Hope despite aggressive skin cancer diagnosis

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

Hope despite aggressive skin cancer diagnosis

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

Discovery of a mass

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

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

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

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

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

Time to act

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

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

The next generation of treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan completed his last immunotherapy treatments in September 2017.

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

Today, there is no sign of cancer

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

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

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

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

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Young philanthropist couple pays it forward

Following the difficult birth of their second child, Shopify COO Harley Finkelstein and entrepreneur Lindsay Taub, saw a need and paid it forward.

Turning adversity into action – young philanthropist couple pays it forward 

It isn’t every day that people respond to difficult experiences by stepping forward to make a difference in the lives of others, but that’s exactly what local philanthropists and entrepreneurs Harley Finkelstein and Lindsay Taub did. And they hope their story will inspire others to do the same. 

Unexpected complications 

In February 2019, Lindsay was in labour with the couple’s second child. They headed to the Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital with nervous excitement in anticipation of meeting their new baby. But the birth did not unfold as they had hoped. After a relatively easy labour and delivery with their first in 2016, they expected a similar experience. This time, labour was extremely difficult and tremendously painful. 

Lindsay required an emergency c-sectionThis is not what she and her husband, Harley, had planned for. They were scared at the prospect of surgery and for the well-being of their unborn child. Thankfully, their daughter was delivered safely, and both mom and baby were healthy.  

Lindsay and Harley were exhausted, overwhelmed by the unexpected series of events, and desperately needing a chance to decompress and rest  a challenge while sharing a room with three other patients and a constant stream of their nurses, doctors, and visitors.  

Discovering a need 

As the Chief Operating Officer of Shopify, a Canadian multinational e-commerce company located right here in Ottawa, Harley has dealt with his fair share of stressful situations but even he found this experience pushed his limits. “It was a stressful experience and we just hadn’t anticipated it,” said Harley. 

As healthy young parents, Harley and Lindsay have been fortunate to have limited interaction with the hospital. It wasn’t until this difficult experience that Harley realized what it was like to be the loved one of someone experiencing a health complication. The care Lindsay and their baby received was excellent, and he was confident they were in good hands. Yet, he saw a need for a space that would provide a better family experience following the birth of a child. Lindsay and I experienced a need and saw an opportunity to do something about it,” said Harley. 

“Everyone can do something that makes things better for someone else,” says Harley.
“I think this idea of paying it forward is what creates a vibrant, well-run, and prosperous community. And it doesn’t need to start when you’re 60 years old and retired- it should start as early as possible.” – Harley Finkelstein

Building community by paying it forward 

Harley and Lindsay both come from humble beginnings but reflect fondly on their respective childhoods and the emphasis that was placed on spending time together. This is what inspired Lindsay to open her own ice cream shop, called Sundae Schooland provide a place for families to gather together and enjoy a treat over conversation.  

As their respective businesses and careers grew, they felt strongly that along with their good fortune came a responsibility to pay it forward and help others. They have become well-known in the Ottawa area, not only for their entrepreneurial successes, but as influential philanthropists in a thriving community of people who believe in making life in Ottawa better, including contributing to the building of The Finkelstein Chabad Jewish Centre. 

“Philanthropy isn’t always about writing a big cheque,” says Harley. “It’s about finding someone who might be going through something difficult and making their life better. You don’t have to change everything but being incremental in donating your time or money can have a very big effect, especially if a lot of other people are inspired to do the same.” 

Mom and baby look into camera in kitchen
Baby Zoe at home with mom, Lindsay.

Turning their challenging circumstance into action  

And that’s exactly what Harley and Lindsay plan to do. With a donation to The Ottawa Hospital, they hope to inspire others to give back to their community in a way that is meaningful to them. 

“Supporting the hospital was very personal having given birth there and having received such excellent medical carebut also wanted to contribute to other aspects of people’s experiences. It was really important to us,” says Lindsay. “I want our girls to see that not only do we have businesses we care about, but we also care deeply about our community and want to contribute however we can – there are so many ways to do it.” 

“We care deeply about our community and want to contribute however we can – there are so many ways to do it.” – Lindsay Taub

A hope to inspire others 

Ultimately, Harley and Lindsay feel strongly that they need to lead by example, not only as role models for their own girls, but to motivate others in the community. 

“Everyone can do something that makes things better for someone else,” says Harley. “I think this idea of paying it forward is what creates vibrant, well-run, and prosperous community. And it doesn’t need to start when you’re 60 years old and retired- it should start as early as possible.”

Join Harley and Lindsay in paying it forward by
giving in support of The Ottawa Hospital today.

