When Owen Snider faced the news that his lymphoma had returned for the third time in ten years, he knew his options were running out. But a transformational new treatment known as CAR-T therapy gave him renewed hope. The Ottawa Hospital was recruiting patients for a clinical trial investigating a made-in-Canada approach to this cutting-edge treatment. He just needed to qualify for the trial.

In 2010, Owen was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma. In his early 60s at the time, he went through a chemotherapy treatment known as R-CHOP. For most people, it lasts 18 weeks. “It was a rigorous treatment. I got through it okay and was six years clear, but then it came back — the lymphoma returned in 2016,” says Owen.

When the cancer returned, his care team at The Ottawa Hospital vetted him for a stem cell transplant. By the summer of that year, he went through what he called an intensive program using his own stem cells. A high dose of chemotherapy was used to remove harmful immune cells in preparation for the transplant of his own healthy cells. “It’s pretty brutal, and after two or three months of wishing maybe I wasn’t around, things improved. I was clear for another four years.”

“I was given five or six months to live. My wife and I were downhearted with that news.”

— Owen Snider

Lymphoma returns for a third time

Following his stem cell transplant, Owen remained healthy for four years, enjoying retirement at his home in a beautiful, wooded area near Calabogie, where he lives with his wife, Judith Snider. But then Owen faced his biggest challenge yet when the lymphoma returned — again. This time, the diagnosis came in May 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. “I remember my oncologist saying they’ve done pretty much everything they could. I was given five or six months to live. My wife and I were downhearted with that news. I was basically going to be kept as comfortable as possible for six months,” remembers Owen.

Judith and Owen Snider kayaking.
Judith and Owen Snider kayaking.

However, one week later Owen received a lifeline. His oncologist called to say a CAR-T therapy clinical trial had opened at The Ottawa Hospital — a Canadian first. They wanted to see if he would be a good candidate. Throughout June of 2020, he went through a battery of tests and scans to see if he qualified for the trial.

“This type of immunotherapy research is groundbreaking, and it’s never been done in Canada before.”

– Dr. Natasha Kekre

By mid-June, Owen got the green light. He was a candidate for the clinical trial, and didn’t hesitate to enroll. “I either participate in the trial or I lie around here for four or five months waiting for the end. Which choice would you have made? The positive way to put it is that I was very excited to be a part of the trial. We’re the kind of people where the glass is always half-full,” explains Owen.

What is CAR-T therapy?

CAR T-cell therapy is a type of immune therapy that 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 by killing abnormal cells, such as cells infected by germs or cancer cells. In some cancers, like lymphoma or leukemia, 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.

Dr. Natasha Kekre is a hematologist and associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital.
Dr. Natasha Kekre

Dr. Natasha Kekre is a hematologist and associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital. She is leading the development of Canada’s first CAR-T research platform in collaboration with the BC Cancer Centre. “This type of immunotherapy research is groundbreaking, and it’s never been done in Canada before. This is a therapy that uses a patient’s own immune system. It’s personalized medicine — it’s very individualized to each patient,” explains Dr. Kekre.

The Ottawa Hospital is one of the first hospitals in Canada to participate in nationally-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.

Going for the Pac-Man effect

In late June 2020, Owen went through apheresis which is the process of withdrawing the T-cells in his blood. “They put an IV in my right arm, and ran the tubing through the machine, and the machine processes the blood and pumps it back through the tubing into my other arm. I lay there on the bed for three or four hours, without moving I should add.”

“It’s just like Pac-Man, the modified T-cells ran around in my blood stream, chomping away at the lymphoma.”

– Owen Snider

Those T-cells were then sent to a lab in BC, re-programmed, and then returned to our hospital two weeks later. Then the T-cells were re-administered just like a blood transfusion. “It allows for that new immune therapy in these cells to go and find the patient’s cancer cells, attack them, and kill them. And it also stimulates the immune system in that patient to further go attack and fight their cancer,” explains Dr. Kekre.

On July 2, Owen received a PICC line and then went through three days of chemotherapy. Four days later he was re-injected with his T-cells and they got to work. “It’s just like Pac-Man, the modified T-cells ran around in my bloodstream, chomping away at the lymphoma.”

His re-programmed T-cells were specifically looking for cancer cells to kill. Owen would need to wait to find out if it was working.

Owen Snider, seen at home, was treated for lymphoma as part of a CAR-T clinical trial.
Owen Snider

Did the CAR T-cells therapy work?

One month later, Owen and Judith received some exceptional news. “At my check-up 30 days after getting my T-cells back, I was almost clear of cancer. The scan showed that there was almost nothing left. I was gobsmacked,” he says.

By the three-month mark, Owen says he was as “clean as a whistle.” Eighteen months later, there is still no sign of lymphoma.

For Dr. Kekre, giving patients like Owen new hope for the future is what inspires her. “For the first time, I think in a long time, Owen felt that the lymphoma might actually be disappearing. He’s had multiple scans since then that show the same thing. And so now, I think he’s starting to believe it. And I think that’s the reality of why I do this, because patients like him who had no options before, could soon have the option of CAR-T therapy. That’s what happened for Owen and that’s what we hope will happen for many more patients,” says Dr. Kekre.

Dr. Natasha Kekre and Owen Snider. Owen was treated for lymphoma as part of a CAR-T clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital.
Dr. Natasha Kekre and Owen Snider. Owen was treated for lymphoma as part of a CAR-T clinical trial.

What’s next for the clinical trial?

Dr. Kekre and her team are monitoring all patients enrolled in the trial and expect to publish the results sometime in 2022. The purpose of the clinical trial is to provide proof to Health Canada this therapy is safe. “The reality is that we have a data safety monitoring board, which watches for the safety of the trial, and they’ve had no concerns. So, from a safety point of view, we’re very happy with the trial. And that’s why we are still open and we’re still able to enroll more patients,” explains Dr. Kekre.

Why is The Ottawa Hospital unique in its CAR-T therapy?

CAR-T therapy needs to be individually manufactured for each patient using the patient’s own cells combined with large amounts of highly pure virus to deliver the CAR gene. The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre is ideally positioned to manufacture the clinical grade virus needed to create CAR T-cells for clinical trials. In fact, we have the only facility in Canada that has produced this kind of virus for clinical trials.

The hope is that one-day CAR T-cell therapy may also be a treatment for a variety of cancers. “The world is watching us,” explains Dr. Kekre. “We’ve had a lot of attention from Denmark, and a few other European countries are reaching out. They believe in a system similar to ours, where patients all have the right to access healthcare. If CAR-T cells are here to stay, they have to be done in a sustainable approach for our patients. And that’s a big part of what we are building — this is only the beginning. And that’s what people are looking at us to see how we do it.”

“Without philanthropy, we wouldn’t have a Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre or a Methods Centre at The Ottawa Hospital, and we wouldn’t be able to do innovative clinical trials like this.”

– Dr. Natasha Kekre

This made-in-Canada CAR T-cell research platform will give Canadian patients more access to innovative clinical trials. “Canadian cancer patients shouldn’t have to wait for the research to be done elsewhere but be able to participate in innovative clinical trials here at home,” says Dr. Kekre.

Grateful for each day and philanthropic support for research

Today, Owen appreciates each day and a good quality of life thanks to the clinical trial. He feels strong and can’t wait for the day when he and Judith can travel again — grateful for the lifesaving research. “It was an honour and a privilege to be chosen for the trial.”

He also credits the extraordinary care team and those special moments when he visited the hospital. “I can tell you that I always felt more than comfortable. I felt encouraged by anyone I met. The team on 5 West as we know it, is wonderful. I had an occasion to go back there this spring, and it was like walking back into Cheers — everybody knows your name.”

