Buying time: 7 hrs, 52 stitches

Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joellie Qaunaq has 52 stitches on the left side of his head from the seven-hour surgery to remove a brain tumour. He had to leave his family, friends, and community of Arctic Bay on northern Baffin Island to come to The Ottawa Hospital for treatment because it is the only centre that treats patients from Nunavut. Joellie was guided through his cancer treatment and care by a First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nurse Navigator in the hospital’s Indigenous Cancer Program, which aims to improve access to cancer care services in a respectful, culturally appropriate way. After surgery and radiation, Joellie returned to Nunavut with chemotherapy pills, which allowed him to continue treatment at home.

Just before this report went to print, we were saddened to learn that Joellie passed away in early May 2019. Your support of cancer research is helping us find better treatments, so that one day patients like Joellie will live longer, fuller lives.

Click here to read more about Joellie.

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation
Joellie Qaunaq after a 7hr surgery and 52 stitches to close the incision surgeons made in his head to remove a brain tumour.

 

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation

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My why is you
Robert Noseworthy was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia at the age of 30. This was rare for someone his age and his prognosis was grim. 30 years later, he gives back to cancer research through THE RIDE with his grown children by his side.
Buying time: 7hrs, 52 stitches
Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.
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Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.
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My why is you

Robert Noseworthy was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia at the age of 30. This was rare for someone his age and his prognosis was grim. 30 years later, he gives back to cancer research through THE RIDE with his grown children by his side.

Sitting side by side, it’s not hard to realize the tight bond between Robert Noseworthy and his daughter, Julianne. They laugh, finish each other’s sentences, and joke with one another.

It’s a family bond, which runs deep.

Robert is a cancer survivor and not a day goes by that he doesn’t appreciate each moment he’s had to share with his two children, who are now adults.

The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, The Ottawa Hospital, Noseworthy, THE RIDE
Robert Noseworthy and his daugher, Julianne.

On October 21, 1988, Robert was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia—a childhood leukemia. He was living in Montreal at the time with his young family, including Julianne who was 18 months and his infant son, David.

His prognosis was grim. “I was given a 13% chance of survival with 6 months to live. My doctor in Montreal said it was very unusual for a 30-year-old to have a childhood leukemia.”

And so, the cancer journey began for this father of two. It would include numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and then he was in remission but the journey didn’t end there. “In March 1989, I received a bone marrow transplant from my sister, who was a six-on-six match.”

Thanks to that match, Robert beat the odds. He gives full credit to cancer research as the reason for being here today and he never forgets that. In fact, that’s what attracted him to THE RIDE. “That is my why. I do my small part and ride to raise funds for cancer research.”

Giving back has been important to Robert. It’s also been important to him to instill that in his children as they grew up. “I received all this help but now it’s time to give back.”

Indeed, you can see Julianne takes great pride in that lesson from her father and she marvels at his strength. “He’s been an inspiration. Not just from a medical standpoint or as a role model but being able to complete 120 km at 60 years old. And, to be physically fit enough to do that, especially after everything he has gone through. I hope that I can do that at 60.”

THE RIDE-Noseworthy tradition continues. The first two participants to register for the 2019 edition of THE RIDE, were this father-daughter duo. They make it a full family weekend. They drop off their bikes on Saturday and then head to a restaurant for a pasta dinner and gear up for the early morning start on Sunday.

Julianne says they love the experience and year five will be no different. “The encouragement you get from everyone around and the volunteers is just phenomenal. I always get teary when we start and teary when we end, as they announce him as a cancer survivor. We wouldn’t be able to do that or accomplish that without research.”

As a cancer survivor, Robert says THE RIDE is very meaningful to him, especially when he meets other cyclists who are flying the survivor flag on their bikes, like him. “Only a cancer survivor knows what a cancer survivor has gone through. If you haven’t been through it, to be told you have the big “c” is…it’s unique.”

He adds that the survivor flag is a bond which brings this special group together. “When I’m on THE RIDE and I see other survivors, I’m patting them on the back and saying good job, I’m glad you’re here. Congratulations. This survivor flag means a lot to me.”

For Julianne, THE RIDE is about family. It’s about giving back as a family to The Ottawa Hospital and advancing research.

“Family is the word that sums it up quite nicely for us. We are close and we like to do these kinds of things together and support each other. If it wasn’t for cancer research and everything my dad had been through, we wouldn’t be the family that we are today.”

Glancing over at her father, with a smile, Julianne says, “My why is you.”


Give today in celebration of Father’s Day to help ensure we can tell more stories like Robert Noseworthy’s.

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Buying time: 7hrs, 52 stitches
Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.
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Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.
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Jillian O’Connor was 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given less than two years to live. In February, she celebrated the fourth birthday of her healthy baby boy and continues to live life to the fullest.

Buying time: 7hrs, 52 stitches

Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.

Joellie had spent the last two months teaching arctic survival skills to Canadian Armed Forces personnel in Resolute Bay in the high central Arctic. The 53-year-old was a strong, skilled outdoorsman, but the Joellie who met them at the airport was not acting his normal self.

It was March 7, 2018. Leata hadn’t seen Joellie in five weeks. She had been at CHEO, in Ottawa, with their 3-year-old daughter who needed dental surgery.

When they got home from the airport, Joellie said he wasn’t feeling well and went to bed. He woke with a fever. Leata called her aunt who wondered if he might be having a stroke.

