By Deborah Yedlin, Heather Culbert, and John Osler
Last weekend, more than 900 cyclists participated in the annual Enbridge Tour Alberta for Cancer race, raising $3.6 million for cancer research, treatment and prevention in Alberta.
Every year the event begins with a ghost bike crossing the starting line. The bicycle without a rider represents a life lost to cancer and this year it belonged to Daina Kvisle-Alduous, accompanied by her two young children. As that bike crossed the starting line, many remembered those we had personally lost in the last year and years past, while others thought of their own journeys through cancer.
It’s a powerful moment: a reminder to everyone here, volunteers and cyclists alike, including cancer survivors, why they train to ride up to 200 kilometers in two days. They know, as we do as co-chairs of the OWN.CANCER Calgary Cancer Center fundraising campaign, that cancer respects no borders, no age, gender, or socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, everyone knows someone who has been diagnosed with cancer.
Statistics tell us the story. In this province alone, one in two people will hear those horrible three words “you have cancer”. At any given time, there are 200,000 Albertans living with the disease. Although an early diagnosis can be linked to the ability to overcome the disease, this is not always the case. Cancer patients can do their best after diagnosis, treatment and a clear prognosis, but cancer cells have their own agenda. Stage I can progress to stage IV despite medical teams using all available treatment options to prevent a diagnosis or recurrence of stage IV.
Here’s just one example: According to statistics compiled by Cancer Care Alberta, five-year survival rates for a patient diagnosed with lung cancer range from 63 percent if diagnosed at Stage I, to six percent if diagnosed at Stage I. in Stage IV. But nearly 50 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at Stage IV. Those are not great odds.
This is why we find United Conservative Party leadership candidate Danielle Smith’s comments about cancer being in the patient’s control particularly reprehensible, irresponsible and ignorant. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Ms. Smith wrote a column in 2003 in which she suggested that “anti-smoking zealots” were preventing the tobacco industry from creating “safer cigarettes.” How’s that for an oxymoron?
His views are not only simplistic and not based on science or evidence, they are insulting to anyone who has received a cancer diagnosis or lost a loved one to the disease. Going through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy is a difficult journey. A woman who participated in the weekend walk had just been diagnosed for the third time. Another round of chemotherapy and radiation. Nobody chooses this. It is chosen for you.
But collectively, we can choose something.
We can choose to support the advancement of earlier diagnostics, the development of new treatments, and a better understanding of what is possible for prevention and recurrence.
When the Calgary Cancer Center opens its doors late next year, it will be the second largest integrated cancer facility in North America. It will transform research, diagnosis and treatment for all Albertans. It will be based on science, not magical thinking.
We already have a lot to build on. From the POET initiative at the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine and its focus on precision medicine to advances in next-generation Car-T cell therapy developed by ACTION, the Alberta Cellular and Immune Oncology Initiative , significant progress is being made. ACTION is expected to receive approval from Health Canada later this year, allowing clinical trials to begin, less than two years after discovery, and is currently targeting treatments for lymphoma and leukemia. It’s record time!
When President John F. Kennedy announced NASA’s space mission on September 12, 1962, he said it was a challenge that must be accepted and could not be postponed. The same applies to the advancement of cancer research, in the areas of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management.
Alberta has risen to that challenge through the Calgary Cancer Center, a unique partnership between the Cancer Foundation of Alberta, Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary. This partnership and the OWN campaign will help by raising $250 million to build on existing breakthroughs, like ACTION, and harness the power of basic research, diagnosis and treatment delivery in one place, integrating all areas of knowledge with a clear purpose. : Ensuring better outcomes for patients and families.
As co-chairs, we know that the power of the community in Calgary will help make this a reality. But we also know that we need political leaders who understand the importance of science in solving the biggest challenges facing society. Mrs. Smith is clearly not such a leader.