As a longtime supporter of The Ottawa Hospital, and to see philanthropy play an important role in making this clinical trial a reality, he’s an even bigger advocate for encouraging support for our hospital. “All I can say is that the core funding of hospitals doesn’t provide for some of the innovative and cutting-edge things that go on, or maybe some really specialized piece of equipment. And that’s where the community donor can help and contribute to that effort.”

Owen and Judith Snider. Owen was accepted into a made-in-Canada CAR-T therapy clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital to treat his lymphoma.
Owen and Judith Snider.

For Dr. Kekre, philanthropy provides the spark for clinical trials like this, and can help to keep them moving forward. “Without philanthropy, we wouldn’t have a Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre or a Methods Centre at The Ottawa Hospital, and we wouldn’t be able to do innovative clinical trials like this. We need this kind of research to get to a place where all Canadians can benefit from these therapies. Without philanthropy, we would never get there.”

And to Dr. Kekre, her team, and their collective efforts to give more patients hope, Owen has a simple message: “Thank you. The whole program is outstanding.”

About the Canadian-Led Immunotherapies in Cancer (CLIC) research program

The CLIC research program, established in 2016, brings researchers, clinicians and patients from across Canada together to build Canadian expertise and capacity for innovation in the promising field of cellular immunotherapy for cancer, including CAR-T therapy. The first CLIC clinical trial launched in 2019 at The Ottawa Hospital and at BC Cancer, with support from BioCanRx, BC Cancer, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Core facilities and resources supporting CLIC include The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre, BC Cancer’s Conconi Family Immunotherapy Lab, the Ottawa Methods Centre and the Blueprint Translational Research Group. CLIC team investigators include Drs. Natasha Kekre, Harold Atkins, John Bell, Kevin Hay, Rob Holt, Brad Nelson, John Webb, Manoj Lalu, Kednapa Thavorn, Dean Fergusson, Justin Presseau and Jen Quizi.

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

A resident of Goose Bay, N.L., most of his life, John Bookalam lives for the outdoors. He loves adventures, including international cycling and skiing in the winter. The retired guidance counsellor cherishes that time even more today, after a harrowing medical diagnosis unexpectedly led him to The Ottawa Hospital for neurosurgery.

It all began in late winter of 2017 when John returned from teaching a ski lesson. He was unloading his gear from his SUV when he hit the back of his head hard on the hatch door. Initially concerned he might have a concussion, John quickly eliminated the possibility thanks to his first-aid training. However, a week later, he followed up with his family doctor and an ultrasound revealed what appeared to be a hematoma, a collection of blood outside a blood vessel, which would normally resolve itself. “But the next week, I had to see my doctor again and the hematoma went from four centimetres on the ultrasound to eight centimetres,” says John.

“I was so nervous. I could hardly think.”

— John Bookalam
John on his last solo cycle in the mountainous north west part of the isle of Majorca before his lifesaving neurosurgery at The Ottawa Hospital.
John on his last solo cycle in the mountainous north west part of the isle of Majorca before his 2017 illness.

The situation turns dire

John’s care team in Goose Bay closely monitored him for many weeks. However, by the end of May, he developed symptoms similar to the flu. “I was burning up. I was on fire and I immediately went to the emergency department of my local hospital. Those symptoms would be a bad omen,” says John.

A CAT scan revealed the hematoma had grown from eight centimetres to 10.6, and the situation was becoming dire. He needed a skilled neurosurgery team to help him — a team that was not available in Newfoundland and Labrador. With roots back in Ontario, he turned to his dear friend, Nadia Marshy, from the Ottawa area for guidance.

Nadia vividly remembers the day she got the call from “Labrador John,” a nickname she gave him through their cycling adventures. She was sitting at her desk when she picked up the phone — John was at his wit’s end. “I knew he’d been hit hard on the head and it had caused a large bump. That was weeks earlier, so I presumed that he was all healed up by now. John proceeded to tell me that not only was the bump much larger, but he was in constant pain,” recalls Nadia.

“She played a vital role in identifying The Ottawa Hospital as an emergency life-line to receive lifesaving surgery.”

— John Bookalam

Calling on our neurosurgery experts for help

Following that call, Nadia was beside herself and she knew her friend was in a medical emergency. “Here I was sitting in my sunny downtown Ottawa office with The Ottawa Hospital and all of its innovation and world-class services next door, and there was my dear friend with this massive, infected lump the size of a grapefruit in desperate need of help and so far away.”

Next, Nadia worked to get John in touch with the neurosurgery department at our hospital — she had witnessed the skill firsthand in 2012 when Dr. John Sinclair performed two lifesaving surgeries on someone close to her. “I gave Labrador John the contact information, and within a few short days, he was on a plane to Ottawa,” explains Nadia.

John, far left, with Nadia, with cycling group. fourth from right
John, far left, and Nadia, fourth from the right.

John credits Nadia for helping save his life. “She played a vital role in identifying The Ottawa Hospital as an emergency life-line to receive lifesaving surgery.”

Once John landed at the Ottawa airport, he went straight to the Civic Campus with all his documents in hand. He met with neurosurgeon Dr. Howard Lesiuk and plastic surgeon Dr. Daniel Peters and handed them his scans to review. They determined the situation was worse than anticipated, and John would need surgery as soon as possible. “I was so nervous. I could hardly think,” recalls John.

A shocking discovery

The surgery would be long and difficult, and it uncovered something far worse than John had ever imagined when he embarked on the trip to Ottawa. Doctors discovered a non-Hodgkin lymphoma tumour on the back right-hand side of his skull and part of his skull was badly infected. While the news was devastating, John recalls the reassuring words that came from Dr. Peters before surgery. “He said I had a strong heart and tremendous lungs, and both would help me during the complicated surgery.”

“We are blessed to have some of the best minds and the most skillful surgeons on the planet right in our backyard. I am convinced what they did for Labrador John is what no one else could have done, and ultimately saved his life.”

— Nadia Marshy

While the news was devastating, Nadia recalls after the surgery, the pain John had experienced for so many weeks was already subsiding. “He received incredible care. The night before his surgery, he was weak, in agony, and couldn’t hold his head up for any length of time because of the pain and the weight of the mass on his head. The next day, he was able to lie on his head and rest in comfort,” says Nadia.

Next, John was transferred to the Cancer Centre at the General Campus for testing to learn more about the tumour. “I underwent a lengthy procedure by an incredible team to diagnose my lymphoma type.”

Primary central nervous system lymphoma

Diagnosed with primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL), John began chemotherapy treatment here in Ottawa before returning home where he would continue his care at the St. John’s Cancer Centre.

Primary central nervous system lymphoma is an uncommon form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It starts in the brain or spinal cord, in the membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord, or in the eyes. This type of cancer is more common in older adults with the average age at diagnosis being 65.

Further testing revealed John had diffuse large B-cell lymphoma – BB Expressor — an aggressive type of lymphoma.

However, after months of treatment, good news came on February 26, 2018, when John learned he was cancer free.

“After almost four years, I’m cancer free and I’ve healed after three head surgeries. I’ve resumed my cross-country skiing and marathon road cycling.”

— John Bookalam

Not yet out of the woods

His journey, though, was far from over. John returned to Ottawa for one more surgery for skull base osteomyelitis — an invasive infection. Other treatments back home didn’t prove helpful and, once again, John required specialized care.

