A second chance after dire lung cancer diagnosis

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

Immunotherapy provides a second chance after dire lung cancer diagnosis

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

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

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

Grim diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Clinging to life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transformational results

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Margaret’s Gift
Ovarian cancer claimed Margaret Craig’s life. Now her generous gift is opening new doors to preventing the disease.

Margaret's Gift

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

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

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

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

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

The news left her reeling.

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

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

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

Margaret Craig

Margaret speaking at the Teas, Talks, and Tours symposium

Ovarian cancer hides in plain sight

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

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

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

Grateful for compassionate care

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

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

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

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

Innovative research inspires gift in will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gift to cancer research bears fruit

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

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

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

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

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

Hospital staff with a banner thanking a patient

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A second chance after dire lung cancer diagnosis
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