One out of every 30 Canadian women who died last year lost her life to breast cancer. Just let that sink in. That is thousands upon thousands of lives. And the number of Canadian women who were diagnosed with breast cancer? One in nine! That’s a shocking number. That’s an epidemic.
Those are pretty terrifying odds in a lottery no one wants to win, but I did. I am that one in nine, and I’m praying that my children, and yours, will never be that one. Just about three years ago, when my daughters were six and nine years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer which had metastasized into my lymphatic system. And just to make it more special, I had a super aggressive, crappy prognosis type with a high rate of recurrence, known as triple negative. Unlike other breast cancers, there are currently no targeted drugs or therapies for triple negative, and when you Google it you’ll see articles with titles like “Breast cancer survival rates not increasing for some,” and they mean me. Or my personal favourite, “Triple negative breast cancer — not necessarily a death sentence.” Oh good. Great to hear it. So why do I always imagine the Voice of Doom when I think about that one?
The reality is, it’s heartbreaking over and over again to be part of my triple neg support group and see my beautiful and courageous friends die. And it’s particularly cruel, because it tends to target younger women, who never get a chance to see their children grow up. Well you all know what came next. The year from hell. The year of cutting, puncturing, poisoning, and burning, in the fight to save my life. Suffice to say, the whole experience sucked really badly.
I’ve often felt frustrated by what feels like too slow a pace in triple negative research, frustrated seeing the glimmers of hope in so many areas that never quite seem to coalesce, that might all be important pieces of the same puzzle, and just wanting to scream, “Hey guys, get it together! Please, get together on this!”
And now they are! Just a week or so ago, I was honoured to attend the announcement of the Stand Up To Cancer Canada‒Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Breast Cancer Dream Team. Led by breast cancer experts Tak W. Mak of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, and Samuel Aparicio at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the Dream Team will be developing new therapies to treat aggressive breast cancers, including triple negative. This collaborative effort by SU2C Canada, CBCF supported by CIBC, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) is inspiring. So much determination and generosity, and so many brilliant minds all focused on and working towards a common goal.
The most incredible part for me is hearing about new targeted drugs to treat triple negative breast cancer, (yay!) drugs that go after the inherent vulnerabilities in aggressive breast cancer cells and leave the healthy ones alone. That’s huge!!
For triple negatives, chemo is all we have, and it is extremely harsh, it is gruelling and it is debilitating. Not only that, it’s humiliating. It’s humiliating to have your hair fall out, and your fingernails and toenails fall off. Humiliating to fall down at random moments because the neuropathy is so bad in your feet that you can’t feel them. I particularly hated that part — who wants people to think you are the crazy bald lady falling down drunk, when you’re not having nearly that much fun?!
So these new drugs give me profound hope that one day soon, we will be able to say buh-bye chemo! Because I never want my children to go through that. Like every mother, I have so many hopes and fears wrapped up in my children, so training the next generation of breast cancer researchers is a really important part of the project for me. I want to know that the next wave of scientists are ready too -‒ ready to keep my children, and yours, and all of our sisters, mothers, and nieces, healthy and safe.
Of course, none of this can come fast enough for me, so I’m excited the project is accelerating research and specifically looking at areas of quick incremental success. They want results and they want them fast. And I say, “Fantastic! Way to get this show on the road, guys!”
This is all being driven by the powerhouse collaboration of the most trusted and largest funder of research in the country, The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, together with SU2C, which has galvanized nations across the world with their incredible telethons and funding of cancer Dream
Teams. You have my undying gratitude. And thank you to generous partners CIBC, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research for pooling their resources in order to fund the Dream Team sufficiently and make all this possible.
The Dream Team couldn’t be more aptly named because today, I dare to believe my dreams could come true. Today I am filled with not only tremendous hope, but also immense gratitude. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!