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True love will continue through legacy gifts

When Jim Whitehead’s wife, Pat, passed away, he consolidated the causes he wanted to support down to ten including The Ottawa Hospital. Through this future gift to our hospital, Jim and Pat’s love will continue by providing care and attention to patients in years to come.

True love will continue through legacy gifts

“When I search for you, I never look too far. In every room, in every corner – there you are.”

Jim Whitehead wrote that poem to his late wife, Pat, after she passed away. The two had a magical connection that spanned almost their entire lives, including over 35 years of marriage.

Pat and Jim first met as young children in an Orangeville neighbourhood where Jim lived, and where Pat would visit relatives. Eventually, the pair went their separate ways, and over the course of about 20 years, they each married and had two children, all boys.

It wasn’t until they were in their mid-forties and both living in Ottawa, that their paths would cross again. “We became ‘simultaneously singlelized’ and reunited,” Jim remembers, as a smile stretches across his face.

Love reconnected

Their reconnection was instant. “We both were at a party in Barrhaven, hosted by a mutual friend. When I saw her, I knew that this moment was it.”

The rest, shall we say, is history. The couple married and built their life together in their cozy home near the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital. They shared a love of music, art and travel, all of which is obvious when you look around their home. They also had a deep connection to their community – in fact, Pat generously supported 40 local charities.

After Pat passed away in January 2018, following a seven-year struggle with the effects of Alzheimer’s dementia, Jim decided to revisit the charities he and his late wife had supported.

 

Patricia Whitehead in sitting on a couch in her home.
Jim’s late wife, Patricia, pictured at their cozy home.

Legacy of their love

Ultimately, he decided to leave a gift in his will to 11 organizations, including The Ottawa Hospital. During his work years, Jim some spent time as an employee of the geriatric unit of the Civic Hospital, now the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital. With the hospital being just a stone’s throw from his front steps, this gift was important to him. “My sons were born there and my two stepsons as well. I worked there, Pat and I were both cared for at the hospital, and I realized that I wanted to do more.”

As Jim sits in his living room, he still grieves for the loss of his beloved wife. However, Pat’s presence fills their home, with the special touches, from the addition she designed to the pictures that hang on the wall to the marionettes that she made herself. Jim reflects on their special bond, which was so strong that it brought the two back together. “We were well matched,” smiles Jim. He continues, “I had never loved or been loved as much, or as well, as with my Patricia.”

Jim’s gift will be a lasting legacy for not only him but also of Pat, and it will honour their deep love of their community and each other. Their love story will continue for generations by providing care and attention to patients in years to come.

Leave a legacy, like Jim, to ensure the best in patient care for generations to come by making a donation to The Ottawa Hospital in your will.

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Mid-surgery decision to leave abdomen open for two days saves woman’s life

Excruciating chest pains led Phyllis Holmes to the emergency room where tests revealed a life-threatening twist in her small intestine. Surgeons left her abdomen open for two days after surgery – it’s the reason Phyllis is alive today.

Excruciating chest pains woke Phyllis Holmes from a deep sleep. A trip to the emergency room revealed a twist in her small intestine. Doctors used an uncommon technique that involved leaving her abdomen clamped open for two days after surgery – it’s the reason Phyllis is alive today.

The first of many miracles

For 18 months Phyllis experienced on-and-off pain in her chest. Some episodes lasted for only a few minutes, while others lasted for several hours. Unable to pinpoint the cause of her pain, Phyllis’s doctor started an elimination process; sending her for various tests, including a visit to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. When results revealed it wasn’t her heart that was causing such discomfort, doctors ordered a CT scan hoping it would provide some answers.

However, only a few days prior to her scheduled appointment, Phyllis jolted awake in excruciating pain. Lying next to her, concerned, was her husband, Brian Jackson, who insisted they pay a visit to the emergency room. Her pain persisted as they checked in at The Ottawa Hospital’s General Campus. Recognizing the severity of her pain, the admitting staff immediately put her in an examination room.

A life-threatening diagnosis

Dr. Guillaume Martel and Phyllis Holmes embrace at The Ottawa Hospital.
Dr. Guillaume Martel and Phyllis Holmes

After several tests, Phyllis underwent a CT scan. The results showed her life was on the line.

As Phyllis recalls her experience, she describes hearing only one thing – they would need to perform emergency surgery immediately. “That was all I heard,” said Phyllis. “We have to do emergency surgery or you may be faced with a life-threatening circumstance.”

What the CT scan revealed was a small twist in her intestine, causing her entire bowel to turn purple, almost black. “Her whole small intestine was dying,” said Phyllis’s surgeon, Dr. Guillaume Martel, “which is not survivable. But we got to her quickly, and that day, things lined up perfectly.”