A highly skilled team at The Ottawa Hospital came together again to perform another difficult surgery. They would use a procedure called debridement and they would need to produce a new blood supply to the area. Debridement is when the surgeon removes as much of the diseased bone as possible and takes a small part of the surrounding healthy bone to ensure they have removed all infected areas. “They scraped the bone down until there was no sign of the infection and then did skin grafting on the back of my head,” explains John. The second part of the procedure was even more complex and involved taking an artery from his back, transplanting it to his head — creating a vital blood supply from his ears to the back of his skull. “I thank plastic surgeon, Dr. Sarah Shiga for being there in my time of need. If it were not for team Shiga and Lesiuk, I would never have achieved the quality of life I have today.”

“I owe much gratitude to the surgeons and staff at The Ottawa Hospital. Hopefully, my story will inspire others to donate so others can regain a quality of life as I have in abundance today.”

— John Bookalam

As a result of the debridement, he lost a significant amount of bone at the rear of his skull. Today, he must be very careful — he wears a helmet even when he’s driving to protect his brain, but his adventures continue. John’s grateful for each day and each outing he’s able to plan. “After almost four years, I’m cancer free and I’ve healed after three head surgeries. I’ve resumed my cross-country skiing and marathon road cycling.”

Nadia is also grateful for what she witnessed. “We are blessed to have some of the best minds and the most skillful surgeons on the planet right in our backyard. I am convinced what they did for Labrador John is what no one else could have done, and ultimately saved his life.”

Labrador John continues to say thank you

John’s gratitude goes beyond just words. He started by recognizing his care team through our Gratitude Award Program. While it was an important way for him to say thank you, it’s the special note he got in return from Dr. Shiga, who was a part of the second surgery, that made the donation extra special. “She wrote me a beautiful, personal handwritten letter. That’s one of the best letters ever sent to me,” says John.

The 73-year-old didn’t stop there though. He became a member of the hospital’s President’s Council when he committed to support our hospital with a donation of $1,000 a year. “I owe much gratitude to the surgeons and staff at The Ottawa Hospital. Hopefully, my story will inspire others to donate so others can regain a quality of life as I have in abundance today.”

Nadia is just as happy to see her friend back living his active life. “To see Labrador John fully recovered and cycling up challenging hills and covering incredible distances is fantastic. Those surgeons gave him his life back. He never takes a moment for granted,” says Nadia.

And John says he never will. “I will always donate that $1,000 a year to The Ottawa Hospital until I pass from the earth.”

John Bookalam, Summit of San Salvador ,received lifesaving surgery at The Ottawa Hospital after being diagnosed with primary central nervous system lymphoma.
John, Summit at the summit of San Salvador.

For decades, Paula Helmer’s lovely voice carried through the alto sections of several Ottawa choirs. But even after her death following a battle with breast cancer, Paula is still managing to be heard — maybe not through song, but through science.

“That’s what Paula was hoping for from all these clinical trials,” says Jeff Christie, Paula’s husband, “that it would move medical science forward.”

“That’s what Paula was hoping for from all these clinical trials, that it would move medical science forward.”

—Jeff Christie

Jeff and Paula met in university, both studying economics at the University of Waterloo, and both moving to Ottawa, Paula’s hometown, to work for the federal government in fulfilling careers that would span decades. All the while, Paula continued her passion for choral singing, with St. Timothy’s Presbyterian Church and the Ottawa Choral Society. But Jeff says it was family life that centred everything — children, grandchildren, travel, and the family cottage.

Paula (back row, fourth from right) in 2005 with members of the Ottawa Choral Society.

“Five years into retired life, it was discovered that Paula had cancer,” Jeff recalls.

It was a deadly form of breast cancer that had metastasized in her spine and was causing her considerable discomfort. Surgery removed the tumour but couldn’t eradicate the cancer, nor control the pain. That’s when Paula was introduced to Dr. Mark Clemons, a medical oncologist with The Ottawa Hospital.

“We came up with a multipronged plan to not only improve (Paula’s) pain,” Dr. Clemons explains, “but to get her disease back under control.”

“It was patently clear from the first meeting,” says Jeff, “that Dr. Clemons was very capable, competent, and wise. He gained our confidence the first time we met and the treatments he was suggesting for her, they were always so successful. How could you not love the guy?”

A passion to participate in clinical trials

Dr. Clemons is also the lead behind The Ottawa Hospital’s REaCT Program or Rethinking Clinical Trials, launched in 2014 with Dr. Dean Fergusson, senior scientist and Director of Clinical Epidemiology Program, and others. The aim of REaCT is to make enrollment in clinical trials easier, by involving cancer patients and their families every step of the way. Typically, only 3% of patients are involved in trials but with REaCT, that number is closer to 90% since the studies don’t involve extra visits or additional tests. Paula began participating in a series of clinical trials aimed at helping her, but also aimed at improving treatment options for future generations. Jeff says that was her driving ambition.

“Paula played an important role in advancing the treatment of patients across the world.”

— Dr. Mark Clemons

“It was really important to her, to both of us,” he says. “There are more treatments out there we haven’t found yet and we are going to find them through clinical trials. If you don’t participate, nobody gets the new treatments.”

Empowered and making an impact

More importantly, Jeff says, Paula’s participation in these clinical trials gave her a voice and made her an active participant in her treatment.

“Paula was always left with the impression that she was in the driver’s seat right beside Dr. Clemons. They listened to her, believed her.”

Dr. Clemons explains that one of the many clinical trials Paula participated in involved looking at how often bone agents should be given for patients with metastatic breast cancer. Traditionally, the treatment is delivered as an injection every four weeks, requiring patients to come to the hospital and spend prolonged periods away from home.

“Paula had a driving ambition to not only improve her own prognosis but also help with the knowledge being gained for future patients.”

— Dr. Mark Clemons

“Because of Paula and many other patients involved,” says Dr. Clemons, “we were able to do a trial that showed that an injection every 12 weeks was just as effective and was associated with fewer side effects.” It also added to Paula’s quality of life, allowing the couple to continue to visit the cottage and travel in between those 12-week injections.

“That was a great thing,” says Jeff. “The care we got was supportive of our lifestyle. It allowed us to travel as we had hoped to.”

Paula’s legacy lives on

Sadly, Paula lost her fight against cancer on February 18, 2021. But Jeff is continuing her work, spreading the word about REaCT among friends and colleagues, raising funds to support this critical work that is helping to shape better treatment options for cancer patients around the world.

“I’ve spoken about REaCT in my social circles,” Jeff explains. “I mentioned Paula has participated in at least dozens of clinical trials and benefited from them.”

“It’s fantastic that Jeff is continuing Paula’s legacy,” says Dr. Clemons. “Paula played an important role in advancing the treatment of patients across the world.”

It’s a role that she embraced with the same fervor she approached everything she did in life, whether as an economist, a wife, a mother, and yes, even a singer.

“There are more treatments out there we haven’t found yet and they are going to find them through clinical trials.”

— Jeff Christie

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health and research centre and teaching hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

Darlene Kulig is an award-winning artist whose paintings are described as bold, joyous, and eye-catching. Born in Ottawa, Darlene now calls Toronto home and brings uniquely Canadian landmarks and landscapes to life through her semi abstracted, spirited art.

When Darlene’s nephew, Craig, passed away in 2016 at the age of 23 from a rare form of cancer, it was a devastating loss for her family. Craig’s father, Bruce Kulig, wanted to do something to keep his son’s memory alive, so he created a fundraising campaign — the Craig Kulig Memorial Fund with The Ottawa Hospital. When Darlene learned about the campaign, she wanted to use her art to have an impact.

Darlene began selling card sets featuring her art, with proceeds donated to our hospital. When the pandemic hit, her campaign took a different twist. She created beautiful masks, and once again a portion of the sales would support the memorial fund.

Darlene in her studio.

