into the community

It wasn’t long before EOPCAC started raising awareness for prostate cancer in their community. “We have over 50 wellness days per year where we go out and raise awareness for prostate cancer,” said Tom. Over time, more people became aware of their group. Once the word got out, many were interested in not only joining, but also supporting it financially.

Dare to Flash a Stash

Simply getting out in to the community and raising awareness wasn’t enough for EOPCAC. They were determined to make a difference by giving back, too.

“Everyone in our group has had incredible treatment at The Ottawa Hospital,” said Tom. “We all have glowing reviews. So, we wanted to give back in some way. We decided to start a fundraiser.”

Wanting to support local prostate cancer care and research, EOPCAC organized a fundraiser they call Dare to Flash a Stash, in collaboration with the Winchester District Memorial Hospital Foundation. Members of EOPCAC decided to grow their moustaches to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer research and care.

It’s clear that they have their whole community supporting them along the way. “It feels like everywhere I go, when someone recognizes me, they hand me a generous gift in support of our fundraiser,” said Tom.

Even a local Cornwall brewery, Rurban Brewery, has pitched in by printing a moustache and ‘Dare to Flash a Stash’ on a can of beer to help raise awareness and funds. To date, this initiative has raised close to $185,000. Each year funds are distributed across various prostate cancer awareness, care and research initiatives, including The Ottawa Hospital.

There for each other

Seven years later, the committee is going strong. Members meet each month to support one another, as well as to brainstorm, strategize and plan how best to raise even more awareness and funds. As Tom thinks back to his life before his diagnosis, he exclaims, “Until I was diagnosed, I didn’t pay much attention. I didn’t think this would happen to me. It wasn’t on my radar. I don’t want others to make the same mistake that I did.”

Support The Ottawa Hospital today to help make a difference in the lives of cancer patients like Tom.

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At the age of 47 and with no risk factors, Andrea Redway was ‘shocked beyond belief’ when diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

A second chance after dire lung cancer diagnosis

At the age of 47 and with no risk factors, Andrea Redway was ‘shocked beyond belief’ when diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The Ottawa Hospital was ready.

Immunotherapy provides a second chance after dire lung cancer diagnosis

As a lawyer, Andrea Redway has worked on international initiatives relating to justice reform. She’s travelled the world tackling big projects and has always been ready to face new challenges head-on—but nothing could have prepared Andrea for a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. This diagnosis rocked her world and left her wondering how long she would survive.

The first signs of trouble appeared in January 2015 when Andrea developed a cough that persisted. In March, she left on a work trip abroad. It was an exciting career opportunity with the added bonus of being able to bring her husband and two children, who were 8 and 11 at the time. Three weeks after returning home, the cough continued and she couldn’t shake her jet lag. “Usually I’m over jet lag in a week. I was still so exhausted, and thought maybe I had pneumonia,” recalls Andrea.

“Here I was, 47 years old and I had no risk factors. I would never
have thought that I could get lung cancer.” – Andrea Redway

Grim diagnosis

With no family doctor, she went to a walk-in clinic and was prescribed antibiotics. Within a few days, she started noticing other symptoms. “I had strange pains in my leg and then some cramping in my abdomen. The exhaustion continued.”

Andrea received a referral to a family doctor and an x-ray was ordered. The results showed a large mass on her lung. Within a week, she received the grim diagnosis—stage 4 lung cancer. The cancer had already spread to her bones, adrenal glands, brain and there were early signs of it in her colon. She was shocked beyond belief. “Here I was, 47 years old and I had no risk factors. I would never have thought that I could get lung cancer.”

Andrea Redway and family
Andrea, husband Michael Cayley, with their two children in Tofino, B.C. post diagnosis.

All Andrea and her husband could think about was getting on treatment right away. She had to, for the sake of her children.

She was referred to Dr. Garth Nicholas, an oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital and began chemotherapy treatment along with a small amount of radiation. Six weeks later, a scan revealed the chemotherapy was only partially working.

 

Dr. Garth Nicholas at The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Garth Nicholas is an oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital

 

Clinging to life

Dr. Nicholas was aware of a new clinical trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was an immunotherapy treatment specifically used to treat stage 4 lung cancer, but it wasn’t yet available in Canada. He applied for the compassionate care program with the drug company and Andrea was given one dose of the drug, Nivolumab. Today, Nivolumab is now routinely used to treat many people with lung cancer. It is also used to treat other cancers, most notably melanoma.