Traditionally, with a bowel in such a condition, surgeons would have removed the section of the bowel that was compromised. However, in Phyllis’s case, almost her entire bowel was jeopardized. Removing such a large portion of her bowel would have reduced her to being fed through IV nutrition for the rest of her life.

A mid-surgery decision

Once Phyllis was in the operating room, doctors were able to more accurately assess the severity of the damage caused to her intestine. Some vitality in her bowel remained— an encouraging sign that there was a chance it could be saved. Rather than remove the intestine, they decided to leave her abdomen clamped open and wait.

For two days Phyllis lay sedated in the intensive care unit, her abdomen left open. Throughout that time, Brian recalls the nurses and doctors were attentive and compassionate, letting him know what was going on every step of the way. “I was always in the loop about what was going on,” said Brian, something that he was grateful for during a particularly emotional and stressful time.

“Leaving a patient open can be a form of damage control,” explained Dr. Martel. This technique relieved a lot of pressure in Phyllis’s abdomen, allowing time to see whether her bowel would survive. However, it can be difficult for a doctor to know if this technique will work for one patient over another. Luckily, in Phyllis’s case, it did.

The wait was over

When Phyllis was brought back to the operating room for her second surgery, Dr. Balaa, the surgeon, told Brian what to expect. It could be a long procedure, where they would remove part of her intestine, and in its place attach a colostomy bag. Brian settled in for a long and stressful wait, unsure of what life might be like once Phyllis’s surgery was complete. But less than an hour later, Dr. Balaa appeared with incredible news.

When they took off the covering, a sheet that protected her abdomen while she lay clamped open, her intestine was healthy and back to normal again. To their amazement, her intestine remained viable and all they needed to do was stitch her back up.

Recovery period

The next morning Phyllis woke to Brian’s warm smile at her bedside. While she was unaware of the incredible turn of events, she was grateful to be alive.

She remained at the hospital for a week after the first surgery. While she recovered, Phyllis recalls receiving exceptional care. “The doctors always had so much time for me when they did their rounds,” said Phyllis. “They were very patient and engaged in my situation, it was heartwarming and wonderful.” Phyllis was so grateful, she wanted to show her appreciation.

A guardian angel

Dr. Guillaume at The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Guillaume Martel was part of a team that saved Phyllis’s life.

That’s when Phyllis heard of the Gratitude Award Program. This program was developed as a thoughtful way for patients to say thank you to the caregivers who go above and beyond to provide extraordinary care, every day. It’s a way for patients, like Phyllis, to recognize caregivers by giving a gift in their honour to The Ottawa Hospital. The caregivers are presented with a Gratitude Award pin and a special message from the patient letting them know the special care given did not go unnoticed.

Honouring Dr. Martel and several others through the Gratitude Award Program was a meaningful way for Phyllis to say thank you. “I wanted to be able to give something in return,” said Phyllis.

Dr. Martel was touched by the gesture. “When you receive a pin from a patient like Phyllis, it’s very gratifying,” explained Dr. Martel. “It’s something you can feel good about receiving.”

A healing experience

Phyllis’s journey at The Ottawa Hospital was far more than an emergency room visit and two surgeries. When asked to reflect on her experience, she tells a story of compassionate care and healing, both physically and mentally. “I felt that even though I was there to heal physically, I was getting psychological support as well,” Phyllis explained. “Everyone would use eye contact, or they’d touch my hand with compassion. It was very personal. I saw the divinity in those people,” explained Phyllis. “I saw it. I experienced it first-hand. And it is healing. That is the healing that takes place when you have those very special encounters. It heals you.”

Today, Phyllis feels incredibly grateful for the care she received at The Ottawa Hospital. “It was second to none,” she said.

Dr. Guillaume Martel

The Vered family joined together for a photo.In August 2019, Dr. Guillaume Martel was announced as the first Arnie Vered Family Chair in Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Research. Dr. Martel is a gifted surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital who has saved and prolonged the lives of countless patients, particularly those with cancer. An international search conducted for this Research Chair found the best candidate right here in Ottawa. This Research Chair provides the opportunity for innovative clinical trials and cutting-edge surgical techniques that will benefit our patients for years to come. This was made possible through the generous support of the Vered Family, alongside other donors.

“When Arnie got sick, he needed to travel to Montreal for treatment. It was so hard for him to be away from home and our six children. We wanted to help make it possible for people to receive treatment right here in Ottawa. This Chair is an important part of his legacy.” – Liz Vered, donor

Honour a physician, nurse, health care team member, or volunteer for the exceptional care you or a loved one has received at our hospital.

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Calendars of Hope

Purchase a 2021 calendar featuring the incredible work of Ottawa local artist Katerina Mertikas, a renowned UNICEF artist since 1993 and support The Ottawa Hospital.