“I called the nursing station and they said to bring him in. Our truck wasn’t working, so we took the Ski-Doo. He [Joellie] drove it to the nursing station,” said Leata. The nurses could see something was wrong and started calling doctors in Iqaluit who arranged for medevac from their northwest Baffin Island community.

Joellie lost consciousness at the nursing station. He didn’t come to until he arrived at the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit where a he had a CT scan. The results were bad news.

7-hour surgery and 52 stitches

“First, the doctor told us that Joellie had a tumour, then they told us he had brain cancer,” said Leata.

She had only been home less than 48 hours when she found herself headed back to Ottawa. The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, through an agreement with the Government of Nunavut, provides cancer services to residents of eastern Nunavut. Usually, only one family member or close friend accompanies a patient. The Qaunaqs knew that cancer treatment could be lengthy—weeks, even months. They prepared to leave family, friends, and their community support network for an undetermined amount of time while Joellie had treatment.

The couple, who’ve been married for 29 years, have four children. So before heading south, Leata arranged for their two youngest (13 and three years) to stay with their oldest son, whose wife was expecting a baby in April. It would be Joellie and Leata’s first grandchild, and they knew they would miss the baby’s birth.

Joellie had a seven-hour surgery to remove his brain tumour. He woke up with the left side of his head shaved and 52 stitches curving up from his ear to his temple.

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, Joellie Qaunaq
Joellie Qaunaq from Arctic Bay, Nunavut.

 

“That’s not a kind of cancer that we cure”

“Joellie had a tumour called a glioblastoma—it is the most common kind of brain tumour that adults get,” said Dr. Garth Nicholas, Joellie’s medical oncologist. “It’s not a kind of cancer that we cure with our treatment. The goal is to try and keep that cancer from progressing, or worsening, for as long as we can.”

Glioblastoma multiforme is a deadly, extremely aggressive form of cancer that starts in the brain. Its tumour cells reach like tentacles into parts of the brain where neurosurgeons can’t see them and, therefore, can’t remove them.

 

    • 1,000 Canadians are diagnosed with glioblastoma every year.

    • It affects 2 out of every 100,000 people.

    • Accounts for 12% of all tumours in the head.

    • Affects more men than women.

    • Usually adults between 45 and 75 years of age.

    • Less than 10% survival rate, 5 years post-diagnosis.

    • Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie and Ottawa politician Paul Dewar both died from this type of brain cancer.

    • New equipment and techniques could help outcomes.

Overcoming barriers of language and culture

In addition to hearing loss―a result of a life of hunting and being close to the sound of hunting rifles―Joellie spoke Inuktitut and had limited English. Understanding his diagnosis and treatment options was challenging. Fortunately, Leata was fluent in English and could be a strong advocate for his treatment. But this is not the case for many Inuit patients.

“I think challenges and the difficulties―above and beyond his brain tumour―were not related to Joellie’s tumour but to being far from home, and the language barrier,” said Dr. Nicholas.

Realizing these challenges. Dr. Nicholas referred the Qaunaqs to Carolyn Roberts, the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nurse Navigator for the hospital’s Indigenous Cancer Program. She helps many Inuit patients understand and navigate the health-care system throughout their cancer treatment.

“Our whole system of ethical practice has autonomy as its foundation stone. People can decide what they want to do and people are meant to be involved in what they want to do with their health. But the combination of language and education and cultural expectation makes it hard for people from the North to be involved,” said Dr. Nicholas. “That’s where the program with Carolyn is useful, because she helps get them around to the idea that this is not being done to you, but with you and for you.”

“When I meet patients, I tell them I’m a different kind of nurse,” said Carolyn. “I’m not here to just answer questions about cancer. I’m here for any question at all―doesn’t have to be about health. That’s the message I give to every patient.”

There are few similarities between Ottawa and the small Arctic communities where many Inuit patients live. Undergoing cancer treatment in a place that is so fundamentally different than their home takes a toll on patients and their mental health.

Connecting with someone’s culture and breaking down barriers with the universal language of compassion and laughter helps patients feel more comfortable and confident about going through their cancer journey.

“What we really worked towards is not to focus too much on the cancer. It brought us together, but that doesn’t define who they are.” –Carolyn Roberts, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nurse Navigator.

Dr. Nicholas said he sees the difference Carolyn and the Indigenous Cancer Program make for patients. “I can think of individual patients who would not have been treated and who would’ve just gone home. They were overwhelmed by everything and they would’ve just left but they dealt with Carolyn. They ended up staying and having some treatment, and the treatments were useful,” said Dr. Nicholas. “The program’s got measurable medical outcomes.”

Joellie Qaunaq taught Arctic survival skills to Canadian Armed Forces members in Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

 

Back home, surrounded by family and friends

Joellie had his last radiation treatment in Ottawa on May 29, 2018. He was then discharged and eagerly headed home, back to Arctic Bay—to family and friends.

Dr. Nicholas’s follow up with Joellie and his treatment to help keep the cancer at bay continued. Every month, he would have blood work done and the results were faxed to Dr. Nicholas who then called Leata about whether Joellie could go ahead and take the chemotherapy pills he was prescribed to use at home. After Joellie finished the six-month chemo treatment, he had follow up CT scans that Dr. Nicholas received on his computer as if Joellie was a local patient.

Fortunately, Joellie was still relatively well when he went home last May and was able to enjoy time with his new granddaughter and family.

Glioblastoma is one cancer that always returns. And Joellie’s did. After almost a year since his discharge, Joellie’s health deteriorated and sadly, he passed away on May 5, 2019. He was cared for by people who loved him and his family beside him.