But Andrea’s cancer continued to progress and she became very sick. Back in hospital, it was discovered that she had a perforated bowel. She recalls the situation being dire, “I needed emergency surgery or that was going to be the end of the line for me.”

Given the progression of Andrea’s cancer, it was uncertain if surgery was a viable option, but her care team at The Ottawa Hospital wanted to give Andrea the chance to have more time with her family. “Dr. Guillaume Martel, who is my saviour, did the surgery. Here I am today as a result,” says Andrea.

Once she recovered from surgery, Andrea was able to resume treatment to take on the cancer, which had ravaged her body. One month later, she received her second dose of immunotherapy. “I continued with immunotherapy for about two years. I completed my treatment in September 2017 and I’ve been great ever since.”

“Everything else is gone. It’s amazing—totally amazing. With little kids, we’ve had so many special moments since then.” – Andrea Redway

Eight months after starting treatment, Andrea’s scan showed the cancer was gone from outside of her lungs and the primary tumour on her lung had shrunk to about half. “When the tumour showed up on the scan originally, it was six centimeters. Now, it’s about 2.5 centimeters. It’s been described as mostly necrotic or dead.”

Transformational results

While Andrea did experience side effects like fatigue, dry eyes and joint pain, she says it was a small price to pay because immunotherapy was a game changer. “Everything else is gone. It’s amazing—totally amazing. With little kids, we’ve had so many special moments since then.”

Dr. Nicholas explains how much cancer treatment has improved in just four years since Andrea’s initial diagnosis. “Immunotherapy has become a standard part of the treatment of lung cancer over the past four years or so. There are rare patients like Andrea for whom it is an extraordinarily effective treatment, much better than any other therapy we’ve had in the past.”

However, Dr. Nicholas adds that not every lung cancer patient has a positive response like Andrea, and more research needs to be done. “There is a lot of ongoing research into why some tumours respond to immunotherapy while others do not, and whether we can do anything to alter non-responding tumours in order to make them respond.”

Today, Andrea continues to embrace those special moments, grateful to be watching her children grow.

 

You can help give all patients like Andrea hope by supporting life-saving research at The Ottawa Hospital today.

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Diagnosed with a stage 4 melanoma at the age of 62, Dan Collins feared for his life when he learned about the aggressive form of cancer. However, immunotherapy treatment gave him a reason to hold out hope.
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Patients and donors band together for emotional support and prostate cancer awareness.

Margaret's Gift

Ovarian cancer claimed Margaret Craig’s life. Now her generous gift is opening new doors to preventing the disease. Margaret knew research would ultimately provide the solution to ovarian cancer. Her donation through her will is opening new doors to preventing the disease that claimed her life.

In late 2019, an ovarian cancer study that took place at The Ottawa Hospital made headlines across Canada. It suggests that metformin, a medication commonly used to treat Type 2 diabetes, may hold promise for helping prevent ovarian cancer. This study was possible in part thanks to a retired Ottawa educator, Margaret Craig, who believed that research could beat the disease that would eventually take her life.

Margaret, who went by Peg to her family, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Tucson, Arizona, just a few days before Christmas 2013.

She hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of months, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what was wrong, other than a failure to lose the couple of pounds she had gained, despite trying, and a slight swelling and firmness in her abdomen.

She decided to visit a walk-in-clinic after she had difficulty breathing. The clinic sent Margaret to an emergency department, where she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

The news left her reeling.

“Part of that was because I had to get back to Ottawa and it was Christmas,” she said in an interview in 2015. “But I got here. I caught a flight in a snowstorm on the busiest travel day of the year, December 22.”

Margaret immediately went to The Ottawa Hospital, where doctors confirmed the diagnosis. She began treatment in January.

“Peg would have been so happy with this result. It’s exactly the kind of cutting-edge research into ovarian cancer she would have wanted. It also gives me a sense of closure regarding Peg’s death.” — Holly Craig, Margaret’s sister

Margaret Craig

Margaret speaking at the Teas, Talks, and Tours symposium

Ovarian cancer hides in plain sight

“I have been told over and over again by the professionals that it is rare to detect ovarian cancer early,” said Margaret. “Mine was caught early enough that they could surgically remove everything that was over a centimeter.”

