Choose Cancer


On October 11, 2015 I enjoyed my 10th anniversary of being diagnosed with cancer.  On that day 10 years ago cancer chose me.  This is an appeal that you join me and thousands of Canadians in choosing “conquering cancer’ as a mission…that you join us in pursuing a cancer-free future through the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, Presented by EVRAZ.

Why Choose Cancer?

  • 1 in 4 Canadians are expected to die from cancer.
  • Cancer is the leading cause of premature death in Canada.
  • 40% of Canadian males and nearly 45% of Canadian females will develop some form of the disease in their lifetimes.

One of my close friends lost his young wife to breast cancer after a long battle.  The mother of a girl that we met at our daughter’s class lost her brother at a young age to testicular cancer.

945C4472We all know cancer survivors.  I have a close friend who is thriving after surviving breast cancer.  Among my circle of guy friends four of us have had testicular cancer.  We are all doing great despite being diagnosed with diseases that were sure killers mere decades ago.

It must be said that these survivals also represent spouses, children, parents who still have loved ones in their lives.  Each year, over 1,000,000 years of life are lost in Canada alone as a result of cancer deaths.

There is no denying that this is a disease that affects all of us.

Breakthroughs are being made every day in the race to find cures for this deadly disease. Simply put, our financial support of this cause goes directly to impacting outcomes for our neighbours, our colleagues, our family, ourselves.

As a 40-something male who has survived cancer once I am also keenly aware that the bulk of cancers that kill men still lurk in my future.  Make no mistake…investing in effective cancer research is in our own personal best interest.

So what’s a person to do to?  Quit smoking, eat well, exercise, manage stress and give back by funding the world-class prevention, screening, research and enhanced cancer funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

Once my treatments began, I quickly realised that if I survived I would owe my life to visionary cancer researchers and breakthroughs funded by everyday people who cared.  Back in March, 2007 I emerged after 3 cycles of chemotherapy battered and a caricature of my previously athletic self.  I was barely able to jog 100m, but I found a brochure at the cancer centre for a 90km fundraising ride and signed up with determination to claw my way back to fitness.

That was 2007, and I’m fortunate that 2016 will be my 10th fundraising ride and 8th Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.  With the help of thousands of donors over 9 years, my teams and I have raised over $455,000 for the cancer communities in BC and Alberta.

Riding to conquer cancer has become central to my life.  I am convinced we will see a world free from cancer within our lifetime.  Why not join this critical movement in support of Albertans facing cancer and their families?

Why Choose Alberta Cancer Foundation?

We are fortunate in Alberta to be able to invest in a foundation where 100% of all funds go directly to support Albertans.  To underline the impact that the Alberta Cancer Foundation (ACF) makes in the lives of Albertans facing cancer, here are some of the recent accomplishments and continuing programs supported by our donor dollars.

Dr. Ing Swie Goping and the BAD protein

The ACF supports a breast cancer research program, led by Dr. Ing Swie Goping, that has identified a biomarker that could predict who should receive taxane chemotherapy and who shouldn’t.  Taxane chemotherapy is extremely effective in treating some women with breast cancer and not others, but until now we haven’t had a way to know why.  If we could save hundreds of Albertans from undergoing this treatment, which can produce harsh side effects, we could relieve unnecessary suffering and begin alternative treatments sooner.  This is the promise of Dr. Goping and her team’s research.

Lung Cancer Screening

Lung Cancer is one of the most deadly of cancers.  This year alone, 2,000 Albertans are expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer, and sadly 1,700 are expected to die. Early detection presents the greatest opportunity to intervene effectively and save lives, and yet there are no provincial lung cancer screening programs currently in Canada.  The ACF is funding a provincial lung cancer screening project that has just started recruiting patients in both Calgary and Edmonton. The goal of the project is to be the first province to implement a screening program to detect the disease early…hopefully before it is too late.

Enhanced Care

The ACF is unique among cancer foundations…focusing considerable energy on delivering immediate impact on cancer patients and their families through investments in enhanced care at all 17 cancer centres across the province.  They provide support to patients, no matter where they are on their journey. From comfortable chemo chairs or blanket warmers to patient financial assistance that ensures that patients who need it receive financial assistance at their time of greatest need. Patient navigators are another of the worthwhile investments that ACF donors support that make the cancer journey easier and outcomes better, mostly for rural Albertans.