Thanks to donations from our generous community, researchers at The Ottawa Hospital have made tremendous breakthroughs in improving cancer treatments. It’s patients like Joellie who inspire our care givers and researchers to strive for a cure.

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, Joellie Qaunaq
Leata Qaunaq hugs her husband Joellie.

 


Help us to continue to build on our advancements and make cancer a thing of the past.

More Great Stories

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Robert Noseworthy was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia at the age of 30. This was rare for someone his age and his prognosis was grim. 30 years later, he gives back to cancer research through THE RIDE with his grown children by his side.
The gift of time with family
Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.
Four years after metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, every day is a gift
Jillian O’Connor was 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given less than two years to live. In February, she celebrated the fourth birthday of her healthy baby boy and continues to live life to the fullest.

5th Annual Karaoke for Cancer

Please join us on Friday, September 20, 2019 at the 5th Annual Karaoke for Cancer event in support of cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital.

Event Date: September 20, 2019
Event Time: 8:00PM
Location: ALE – Amberwood Lounge & Eatery, 54 Springbrook Drive, Stittsville
Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/2398364060450284/
Contact: Sue Lambe, [email protected]

On Friday, September 20, 2019, Bill Martin and Sue Lambe of Hometown Team – Century 21 John DeVries Ltd will be hosting their 5th Annual Karaoke for Cancer event. This year’s event will feature a 1950s theme and will kick off at 8:00PM at Stittsville’s ALE – Amberwood Lounge & Eatery. Admission is free but donations will be raised at the door. All funds raised will be donated to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation in support of cancer research so swing by and sing your heart out for a great cause.

Click here to learn more about the event.

The gift of time with family

Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.

Story by Vesna Zic-Côté 

Vesna Zic Cote“In 2012, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Despite the standard treatment of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal treatment, the cancer returned four years later, having spread to my lungs, bones and lymph nodes.

I received my diagnosis of incurable stage 4 metastatic breast cancer on my son’s birthday. He was nine.

My world as I knew it ended. I was sitting upstairs on my bed. I could hear the kids playing downstairs. I called my husband at work and he came home and we cried.

It is a tradition in our home that on our kids’ birthdays, we go out to a restaurant of their choosing for dinner. So on the day my world ended, I sat in a restaurant and ordered some food and tried to eat cardboard, but couldn’t get the food to go down. I looked at the birthday boy and held the tears in, and my heart shattered in a million pieces.

Metastatic breast cancer is treatable, but not curable. When I was first diagnosed, my life expectancy was being measured in months. Now with cautious hope, it might be a few years. I go to the Hospital every 28 days to get injections. They are part of a series of targeted treatments I receive to keep the cancer cells at bay. One day, the cancer will figure out how to grow despite this treatment, and I will move onto something else. And I’ll continue this endless cycle of treatments and scans and progression and change until I am out of options. But I am a 43-year-old mother. And wife. And daughter. And sister. I need more time. Time to see my young children through elementary school. Time to watch my family grow and share in all the joys that life brings. Time to celebrate anniversaries with my husband and birthdays with my niece and nephews. Time with my beloved family and friends.

There is so much that needs to happen to make this a reality for me. I will need new treatments when my current regimen stops working – because it will stop working. I need research in cancer therapies and a health-care system that is streamlined and accessible.

Sadly, early detection does not prevent all cancers from returning and spreading. We need research to understand why, and treatment to extend our lives.

When I was first diagnosed, my focus was limited, directed inwards, focused on those dearest to me. During that time of learning about this new world, I absorbed every detail I could about metastatic breast cancer; living with metastatic breast cancer, treating metastatic breast cancer, dying metastatic breast cancer. A few names came to the forefront; those making noise, shifting opinions, moving the dial on research and progress. Months into treatment, when I could finally breathe again, I knew that I wanted to be part of this movement, part of the noise, part of the shift. I needed to validate this situation that I didn’t ask for in order to accept that it was part of my story whether I liked it or not.

For now, I have energy to cast outward. Not every day, but some days. Writing, fundraising, speaking, meeting. And I would say that the way I live my life has influenced my children who actively participate in my fundraising efforts with enthusiasm. They don’t need to feel embarrassed that their mom has cancer. Instead, they can feel like they are doing something to help me by climbing trees and selling apples, doing presentations on their fundraising efforts, wearing pink laces, and making signs, helping the doctors and researchers to find better medicines. Regardless of where we eventually land, I want them to be able to look back on all the good things that they did, and know that their efforts warmed many, many hearts… mine most of all.

On behalf of all of us living with incurable cancer – finding joy between injections and scans and blood work and appointments, living with hope and making a difference – thank you for your support.”

– Vesna

We need your help today to give patients like Vesna more time, more memories, more hope. Support our cancer clinical trial research today and help us develop new ways to treat this devastating disease.

More Great Stories of #TOHMOMS

My why is you
Robert Noseworthy was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia at the age of 30. This was rare for someone his age and his prognosis was grim. 30 years later, he gives back to cancer research through THE RIDE with his grown children by his side.
Buying time: 7hrs, 52 stitches
Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.
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Liam and Rhys White started life in an extraordinary way.

Four years after metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, every day is a gift

Jillian O’Connor was 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given less than two years to live. In February, she celebrated the fourth birthday of her healthy baby boy and continues to live life to the fullest.

Jillian O’Connor stands in her living room laughing. A small boy hugs her leg, then takes off and disappears down the stairs to play with his older brother and sister. That was Declan. He turned four on February 1, 2019. The fact that his mother saw him blow out the candles on his birthday cake is extraordinary.

