Leap Magazine Spring 2023

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There are a lot of reasons to look forward with hope. Because of non-stop progress, Albertans can expect a future with innovative new buildings, thoughtful care approaches, cutting-edge technologies and screening methods, and an ever-increasing recognition of the importance of equity.



Dr. Egiroh Omene is improving quality of life for brain cancer patients, and Dr. Elise Fear is elevating women’s health care.



Discover how monthly donations make a big difference to patients.



Curious about cannabis? We share the latest information about the potential power of CBD and THC.

14> WORKOUT Electric bikes boost your workout to the next level.



Learn how to navigate a breast cancer diagnosis, and an expert offers advice for young people interested in giving back financially.


A community event in Calgary celebrates neighbours helping neighbours.


Dr. Charlie Butts brings groundbreaking clinical trials to Alberta patients.


Terrific tunes honouring the late Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip pay tribute to a good cause.



Tracy Peddy delivers quality care to Alberta’s Far North.


Jordan Turko shares his story living with stage 4 lung cancer.


Heather Culbert has been instrumental in bringing the Calgary Cancer Centre to life.


The fundraising wheels are spinning for Team NOV.

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Dr. Chris Eagle (Board Chair)

Cathy Allard-Roozen

Brian Bale

Dr. Charlie Butts

Rajko Dodic

John Donald

Brenda Hubley

Dianne Kipnes

Chris Kucharski

Sandra Lau

Brian McLean

William “Billy” Morin

Dr. Don Morris

Barbara Munroe

Gelaine Pearman

Tom Valentine

Heather Watt

Looking Forward

It’s a big statistic: 23,000 Albertans will face a cancer diagnosis this year. Thankfully, Alberta Cancer Foundation donors play a pivotal role in improving the outcomes of cancer patients across the province. Donors like Heather Culbert, whose efforts have been instrumental in ensuring the new Calgary Cancer Centre comes to life (pg. 40), and Keith Dyck and Julie Johnson, who organize GEDfest in support of the Alberta Cancer Foundation (pg. 35). With the support of donors like these, cancer mortality rates are steadily decreasing and survival rates continue to improve. Every day, we get closer to achieving our vision of a cancer-free future. And that’s what this issue of Leap — the Future Issue — is all about.

At the Alberta Cancer Foundation, we know the only way to bring the treatments of tomorrow to those facing cancer today is through research and clinical trials — and Alberta is leading the way in Canada. As Dr. Charlie Butts shares on page 32, he’s seen five-year lung cancer survival rates go from 10 to 25 per cent since going into oncology, thanks to advancements made possible because of clinical trials. “The only way to get better is to look for new ways to do things and

to develop new treatments,” Dr. Butts says. This is a sentiment shared by his colleague at the Cross Cancer Institute, Dr. Egiroh Omene, who is leading a clinical trial focused on improving survival rates and quality of life for glioblastoma patients (pg. 6).

Alberta is also home to some of the most capable and compassionate caregivers. Take Lucy Laboucan, an Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigator, who works with Indigenous cancer patients through their diagnosis and treatment process (pg. 24).

As we speak about the future of cancer care, we would be remiss not to mention the new Calgary Cancer Centre — one of the largest comprehensive cancer centres in North America — coming to life this very second. Scheduled to open its doors to patients in 2024, this space will be home to innovative research and state-of-the-art equipment, but it was also designed with patients in mind (pg. 19).

This is an exciting issue showcasing endless potential and a promising future ahead. We are grateful for every story shared, and hope you enjoy reading about the impact you are making for patients across the province every step of the way.

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Spring 2023 | VOL. 13 | NO. 1




Ashley Tyler and Breanne Kraus


Meredith Bailey


Karin Olafson


Veronica Cowan


Jared Sych


Colleen Biondi, Elizabeth

Chorney-Booth, Derek Clouthier, Karen Durrie, Laurel Dziuba, Jamie Everhart, Jennifer Friesen, Lindsey Hopkins, Cailynn

Klingbeil, Jaelyn Molyneux, Michaela Ream, Lynda Sea, Tanya Sedore, Colleen Seto, John Ulan, Debby Waldman, Sean P. Young


Alberta Cancer Foundation

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Käthe Lemon



You donated, you shared our stories, you cheered us on and you came together as a community to raise $30 million in support of the Cross Cancer Institute.