Margaret learned that there are often no obvious symptoms until the disease is advanced, and no reliable screening test to catch it early.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women, and among the deadliest, with a five-year survival rate of 45 percent. But researchers at The Ottawa Hospital, backed by the generosity of people like Margaret, are committed to changing these statistics for good.

Grateful for compassionate care

Margaret was so grateful for the compassionate treatment she received at The Ottawa Hospital that she was inspired to give back by investing in cancer research that could help people like her in the future.

She enlisted the help of her sister Holly Craig, a retired university professor and researcher living in Arizona. They spoke at length about Margaret’s desire to support innovative research in her will. Margaret asked Holly to find her a Canadian researcher who was doing groundbreaking work in ovarian cancer.

Holly identified Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and the Corinne Boyer Chair in Ovarian Cancer Research at the University of Ottawa.

“It was clear that Dr. Vanderhyden was doing innovative research,” said Holly. “I liked her, and I liked her questions.”

Innovative research inspires gift in will

Holly flew to Ottawa to tour Dr. Vanderhyden’s lab with Margaret and learn more about her research. Margaret was particularly interested in Dr. Vanderhyden’s innovative and bold ideas. The visit convinced Margaret to make a gift in her will.

Dr. Vanderhyden sat with Margaret during her last chemotherapy treatment at The Ottawa Hospital, and was there when she rang the bell to mark the end of her treatment.

On June 2016, Dr. Vanderhyden invited Margaret to speak at an educational symposium called Teas, Talks and Tours she had organized for ovarian cancer patients and their families and friends.

“She was a private person, but she was willing to speak at Dr. Vanderhyden’s event,” said Holly. “That was a big step for her.”

Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden, The Ottawa Hospital
 Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden

At the symposium Margaret met Dr. Curtis McCloskey, a talented, capable young researcher on Dr. Vanderhyden’s research team who showed deep appreciation for her gift to research.

When Margaret reached her last few days, each day Dr. Vanderhyden would have one person on her team write a short story about the impact of Margaret’s donation on their work. Then Dr. Vanderhyden would send these daily stories to Margaret, so that she might be comforted by the legacy that she was leaving behind.

Margaret died from ovarian cancer in September of 2016, and Dr. Vanderhyden was asked to give the eulogy at her funeral.

Gift to cancer research bears fruit

Margaret’s generous gift has been put to good use. In 2019, Dr. McCloskey and Dr. Vanderhyden published a study that offers a new hypothesis about how ovarian cancer forms and suggests how it might be prevented.

The study is the first to show that the natural stiffening of the ovaries called fibrosis occurs with age. It also suggests that the diabetes drug metformin may be able to halt this process.

“We hope that someday metformin may prove to be an effective preventative treatment for younger women who are at high risk of ovarian cancer, but who can’t have their ovaries removed because they still want to have children,” said Dr. Vanderhyden. “We are so grateful to donors like Margaret who believe that research is the way forward.”

Holly and the rest of Margaret’s family are thrilled with the impact of Margaret’s gift.

“Peg would have been so happy with this result. It’s exactly the kind of cutting-edge research into ovarian cancer she would have wanted,” said Holly. “It also gives me a sense of closure regarding Peg’s death.”

Hospital staff with a banner thanking a patient

“The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.”

We need your help today to help stop cancer in its tracks.

More Inspiring Stories

Undeniable gratitude from a young mom and her family
When Gina Mertikas-Lavictoire, a young mother of three, received the good news that she had gone from breast cancer patient to survivor, she knew she wasn’t done with The Ottawa Hospital. She needed to give back to help others.
Hope despite aggressive skin cancer diagnosis
Diagnosed with a stage 4 melanoma at the age of 62, Dan Collins feared for his life when he learned about the aggressive form of cancer. However, immunotherapy treatment gave him a reason to hold out hope.
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Patients and donors band together for emotional support and prostate cancer awareness.

Could biotherapeutics be the next revolution in cancer treatment?

From helping the body’s own immune system better detect and fight cancer, to treating cancer with immune cells, viruses and vaccines, The Ottawa Hospital is conducting cutting-edge research that could transform cancer care right here at home and around the world. 

Could cancer biotherapeutics be the next revolution in cancer treatment?

From helping the body’s own immune system better detect and fight cancer, to treating cancer with genetically-enhanced immune cells, viruses and vaccines, The Ottawa Hospital is conducting cutting-edge research that could transform cancer care right here at home and around the world.