When Jillian was 18 weeks pregnant with Declan, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She wasn’t expected to celebrate his second birthday. Two and a half years later, Jillian celebrated his fourth birthday with him—and still living life to its fullest.

Jillian O’Connor

The first thing that strikes you about Jillian is her smile. Next, it’s her insatiable enthusiasm for life. Then comes her contagious positivity. Hard not to think the latter alone is why she has made it so far against daunting odds. It may be anecdotal but Jillian definitely thinks, or rather knows, it’s the key.

“I am totally full of cancer, pretty much from my head to my toes,” said Jillian. “Every day I get is a blessing, ‘Oh, I woke up. Perfect!’ You just want to go at it as hard as you can, for as long as you can. Just being optimistic, I think helps. I really believe it helps.”

Jillian’s petite frame belies her light-up-the-room personality. She is gregarious with an enthusiasm that bubbles infectiously out of her. She talks about her cancer matter-of-factly. It is part of her life, but doesn’t rule her. She has other things to focus on—her precious family. The 35-year-old laughs and chats so easily about her life and her journey with cancer that it takes a second to realize how extraordinary her journey has been.

In 2014, Jillian was still nursing Landon, her second child, when she went to see her physician about a blocked milk duct. It turned out to be breast cancer. Doctors wanted to do CT scans to determine the extent of her cancer, but Jillian couldn’t. She was 18 weeks pregnant. Without treatment, she was told she wouldn’t survive to give birth. It was unfathomable. She had a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son at home. It was a devastating diagnosis but Jillian met it head on with her own special brand of optimism and determination.

Terminating the pregnancy was not an option for Jillian and her husband David. Her oncologist, Dr. Mark Clemons, told her she didn’t have to. He could provide a chemotherapy cocktail that would keep her cancer at bay without harming her unborn child. Jillian had a mastectomy and a dozen chemo treatments tailored to her special case. On February 1, 2015, she gave birth to a healthy baby Declan.

“I received chemotherapy right up until I delivered him. He was healthy—a wonderful birth weight. He was absolutely perfect,” said Jillian.

After Declan was born, Jillian had scans to see where the cancer was. It had spread, and had metastasized to her bones, liver, and lymphatic system. That was when she was given less than two years.

“Basically, they said, ‘We can’t give you a long timeframe. It’s stage IV, so every day you wake up is going to be a gift,’” said Jillian, who stopped working as a nurse at the Queensway Carleton Hospital and became a patient there, receiving treatment at The Ottawa Hospital’s satellite cancer centre, the Irving Greenberg Family Cancer Centre. “Two years passed, then three, and then I passed four years this past summer. I’m hoping I’ll have another 40 plus years. I got a pretty doom and gloom diagnosis, but I continue to pull life off.”

Jillian has pulled life off in a big way. After all, when she brought Declan home from the hospital, she had three children under the age of three to look after. She poured herself into motherhood, enjoying every moment with them. Between weekly trips to the cancer centre for treatment, she was busy changing diapers, making meals, caring for, playing with, and loving her little ones.

Declan and Jillian O'Connor
Four-year-old Declan sits on his mom’s knee.

Declan is back and clambers onto his mother’s knee—for about 30 seconds—before scrambling off onto the couch beside her. He is a typical four-year-old. His big sister Myla, who is seven, and brother Landon, who is five, appear, and the three play on the floor near their mom. Jillian chatters happily with them.

Jillian has celebrated all her children’s early-year milestones: learning to walk, talk, run, play, read, and become independent little people. Both Myla and Landon are now in school. Declan will be joining them in September. In mid-January, Jillian and David registered him for junior kindergarten. Nowadays, while the two older ones are in school, she and Declan have fun hanging out. They fill their days with activities that include volunteering at the school, as well as the more mundane household chores.

“I got a pretty doom and gloom diagnosis, but I continue to pull life off.”

Jillian is exuberant about life. She lives each day as it comes.

“She has, with all the help that modern radiotherapy and medical oncology can offer in Ottawa, in addition to her tremendous personality and drive, done amazingly well in a tragic situation for any young mom,” said Dr. Clemons. “At the same time, she has been involved in practice-changing research that is going to improve the care of patients—she continues to give.”

Over the past four years, Jillian has participated in clinical cancer trials with new therapies that have kept her cancer in check. When it spread to her brain a couple of years ago, she had whole-brain and CyberKnife radiation. Then she was put on new medication that can cross the blood brain barrier, which her regular chemotherapy couldn’t do. The medication halted new tumour growths in her brain. Her cancer is not getting better, but it’s not getting worse, either.

“I’m happy to stay status quo, because there is nothing I want to do that I can’t do right now,” said Jillian.“Status quo—I’m good with that. I feel great. I don’t have aches or pains or anything. I don’t have time to think about how I feel.”

Jillian sits on the floor laughing and playing with her three children. She looks at the little doll her daughter Myla shows her, and hands a ball to Landon. “I really think it’s the kids. They have so much to do with it, because they are so great. They are so fun. They keep me really busy and that’s half the fun. By the time I go to bed at night, I don’t think about cancer. I don’t think about tests coming up. I don’t think about that stuff because I’m too tired. So I think that is helpful.”

Dr. Clemons agrees.

“She is a gem, and her attitude of living life with true meaning is a humbling lesson for all of us,” said Dr. Clemons. “Too many people in society spend too much time moaning about the trivial, as well as things they can’t do anything about. Life is for living, and Jillian encourages people to do that—live!”