This means more world-class discoveries and innovative research that will have an impact on patient care. More made-in-Alberta solutions to cancer. Double the capacity for clinical trials. More lives saved from cancer.

Thank you for making sure no one crosses cancer alone.


myleapmagazine.ca SPRING 2023 LEAP 5



Dr. Egiroh Omene used to score touchdowns on the football field, but his new goal is to improve the quality of life for patients with the aggressive brain tumour, glioblastoma

oday, Dr. Egiroh Omene is a neurologist and neurooncology fellow at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, but he certainly didn’t get here by following a traditional or predictable career path.

Born in Saskatchewan to parents from Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago, Omene began his


university career in his home province dedicated to varsity-level football. His skills playing wide receiver and safety on the field caught the eye of recruiters across Canada and the U.S. Right out of high school, Omene accepted a scholarship to play football for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. He spent the next three years training and competing at a high level.

“Being part of the Huskies was cool because you have 80 friends the first day you step on campus and you have this real identity,” says Omene. “It was a really good team, and a lot of the players caught the attention of the CFL.”

The opportunity to take football to the next level was there for Omene until a hamstring injury cut his football career short in 2010. That’s when he changed gears and decided to focus on

science, completing his undergraduate studies in biochemistry. Losing his father to lymphoma when Omene was just nine years old, and thinking about cancer at the molecular level while studying biochemistry, inspired Omene to study medicine. He earned his Doctor of Medicine from the USask in 2015. He specialized in neurology before making another, somewhat untraditional career move: choosing the field of neuro-oncology.

“I think most neurologists find different interests, like stroke or epilepsy. I think, for me, I had already been thinking about cancer for a while because of my childhood experience and then because of my interest in biochemistry,” says Omene.

Omene’s research focuses on glioblastoma, or GBM, an aggressive

brain tumour that is difficult to treat and often recurs. It was Omene’s desire to innovate and improve the quality of life for patients with GBM that led to his receiving the Lynne Marshall and Wayne Foo Clinical Fellowship at the Cross Cancer Institute in both 2021 and 2022. Wayne Foo, a Calgarian and the founding CEO of the oil and gas exploration company Parex Resources Inc., made a personal gift to the Alberta Cancer Foundation to fund, in perpetuity, the fellowship as a commitment to GBM research. It was created in memory of Foo’s late wife, Lynne Marshall, who was diagnosed with GBM and died of the disease in February 2014.

While Omene still maintains his skills as a neurologist, the fellowship allows him to also focus on neurooncology research at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute under the supervision of Dr. Jacob Easaw. One of the main areas of his research involves a clinical trial, looking at whether a drug called tamoxifen could be beneficial when GBM recurs.

“When GBM comes back, you’ve already been given standard therapy, which is surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, so there aren’t a lot of options,” says Omene. “So, we are doing a phase 3 clinical trial comparing tamoxifen to more conventional chemotherapy. Tamoxifen is not as toxic as other chemotherapies and is generally well-tolerated. Our hopes are that tamoxifen will help improve survival in patients and allow for a better quality of life.”

As part of his fellowship, Omene is also researching a brain tumour imaging sign called the T2-FLAIR mismatch sign.

“To put it simply, a brain tumour’s shape and the shades of grey on an MRI

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can help predict what type of tumour it is and help physicians begin tailoring therapies,” explains Omene. He is currently working on a retrospective review, gathering 15 years’ worth of data from the Cross Cancer Institute’s brain tumour database to further prove the accuracy of this imaging sign.

And he’s still pursuing an area of research he first became interested in while in medical school: whether following a ketogenic diet — that is, a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates — can be a useful supplemental treatment. Omene explains that tumours, and particularly GBM, aren’t well-equipped to use ketones as a fuel; they require glucose. Because tumour cells take in large amounts of glucose, the hypothesis is that a ketogenic diet might reduce glucose supply to the tumour, “starve” the tumour and slow growth.

“We’ve just done very informal, pilot trials where we discussed it with a dietician team here at the Cross Cancer Institute and with patients who

were interested in hearing about it,” says Omene. “It’s not a randomized controlled trial, but there’s science here, and it’s getting interest from clinicians and patients.”

Following the fellowship, Omene has no intention of resting easy. He’s still an athlete at heart and has big plans.

“In both medicine and sport, success happens when you’re consistent and show up, and you put in the work. I

think the mentality that allows athletes to train, persevere and become better is definitely suited to medicine and doing research,” says Omene. He adds that his goal now “is to help build a neuro-oncology program in Saskatoon, because I’m from Saskatchewan originally, while maintaining my connection with Alberta through interprovincial research and clinical trials.”