Calendars of Hope by Katerina Mertikas

Purchase a 2021 calendar featuring the artwork of Ottawa local Katerina Mertikas, a renowned UNICEF artist since 1993. Her daughter Gina Mertikas, a cancer survivor, launched this initiative to raise funds in support of The Ottawa Hospital. The calendars will be available for purchase throughout the holidays.

Please note:

    • The 2021 calendars are available for sale at $25 including shipping costs with proceeds being donated to support cancer research for our community.
    • If you have any questions regarding the 2021 Calendars of Hope, please e-mail marketing@toh.ca
Calendars of Hope
Eternally grateful for the care she received, Gina Mertikas-Lavictoire is giving back to The Ottawa Hospital through the sale of beautiful calendars featuring her mother’s artwork.

Re-imagining the future of healthcare

This is a significant moment for The Ottawa Hospital and for the surrounding region as we embark on our most ambitious project to-date: the creation of a new, state-of-the-art health and research centre to replace the aging Civic Campus.

Re-imagining today. Creating tomorrow.

The Ottawa Hospital is Canada’s largest academic health and research centre and when it opens, the new hospital campus on Carling Avenue will be home to the most advanced trauma centre, most progressive digital technology, and one of the strongest neuroscience research programs in the world.

Checkpoint Newsletter

The new Civic development Checkpoint newsletter provides regular updates on our ambitious project to build a new hospital campus on Carling Avenue.

In this edition, find out how we will partner with the Unionized Building and Construction Trades Council.

In the latest edition of the new Civic development CheckPoint, you’ll read about what it means to build a universally accessible hospital, how the environmental cleanup of the site is beginning, and more.

In the latest edition of the new Civic Development CheckPoint, read how architects are designing the hospital with Ottawa’s daylight and weather patterns in mind. You’ll also get a look at groundbreaking research and meet the team working hard behind the scenes to plan a hospital for the future.
In this latest edition, you’ll read about how the finance team is planning for a $2.8 billion hospital, hear from Chair of Ottawa’s Planning Committee Jan Harder, and read about how the new Civic development will transform the patient experience – and more!

UPDATE on the new Civic development on Carling Avenue:

Our hospital is one step closer to opening one of the largest and most advanced hospitals in Canada with our recent submission of stage 2 of the Capital Planning Process to the Ontario Ministry of Health. The submission includes a proposed site plan, as well as detailed information on the programs that will be housed at the new Civic, including how much space each will need and equipment and staffing requirements. It also includes the development of a funding plan and a post-construction operating budget. The project is estimated to cost $2.8 billion. The Ministry of Health’s share is $2.1 billion, and additional funding will be raised locally through other avenues such as fundraising. For more information on the stage 2 submission, please visit: newcivicdevelopment.ca

“People in our region will come to this new facility for compassionate, skilled care. The new treatments and technologies that will be used and developed here will save lives and advance and revolutionize health care. This hospital is the future of health care.”
— Katherine Cotton, Chair of The Ottawa Hospital’s Board of Governors

New Civic Development - Main Entrance
New Civic Development -- View from Main Entrance towards Carling
New Civic Development -- View from Dow's Lake
New Civic Development -- View of Main Entrance and Research Tower from Carling

“The transformation of The Ottawa Hospital will not be like anything we’ve done before. We are creating a facility – right here in our community – that will be the envy of the world for its ability to foster innovation in every aspect of healthcare.” – Cameron Love, President & CEO, The Ottawa Hospital

The new Carling site is the largest and most important healthcare infrastructure project ever in Ottawa. We are raising an unprecedented $400 million in community support and every dollar raised will help leverage four more dollars of government infrastructure investment.

This project is far more than simply bricks and mortar – this is your hospital. Join us as we re-imagine the future of healthcare

Together, we will build a healthier future.
Join us by donating today.

Be Inspired

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Peripartum depression left the future uncertain for Petra and her son.
A meningioma tumour leaves mother facing blindness
In the fall of 2020, Michele Juma noticed the vision in her left eye was becoming cloudy. Fearing blindness, she travelled to The Ottawa Hospital where she received specialized care after learning she had a meningioma tumour – and time was not on her side to save her vision.
Staying on tempo: Cutting-edge surgery technique helps musician get back on her feet
When painful leg ulcers threatened Mina King’s mobility and ability to play the piano with ease, experts at The Ottawa Hospital came together in perfect unison with cutting-edge surgery techniques and compassionate care.

From recovery room to the workshop: Carving inspires emotional healing

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

Inuit carves way to mental well-being after cancer

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

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

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

A holistic approach to healing

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

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

Treating patients from Nunavut in Ottawa

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

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

Patient-centered health care

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

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

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

 

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

A grand opening

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

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

His depression lifted, and his cancer was halted.