These investments simply would not have been possible without the private funding supplied through events like the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer in support of the ACF.  You can read about all of these programs and more at http://www.albertacancer.ca.

To quote the Alberta Cancer Foundation website:

We strive to be one of the most innovative, philanthropic organizations in Canada by delivering transformational results for Alberta cancer patients and their families. We strategically invest in research and programs that have a direct line of sight to patients. We are taking a bold, new approach to speed progress and bring results to patients faster.

The people that I have met through fundraising and the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer have become my closest and dearest friends.  Our annual 200km bike ride is both moving and enriching.  I hope you will join us, and if you do, thank you for making an impact in the lives of Albertans facing cancer and their families.

Read my story and donate to the cause here.

Whatever your reason for continuing to support cancer research, thank you.  Here is a short videofesto from the Alberta Cancer Foundation that talks about the impact you are having.

All Statistics from Canadian Cancer Society. Read more.

Scientists re-write rulebook on breast cancer in landmark global study


Apr 18, 2012

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Scientists at the BC Cancer Agency and University of British Columbia have identified new breast cancer genes that could change the way the disease is diagnosed and form the basis of next-generation treatments.

Researchers have reclassified the disease into 10 completely new categories based on the genetic fingerprint of a tumour. Many of these genes could offer much-needed insight into breast cancer…

Read More at http://bccancerfoundation.com/about-us/news/scientists-re-write-rulebook-breast-cancer-landmark-global-study

Team Extreme Style Targetting $250,000 for BC Cancer Foundation


Team Extreme Style at the start of Ride, 2009

In our third year as a recreational cycling team, Alberto European Extreme Style is setting its sights on $250,000 raised for cancer research.

So far we have ridden from Vancouver to Seattle twice, and raised over $190,000 through the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

In Loving Memory: This past year we lost a loved friend and team-mate, Anita Cochrane.  This year’s campaign is dedicated in her honour.  Anita was tireless in her dedication to helping others diagnosed with cancer and I will miss her ready smile and positive outlook.

The team would like to thank returning sponsors Alberto European Extreme Style, Hapa Izakaya and La Bicicletta Pro Shop who have all been with us from our first Ride to Conquer Cancer.  They’ve given us support and shown a dedication to the cause that comes from being touched personally by this disease.

If cancer is your cause, please consider making a donation through our team by clicking here.  Once there you can read about the team, and donate through any of the rider’s pages directly.   The BC Cancer Agency has a record for consistently producing breakthroughs of international significance in the fight against cancer.  If you’d like to read more about their recent contribution to the discovery of new breast cancer oncogenes, and other breakthroughs you can find them here.

Looking forward to sharing the roads with you on the way to this year’s ride to Seattle!

Scuba Diving after Bleomycin…With the right precautions


The objective of this post is to add my experience to the growing body of evidence that supports people treated with bleomycin safely returning to scuba diving under the right circumstances.

I was diagnosed with testicular cancer in October of 2005.

I was lucky.  Friends and family supported me during the diagnosis, and I was fortunate enough to live in Vancouver just blocks away from the BC Cancer Agency.   The BCCA is one of the finest clinical care facilities in North America.  3 years after a recurrence that was treated with 3 cycles of BEP (Bleomycin, Etopisode, Cisplatin) chemotherapy in 2007 I feel confident that we’ve beaten it.  I know I have a great number of people to thank, and will remain grateful for as long as I live.

I should note that I’m not a doctor and you should rely on the advice of your physician. 

That said, I’ve returned to scuba diving having obtained the endorsement of my physician and in the past 3 months have enjoyed some of the most thrilling diving of my life.  If you’re a diver and reading this, check out Pescadore Island, Malapascua and Apo Reef.  Whoa.

Getting here involved a great deal of research and talking to people and I’m hoping this post will help people in a similar situation to me.

If you’ve been prescribed bleomycin,  you know that one of its contra-indications is breathing compressed oxygen.  The sheet I was given by my oncologist specifically said that I would not be able to scuba dive again.

Period.

If you read Lance Armstrong’s book “It’s not about the bike” you may remember that there is a point where Lance is prescribed 3 cycles of BEP, but his doctors step in to say they have an alternative series of drugs that would not endanger his lungs, and therefore give him a better chance to return to cycling.  The drug they were avoiding is Bleomycin (the B in BEP).