Whether it’s thanks to the innovative new treatment she receives or her uber-positive attitude, Jillian has surpassed the original two-year diagnosis by two-and-a-half years.

Dr. Clemons told her, “Whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it—obviously it’s working for you.”

And it is.


We need your help today to give patients like Jillian more time, more memories, more hope. Support our cancer clinical trial research today and help us develop new ways to treat this devastating disease.

More Great Stories of #TOHMOMS

My why is you
Robert Noseworthy was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia at the age of 30. This was rare for someone his age and his prognosis was grim. 30 years later, he gives back to cancer research through THE RIDE with his grown children by his side.
Buying time: 7hrs, 52 stitches
Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.
From tragedy to triumph
Liam and Rhys White started life in an extraordinary way.

Clinical trial  means new options for colorectal cancer patients

When Sandy Patenaude’s MRI showed that her colorectal cancer had spread to her liver and lungs, she was asked to participate in a clinical trial of a cancer stem cell inhibitor drug. In Sandy’s case, the drug successfully prevented her cancer from growing.  As a result, doctors  are able to determine which patients might benefit  from the drug.

Three years ago, Sandy Patenaude was given the devastating news that she had stage 4 colorectal cancer. It had spread to her liver and lungs, and was inoperable. Sandy’s oncologist asked if she would like to go on a clinical trial, testing a new cancer stem cell inhibitor drug along with her chemotherapy.

“Cancer stem cell inhibitors, why not?” said Sandy who agreed to be part of the trial.

Dr. Derek Jonker, Medical Oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital, is leading the international trial for people with colorectal cancer, with the experimental drug napabucasin. He explained that cancer stem cells are the rare, immature cells in a tumour, which are often resistant to chemotherapy. They can give rise to the more mature cancer cells that make up the bulk of a tumour. Cancer stem cells are not the same as the normal stem cells that live in many healthy adult tissues and help with healing and repair.

“With chemotherapy, we can deliver treatment that can shrink the vast part of the cancer,” said Dr. Jonker, who is also an associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “Often the bulk of the tumour disappears, but what’s left is a small tumour with lots of these chemo-resistant cancer stem cells, which are able to spread and seed other places in the body. Often, we keep giving the same chemotherapy and find the tumour has regrown, but it’s not the same tumour it was when we started.”

Dr. Derek Jonker
Dr. Derek Jonker led a clinical trial for colorectal cancer with a cancer stem cell inhibiting drug that has helped Sandy Patenaude.

Dr. Jonker is switching up the treatment to target the  cancer stem  cells that aren’t affected by standard chemo. In a previous randomized  clinical  trial he led , patients either  received a placebo or  napabucasin  to test its effectiveness at  inhibiting, or preventing,  the growth of the  cancer stem cells. The trial was carried out at  40  sites in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The  562  patients enrolled had advanced colorectal cancer  and chemotherapy no longer worked for them.

Looking at the results of the trial, Dr. Jonker said  they didn’t see much benefit in the group overall. “But when we looked at patients who had a  tumour  that  had characteristics of a high cancer stem cell (phospho-STAT3) over expression there was very significant improvement in their survival.”

Dr. Jonker presented his findings in October 2016 at the European Society for Medical Oncology, showing that where the cancer stem cell inhibitor didn’t work in all patients, there was an improvement in the survival of the 22 percent of patients who had  tumours  with high phospho-STAT3.  He said it’s “proof of principle that stem cells are an important target for cancer patients.” Napabucasin is now being combined in the  current trial  with chemotherapy to attack the cancer on two fronts  at the same time.

“We know  with results of the clinical trial that  the majority of  patients did not respond to it, but we have two patients here in Ottawa who  have responded and definitely developed benefit from the clinical agent,” said  medical oncologist Dr. Christine Cripps.

Sandy Patenaude outdoors

“I thought I’d be part of the trial, because I thought well, it’s new.”

Sandy is one of those patients who benefited.  Her tumours shrank,  and the surgeons were able to remove spots in her liver and the primary  tumour in her rectum.  Dr. Cripps said she believes that part of the success in keeping Sandy’s cancer at bay is the napabucasin she is taking as part of  the  clinical trial.

“A stem cell inhibitor works differently than traditional chemotherapy, in that it prevents new disease from  appearing,” said  Saara  Ali, research coordinator for clinical trials in gastrointestinal cancers. “The hope is that the pill [napabucasin] will prevent new disease from showing. And in Sandy’s case there hasn’t been new disease  since her treatment. Everything was there before, so it may be doing its job.”

Next steps: Dr. Jonker hopes to start  another clinical trial with the cancer stem cell inhibitor that will be used specifically for patients who have lots of phospho-STAT3 in their  tumour. These patients could be identified for the clinical trial with molecular testing, using The Ottawa Hospital’s Molecular Oncology Diagnostics lab.  This would target the patients presumed to be the most likely to benefit most from the drug.

“We would repeat our study, randomize those patients with  napabucasin  and a placebo, and if we can prove that  napabucasin is effective for them, then it would be an option for patients who have run out of all other treatment options,” said Dr. Jonker.

Dr. Cripps said that Sandy is a candidate for this next trial,  and her tumours  will be analyzed by the molecular lab to see  whether she has high phospho-STAT3 cancer stem cell expression. Regardless, Sandy will continue using the trial drug as long as it is working for her. And it is working. The mother of three adult children said  she’s busy doing a million things, playing euchre, the ukulele, skiing, hiking, biking, and enjoying life.