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

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

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

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

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

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A new era in breast health at The Ottawa Hospital

The Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital is committed to providing an exceptional level of care for our patients, approaching each case with medical excellence, practice, and compassion. Our reputation for world-leading research and patient care attracts to Ottawa some of the brightest and most capable health-care professionals in the world who help us deliver extraordinary care to patients in our community.

Making world-first discoveries and pushing the boundaries of breast cancer care and research right here at The Ottawa Hospital

In front of a buzzing crowd of more than 200 generous contributors and tireless allies, the new Rose Ages Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital officially opened its doors on September 20, 2018. The event marked a thrilling close to an ambitious $14 million fundraising campaign.

Built and equipped through the unfailing generosity of our community, the Centre now houses an impressive suite of technologies that are among the latest and most comprehensive in Canada. Many of them enable more accurate and much less invasive diagnoses and treatments.

But more than just technology, the new Centre was designed as an inviting space to enhance wellness and connection to friends and family. It also allows patients to be closer to the specialists involved in their care, from before diagnosis to after treatment, and beyond. This means, thanks to donor support, more patients can be treated with therapies that are tailored to their unique circumstance.

 

A comprehensive breast health program to address growing need

The Ottawa Hospital offers a comprehensive breast centre, providing expertise in breast imaging, diagnosis, risk assessment, surgical planning, and psychosocial support.

The consolidation of four breast health centres spread out across the city down to two (the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre and Hampton Park), allow for more centralized services, less travel time, improved patient care and operational efficiencies.

This year alone, another 1,000 women in our region will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to the generous donor community in the Ottawa region, The Ottawa Hospital is already tackling this growing challenge and working hard to improve every aspect of breast cancer care with innovative research and the very best treatments and techniques.

“Your generosity has improved the largest breast centre in Canada,” said Dr. Seely. “We are now poised to lead the way for excellence in breast health care.”

 

The creation of REaCT

The Ottawa Hospital’s commitment to innovation and research is revolutionizing clinical trials, improving patient outcomes every day. Though clinical trials offer improved treatment options, less than three percent of cancer patients in Canada are enrolled in clinical trials. Part of the reason for low enrollment is the daunting prospect of lengthy paperwork each patient must fill out before becoming involved in a trial. As well, regulatory hurdles often make opening a new trial too expensive and time consuming. In response to these challenges, in 2014, Dr. Marc Clemons, medical oncologist and scientist, in collaboration with Dr. Dean Fergusson, Director of the Clinical Epidemiology Program, and their colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital, developed the Rethinking Clinical Trials or REaCT program as a way to make the process of enrollment in clinical trials easier and more efficient for cancer patients.

This ground-breaking program conducts practical patient-focused research to ensure patients receive optimal, safe and cost-effective treatments. Since REaCT isn’t investigating a new drug or a new therapy, but rather looks at the effectiveness of an existing therapy, regulatory hurdles are not an issue and patients can consent verbally to begin treatment immediately. By the end of 2017, this program enrolled more breast cancer patients in clinical trials than all other trials in Canada combined. Currently, there are more than 2,300 participants involved in various REaCT trials.

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

The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre 2018-2019 stats and facts

  • 49,288 diagnostic breast examinations and procedures
  • 2,397 breast biopsies
  • 5,129 breast clinic patient visits
  • 1,929 referrals to the Breast Clinic
  • 889 diagnosed breast cancer patients

 

Specialized patient care

Tanya O’Brien

Tanya O'Brien, cancer free for more than five years.

 

Five years ago, Tanya O’Brien received the news she had been afraid of all her life. Like her six family members before her, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today, Tanya is cancer-free. When she thinks back to the 16 months of treatment she received at the Rose Ages Breast Health Center at The Ottawa Hospital, Tanya credits her dedicated and skilled care team for guiding her through and out of the darkest time in her life.

“We have come so far as a community in changing the narrative of breast cancer. We have given women like me, like us, so much hope,” said Tanya.

Rita Nattkemper

When a routine mammogram identified a small tumour, Rita Nattkemper was given an innovative option to mark its location for the surgery.

 

When a routine mammogram identified a small tumour, Rita Nattkemper was given an innovative option to mark its location for the surgery. A radioactive seed, the size of a pinhead, was injected directly into the tumour in her breast.

For years, an uncomfortable wire was inserted into a woman’s breast before surgery to pinpoint the cancer tumour. Today, a tiny radioactive seed is implanted instead, making it easier for surgeons to find and fully remove the cancer, and more comfortable for patients like Rita.

“It’s a painless procedure to get this radioactive seed in, and it helps the doctor with accuracy,” said Rita.