For decades, scientists have tried to stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells. A breakthrough came through the discovery that cancer cells make key molecules that suppress immune cells and prevent them from attacking the cancer. This discovery opened the door to revolutionary immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, which have shown striking results in recent years.

While promising research on checkpoint inhibitors continues, the race is now on to bring an innovative new kind of immunotherapy to patients – one that uses living cells, viruses and genes to fight cancer.

The Ottawa Hospital is a world leader in developing these innovative therapies, called cancer biotherapeutics.

“Our immune system is constantly trying to recognize and kill cancer cells, but the cancer cells are always trying to hide from it.” – Dr. John Bell

Helping the body recognize and destroy cancer

CAR-T cell therapy is an emerging biotherapeutic treatment that harnesses the power of a patient’s own immune cells, known as T-cells, to treat their cancer. T-cells play a critical role in the immune system by killing abnormal cells, such as cells infected by germs or cancer cells. In some cancers, like acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), cancerous cells become invisible to the T-cells that are meant to kill them. In CAR-T therapy the T-cells are collected and reprogrammed in the lab to recognize and destroy the cancerous cells.

“This type of immunotherapy research is groundbreaking,” said Dr. Natasha Kekre, a hematologist and associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, “but it is important to remember that that CAR-T therapy is still very new and there can be serious side effects. We need more research to learn about this therapy and make it work for even more people and more kinds of cancer.”

The Ottawa Hospital is one of the first hospitals in Canada to participate in internationally-led CAR-T trials, and as one of Canada’s top research and treatment centres, the hospital is ideally positioned to play a lead role in bringing an innovative CAR-T research program to Canada, and to Canadian patients.

“Our goal is to build Canadian expertise and capacity for innovation in the promising CAR-T field through both laboratory research and clinical trials,” said Dr. Kekre, who is working with a team across the country. “This could lead to better CAR-T therapies that work for more kinds of cancer, as well as innovative approaches for providing CAR-T therapy in the Canadian system.”

A graphic explaining how CAR-T works

Infecting cancer cells with viruses

Another promising biotherapeutic treatment uses oncolytic viruses that selectively infect and kill cancer cells. “Our immune system is constantly trying to recognize and kill cancer cells, but the cancer cells are always trying to hide from it,” explained Dr. John Bell, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital. “When you infect a cancer cell with a virus, it raises a big red flag, which helps the immune system recognize and attack the cancer.”

Recent laboratory research from Dr. Bell’s team suggests that a combination of two immunotherapies, oncolytic viruses and checkpoint inhibitors, could be much more successful in treating breast cancer and possibly other cancers.

“We found that when you add a checkpoint inhibitor after the virus, this releases all the alarms and the immune system sends in the full army against the cancer,” said Dr. Bell.

Though theses methods have shown promising results, more research and clinical trials are needed.

“I have no doubt that we can cure cancer, and my bet is it will happen here in Ottawa. But to accomplish something of this magnitude, our scientists and doctors need our support.”– Dr. Jack Kitts, President and CEO, The Ottawa Hospital

Doctor speaking with a patient in her office at a hospital

Cancer-fighting vaccine

In addition to these techniques The Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Rebecca Auer has found that a cell vaccine, developed in the lab using an individual’s cancer cells combined with a cancer-fighting virus, could be effective in battling cancer. Once injected, this vaccine uses a triple-threat to attack the cancer.

First, the virus only infects and kills cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unscathed. Second, the virus produces a protein called interleukin-12, which boosts the immune system’s natural ability to fight the tumour. Third, as a result, the vaccine trains the immune system to recognize and fight off the same kind of tumour if it ever comes back.

Dr. Auer and her colleagues are developing the processes required to manufacture this personalized cell vaccine and plan to initiate a “first in human” clinical trial in 2020.

Lifesaving therapies: from idea to bedside

Today, cancer care is changing at an unprecedented pace. Many patients who, only a few years ago, had few to no treatment options are now being offered hope with treatments that are more targeted and personalized. We are seeing approvals for new cancer drugs grow at an almost exponential rate, while world-class research and clinical trials are being integrated into cutting-edge cancer care.