The Path Back for Divers: Here’s what I found out in a nutshell. You should wait at least 2 years (3 on the most conservative side) post chemo-therapy before considering returning to diving.   You can then complete a pulmonary function test and see a specialist in hyper-baric medicine to present your case and get the go-ahead.

The thing is that even after completing the above with a specialist in hyperbaric medicine, he still felt constrained by the published authorities on the matter.  That’s where it gets frustrating.  After considering my test results and determining that there was no lung injury resulting from my exposure to bleomycin, his review of published research still suggested to him he must take the most conservative approach and support the ban on scuba.

In order to tip the scales, he asked me to get the advice of the Divers Alert Network, (DAN) who are closest to the issue.  If DAN gave the green light, then he would be able to as well.

Here is a thread of the email that I had with the Divers Alert Network DAN, including their contact info if you’d like to approach them too:

Subject: DAN Bleomycin
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 2010 11:56:32 -0400
To: Andrew Gregory

 
Dear Mr. Gregory,

Thank you for your message.

The medication of Bleomycin has been getting more and more attention lately.

Bleomycin may cause pulmonary pneumonitis in about 10% of patients resulting with pulmonary fibrosis in 1% cases. The therapy has many faces and various evolution paths and thus there is no one answer regarding return to diving. The issue has to be discussed with the treating physician who is most familiar with your condition. The final decision will depend on your general condition, i.e. tolerance for exercise, your pulmonary functions and absence of other possible complications that may compromise safety.  And by safely we mean at least the ability to rescue your self and your buddy without hesitation.

It sounds as if you have done everything we would normally recommend in this situation:

PFT, read by a dive medicine physician, approved by a dive medicine physician for diving, and then approval by your treating physician.  The one pre condition being that you are not currently on the medication.

Thank you again for your email and your interest in DAN.

If you have any questions or require further information please do not hesitate to contact DAN.

Have a great day.

Divers Alert Network

Phone:    919-684-2948 ext 238

Toll Free: 800-446-2671 ext 238

Fax:        919-493-3040

________________

Name: andrew gregory

 

RE: Diving after Bleomycin for Cancer Survivors

I am a PADI advanced diver, and cancer survivor who was treated for testicular cancer with 3 cycles of BEP chemotherapy: Bleomycin, Etopiside and Cisplatin.  I completed treatment 3 years ago, and am happy to say that my oncologist has every reason to believe that I am cured.  I return every 4 months for regular checkups.

I have had 3 pulmonary function tests at Vancouver General Hospital and have consulted with specialists in hyperbaric medicine.

The pulmonary function tests results have shown that my lungs were not adversely affected by the exposure to bleomycin.  The doctor has indicated that nothing in my test results would suggest that I should not return to diving.

I have seen varying opinions about whether a person can return to diving after exposure to bleomycin, and under what conditions.  I would greatly appreciate some advice as to whether I can return to diving now that I am over 3 years post chemotherapy and have completed pulmonary function tests that are negative for damage.

I love to dive and the ocean is a passion of mine.

Thank you for your kind attention. Let me know if you require me to become a member of DAN before you can consider my question.

After reviewing this note from DAN, and considering my medical results, the physician was finally able to attest that there is no added risk to me returning to scuba diving than there would be for some other person with the same fitness who had not been treated with bleomycin.

So there you go. If you want to scuba dive, you can.

I’d be very interested to hear any comments from other scuba-divers who have  had this question, who have returned to diving, or who are still wondering if it is safe.   Please feel free to post to this blog if you have any questions.

Post Script: If you or a loved one is diagnosed with testicular cancer, I recommend you do as I did and find the Testicular Cancer Resource Centre (TCRC) and pore through it to prepare yourself to tackle the treatment.   The information, advice and stories there were invaluable to me in getting my mind right and gaining a sense of control.

More Resources:

Here’s another citation I came across after the fact.  More and more are being written each month which leads me to believe that the outright ban on diving will soon be a thing of history:

“…We strongly believe that resuming scuba diving 6—12 months after an uncomplicated series of three or four cycles of BEP is completely acceptable. Caution should only remain for patients who develop clinical signs of pulmonary-function impairment during or shortly after bleomycin treatment. We deem the conservative opinions of many physicians and diving organisations about recreational diving after bleomycin treatment as unnecessary—opinions that we hope to change. Young men affected by testicular cancer should be able to undertake their normal daily life as fully as possibly after treatment with bleomycin.”