Marilyn Erdely

At the age of 29, Marilyn had a lumpectomy after receiving a stage zero breast cancer diagnosis.

 

At the age of 29, Marilyn had a lumpectomy after receiving a stage zero breast cancer diagnosis. She was confident she would be fine. But five years later, her cancer metastasized.

“Scans would reveal the cancer was throughout my body. I had significant cancer in the bones, in my femur, in my back, in my ovaries, and in my liver. I was head-to-toe cancer,” said Marilyn.

Oncologist Dr. Stan Gertler gave her hope for recovery. Within six months of her stage four diagnosis, Marilyn required several surgeries. But then things changed. She started feeling better, stronger.

Today, she is down to just a couple of one-centimeter tumours on her liver. Everything else is resolved. The cancer is dormant.

Breast Health Centre Update 2018-2019

More inspiring stories

Annette Gibbons

Annette Gibbons after speaking at The President's Breakfast.

 

‘I walked through my darkest fears and came out the other side.’

It would be a routine mammogram, which would turn Annette Gibbons’ world upside down. The public servant would soon begin her breast cancer journey, but she put her complete trust in her medical team at The Ottawa Hospital.

Vesna Zic-Côté

Vesna Coté imaged at her home.

 

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.

International research to find breast cancer sooner

The Ottawa Hospital is one of six sites in Canada participating in the Tomosynthesis Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial (TMIST), a randomized breast cancer screening trial that will help researchers determine the best ways to find breast cancer in women who have no symptoms, and whether a newer 3D imaging technique decreases the rate of advanced breast cancers.

The trial compares standard digital mammography (2D) with a newer technology called tomosynthesis mammography (3D). Conventional 2D mammography creates a flat image from pictures taken from two sides of the breast. With 3D mammography a 3D image is created from images taken at different angles around the breast.

Worldwide the study is expected to enroll around 165,000 patients over five years. With the new, increased mammography capacity at the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre we expect to enroll at least 1500 patients from our region.

 

Your impact

The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital is committed to providing an exceptional level of care for patients, approaching each case with medical excellence, practice, and compassion. The Centre’s reputation for world-leading research and patient care attracts to Ottawa some of the brightest and most capable health-care professionals in the world who help deliver extraordinary care to patients in our community.

You continue to be a critical part of our success as we strive to redraw the boundaries of breast health care. On behalf of the thousands of patients and families who need The Ottawa Hospital, we thank you for your tremendous support and for your continued involvement.

Support from donors like you will ensure that our community has access to the medical advancements that are defining patient care today.

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Brain tumour diagnosis leads mom down unimaginable path

In 2016, Natasha Lewis was diagnosed with a brain tumour and her quality of life began to deteriorate. She received kind, compassionate care at The Ottawa Hospital – one of the few hospitals in Canada that could help her because of the complexity of her diagnosis.

It was an unimaginable brain tumour diagnosis that Natasha Lewis never saw coming. It started one morning, in 2016; the mother of three remembers waking up with a strange symptom.

“I looked in the mirror and noticed my tongue was twisting to the left,” recalled Natasha. Her first thought was that she had a stroke, but she was confused by the fact the rest of her body seemed normal.

She went for tests at The Ottawa Hospital  and three days later, her life changed. Natasha was driving when she got the call. Tests revealed a tumour in her brain. “I felt so sick when I heard the news that I had to pull over.”

Diagnosis shatters mom’s world

Natasha Lewis with her husband
Natasha Lewis with her husband, Marvin.

Natasha had a schwannoma tumour, which is rarely found in the brain. Her mind was racing. “I was only 38 years old, a wife, and mother of three young children.”

When she got home to St. Isidore, east of Ottawa, she sat with her youngest daughter as she relayed the information to her husband. “I had tears falling down my face. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

All this time she thought she was healthy. “I was losing weight, running, and training for marathons and triathlons.” All she could think about were her three, beautiful, young children. What would this mean for them?

“We’re in the right place. We’re in Canada, we’re close to Ottawa, we’ll get the best care.”
– Marvin Lewis

However, her husband, Marvin, was a pillar of strength. She remembers him saying, “We’re in the right place. We’re in Canada, we’re close to Ottawa, we’ll get the best care.” She adds, “He has never been so right.”

The challenge of non-cancerous brain tumours

Natasha was cared for at The Ottawa Hospital – one of the few hospitals in Canada that could help her because of the complexity of her diagnosis. Dr. Fahad Alkherayf, a world-class skull base surgeon told her the tumour was benign and he would closely monitor her in the months ahead.