— Dr. Egiroh Omene

Making Waves


Since 2002, Dr. Elise Fear has been a professor of electrical and software engineering and a researcher at the University of Calgary. Fear has been fascinated by the unique interplay between engineering and medicine since her student days.

“I am interested in using technology to help people,” she says. “And I am particularly curious about the potential for improving women’s health care.”

In pursuit of that goal, Fear and her research team have dedicated the last two decades to exploring a way to advance breast cancer monitoring and treatment evaluation. The result is a device called MITS (Microwave Imaging Transmission System), which is currently being tested on women in Alberta.

MITS looks like a mini-mammogram machine and examines one breast at a time. But instead of using X-rays or radiation, it uses microwaves, which are low-risk, have less power than a cellphone and do not heat up tissue. Hundreds of small sensors in the MITS’ plates act as “antennas” to send microwaves into the breast, retrieve signals with information about its components and send information to the software for analysis.

Each test takes less than a minute and involves only light breast compression with the plates.

“With the testing we have done so far, women are reporting it is a comfortable process,” says Fear. Results are immediate, and, even better, MITS is portable. “Put it on a cart, wheel it to the doctor’s office, plug it in and you are good to go,” says Fear. “It is fast and effective.”

Since microwaves can detect water content in the breast, which is associated with more dense tissue and, therefore, a higher risk of breast cancer, MITS could be used as a speedy screening tool in doctors’ offices. The technology could flag women with denser breasts — without even needing a mammogram — and open up a preliminary conversation about screening needs going forward.

Starting in December 2021, Fear

myleapmagazine.ca SPRING 2023 LEAP 9
A new screening technology could elevate breast cancer care, become an accessible monitoring tool for oncologists and help improve women’s health care by COLLEEN BIONDI

tested MITS with 25 healthy volunteers to assess the consistency of the scans and explore the application’s breast density results. The volunteers participated in three sessions of three scans, typically over three weeks. The data was consistent and also compared favourably to the results of participants who had received breast density tests via mammograms or ultrasounds.

Microwaves also have the potential to detect changes in tumour size. In spring 2023, Fear plans to begin monitoring 25 breast cancer patients

at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre over their six-month chemotherapy protocol to see if tumours are shrinking as a result of treatment. MITS’ results will be compared to traditional ultrasound results, and, if they are the same, a larger study and clinical trial will follow. Ultimately, Fear hopes MITS will become another viable test in an oncologist’s cancer-treatment tool box.

There have been several iterations of MITS before this current one. The original MITS, designed by Fear and her team in 2008, had limited capacity

to explore changes in breast properties. And a model from 2013 could only examine a portion of the breast. But, after receiving feedback from volunteers and a robust group of “extremely supportive” clinical collaborators in breast health and oncology from the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Fear’s team embarked on a major process of tweaking and re-tweaking to improve the user experience. This “scaffolding” approach — designing the hardware and software in the lab, making improvements, testing the product with volunteers and patients, making more changes, then embarking on larger frameworks for testing — is crucial to the design process, she says. “We are having lots of really great conversations about the needs of the clinicians, what the technology might do and how the two could match up.”

Committed funders are also crucial to the process. MITS’ financial supporters include the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Innovates and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Fear is grateful for the $1.5 million that has supported the project to date.

“It is a long pathway,” she admits, estimating it could take two years to commercialize the breast density application and more than five years to get MITS into clinicians’ hands to track cancer treatment results. She is also grateful for her research group and their passion and dedication to “bringing an idea to life” for real-world applications.

“Every time we scan and see an image, we are learning something,” Fear says. “This has captured the imagination of our team, and it is very motivating.”

There is also a personal component to her determination. Fear’s husband, Rob, has been diagnosed with a unique form of testicular cancer multiple times since 2014. He is now in remission and is being monitored through a simple blood test that will alert the team if the cancer returns. His experience inspires her to make the breast examination process simpler and speedier.

“I know how important it is for patients to have feedback,” says Fear.


How Monthly Donations Make a Big Difference

Monthly donations add up to having a significant impact on cancer care and research. The predictable cash flow that monthly donors contribute helps make effective and strategic planning possible. Here are four ways monthly donors help cancer care, research and patients across Alberta:



Our community of more than 7,000 generous monthly donors collectively contribute more than $1.9 million per year to support research and enhanced care at Alberta’s 17 cancer centres.