The Lancet Oncology, Volume 8, Issue 11, Pages 954 – 955, November 2007 – Bleomycin and scuba diving: where is the harm?

Original Text Ronald de Wit a, Stefan Sleijfer a, Stan B Kaye b, Alan Horwich b, Ben Mead c, Dirk T Sleijfer d, Gerrit Stoter a

Paul Balfour talks about Progress in Cancer Research


I just read the following blog post from Paul Balfour.  Paul captains the Phillips Hager & North team that raised a total of $292,000 for cancer research at the BC Cancer Foundation last year.  This year Paul has already raised over $60,000 personally, and his team will surpass $350,000 raised.

On the evening before our Ride to Conquer Cancer, this strikes at the heart of why we Ride.  Thanks for the inspiration Paul!

Progress

by Paul Balfour on Fri, Jun 18, 2010 @ 3:41 PM

I think one thing that we in the fundraising community hasn’t done a very good job of is communicating just how much great progress is being made in fighting, and in many cases, curing cancer.

Typically, we set out to fundraise by talking about how awful the disease is (and it is, make no mistake about that) and how incidence rates are rising etc. and but I think perhaps by doing that people get the impression that little progress is being made or that cancer is starting to rage out of control.

Incidence rates for the population as a whole have been increasing but for mostly the simple reason that we are living longer and we have gotten much, much better at preventing deaths in other areas. Far fewer people are dying from heart attacks and strokes, far fewer are dying in car crashes in fact the decline in mortality rates for just about everything is quite remarkable. So, in a sort of good news/bad news story, the increase in incidence rates is concentrated in the older segment of the population living longer and having the chance to develop cancer in the first place and the drop in mortality rates in just about everything else.

But progress in cancer treatment is being made, year in and year out. It’s indisputable. Consider a few observations.

Childhood leukemia used to be fatal 90% of the time. Now it’s a 90% survival rate. Because of research. Testicular cancer (Lance Armstrong) used to be a very serious disease. It still is, but the survival rate is now 96%. Due to research.

Outcomes in breast and prostate cancer have improved in recent years to close to the 90% level. Thanks to research.

There is a disease called CML (Chronic myelogenous leukemia) that used to be pretty much fatal. Scientists knew it was caused by a mutated gene and one day (okay over a period of a couple of years) a drug was discovered called Gleevec and further refined to a pill form. So, you used to die from this cancer and now … as long as you take a pill every day, you’re fine. Cool. All due to research.

What’s also neat is that this same drug works like a charm on a type of nasty stomach cancer. Here’s where it gets really interesting: the two cancers’ cells look absolutely different under the microscope but the same drug “cures” them. Why is that? Well, these two cancers have that same genetic mutation in common.

So, what if we could do a better job of analyzing the genome of the patient for clues as to the causes for cancer and come up with other breakthroughs?

Well guess what the BC Cancer Agency is doing? Exactly that! In fact the Genome Science Centre here in Vancouver is a leader (many say the leader) in this area. Ask a scientist you know sometime how hard it is to get published in the science journal Nature. It’s unbelievably hard. Three significant breakthroughs by the BC Cancer Agency and the Genome Science Centre have been published in Nature in the past twelve months. How many other centres have had three major findings in that period of time? Um, none actually. Two? None.

Pretty impressive I say, right here in little ol’ Vancouver. Also, it’s an open book here we share that research with the rest of Canada and the world, make no mistake about that.

But it takes money. It takes a lot of money to keep this progress going. There are also plenty of patients who are on the wrong side of those survivorship rates and they really need help. There are some tumour groups where we have made very little progress for decades (brain and pancreatic in particular) using conventional therapies my guess is the genome will prove to be the key here. It will take money to do that though.

Please support me if you can, by donating here or at the link below. No donation is too small … and as my friend Michael likes to say, no donation is to big!

Thanks for reading this.

…and thank you Paul!  Here’s a link to his Ride page should you want to make a donation.

http://www.conquercancer.ca/site/TR/Events/Vancouver2010/1742352005?px=1759724&pg=personal&fr_id=1331