Over the next 15 years, Canadians will see a 40 percent increase in cancer diagnoses with almost one in two developing cancer in their lifetime. Our ability to translate research into patient therapies coupled with one of the best-equipped cancer centres in the country means we are well-positioned to face this challenge head-on.

We need your support today to fund
cutting-edge cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital.

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Minimally invasive surgery ‘perfectly’ restores hearing

After a brain tumour threatened to make Denis Paquette deaf in both ears, and traditional brain surgery deamed too risky, The Ottawa Hospital doctors were challenged to work collaboratively to find a solution.

Minimally invasive surgery ‘perfectly’ restores hearing

After a brain tumour began growing in to his ear, Denis Paquette was at risk of losing his hearing in both ears – a circumstance that would strip him of his ability to hear his wife’s voice forever. With traditional brain surgery deemed too risky, Dr. Fahad AlKherayf and Dr. Shaun Kilty were challenged to find a safer solution – removing the tumour through his nose.

A life unlike most

Since birth, Denis Paquette, now 66, has been deaf in one ear. It’s clear he has a deep-rooted understanding of the nuances of having such an impairment. After all, it’s all he’s ever known. Holding the phone to his good ear and turning his head while in conversation to better hear someone are habits he was quick to establish.

But in 2016, these little tricks, which he has cultivated throughout his life, started to fail him. Conversations were getting harder to hear and Denis’ wife, Nicole,

Hospital around the world are looking to The Ottawa Hospital tDr. Fahad AlKherayf and Dr. Shaun Kilty standing in an operating room at The Ottawa Hospital.
Hospitals around the world are looking to The Ottawa Hospital to learn about the type of minimally invasive brain surgery performed by Dr. Fahad AlKherayf (right) and Dr. Shaun Kilty.

noticed that Denis was progressively increasing the volume on the television.

“I was beginning to be frustrated because people were talking to me, but I was just getting parts of the conversation,” said Denis.

Journey to diagnosis

Concerned about his hearing, Denis visited his family doctor. He was sent for various hearing tests, each showing that something was wrong. It was then that Denis was referred to Dr. David Schramm, a hearing specialist at The Ottawa Hospital. Dr. Schramm ordered an MRI that revealed Denis had a rare tumour growing in his skull and in to his inner ear. These weren’t the results Denis and Nicole were expecting.

“I didn’t know what to expect, so it was really shocking news,” said Denis.

Denis needed specialized surgery to remove the tumour and required the expertise of neurosurgeon Dr. Fahad AlKherayf and ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist Dr. Shaun Kilty.

Due to the complexity of Denis’ diagnosis, Dr. AlKherayf and his team were challenged to remove the tumour without jeopardizing his hearing completely.

“The tumour was growing in his skull and in to his inner ear, putting pressure on his hearing nerve on the good ear. There was a risk he would lose the rest of his hearing,” said Dr. AlKherayf.

“Despite it being a benign lesion, the impact of it was huge.” – Dr. Fahad AlKherayf

Dr. AlKherayf knew that removing the tumour through Denis’ ear could risk permanently damaging what little hearing he had left. With this in mind, Dr. AlKherayf recommended that Denis undergo the newly-available minimally invasive brain surgery. With this technique, his tumour would be removed through his nostrils instead of through his ear.

The risk was high

Traditionally, brain surgery for a case such as Denis’ would take place through the ear and require a large incision through the skull. But with only one good ear to start with, performing brain surgery in this way could permanently and completely impair his hearing.

Not only could Denis lose his hearing, the traditional method of removing such a tumour has a greater risk of complication, a higher chance of infection, and demands a longer recovery period – up to six months. It would also leave a large scar, beginning in front of his ear and extending all the way up and behind it. The thought of undergoing such a procedure alone was nerve-racking.

A new surgery technique

Over the last several years, Dr. AlKherayf has advanced new techniques for removing various types of brain tumours, known as minimally invasive surgery.

Minimally invasive surgery has transformed the way operations are performed by allowing surgeries to be carried out as keyhole procedures, a surgical procedure that provides access to parts of the body without having to make large incisions. This operation is much safer, with risk of infection and recovery time greatly reduced. In many cases, patients are discharged within just a few days of surgery.

“It’s quicker to recover for patients,” said Dr. Kilty. “Because they don’t have to recover from the extensive dissection that traditional approaches [surgeries] require.”