Normally, a schwannoma is a tumour that grows in the sheaths of nerves in the peripheral nervous system, or the parts of the nervous system that aren’t in your brain or spinal cord. Schwannomas are usually low-grade tumours, meaning they can often be successfully treated, but they’re still serious and can be life-threatening. It is estimated that in 2021, there will be 27 new primary brain tumours diagnosed every day in Canada. Non-malignant tumours account for almost two-thirds of all primary brain tumours.

Condition deteriorating

Less than a year later, while the tumour had grown only slightly, Natasha’s quality of life was deteriorating.

She was scared to see what was happening with her body. Initially, there was drooling from both sides of her mouth, then Natasha started slurring her words. It was a little embarrassing, but she could handle it. In addition, swallowing became more difficult and her shoulder felt like it was on fire. That’s when she lost the ability to move it and couldn’t use it to work out. Even worse, she couldn’t lift her children.

By May 2018, it was time to operate when the side effects continued to worsen.

Surgeons ready for complex procedure

It was an intricate 10-hour brain surgery. Dr. Alkherayf brought in ear surgeon, Dr. David Schramm, a colleague at The Ottawa Hospital, to assist because of where the tumor was located. Dr. Alkherayf wanted to have another highly-skilled surgeon with him because the tumour was near the ear canal.

Hospital-bound Natasha with Dr. Fahad Alkerayf
Natasha with Dr. Alkherayf

The surgical team accessed her brain through the base of the skull. While minimally invasive surgeries are becoming more common than open surgeries, where the brain is accessed through a more invasive and significant incision, it wasn’t an option for Natasha because there were too many nerves to navigate. With traditional surgery, patients can spend a week recovering in the hospital.  With minimally invasive surgery, they sometimes go home the same day. In Natasha’s case, though complex and intricate, open surgery was the less risky option and she benefitted from the expertise available to her right here in Ottawa.

Dr. Alkherayf knew they likely couldn’t remove all of the tumour because of those surrounding nerves; damaging them meant Natasha might  lose her ability to hear and swallow. While these risks were terrifying for Natasha, Dr. Alkherayf made her feel confident and gave her hope.

“I remember Dr. Alkherayf said there would be another chapter in my life. I held on to those words.”
– Natasha Lewis

Incredibly, her surgeons were able to remove ninety-nine percent of the tumour leaving only a small sliver so they didn’t have to cut the nerves.

Journey continues after remarkable recovery

Following her surgery, Natasha made a remarkable recovery. She has her hearing — it’s a little muffled but she’s told over time it will return to normal. She’s back at work, her speech is back to normal, and she can swallow without difficulty.

This active mom’s recovery has been nothing short of remarkable. Four months post-surgery, Natasha ran the Commander’s challenge at the Army Run. She started training for a marathon and she has the dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

However, in 2019, she received news the tumour had grown back, despite being told the odds of that were low. Natasha was devastated, but her healthcare team would turn to the CyberKnife – a revolutionary piece of equipment that arrived at The Ottawa Hospital in 2010, as a result of donor support.

“At first I was nervous to have the CyberKnife treatment. I had to go by myself because we had no one to watch the kids. However, the staff was very patient, kind, and made you feel warm and safe. I was able to watch a movie and the machine did the work,” recalls Natasha. She would have three, one-hour treatments.

Natasha and her family
Natasha and her family

“I had to go by myself because we had no one to watch the kids. However, the staff was very patient, kind, and made you feel warm and safe.”
– Natasha Lewis

Today, she prays that “Jim,” the name she’s given the tumour, will not come back. While, there’s uncertainty over what will happen next, she continues to be active with her running and most importantly, she can run, play with, and hug her three children. “I can hear them laugh and tell me they love me. There is no greater feeling in the world,” smiles Natasha.

Listen to Pulse Podcast to learn more about Natasha’s story and how Dr. Fahad Alkherayf provided her with specialized care.

Your support will ensure all patients, like Natasha, have access to the very latest lifesaving technologies at The Ottawa Hospital.

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A double-life — living with kidney disease

June Jones lives a double life. During the day, she is busy, making cookies with her two granddaughters, working in her garden, and enjoying life. During the night, she sleeps hooked up to a dialysis machine. June needs a new kidney.

June Jones lives a double life. During the day, she is busy, making cookies with her two granddaughters, working in her garden, and enjoying life. During the night, she sleeps hooked up to a dialysis machine. June needs a new kidney.

June making cookies after Christmas with her granddaughter Leah.
June making cookies after Christmas with her granddaughter Leah.

The 58-year-old has been living with kidney disease for 30 years — over half her life.

In April 1989, not long after her second child was born, June felt extremely run down. Her physician was concerned she had too much blood in her urine and sent her to a nephrologist.

He diagnosed her with IgA nephropathy, disease caused by her body’s immune system attacking her kidneys.

