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My Rare Cancer Diagnosis Inspired Me To Give Back

01/13/2016 05:51 EST | Updated 01/13/2017 05:12 EST
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Family walking and having fun together on a beach at sunset

On Nov. 20, 2014, my world was rocked by words we all dread: "I'm sorry, you have cancer."

We have all been affected by cancer in one way or another -- loved ones, perhaps parents and/or other relatives who have had to fight that battle. Some may have won that battle; however, many may not have been not as fortunate.

It still seems a little unbelievable that those words were told to me and I was faced with having to fight along with so many other strong, dedicated and loving people. It was always somebody else that had that situation to deal with, and I often wondered where they got the strength to do so, but back in November of 2014, I was called to join the fight.

It felt as if everything was spinning out of control. I so desperately wanted the diagnosis that I received in Winnipeg, my hometown, to be inaccurate. Perhaps there was a mistake made, maybe an error in the radiologist's report, a chance that the tumour could be benign -- anything that would avoid me having to join that path of cancer treatment.

But the fact is that an estimated two in five Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetimes, and one in four will die from it. In 2015, it was estimated that approximately 96,400 Canadian women and 100,500 men would be diagnosed with cancer.

Every cancer diagnosis is devastating, irrelevant of the form it takes. However, when one is told they have a very rare form of cancer, such as cholangiocarcinoma (a type of bile duct cancer) which makes up about two per cent of all reported cancers, one wonders: Where do I go? Who can help me? Is there any team of doctors or a cancer centre in this world that can deal with my unique situation?

Fortunately for all Canadians and people around the world, the answer is YES! That institution is Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. The Princess Margaret has achieved an international reputation as a global leader in the fight to conquer cancer and delivering personalized cancer medicine. It is right in our backyard -- Toronto, Canada's largest city.

When I was referred to see Dr. Sean Cleary at the Princess Margaret, I was cautiously optimistic. My form of cancer was so rare that the fine group of doctors in Winnipeg could not provide the level of care and treatment that I required, so I sourced out a leading cancer centre in the United States.

This world-renowned clinic also had a difficult time finding a treatment plan that would provide me with a means of survival and a quality of life we all thrive for and deserve.

So, I left my fate with the team of professionals at the Princess Margaret and now, 14 months after my diagnosis, I am living proof that the elite team of cancer researchers, scientists, clinicians and staff dedicated to the ultimate goal of conquering cancer by leveraging basic, translational and clinical research into dramatic cancer breakthroughs is very real and effective.

Dr. Cleary was able to resect 70 per cent of my liver, and although the pathology report came in with negative margins and the operation was a complete success, Dr. Cleary, along with the site lead of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Clinic at the Princess Margaret, Dr. Jennifer Knox, recommended I follow up with chemotherapy. I tolerated the chemo that was prescribed to me by Dr. Knox very well and am thrilled I followed their advice.

I have always aspired to become a philanthropist and knew that the time was now to begin that cause and donate to the remarkable group of individuals that saved my life. I did exactly that, and found myself having lunch with Christy Morrow, the associate director of major gifts at the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation back in August of 2015.

I asked her how else I could contribute to the efforts being made to save lives for all forms of cancer. She suggested I join the OneWalk to Conquer Cancer, a 25-kilometre walk throughout Toronto. Christy is now the campaign director, so she knows what she is talking about!

I wanted to ensure that my donation and the donations made from all of my supporters go to the research that is dear to them. When a participant registers for OneWalk, they select a cancer fund that their dollars raised will support, such as discovery research; breast, gynecologic, lung, gastrointestinal, hepatobiliary, genitourinary or blood cancer; endocrine and skin cancer; melanoma; head and neck cancer; central nervous system cancer; brain and eye cancer; sarcoma; and childhood cancers.

I encourage you to join our team, the GI Joes, to help raise desperately needed funds to fulfill the statement, "We will conquer cancer in our lifetime." The 2016 OneWalk in Toronto will take place on September 10.

Please visit their website, www.OneWalk.ca, and simply request information, register or donate. If you would like to support the GI Joes or me as a participant, click here. You'll be glad you did, as will the great number of people who benefit from the research and current life saving techniques being used by Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

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