Performing these types of surgeries requires two physicians – a neurosurgeon to remove the tumour and an ENT to provide access to the tumour through the nose and to control the endoscope. Due to the complex nature of these surgeries, Dr. AlKherayf is among a small group willing to perform them. Many are looking to The Ottawa Hospital to learn about this innovative surgery. “We have become one of the top places in Canada for this technique,” said Dr. AlKherayf.

Denis Paquette sitting outside at a table at The Ottawa Hospital.
Denis Paquette’s hearing was restored after receiving minimally invasive brain surgery at The Ottawa Hospital.

“They did a miracle on me”

On July 20, 2016, Denis underwent a five-hour operation during which Dr. AlKherayf and Dr. Kilty were able to successfully access and remove the tumour through his nose. The insertion of a microscopic tube that would travel from the cavity of where the tumour once was to his sinuses which would prevent future buildup of fluid and prevent the chance of reoccurrence.

When he woke up, Denis was astounded that he could hear his wife’s voice. “I woke up and wow,” said Denis, “I could hear!”

Just two days after his surgery, he was discharged.

“They did a miracle on me. They did something fantastic,” said Denis, whose hearing tests have been perfect ever since.

“They did a miracle on me. They did something fantastic.” – Denis Paquette

Thanks to the care Denis received at The Ottawa Hospital and the benefits of minimally invasive surgery, he can now enjoy watching his television shows and conversing with his wife without issue. He no longer fears a life without sound.

Your support today will allow us to continue to provide the latest treatments for patients like Denis.

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Local activist donor pledges $500,000 to take on cancer

Gavin Murphy is unwavering when it comes to his desire to maintain a world-class health care system in our city. As a result, he’s willing to step forward and be an activist donor.

Local activist donor pledges $500,000 to take on cancer

Gavin Murphy is unwavering when it comes to his desire to maintain a world-class health care system in our city. He’s unwilling to settle for anything less and he doesn’t think anyone in our community should either. Gavin believes each resident needs to play an active role in giving back, and that’s why this self-described “activist” donor is sharing his story – a story he hopes will lead to a cure for cancer.

This New Edinburgh resident has committed $500,000 to support the Radiation Medicine Program at The Ottawa Hospital – it’s what he wants his lasting legacy to be.

While the Ottawa lawyer isn’t looking for public recognition, he’s not shy about sharing the news of his gift as he hopes it will inspire others to do the same. “Scarce government resources requires those in a position to give significant gifts to step forward and support The Ottawa Hospital.” Gavin adds, “By giving serious thought to my philanthropy, I am hoping to help improve discovery and care for our families, friends, and neighbours.”

Gavin’s interest in cutting-edge research is what enticed him to make this tremendous gift to Radiation Medicine Program with the hope that findings will one day be published. He’s excited about the opportunities which lie ahead and the advancements that will be made.

 

“I want to give this money while I’m still alive. It’s great that people leave money in their estates, I think that’s wonderful but I want to see the fruits of my labour, in my lifetime.” – Gavin Murphy

 

 

Gavin Murphy takes pride in describing himself an activist donor.
Gavin Murphy takes pride in describing himself an activist donor.

It’s the fruits of his labour, which will leave his fingerprints on advancements in cancer care to help others in the future. For Gavin, that’s truly exciting. “I like the idea of funding new, innovative technology. It will leave a lasting legacy and this gift is providing the building blocks for future research in this field.”

Donor support is vital to providing doctors and researchers with state-of-the-art tools. It’s also what allows The Ottawa Hospital to be a trailblazer when it comes to transformational advancements. Dr. Miller MacPherson, the Head of Medical Physics at The Ottawa Hospital says, “It’s the generosity of donors like Gavin which allows The Ottawa Hospital to be innovative with new technologies. This support will provide insight for new discoveries and will have an impact on care through research and technology advancements in the field of cancer research.”
Dr. Jason Pantarotto, Head of Radiation Oncology at The Ottawa Hospital, echoes that sentiment, noting that donations to the Radiation Medicine Program are particularly precious. “Despite radiotherapy being a key treatment for nearly 5,000 cancer patients each year in Ottawa, the amount of research dollars available to improve the science is pretty sparse. We are extremely grateful to donors, such as Gavin, who see the benefits of investing in the team and equipment that exists here at The Ottawa Hospital.”

For Gavin, his ultimate goal is to help find a cure for cancer.