Today, Craig’s memory lives on through the countless people who have supported his memorial fund and the impact their philanthropy is having on cancer research. The research will help other patients and their families – just as Craig’s family had hoped.

Q: What inspired you to fundraise for The Ottawa Hospital?

A: In 2016, we lost our dear nephew Craig Kulig, at the age of 23, to an aggressive form of rare cancer. Craig received wonderful and compassionate care from the team of doctors and nurses at The Ottawa Hospital. Since Craig’s passing, it has been my brother Bruce’s goal to raise $100,000 in Craig’s memory.

As an artist and an aunt processing through my grief journey, I felt compelled to create a painting in memory of Craig. I painted Dragonfly Ascending into Twilight which depicts Granite Lake where Craig spent his youth. We donated the large giclee print of this meaningful painting and it now hangs in the oncology department at the hospital.

A memorial for Craig Kulig, funds are raised in his memory for cancer care and research at The Ottawa Hospital.
A memorial for Craig Kulig at Granite Lake with candle houses created by Craig’s sister Katrina.

Q: What is your fundraising all about?

A: Early in the pandemic, I was approached by BYOM, a mask manufacturer, to have my Canadian Landscape paintings printed as fine art face masks. Each artist that was approached was asked to align with a charity, so we created a beautiful line of adult and children’s face masks with all proceeds going to The Craig Kulig Memorial Fund. To date, we have raised over $16,000 through the sale of these masks. We also introduced a beautiful 2022 wall calendar and holiday boxed card sets featuring my art.

Darlene wearing one of her beautiful masks that she sells to raise funds in support of cancer care and research at The Ottawa Hospital.

“As an artist and an aunt processing through my grief journey, I felt compelled to create a painting in memory of Craig.”

— Darlene Kulig

Q: How easy was it to set up a community fundraising event through our Foundation?

A: My brother Bruce set up The Craig Kulig Memorial Fund through The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. It has been a great experience working with their team to promote our masks, continue to raise money for Craig’s fund, and raise awareness for the leading research that is taking place at The Ottawa Hospital.

Q: What might you tell someone who is thinking about donating to The Ottawa Hospital?

A: I believe our fundraising efforts are going to make a difference. It is our hope that other individuals and families can and will have better outcomes. This takes time and much-needed donations. The Ottawa Hospital is a leading research centre that we are proud to be partnered with.

For a long time, Dan MacMillan believed he could control every aspect of his life. His theory was simple – if he kept to himself, put his head down and worked hard, he could overcome anything that came his way. For a while this practice worked well for Dan. Afterall, it helped him through university where he received his Bachelors Honours degree in Economics from University of Ottawa and led him to a successful career as a Vice President and Wealth Advisor at BMO Nesbitt Burns. But in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ottawa, Dan received shocking news that would force him to give up control. At just 51 years old, he heard three, life-altering words, “You have cancer.”

Dan MacMillan during his first treatment of chemotherapy at our hospital.

“When we received Dan’s diagnosis we cried.”

– Jenny Chen

It started with the development of a rash, excessive night sweats, and swelling in his neck to the point where he no longer fit into his dress shirts. “My neck got so thick I looked like the incredible Hulk,” explained Dan. It was initially thought to be a minor viral infection, but when his symptoms progressed, Dan’s partner, Jenny Chen, grew concerned and urged him to book an appointment with his doctor. “Jenny was the driving force in encouraging me to get my symptoms checked out,” said Dan. “If it wasn’t for her, I would have put it off even longer.”

After months of tests, lymph node, and bone marrow biopsies, Dan was diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL), a cancer mostly found in the lymph nodes. Though it was caught early, a diagnosis of this magnitude was gut wrenching. “When we received Dan’s diagnosis we cried,” said Jenny.

This was the beginning of an emotional journey through cancer treatment and care at our hospital. One which led them to want to support our hospital.

Jenny proposed to Dan halfway through his six-month chemotherapy treatment.

Q: What prompted you to support our hospital and why do you feel it’s important to give?

Jenny: Before Dan was diagnosed, I was interested in supporting The Ottawa Hospital. I was moved by the level of care patients receive and I wanted to help.

When Dan was diagnosed, I was by his side as a friend. But as he went through six months of chemotherapy treatment, our affection for each other grew and it made me realize life is too short. I proposed to him halfway through his treatment to let him know that I would be right there with him through it all! You have to do whatever you can in the time that you have.

Dan: It was only once I went through treatment and Jenny and I got together that giving became a family affair. The hospital saved my life and the life of my new family, with Jenny and our kids. It’s my way to say “thank you”.

Q: How has this experience impacted you?

Dan: Most of the time I like to keep to myself. But when I was diagnosed with cancer, one of the hardest parts about it was feeling like I needed to go through it alone. It was Jenny who made me realize if I opened up about what I was going through, the heavy weight of it would be shared — not just for me, but for my loved ones as well. It was the best advice I could have received. So while going through one of the hardest years of my life, rather than going through it on my own, I was surrounded by an incredible community of loved ones and friends who wanted to support me and my family any way they could.

Dan had an army of supporters behind him, including family and friends, throughout his cancer treatment.

When you donate to charity, you’re supporting people you don’t know. But now we feel like we know a part of their story because we’ve gone through this experience ourselves. So by giving, it feels like we’re supporting a community of friends.

Q: Why is it important for others to give?

Jenny: The Ottawa Hospital will impact each and every individual in this city, at one point or another. Everyone will share in The Ottawa Hospital and its resources at different stages of life, whether they realize it now or not. If our community wants world-class care, they have to pitch in.

“The hospital saved my life and the life of my family. It’s my way to say ‘thank you’.”

– Dan MacMillan

Dan: If you’re considering making a gift, all you have to do is look around you. Look at all the individuals in our community that might benefit from the hospital. It’s your neighbour, your friend, or a colleague. Why wouldn’t you want to support them?  

Growing up, Dan Lynch learned to help others whenever he could. It was something instilled in him as a young boy by his parents and it’s a quality he’s carried throughout his life. It’s what inspired him and his wife, Wendy, to leave a gift in their will to support multiple myeloma research at The Ottawa Hospital following his care at the Cancer Center’s Medical Day Care Unit.

Born and raised in Montreal, Dan spent 30 years as an aircraft mechanic. He met Wendy in 1988, thanks to some mutual friends who invited them to a party. Two years later, they married and by 1991, they settled on a picturesque piece of property in Green Valley, Ontario — near Lancaster. It’s a sprawling 43 acres which keeps Dan busy. “There’s always something to do here with about 200,000 trees. I’m up early to feed the dog and cats, and then I’m on my way, but by 1 p.m. I need to relax because I get tired easier these days,” he says.

Flu-like symptoms and concern for his kidneys 

The reason for his fatigue these days dates back to July 2019. It all started when he had persistent flu symptoms for two weeks — he just couldn’t shake them. Wendy’s prompting convinced him to go to the Glengarry Memorial Hospital in nearby Alexandria. “Blood tests revealed my creatinine levels were extremely high, and there were concerns about my kidney function,” explains Dan.

“I never realized how important The Ottawa Hospital was until I needed it. Until 2019, I had never been sick in all of my 66 years.”

– Dan Lynch

Based on those test results, doctors had Dan transferred by ambulance to The Ottawa Hospital for possible emergency dialysis. However, following further testing, Dan and Wendy received a devastating diagnosis. “The doctors told me that the problem with my kidneys was the result of my having cancer – multiple myeloma,” he remembers.

The news was shocking. While Dan hadn’t been feeling well, he never imagined the words cancer or multiple myeloma.

What is multiple myeloma? 