June started on various medications after being diagnosed, but within nine years her disease had progressed, and her kidneys stopped working completely. She started dialysis in 1998.

“There is no cure for renal disease,” said June. “Once your kidneys fail, you’re put on dialysis or have a transplant. Your life is never normal.”

What kidneys do

The function of the kidneys is to remove waste and extra water from the blood to make urine. When kidneys stop working and no longer clean the blood, toxins accumulate in the body, and this can be fatal. Dialysis is an artificial method of cleaning the blood. It sustains a person’s life but is not a cure.

There are two different forms of dialysis. Hemodialysis removes waste products and extra water from the blood by circulating and filtering it through a machine. This is the most common form of dialysis that is often provided to patients at the hospital. Peritoneal dialysis circulates a fluid through the lining of your abdomen, or peritoneum, and the waste products from the blood pass into this fluid.

There are almost 1,000 patients on dialysis in the Ottawa area. Just over two hundred are on peritoneal dialysis. Dr. Brendan McCormick, Medical Director of the Home Dialysis Program, said some patients have been treated for over a decade on peritoneal dialysis but more typically patients spend about three years on this therapy. People leave peritoneal dialysis once they receive a kidney transplant, however, some need to transfer to hemodialysis due to complications of therapy.

The Ottawa Hospital Home dialysis program has the highest rate of kidney transplant in the province. For many patients, peritoneal dialysis serves as a bridge to kidney transplant.

Needing life-saving dialysis

According to a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information released in December 2018, only 16 percent of Canadians on dialysis survive past 10 years. However, up to 74 percent of Canadians with a kidney transplant still have a functioning kidney after 10 years.

June was only on dialysis for six months before she received the call that a donor match had been found. On November 28, 1998, June received a kidney transplant from a deceased donor.

“It lasted four months shy of 15 years,” June said. “Then, the disease reappeared. I’ve been back on dialysis now for six years.”

In the Ottawa Region, 52 people have received kidney transplants this year. Unfortunately, there are still 165 people are on a waiting list.

“We need to do a lot of transplants to get people off dialysis to keep them alive longer with a better quality of life,” said Dr. Ann Bugeja, nephrologist and Director of the Living Kidney Donor Program. “We know that getting a living donor kidney is the best treatment for end-stage kidney disease and it lasts longer than getting a kidney from a deceased donor.”

When June’s kidney transplant failed six years ago, she had to go back on hemodialysis. She switched to peritoneal dialysis in July 2013. Once again, she has a dialysis machine at home, but this time she does dialysis for nine hours every night. It cleans her blood while she sleeps.

June’s nightly routine is a hassle and not a permanent solution. The membrane around her stomach has started to harden, which means the fluids can’t move back and forth as easily. What this means is that June will have to go on hemodialysis. The technology hasn’t changed in the 20 years since she was on it before and she remembers too vividly how it gave her severe headaches and was painful.

 

Making a difference for future generations

The Joneses at the unveiling of the plaque outside the Jones Family Foundation Kidney Research Laboratory in honour of their million dollar donation to Kidney Research.
Russ and June Jones with their family at The Ottawa Hospital. The Jones family made a $1 million donation to support kidney research at The Ottawa Hospital.

June needs a new kidney. She is on a Canada-wide waiting list for one.

“Giving a kidney can change somebody’s life,” said Dr. Bugeja.

June lives with the daily hope of a second transplant.

She and husband Russ know first-hand how important research is to improve outcomes for people suffering with kidney disease. They heard researchers at The Ottawa Hospital were making great strides finding solutions to kidney diseases, including detecting kidney disease early and looking at the potential of stem cells to heal injured kidneys.

They decided the only way to make a difference for future generations of patients was through research and made a $1 million donation to support kidney research at the Kidney Research Centre at The Ottawa Hospital.

Their support will enable the research team at the Kidney Research Centre to continue to advance knowledge and improve the care of patients with kidney disease through world-renowned studies and research.

June’s children are now adults, married, and parents themselves — each with their own adorable little girl. Leah, aged two, and Bailey, 18 months, are the pride and joy of June’s life.

On January 8, 2019, the entire family was at The Ottawa Hospital Kidney Research Centre to unveil a plaque outside the Jones Family Foundation Kidney Research Laboratory. The plaque commemorates their incredible support of kidney research.

“I hope with research advancements, I will live to see my grandchildren’s memorable events,” said June.

“I hope to be there for their high school graduations, university graduations, their wedding days, and when they have children of their own. I also hope great strides are made so that their generation will find a cure.”

Listen to Pulse podcast and hear June Jones in her own words explaining what it’s like waiting for a second kidney transplant and why research is so important.

Your support of research helps move discoveries in the lab to clinical trials and into treatment for patients.

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