The Ottawa Hospital is raising funds for clinical trials,  because  research has proven to be the best way to improve treatments and even find cures for cancer and other devastating diseases.

More Great Stories

My why is you
Robert Noseworthy was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia at the age of 30. This was rare for someone his age and his prognosis was grim. 30 years later, he gives back to cancer research through THE RIDE with his grown children by his side.
Buying time: 7hrs, 52 stitches
Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.
The gift of time with family
Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.

Natural killer cells could be immunotherapy game-changer

Scientists have known that key molecules on cancer cells suppress the immune T-cells and prevent them from attacking the cancer. Dr. Ardolino discovers other immune cells, called killer cells, that could offer more immunotherapy treatment options.

Although the connection between the immune system and cancer has been recognized for over a century, understanding how the immune system works against cancer has been the biggest challenge for scientists like Dr. Michele Ardolino.

Initially, efforts were made to stimulate the immune system to make it attack the cancer. But the game-changer was the discovery that there are key molecules, called immune checkpoints, on cancer cells that suppress the immune cells and prevent them from attacking the cancer. There are many types of immune cells. T-cells have been recognized as key immune cells and the ones that immunotherapy drugs have been designed to target.

Dr. Michele Ardolino in his lab
Dr. Michele Ardolino’s discovery focused on ‘natural killer’ immune cells.

“What we didn’t know before is that some of these receptors are present in other immune cells,” said Dr. Michele Ardolino, scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. “What we discovered is that these receptors are present on another type of immune cell called natural killer cells.”

He said that even though most of the immunotherapy drugs target the T-cells to make them work better, not all cancer tumours are responsive to T-cells.

“But,” said Dr. Ardolino, “These tumours might be very effectively killed by natural killer cells. So, if we know what kind of tumour the patient has, we can design therapies to elicit the most effective immune response. Which in some cases could be a T-cell response and in other cases could be a natural killer response.”

“We now have a better idea of how the immune system suppresses cancer. This means that we can now target the mechanism that suppresses the immune system in a more specific way.”

“This is cool for a number of reasons,” said Dr. Ardolino. “We now have a better idea of how the immune system suppresses cancer. This means that we can now target the mechanism that suppresses the immune system in a more specific way. And we can elicit a stronger natural killer cell response against cancer.”

It is becoming widely recognized that not only is cancer unique to each patient, but the immune system is also unique to each person. Researchers and clinicians are realizing the importance of tailoring the immunotherapy not only to each person’s cancer but to their own unique immune system. It is a complex problem to give a drug that would have maximum therapeutic effect with the least side effects, to be as targeted as possible.

Dr. Ardolino recently published a breakthrough discovery that has potential to make immunotherapy treatments to work for more people, and more types of cancers.

In October 2018, immunologists James Allison and Tasuku Honjo were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discoveries of immune checkpoint inhibitors, considered a landmark in the fight against cancer.


The Ottawa Hospital is raising funds for clinical trials, as research has proven to be the best way to improve treatments and even find cures for cancer and other devastating diseases.

More Great Stories

My why is you
Robert Noseworthy was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia at the age of 30. This was rare for someone his age and his prognosis was grim. 30 years later, he gives back to cancer research through THE RIDE with his grown children by his side.
Buying time: 7hrs, 52 stitches
Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.
The gift of time with family
Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.

Immunotherapy eradicates cop’s cancer

Despite years of treatment to prevent recurrence of skin cancer, Ian McDonell’s melanoma–a disease that killed his brother–spread to his brain and body. In 2017, he started an innovative immunotherapy treatment. A year after finishing immunotherapy, all scans show his cancer is gone.

Ian McDonell was off-duty, walking along a bike path in August, when he saw men fighting. He called the police and tackled one of the men who tried to run away. But Ian’s courageous action is all the more remarkable because the summer before he was bedridden from cancer.

“I thought back to a year ago,” said Ian, “and there’s no way I would’ve even been out walking.”

Back up five years, Ian’s brother was dying of melanoma, and his father had just died of cancer. Ian’s wife insisted he see his physician to check out a mole on his back. It turned out to be an ulcerated nodular malignant melanoma–an aggressive form of skin cancer.

Ian had surgery to remove it and a lymph node from his left groin. Several weeks later, he had a lymph node removed from his armpit. Although he had no signs of cancer, considering his family’s history, Ian was high risk for relapse.

The 47-year-old Staff Sergeant with the Ottawa Police was referred to oncologist Dr. Michael Ong, a specialist in skin and urological cancers at The Ottawa Hospital. After discussing all options, Dr. Ong recommended Ian participate in a clinical trial using a targeted chemotherapy known to dramatically shrink melanoma, and being tested to improve cure rates.

Ian McDonell having his first immunotherapy treatment.
Ian McDonell having his first immunotherapy treatment.

“Immunotherapy does not directly affect the cancer itself. Instead, immunotherapy unmasks the cancer to your immune system.”

Ian took the treatment between November 2013 and August 2014 while still working full time, and continued intensive regular imaging scans after treatment to monitor for relapse. Ian was feeling very well at a standard monitoring visit in June 2017, but shockingly his CT and MRI scans showed sobering news. He had half a dozen tumours in his groin and abdomen, and three more tumours metastasized to his brain. Ian’s cancer was stage 4. Historically, patients with brain metastases live about four months.

Given the severity of the findings, Dr. Ong suggested an aggressive approach–a recently approved immunotherapy treatment.