Dan and Wendy Lynch
Dan and Wendy Lynch at their home in Green Valley.

Multiple myeloma is a rare form of cancer that forms in plasma cells. These cells are a type of white blood cell that produce antibodies to help fight off infection. When someone is diagnosed with multiple myeloma, their plasma cells are changing, dividing uncontrollably — making more cells that are abnormal.

Symptoms can include bone pain, fatigue, and weakness from anemia, kidney abnormalities — all symptoms that Dan had experienced.

Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma and the median age of diagnosis is 68. This form of cancer is discovered through routine blood tests for other conditions, or a doctor might order a test for it if a patient has the symptoms. There are a variety of ways to treat patients with this type of cancer, including a stem cell transplant.  

“It was a learning experience and we’ll always be a part of the hospital because of the care Dan received.” 

— Wendy Lynch

There are two major types of stem cell transplants. Allogeneic, when stem cells come from a donor, and autologous, when a patient, like Dan, can provide their stem cells.   

Initially, Dan remained in hospital for about ten days to stabilize him. He then returned to our Cancer Centre every Friday for chemotherapy treatment for 16 weeks. This would prepare him for a stem cell transplant and Dan learned he could be his own donor. “Not everyone is able to donate their own stem cells. I felt very lucky to be able to do so, thus reducing the chances of infection and/or incompatibility with the donor’s cells,” he admits.

Medical Day Care Unit plays a crucial role 

By January 2020, Dan’s care team had harvested his stem cells, four bags in fact, and froze them in preparation for replacing them back into his body. On February 17, Dan was admitted to the hospital and given a large dose of chemotherapy. Two days later — his reinfusion day — his now healthy stem cells were placed back in his body, giving Dan a new lease on life. 

“I’m in remission. The disease is not curable, but it can be treated. The staff at the Cancer Centre saved my life.”

— Dan Lynch

Both of these procedures happened as an outpatient in our Medical Day Care Unit (MDCU). The Ottawa Hospital Transplantation and Cellular Therapy (TCT) Program performs about 200 transplants a year. Our TCT program was the first program outside of the United States to receive accreditation from the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT), which sets the global standard for top quality patient care in cellular therapies. The TCT provides care across four sites including the MDCU where Dan received his stem cell transplant.

“I’m in remission. The disease is not curable, but it can be treated. The staff at the Cancer Centre saved my life,” says Dan.

Forever grateful to The Ottawa Hospital 

On March 7, 2020, he returned home to the couple’s sprawling land — the property that brought so much joy to him and his wife — to start the next chapter of their lives.

Today, Dan and Wendy are thankful for our hospital — admitting they didn’t realize the significant role it played. “I never realized how important The Ottawa Hospital was until I needed it. Until 2019, I had never been sick in all of my 66 years,” he says.

“Take some time to think about what you can do to help others. It feels good to make a positive contribution to help the hospital both now and in the future.” 

— Dan Lynch

For Wendy, standing alongside her husband throughout this journey and witnessing the incredible care he received, fills her with gratitude. “It was a learning experience and we’ll always be a part of the hospital because of the care Dan received.”

Dan and Wendy Lynch
Dan and Wendy Lynch are leaving a gift in their will to our hospital.

The couple decided they wanted to do something significant to say “thank you” to our hospital. Thinking back to those values taught to him many years ago by his parents, Dan and Wendy decided they would leave a gift in their will to support The Ottawa Hospital. “We’re so grateful for what they did for me. Thanks to all the doctors, nurses, orderlies, nursing assistants, and volunteers who work so hard for patients like me. Their compassion and professionalism towards their patients under difficult circumstances is beyond reproach. Now I want to help the people who saved me.” Dan adds, “Drs. Gregory Hundemer, Arleigh McCurdy, and Michael Kennah played an important role in my care, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Dan also offers some friendly advice to others about planning for the future. “Try to do what you can and do all you can. Take some time to think about what you can do to help others. It feels good to make a positive contribution to help the hospital both now and in the future. We never know what will happen. A devastating diagnosis to you, your family, and friends can hit when you least expect. The members of the treatment teams at The Ottawa Hospital will always be there for us; let’s be there for them now and in the years to come.”

Stefanie Scrivens vividly remembers the first time she experienced a mini-seizure, though she didn’t know what it was at the time. She was only 13 years old, but her symptoms continued undiagnosed for nearly a decade, until a CT scan revealed Stefanie had a brain tumour that would become cancerous if untreated. Her best chance of survival was undergoing two 8-hour awake brain surgeries, performed by neurosurgeon Dr. John Sinclair, and a highly skilled team of experts at our hospital.

Frightening symptoms

Stefanie was in elementary school, walking to class, when she noticed a metallic smell and taste in her mouth, followed by blurred vision. These strange symptoms only lasted a few moments, but afterwards she was disoriented, confused, and struck with a severe headache. “I’m just tired,” Stefanie thought, and went on with her day as if nothing happened. But these symptoms continued, up to 20 times a day, for a week straight, every six weeks — a frightening experience for anyone, let alone a teenager.

Stefanie’s parents were concerned and brought her to her family doctor. “I was told they were growing pains. That I was just going through puberty. I thought what I was going through was normal,” said Stefanie. But as her symptoms progressed year after year, she would eventually discover it was anything but normal.

“Dr. Seale didn’t just chalk it up to anxiety or say that I would grow out of it. He was willing and ready to help me figure out what was going on.”

— Stefanie Scrivens

A twist of fate

When Stefanie was 20 years old, new symptoms developed. That’s when she decided to pay a visit to the Emergency Department (ED). She needed to get to the bottom of the symptoms she had experienced for nearly half of her life. This is where she met Dr. Edward Seale, who was one of the attending physicians at the ED.

It was a twist of fate that Stefanie landed in Dr. Seale’s examination room that day. Dr. Seale immediately recognized her symptoms as mini-seizures. “As someone who has epilepsy myself, seizures and the symptoms one may experience while having one, were top of mind for me,” said Dr. Seale. “Although each physician here would have treated her the same way, seizures are a part of my life, so I could relate to what she was going through.”

Stefanie was relieved to finally feel heard. “It felt like for the first time in my life, someone actually understood what I was going through,” said Stefanie. “Dr. Seale didn’t just chalk it up to anxiety or say that I would grow out of it. He was willing and ready to help me figure out what was going on.”

After experiencing ‘mini-seizures’, Stefanie Scrivens visited the Emergency Department at The Ottawa Hospital.

Due to the repetitive nature of her symptoms, Dr. Seale thought she may have epilepsy and ordered her a CT scan to investigate further. But the results from her scan turned out to be far worse than Stefanie could have imagined.

A shocking diagnosis

When Stefanie’s results came in, Dr. Lucian Sitwell, a Neurologist at The Ottawa Hospital broke the news. The cause of her mini-seizures was a grade 2 oligodendroglioma, which is a type of slow-growing brain tumour that becomes cancerous. “Until that moment, the thought had never crossed my mind that it could be a brain tumour,” said Stefanie. As she sat there shocked and scared, she cried. At only 20 years old, this news was devastating.

But a few moments later, she made a crucial decision. Stefanie decided to stay strong, positive, and do whatever it took to fight for her life. “I was of course upset, but I thought to myself ‘I have a choice right now. I can either be angry this is happening to me, or, I can try to make the most of it.’ And I decided, worse comes to worse, if I don’t make it, I don’t want to leave this life with a negative mindset.”

Stefanie Scrivens underwent awake surgery for brain cancer at The Ottawa Hospital.
Stefanie Scrivens underwent awake brain surgery at The Ottawa Hospital.