“This gift will provide a foundation to greater understanding of cancer and I hope it will help obliterate cancer sometime down the road.”- Gavin Murphy

The reality is The Ottawa Hospital will touch each person in our community in some way. For Gavin, that’s a good reason for not only himself but also for others to step forward. “If people want to be well looked after in a world-class system, we have to ensure a world-class system is maintained.”

The way Gavin sees it, we’ll all need The Ottawa Hospital at some point, and there’s a way for each person in our community to support it. “You need people who are in the position to give, and those who can give smaller amounts, in greater numbers to support the hospital equally.”

To be a donor like Gavin, supporting patient-centred care and life-saving research at The Ottawa Hospital, please donate.

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From recovery room to the workshop: Carving inspires emotional healing

A small workspace, some stone and a few tools helped Saila Kipanek, a traditional Inuit carver, recover and heal after rectal cancer surgery and treatment.

Inuit carves way to mental well-being after cancer

After cancer diagnosis, Saila Kipanek, a traditional Inuit carver, couldn’t have imagined how important his life’s work would be for his recovery.

When Saila was diagnosed with rectal cancer, he knew his best chance for survival was treatment at The Ottawa Hospital. But uprooting his life in Nunavut, to be treated in Ottawa, away from his family, friends, and community would prove to be a challenge. It took a toll on his mental health.

But staff at The Ottawa Hospital would go the extra mile to make him feel at home.

A wholistic approach to healing

It was a cold February day, when Saila woke up in a post-op recovery room. He was feeling like a shell of his former self. Having spent months away from his home and his loved ones while undergoing cancer treatment, which included chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, he was suffering from extreme depression.

Not long after Saila’s surgery, Carolyn Roberts, a Registered Nurse and First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Nurse Navigator for the Indigenous Cancer Program, took Saila to Gatineau Park. As they sat by the river, Saila shared that his mental health was “in his boots” – but, he knew exactly what he needed to heal. “What I really need is to carve,” he explained to Carolyn. “Carving would help me feel like myself.”

Treating patients from Nunavut in Ottawa

The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, through an agreement with the Government of Nunavut, is the provider of cancer services to residents of Baffin Islands and eastern Nunavut. For this reason, patients like Saila travel thousands of kilometres to receive the very best treatment and care in Ottawa. However, coming to such a large city away from familiar culture, language, and food can make them feel isolated, and take a toll on their mental health.

Saila Kapinek carving his way to mental well-being at The Ottawa Hospital.
Saila Kapinek carving his way to mental well-being at The Ottawa Hospital.
The dancing bear that Saila began carving as he was receiving treatment at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre.
The dancing bear that Saila began carving as he was receiving treatment at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre.

Patient-centered health care

The role of the Nurse Navigator within the Indigenous Cancer Program is diverse and patient-centered. An important part of Carolyn’s role is to listen to the needs of each patient and work to the best of her ability to accommodate those needs. “If you just listen,” said Carolyn, “patients tell you what they need to heal.”

Carolyn did just that. After listening to Saila’s struggles, she was determined to help him. It was at that moment that Carolyn took it upon herself to find a space within the hospital for Saila to carve.

She approached Kevin Godsman, then one of the Managers of Facilities, to see if there was a room that Saila could use to carve in. With help from his colleagues, he found a room and fitted it out with furniture, tools and a vacuum.

 

Carolyn Roberts chats with Saila Kapinek at The Ottawa Hospital cancer centre.
Carolyn Roberts chats with Saila Kapinek at The Ottawa Hospital cancer centre.

A grand opening

A party was organized for the grand opening of Saila’s carving room. It was an emotional moment for him, realizing he would be able to carve again.

For the next six weeks, while he underwent his chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Saila carved.

His depression lifted, and his cancer was halted.

“Glad I got back to carving,” said Saila. “Grateful I’m doing it again. It helped in the long run.”

When he returned home to Iqaluit, he took his pieces with him and finished them. At a follow up appointment in September 2018, he brought his finished carvings back to show the team what they helped him create.

“They turned out even better than I imagined,” said Kevin. “It’s nice to know that The Ottawa Hospital has a little part in the making of them too.”

Today, Saila is feeling strong and well, and grateful for the compassionate care he received at The Ottawa Hospital.

Your support allows us to provide outstanding treatment and care to patients like Saila.

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