“The idea of immunotherapy is not new. There have been clinical trials for decades. But only recently have we been extremely successful,” said Dr. Ong, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.

Although, the connection between the immune system and cancer has been recognized for over a century, understanding how the immune system works against cancer has been the biggest challenge for scientists.

Initially, efforts were made to stimulate the immune system to make it attack the cancer. But the game-changer was the discovery that there are key molecules, called immune checkpoints, on cancer cells that suppress the immune T-cells, and prevent them from attacking the cancer. These immune checkpoints cloak the cancer from the immune system. New drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors remove this cloak, and allow the immune system to naturally attack and destroy the cancer.

“The idea of chemotherapy is to kill off cancer directly,” said Dr. Ong. “There are potential side effects, because chemotherapy tries to poison the cancer. In contrast, immunotherapy does not directly affect the cancer itself. Instead, immunotherapy unmasks the cancer to your immune system by flipping some switches on T-cells, and the body’s own immune system does the rest.”

Dr. Michael Ong
Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong said recent immunotherapies are hugely successful for treating melanoma.

Immunotherapy is having the most success in patients with melanoma, like Ian. The first trial that demonstrated its effectiveness with this form of skin cancer was presented at an oncology conference in Chicago in 2010. The study results showed the median improvement in survival time was four months. Dr. Ong said, initially, the findings didn’t seem very impressive.

“It was just another clinical trial report, and four months didn’t sound like a long time,” said Dr. Ong. “But the reported improvement was the median change. What we didn’t realize until later was that while the immunotherapy didn’t work for 80 percent of patients, 20 percent of patients were actually cured of their metastatic melanoma. When data was looked at in 10 years, all of the responding patients were still alive.”

Since then, immunotherapies have been developed and tested in clinical trials that have increased the one-year survival rate for advanced melanoma from 25 to 80 percent.

Ian started on a combination of two immunotherapies, a big advance since 2010 and recently approved for use by Health Canada. He said the immunotherapy treatment is given intravenously in the chemotherapy unit at the hospital’s cancer centre. The whole process took two hours for each treatment, and Ian was scheduled for one dose, every three weeks for four treatments.

Ian did one round, then had CyberKnife radiotherapy treatment. High doses of radiation were directed at his brain tumours. He bravely continued with the second round of immunotherapy, but was so sick, he had to be taken off the treatment and started on steroid medications to slow down the immune system. Ian felt better, but his immunotherapy was on hold.

At the end of September, Ian had some new weakness in his face and there was worry about his cancer getting worse. It wasn’t. His scans showed one tumour had shrunk from 25 to 10 mm, and another tumour had shrunk from eight to four mm.

Dr. Ong said, “Looks like something good is happening here,” and recommended trying a single immunotherapy rather than two. Ian received the treatment in mid-November 2017. He found it extremely challenging again and was very sick.  All his treatments were stopped.

“But it did the trick,” said Ian.

Ian McDonell, his three daughters and wife on the beach
Ian McDonell, his three daughters and wife on the beach

Two months later in January 2018, Ian had a PET scan to assess the status of his cancer. A PET scan uses a radioactive sugar that highlights colour images where the cancer cells are. No colours lit up when Ian had the scan. Then he had an MRI, and there were no signs of any tumours in his brain. All three were gone. In April, he had a CT scan, and another again in July. Nothing showed up on the scans. He was tumour free. All trace of his cancer was gone.

At an appointment after the last scans, Dr. Ong told Ian that when he had first seen him in 2013, options for immunotherapy or targeted chemotherapy weren’t available. Four years later, thanks to incredible advances in immunotherapy, there was hope.

“In the last five years, we’ve gone from having very poor options to having many effective options for melanoma. That’s because cancer therapy continues to develop at a very rapid pace,” said Dr. Ong. “We, at The Ottawa Hospital, are constantly participating in practice-changing clinical trials. The standard of care is constantly changing, as it should. We are constantly trying to push the limits of cancer treatment.”

The Ottawa Hospital is a leader in cancer immunotherapy research, both in terms of developing new therapies and in offering experimental treatments to patients. Currently, there are 69 active cancer immunotherapy clinical trials being conducted at the hospital. Dr. Ong currently has 50 patients on immunotherapy clinical trials, but there are hundreds of patients on similar active clinical trials at The Ottawa Hospital.

People with melanoma skin cancer are young: 30 to 50. Melanoma that involves lymph nodes is very aggressive, and historically 50 percent of patients will have a relapse and spread of melanoma. However, new treatments, including immunotherapy, have between a 43 and 53 percent reduction in the risk of recurrence.  At The Ottawa Hospital, many patients are participating in a study to see if two immunotherapy drugs are better than one to reduce the chance of relapse even more.

As a result of successful immunotherapy treatments, patients like Ian are now faced with survivorship issues. Living without cancer.

Ian found he had to rethink what he wanted to do. He has been on sick leave from the Ottawa Police Services since August 2017 when the cancer returned.

“When the provincial exams for police services came up, I said, ‘I’m gonna write it, because I’ve got a bit of hope now.’ I wrote the inspector’s exam and I passed,” said Ian.

Immunotherapy has given the father of three his life back and a future to see his family grow up. He’ll also continue to tackle more crime.

The Ottawa Hospital is also conducting basic and translational research in immunotherapy. For example, Dr. Michele Ardolino recently made a breakthrough in understanding immunotherapy, which could allow this approach to work for many more people with cancer.

Read more about immunotherapy research.