After absorbing the difficult news of her diagnosis and learning what her treatment options were, Stefanie, armed with her “ready to tackle anything” attitude, decided to move forward with treatment, which would include a complex, 8-hour awake brain surgery.

An innovative treatment plan

Stefanie was referred to Dr. John Sinclair, a world-class Neurosurgeon at The Ottawa Hospital, who would be in charge of her treatment plan and surgery to remove the tumour. Dr. Sinclair has been at the forefront of bringing new and innovative treatment options and technology to The Ottawa Hospital, such as the CyberKnife, Advanced Awake brain tumour surgery, and most recently Fluorescence Guided Surgery. This has brought new hope to patients with unique brain tumours, like Stefanie.

“I felt that I could trust putting my life in his hands.”

— Stefanie Scrivens
Dr. John Sinclair, a neurosurgeon at The Ottawa Hospital.

“Stefanie’s case was rare,” said Dr. Sinclair. “It isn’t very often that you see healthy, young individuals, like Stefanie, with a diagnosis like this.” Fortunately, global advances in cancer research at the time indicated a new treatment plan for tumours such as oligodendroglioma was showing promising results. And Stefanie was a good candidate for this new treatment. “Over a decade ago this wasn’t common practice. We would have monitored the tumour and once it started to change we would recommend surgery then radiation and chemotherapy as a form of treatment,” explained Dr. Sinclair. “Now, we’re seeing a significant increase in life span and survival rates, in cases such as Stefanie’s, when we surgically remove the tumour as soon as it’s detected. No longer are we using radiation and chemotherapy as a primary treatment method for this type of tumour.”

After meeting Dr. Sinclair, Stefanie had full confidence in her healthcare team “Going under the knife is really nerve racking. But not only did I hear how great Dr. Sinclair was as a neurosurgeon, I realized after meeting him how great he is as a person, too,” said Stefanie. “He took the time to get to know me and develop a good relationship with my family and me. I felt that I could trust putting my life in his hands.”

Stefanie was fortunate to benefit from having the tumour surgically removed before it turned malignant. And after a successful complex 8-hour awake brain surgery, she was back home recovering just three days later.

Awake brain surgery and brain mapping

Awake brain surgery, used to treat some brain tumours such as Stefanie’s oligodendroglioma, is a type of procedure performed while a patient is alert and communicating normally while in the operating room. Brain tumours are often dangerously close to regions in the brain that control vision, speech, cognition, personality, and movement. By keeping a patient awake during surgery, they can monitor a patient’s brain activity throughout the procedure to ensure they aren’t negatively impacting these important functions. “Tumours are often woven with functional tissue,” explained Dr. Sinclair. “In the last five years we’ve been able to use more advanced brain mapping techniques so that we can more accurately remove the tumour without hurting the patient.”

Dr. John Sinclair removed Stefanie Scrivens’ brain tumour through a successful awake surgery.

Subcortical mapping is a very new technique used in brain mapping surgery — and our experts are some of the first to use it and are leading the way in training others. As an expert in the field, Dr. Sinclair and his team have offered courses to physicians from across the country so that they too can make use of this revolutionary technique that is changing the lives of patients, just like Stefanie.

Back to the operating room

Within three weeks of her awake brain surgery, Stefanie was back in school. Determined to become a doctor herself one day, she didn’t want to miss a semester of pre-med courses. But after a few months, she felt her symptoms were returning. “I was starting to feel really tired and I was getting seizures again,” said Stefanie. Knowing this could be a part of the healing process, Stefanie wasn’t concerned. But when it was time for her checkup, MRI scans showed scar tissue and the possibility that the tumour had returned.

Stefanie Scrivens inside a professional kitchen
For a year straight following her second awake brain surgery, Stefanie baked a cake every day.

Stefanie would need to undergo a second awake surgery to remove more tissue from her brain. But she wasn’t going to let this get in the way of her dreams. “I thought I would have my surgery, take a bit of time off school and then head right back to my studies,” she said. Dr. Sinclair was able to remove both the scar tissue and some areas concerning for tumour progression. By all accounts, the surgery was considered a success. But while in recovery something significant and unexpected had changed for Stefanie. “I woke up thinking all I wanted to do was bake.”

Becoming a Michelin star pastry chef

Stef Scrivens graduated culinary school after second awake brain surgery.
After her second awake brain surgery, Stefanie Scrivens graduated from
Le Cordon Blue Ottawa Culinary Arts in 2012.

For a year straight following her surgery, Stefanie baked a cake every day. “It was so meditative and healing for me,” Stefanie said. She knew medical school was no longer the right path for her. She had new dreams — to become a professional baker.

In 2012, she graduated from Le Cordon Blue Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute and went on to work for some of the top Michelin star restaurants in the world — a career that has been fulfilling on many levels.

When Stefanie decided to undergo treatment, she didn’t anticipate the experience would change the course of her life so dramatically. She credits The Ottawa Hospital for giving her the chance to chase her dreams and explore whatever the future might hold for her. “Thanks to my incredible healthcare team I’ve lived my life to the fullest and I don’t take any day for granted,” said Stefanie. “I’ve been able to check everything off my bucket list and now I’m writing a new one, with even more dreams to chase.”

Hope for the future

At first glance, you would never know Stefanie went through full-day awake brain surgeries — her blonde, curly hair covering any remaining scars she has accrued. She’s a strong woman who hasn’t let any negative circumstance in life get her down.

“With this new treatment method for oligodendroglioma, I can’t say that a cure is impossible.”

— Dr. John Sinclair
Stefanie Scrivens was treated for a rare brain tumour at The Ottawa Hospital.

The innovative treatment, which removed the tumour before it could become cancerous, meant Stefanie has been able to indefinitely postpone both chemotherapy and radiation. Under the care of our experts, Stefanie is feeling better than ever. Her latest scans show there is no sign of recurrence.

“Stefanie is in unchartered territory,” said Dr. Sinclair. “We can’t say for certain if or when the tumour will come back. But, with this new treatment method for oligodendroglioma, I can’t say that a cure is impossible.”

Because of the excellent care Stefanie has received at our hospital, she has decided to continue to live near Ottawa. “My hope is to continue to be looked after by this group of incredible doctors,” Stefanie said. “I feel so fortunate to be in their care.”

Fièrement affilié à l’Université d’Ottawa, L’Hôpital d’Ottawa est un centre de recherche et de santé universitaire de premier plan.

Rare is a word used to describe Bryde Fresque on many levels. He has a zest for life that sets him apart. In fact, his physician Dr. Carolyn Nessim, a surgical oncologist and clinician investigator at The Ottawa Hospital saw this firsthand when Bryde faced a diagnosis that would have him battle for his life, with one rare condition after the other. Ultimately, it would take a skilled team to come up with a diagnosis and treatment for Bryde – a pheochromocytoma – an uncommon tumour that left Bryde’s future uncertain.

Bryde’s journey to his diagnosis of a rare cancerous tumour began on Boxing Day of 2012. He was travelling home from Napanee when he started to have pain in his left side. He stopped at a pharmacy just outside Ottawa and by the time he got to the counter he was doubled over in pain. The pharmacist told Bryde to get to the closest hospital — a community hospital was not far away.

Not long after arriving in their emergency room, Bryde was sent by ambulance to The Ottawa Hospital where he could receive care that is more specialized. He was in a tremendous amount of pain. Upon arrival, Bryde was suffering from a spontaneous hemorrhagic rupture of the left adrenal gland and he was bleeding significantly. Thankfully, he was in good hands as our interventional radiologists performed an emergency embolization procedure. This is a procedure where a guide wire was placed in a vessel in his leg and that allowed physicians to get all the way to the bleeding vessel by the adrenal gland, at which point they injected a product that plugged the vessel and stopped the bleeding. He was hospitalized for ten days before he was able to go home.

