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Medical Breakthrough: Hope for Lymphoma Patients

A cancer survivor from B.C. tells us about the breakthroughs that saved her and her battle with the disease.

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“Good afternoon. My name is Jackie and I am grateful to be standing here as a cancer survivor.”

Jackie Ellis was speaking to a group of BC Cancer Agency doctors, scientists and BC Cancer Foundation donors at the recent announcement of a research breakthrough in lymphoma – the same kind of cancer she had. It was the third major discovery in just over a year by the Agency‘s renowned Centre for Lymphoid Cancer, and one which could lead to new treatments for the increasing numbers of people affected by this disease in North America.

Jackie described how her cancer journey began: “After four months of chronic chest tightness, shortness of breath, and a pounding, racing heartbeat, I was diagnosed with lymphoma on Thursday, July 29th, 2010. The next day, I met with a respirologist, a thoracic surgeon, and had a full-body CT scan. On Saturday afternoon, I had a surgical biopsy on my lymph node, followed by a pathology report, confirming a diagnosis of mediastinal diffuse large B-Cell lymphoma.

“On Monday, I had a bone biopsy and by Tuesday, I began my first of six rounds of chemotherapy. All this happened over the August long weekend. I have told this story many times and the response is always, “Wow, that is amazing!”

Like many British Columbians, Jackie wasn’t aware that the BC Cancer Agency is a leading cancer control organization, with the best cancer survival rates in Canada and among the best in the world. Or that researchers, oncologists and clinicians all work together within this same organization, where they can collaborate on questions, answers and ideas that shape new research, which in turn leads to new and better treatments.

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Jackie recalled how she made this connection during her chemotherapy sessions: “I would look across the street at the Agency’s Research Centre and pray that some brilliant, innovative scientist would discover the way to cure cancer. I prayed that you would hear my calls for a positive outcome.”

Jackie got her wish: after six months of intense treatment, she is now cancer free.

The gratitude she expressed to her doctor and to the researchers brought them close to tears.

“Cancer is a frightening diagnosis,” she said. “I remember feeling scared, vulnerable, and uncertain of what was going to happen next. Then I met my oncologist, Dr. Joe Connors, and knew I was going to receive world-class care.

“To your colleagues in the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer – scientists Dr. Randy Gascoyne and Christian Steidl – thank you for your amazing discovery. I appreciate what this can mean for future lymphoid cancer patients and how it will inspire even greater research achievements. What it represents is inspirational.”

It also means that Dr. Gascoyne’s team can move forward, building on their discovery of a key gene mutation found in Jackie’s kind of lymphoma – key steps in targeting successful chemotherapy for each patient.

Another key factor in the Agency’s success is its partnership with BC Cancer Foundation donors, who contribute generously to leading-edge research that directly impacts improvements to patient care.

Or, as Jackie said, “Your contribution and dedication to funding, researching, and applying to clinical practice is what makes this discovery monumental in cancer research and to me.”