As research has proven to be the best way to improve treatments and even find cures for cancer and other devastating diseases, The Ottawa Hospital is raising funds for clinical trials.

More Great Stories

My why is you
Robert Noseworthy was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia at the age of 30. This was rare for someone his age and his prognosis was grim. 30 years later, he gives back to cancer research through THE RIDE with his grown children by his side.
Buying time: 7hrs, 52 stitches
Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.
The gift of time with family
Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.

Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital

The Ottawa Hospital has earned an international reputation for leadership in cancer research. From unmatched expertise in oncolytic viruses to revolutionizing the clinical trials process, we are changing what we know about cancer and how we treat it.

The Challenge

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, time is critical and every minute counts. The wait for surgery, for treatment, for life to get back to normal, can seem agonizing. Time is equally critical in the world of cancer research. Every day, scientists are working to find new therapies. The sooner these therapies can be delivered to patients, the better their chances for recovery.

At The Ottawa Hospital, our patients have access to the very best doctors and therapies when they need it the most. Our world-leading research draws experts from around the world to work in our facilities, to help us revolutionize every aspect of cancer care, from improving treatment to saving the lives of patients with diseases that only a few years ago would have been untreatable.

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.

Our Vision

We believe cancer can be beaten. Our cancer and research centres have been ranked among the best in the world and from here we’re seeing results that a decade ago were deemed impossible to achieve. Together, our people and our facilities have created a breeding ground of knowledge for the best and brightest medical minds in the world. We’re confident that if we stay the course, cancer will be beaten.

Why The Ottawa Hospital

We’re already one of the largest research and learning hospitals in the country. And we didn’t get there by thinking small and in the short-term. The plan was simple: recruit the best and brightest minds in science and health care, bring them together under one roof, find the answers to health care’s biggest challenges. And we were right. Our world-renowned facilities, researchers, medical professionals and clinical trials are the best of the best, so they attract the best of the best. We’ve already made tremendous breakthroughs and there’s more to come. The world is watching what’s happening at The Ottawa Hospital.

“We, at The Ottawa Hospital, are constantly participating in practice-changing clinical trials. The standard of care is constantly changing, as it should. We are constantly trying to push the limits of cancer treatment.” – Dr. Michael Ong

Our Research Successes

Dr. John Bell in his research lab

2000: Dr. John Bell discovers that a virus, called VSV, can kill cancer cells without harming normal cells. In 2011, his group publishes a landmark study in the prestigious scientific journal Nature showing the results of his world-first clinical trial based on this discovery.

Dr. Rebecca Auer

2017: Dr. Rebecca Auer’s personalized vaccine, made with cancer cells infected with a cancer-fighting virus, cured abdominal cancer in animal models. Dr. Auer is preparing a clinical trial based on these findings.

Dr. Caroline Ilkow

2018: Dr. Carolina Ilkow and her team first demonstrate that cancer cells use a unique approach to fight off viruses. Her team then builds a virus that blocks this defence mechanism. Proving very effective at killing normally resistant cancer cells, this may lead to better, more broadly effective immunotherapy treatments.

Your Impact

The impact that one person can have on the future of health care is huge. The impact a group of like-minded community leaders can have on the future of health care is limitless. Thanks to donor support we’ve built one of the largest and busiest regional cancer treatment centres in the country. We have one of the only oncolytic virus manufacturing facilities in the country that trains modified viruses to kill cancer cells. We have technology like the CyberKnife that performs non-invasive day-surgery procedures on previously inoperable and often terminal brain tumours. Our state-of-the-art breast health centre has dedicated diagnostic machines to speed up the treatment process, clear backlogs, and help more people get back to healthy lives. These are only a few examples of how donors have changed the face of health care. We specialize in matching donors who want to help with those who need their help the most.

Cancer Research Update 2018-2019

Research To Improve Patient Care

Dr. Dean Fergusson

2014: Drs. Dean Fergusson and Mark Clemons launch the world-leading REaCT (Rethinking Clinical Trials) program to quickly asses available cancer treatments and streamline clinical trials enrollment. With fewer than three percent of patients enrolling before REaCT, enrollment now exceeds 90 percent. By the end of 2017 this program enrolled more breast cancer patients in clinical trials than all other trials in Canada combined.

Dr. Glen Goss

2016: Dr. Glen Goss leads an international clinical trial showing that 70 percent of patients with a certain kind of lung cancer respond to a new targeted therapy. This therapy is now available as a standard treatment in Canada.

Dr. Natasha Kekre

2018: Dr. Natasha Kekre is leading the charge to bring a “made-in-Canada” version of CAR-T cell immunotherapy to The Ottawa Hospital. Shown to completely eliminate some advanced pediatric blood cancers, this revolutionary treatment removes a patient’s T-cells and modifies them in the lab to attack cancer cells. The Ottawa Hospital is the only site in Canada manufacturing these cells and among the first to participate in clinical trials of this therapy.

The Ottawa Hospital Foundation is raising money for research that is revolutionizing the care we provide patients.

Be Inspired

My why is you
Robert Noseworthy was diagnosed with a childhood leukemia at the age of 30. This was rare for someone his age and his prognosis was grim. 30 years later, he gives back to cancer research through THE RIDE with his grown children by his side.
Buying time: 7hrs, 52 stitches
Leata Qaunaq knew something was wrong when her husband Joellie arrived to meet her and their daughter at the airport near Arctic Bay, Nunavut. He was talking, but not making sense.
The gift of time with family
Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.