Unusual symptoms continue to develop

Bryde continued to feel off. A young, active man, Bryde recalls unusual symptoms that he couldn’t shake. “I remember feeling really sweaty, I couldn’t cool down properly. I would stand under the gym’s cold water shower for 15 minutes post bike ride and it didn’t make a difference,” recalls Bryde.

By the summer of 2013, he was going through a battery of tests and questions at our Cancer Centre to try to pinpoint the diagnosis.

“He had such rare conditions – one right after the other.”

— Dr. Carolyn Nessim
Bryde kayaking in Iceland with Natalie.
Bryde and Natalie kayaking in Iceland.

Though, at only 32 years old, cancer was the furthest thing from Bryde’s mind. “I was young, healthy, a non-smoker, non-drug user, and active. That active part of my life was actually the only time I initially showed symptoms. That’s when I would overheat on even the coolest days and couldn’t cool down afterwards.”

The spontaneous rupture of Bryde’s adrenal gland six months earlier contributed to the challenge of pinpointing a diagnosis. It was believed he suffered from a large hematoma – a large residual clot after the bleed. “He had such rare conditions – one right after the other. A spontaneous rupture of an adrenal gland happens very rarely. I would say the challenge is that because the blood clot is so significant, it hides the underlying tumour and so it’s difficult to identify on imaging,” says Dr. Nessim.

Pinpointing the cause

Bryde at The Ottawa Hospital
Bryde Fresque was treated for a rare cancer at The Ottawa Hospital.

As time progressed, Bryde developed issues breathing, he couldn’t bend in certain directions, and then he noticed a distention on his left side. Signs that had been pointing to a hematoma didn’t add up because a hematoma should have healed within a few months, according to Dr. Nessim. That’s when she started looking at the fact this could be a tumour.

Bryde’s case ultimately landed with The Ottawa Hospital Sarcoma Tumour Board. “We meet every Friday to discuss complex cases like Bryde’s. Everyone is in the room including medical oncology, radiation oncology, pathology, radiology, and surgery. We take each individual case and we discuss it as a group to determine the best course of action for a patient,” explains Dr. Nessim.

This panel of experts decided that surgery was the best course of action to not only diagnose Bryde’s condition but to treat him at the same time and remove this tumour that had significantly affected his quality of life. Given the large size of the tumour and the extent of organs it seemed to be invading on imaging, this would be a long and extensive operation with many potential risks and complications that would be best mitigated by a specialized team. The sarcoma team is well equipped and knowledgeable in how to do these complex operations. Our hospital is one of the three Cancer Care Ontario designated Sarcoma Centers in the province. Although Bryde did not have a form of sarcoma, the surgical approach for a pheochromocytoma is the same.

Most unusual pre-op visit

By the fall of 2013, the mass located on Bryde’s left side was now the size of a cinder block. Staying true to his rare and unique personality, Bryde, who loves Halloween, showed up for his pre-op appointment on October 31, 2013, wearing his homemade Iron Man costume!

On November 15, a huge team of more than 20 medical professionals assembled in the operating room. As Bryde lay on the operating table awaiting surgery, he recalls Dr. Nessim telling the team about the Halloween pre-op appointment, “Then she looked down at me and said, ‘Take a deep breath, Iron Man’ as I was intubated.”

Bryde had to put his full trust in Dr. Nessim and her team during the complex, 12-hour surgery. The procedure can carry several risks because although Bryde seemed to have a non-functional pheochromocytoma, with the stress of surgery there is always the risk of stimulating the tumour causing it to release adrenaline, which can lead to a serious increase in blood pressure during surgery. Bryde was given some special medications during the operation to help ensure that didn’t happen.

“I feel privileged every time I’ve been able to help a patient.”

— Dr. Carolyn Nessim
Dr. Carolyn Nessim, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Carolyn Nessim, Bryde’s surgical oncologist

Just prior to going into the operating room for this intricate surgery, Dr. Nessim reviewed the scans one last time and then visualized each step, planning the order they would follow to remove the tumour successfully. The highly skilled group alongside Dr. Nessim included a urologist, a thoracic surgeon, and a Hepato-Biliary and pancreatic surgeon, along with two anesthesiologists. “It was a big case,” says Dr. Nessim.

Bryde had his left kidney removed, as well as his left adrenal gland, and a third of his pancreas. They performed a colon, bowel, and diaphragm resection and reconstruction for each, removed his spleen as well as an accessory spleen, which can be found in many patients, 10 lymph nodes, and the hematoma. Thankfully, Dr. Nessim was also able to remove the entire tumour. The surgery was a success.

Finding the answers

Bryde spent a total of 40 days in hospital recovering, and it was during that time that he finally received an explanation for his symptoms. He was diagnosed with pheochromocytoma, which is a rare form of tumour that can be cancerous. They usually form on one of the body’s two adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys, and approximately 10% of pheochromocytomas spread to other parts of the body. Pheochromocytomas can be dangerous because they may produce an excessive amount of the hormone adrenaline, which makes people sick, primarily by increasing their blood pressure. In Bryde’s case, what made a diagnosis challenging before surgery was that his pheochromocytoma was considered non-functional, and his urinary tests for adrenaline markers were negative. But it’s possible it was releasing low levels of adrenalin all along.

“The Ottawa Hospital is very well positioned in the study and treatment of this rare but dangerous tumour.”

— Dr. Neal Rowe

“It potentially explains all his sweating and feeling very flushed and hot as maybe he had a subclinical release of adrenaline,” confirms Dr. Nessim. Bryde also learned the tumour was cancerous.

Expertise in pheochromocytomas

Bryde with his wife and child
Bryde Fresque, his wife Natalie, and their son Edmond.

Much of the research, around the globe and here at our hospital, focuses on timely detection and treatment of pheochromocytoma. Dr. Neal Rowe is a clinical urologist at The Ottawa Hospital researching this type of tumour. “There are several known genes that increase the risk of a patient developing a pheochromocytoma. By identifying these genes in people, we can test family members, achieve early detection, and better understand the biology behind why these tumors form.” Dr. Rowe says this type of tumour affects between one to two cases per 100,000.

“Thanks to Dr. Nessim and the team at The Ottawa Hospital, I got better – I get to enjoy my life to the fullest. I got to marry the girl of my dreams and I got to become a father.”

— Bryde Fresque

“The Ottawa Hospital is very well positioned in the study and treatment of this rare but dangerous tumour. We have a collaborative group of experts in endocrinology and medical genetics in addition to a dedicated team of anesthesiologists and surgeons. With our research and development of various national initiatives, I think we’re front and centre,” says Dr. Rowe.

Moving forward, upwards, and giving back

Today, Bryde is seven years post surgery, and cancer free, with no signs of recurrence. While his recovery took time, he’s back to living his active life and truly grateful for the care he received. In fact, to raise funds and awareness for rare neuro endocrine cancers, Bryde and his wife, Natalie, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, as well as the highest pass in the world, located in Annapurna range of the Himalayas in Nepal – all while still being considered a cancer patient.

Bryde and Natalie at Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Bryde and Natalie on Mount Kilimanjaro.

“Being a cancer patient or being sick is a life-changing event. Thanks to Dr. Nessim and the team at The Ottawa Hospital, I got better – I get to enjoy my life to the fullest. I got to marry the girl of my dreams and I got to become a father.” He adds, “I honestly think if I had been anywhere else, if I had been under anyone else’s care, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I really wouldn’t.”

That’s why Bryde also holds an annual Halloween fundraising party, known as Spadinaween, to support our hospital. To date, he’s raised over $10,000 and Dr. Nessim even drops by to show her support.

The special bond between this patient and physician continues, as Bryde even enrolled to help Dr. Nessim with a global research project on sarcomas. For Bryde, it’s an honour to help other patients. “Me giving back to The Ottawa Hospital has come full circle as I was invited to partake in an international study on sarcomas with Dr. Nessim and other doctors from the UK, Italy, the States, Netherlands, and Australia – to help improve the patient experience. If I can turn a negative into a positive. I’m in!”

Seeing Bryde thrive today is what makes those long, grueling days in the operating room and the constant search for answers worthwhile. “It’s why I do my job. It’s the biggest joy and most rewarding,” says Dr. Nessim. “I feel privileged every time I’ve been able to help a patient.”

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

The study that is changing breast cancer treatment around the world

There is such deep love in Gina Mertikas-Lavictoire’s eyes when she looks at her three young children. But there is something else, too: fear. Fear that one or even both of her daughters will develop the same aggressive breast cancer she’s had. So, when an opportunity arose to participate in a clinical trial through The Ottawa Hospital’s REthinking Clinical Trials (REaCT) program, she readily agreed.

Gina Mertikas, centre, and her family
Gina and family

“I’m really big on clinical trials,” says Gina, “so I had no hesitation helping…and I trusted Dr. Clemons.”

Dr. Mark Clemons, scientist and oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital, was Gina’s medical oncologist and also the one who launched REaCT in 2014, together with Dr. Dean Fergusson, senior scientist and Director of The Ottawa Hospital’s Clinical Epidemiology Program, and others. The purpose of REaCT was to make enrollment in clinical trials easier for cancer patients. The more patients who enroll, the more that can be learned, which leads to better treatments and practices.

“When you think the most common killer is now cancer,” says Dr. Clemons, “and only 3% of patients are involved in trials, it’s quite shocking. Patients are desperate to help, not just for themselves but for their children. They want their children to have better treatments if this happens to them.”

Study focused on safer care, less cost, fewer hospital visits

Gina participated in a study focused on a drug called filgrastim, which boosts the production of infection-fighting white blood cells. People with early-stage breast cancer often receive daily injections of the drug at the start of every cycle of chemotherapy, anywhere from five doses to seven to 10. Many cancer patients struggle with both the cost of the drugs, at more than $200 per injection, and the side effects.

“This is an incredibly expensive drug,” says Dr. Clemons, “but often patients feel horrible with it. It makes you feel miserable.”

Up to this point, there had been conflicting debate on how many injections worked best. So, after reviewing all the evidence and surveying doctors and patients, Dr. Clemons and his colleagues launched a clinical trial to find out, enrolling 466 patients from seven Canadian cancer centres.

Gina was among those patients, giving herself a daily shot of filgrastim 10 days in a row after each of her three rounds of chemotherapy.

Gina presenting a cheque to Dr. Clemons in support of the REaCT program at The Ottawa Hospital

“I’m so thankful I was part of this trial”

Gina says she had no hesitation volunteering to be part of this trial, “because I’m able to help future breast cancer patients,” adding, “We are helping the future generation with every trial we do, so I’m happy they asked me.”

She’s happy, too, with the results of the study, published in Annals of Oncology, which have helped change care globally. Researchers discovered that five doses of filgrastim are just as good as seven to 10 doses in terms of preventing infections. And when they looked at treatment-related hospitalizations, they found that five doses are better: patients who received five doses had a 3.3 percent chance of hospitalization for side-effects compared to 10.9 percent for people who had seven to 10 doses, a difference of more than three-fold.

“I believe this is how we will find the cure for cancer.”

– Gina Mertikas-Lavictoire

Results change global standard of care

Drs Mark Clemons and Dean Fergusson developed the Rethinking Clinical Trials or REaCT program
Drs. Mark Clemons and Dean Fergusson developed the Rethinking Clinical Trials or REaCT program

“This study is already changing practice around the world,” says Dr. Clemons. “It is making our patients healthier and giving them more time with loved ones by reducing unnecessary hospital visits. It is also saving our healthcare system millions of dollars every year.”

“This study is already changing practice around the world. It is making our patients healthier and giving them more time with loved ones.”

– Dr. Mark Clemons

The REaCT team wants to take this research one step further to find out whether even fewer doses can be prescribed. They have just applied for funding to start that study and are focused on several other clinical trials as well. With more than 2,700 patients participating in 17 trials in 15 centres across Canada, REaCT is now the largest cancer clinical trials program of its kind in the country.

“By thinking differently and using innovative approaches, we are efficiently answering some of the most important questions for patients and for our healthcare system,” says Dr. Fergusson. “The Ottawa Hospital is a leader in this kind of innovative research and our patients are among the first to benefit.”

Gina knows that well. She’s participated in two other clinical trials through REaCT and has become an ardent fundraiser, securing more than $25,000 for cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital.

“I believe this is how we will find the cure for cancer,” she says, “so we really need to continue to support this avenue, to support the next generation of cancer patients.”

“The Ottawa Hospital is a leader in this kind of innovative research and our patients are among the first to benefit.”

— Dr. Dean Fergusson

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health and research centre and teaching hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

Andrea Douglas’ swim club was so inspired by her journey battling breast cancer that they created a grassroots event called OlymPINK Masters Sprint. Their inaugural event at the Brewer Pool in 2018 blew their goal out of the water with 120 swimmers, including six Olympians, and $19K raised for The Ottawa Hospital’s Rose Ages Breast Health Centre. OlymPINK raised $44K in year two, and last year an incredible $70K, despite the actual swim being cancelled due to COVID-19.

Swim coach Andrea Smith (left) carries the OlymPINK torch with breast cancer survivor Andrea Douglas (right).

“Thankfully, The Ottawa Hospital is prepared for each and every one of us receiving a cancer diagnosis.”

– Andrea Douglas

Q: What is OlymPINK and what inspired you to create this fundraiser?

A: When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, my whole world was turned upside down. No one is ever prepared for those words “you have cancer.” Thankfully, The Ottawa Hospital is prepared for each and every one of us receiving a cancer diagnosis. From the very first meeting with my breast oncology surgeon, I knew I was in good hands. And from that day forward, through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I received incredible care. For my care and for my health today, I remain grateful and felt it was important to give back to the hospital that had saved my life.

Together with the support of my Masters’ swim coach and many wonderful teammates, we came up with the idea of a fundraiser to support the hospital’s Rose Ages Breast Health Centre. One in eight women in Canada will develop breast cancer—we all know someone — neighbours, sisters, friends, mothers, or daughters who have been and will be impacted, and we need to make sure the most up-to-date technology is at hand when they need it most.

Q: Why is the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital so important for breast cancer patients?

A: You can’t imagine the emotional turmoil you face when you learn about a breast cancer diagnosis or any other life-threatening diagnosis. For those facing breast cancer, it’s important to know that there is the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre that will embrace you with the care you need. And it’s not just about cancer, it’s about breast health. It’s about the best imaging and cutting-edge technology, all under one roof, to guide women through everything from screening to diagnostics to treatment plans.

“We need to work together to be the change, to make that difference, and to save lives.”

– Andrea Douglas

Q: What would you tell someone who might be considering a donation to The Ottawa Hospital?

A: I feel a sense of responsibility that comes with being one of the “lucky” ones. And that’s why I fundraise for The Ottawa Hospital. Because every piece of technology and every bit of research that could mean one less woman faces this disease or has this disease stopped in its tracks sooner, is worth every penny. We need to work together to be the change, to make that difference and to save lives.