Monthly donors are saving and extending lives. They are giving Albertans facing cancer the time to create more moments and memories with their loved ones.


Monthly donations provide a steady and reliable source of income to help fund the highest-priority needs and programs, like the Patient Financial Assistance Program. This program provides financial support for patients so they can focus on what matters most — healing.

Monthly donors support every single cancer-focused clinical trial in Alberta. In the last year, 87 new trials were approved. Each clinical trial can help hundreds of thousands of patients by providing them with access to leading-edge treatment options.

Monthly donations help Albertans like Donato Bernardo, who was out of treatment options. But, thanks to donor support of clinical trials, Bernardo is now in remission and enjoying life with his loved ones.

4 WAYS myleapmagazine.ca SPRING 2023 LEAP 11
Learn more about Donato’s story and how you can support the Alberta Cancer Foundation at albertacancer.ca
“I have a lot to catch up on in my life. I have a lot of hope.”

Now I Know My CBDs

A look at how the use of cannabis, specifically CBD and THC, can help address side-effects caused by cancer treatment

The cannabis sativa plant is among the oldest medicinal plants used by humans across different cultures for thousands of years. It’s believed the plant was first cultivated in northeastern Asia, and each part can be harvested for different uses. The seeds, for example, are used to make hemp seed oil for cooking or in paints and lacquers. Today, more than 500 different compounds have been isolated from cannabis and studied for their potential uses and benefits. Approximately 100 of those compounds are known as cannabinoids, including two of the

most well-known, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). People may be more familiar with THC because it creates “highs” and feelings of euphoria when ingested. CBD does not create a high and can help lower feelings of anxiety. In recent years, both CBD and THC have been found to have potential medical benefits. THC is harvested from marijuana, which refers to cannabis that has more than 0.3 per cent THC by dry weight. CBD is harvested from hemp, which refers to cannabis that contains 0.3 per cent or less THC by dry weight. Cannabis has been studied as

a potential benefit to treat side-effects from cancer treatment, specifically for pain management, helping with sleep, moods or changing appetites. Canadians have had legal access to dried marijuana for medical use since 1999. In October 2018, the Government of Canada legalized and regulated the production, distribution, sale, import, export and possession of cannabis; in Alberta, all adults 18 and older can legally use marijuana.


A balanced diet is important to fight diseases and maintain a healthy lifestyle.


However, living with cancer can make eating well a challenge.

“A cancer diagnosis can change the food relationship,” says Erin Benner, RDN oncology dietitian at Savour Nutrition in Calgary.

Questioning food choices, feeling anxiety about what and when to eat, physical changes during cancer treatment, evolving nutritional needs, and treatment side-effects, including nausea, can all impact quality of life.

“This can be a vital time to establish healthy habits to support the body in all of its changes,” says Benner.

With those changing needs, there can be benefits to including CBD and/ or THC in one’s diet or treatment plan. In 1988, after the discovery of THC in 1964, researchers also found that our bodies have a natural endocannabinoid system (ECS) which regulates functions and processes such as sleep, mood, appetite and pain inflammatory immune system responses. While the ECS is active in our bodies whether or not cannabis is ingested, foods such as chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and oil help reinforce the ECS and increase its beneficial effects. Similarly, CBD and THC can connect with the ECS receptors like a lock-and-key system and, when bonded, have positive effects on pain or nausea.


One study by the National Cancer Institute found that THC and CBD can help improve appetite and provide relief from chemotherapy treatment side-effects such as nausea, vomiting, anxiety and depression. CBD has also been shown to help manage the treatment’s inflammatory effects, leading to digestion changes. Proper doses of CBD in meals can help with those side-effects and make eating easier. You can purchase CBD in an oil format, which Benner says is a great option to add to soups or smoothies. Edibles, such as gummy candies or chocolates, are also available with either only CBD or small blends of THC included. Making cannabis-infused flour is also possible, so you can bake

your own home goodies. A proper and balanced diet, Benner says, is a critical part of staying healthy and fit enough to manage living with cancer. And sometimes, that may include a drop of cannabis to help.

But, before incorporating cannabis into a diet, Benner stresses the importance of speaking with a healthcare team or doctor first. “It’s really important to seek medical care and choose the treatment that’s best for you in that situation,” says Benner. “Talk to your health-care team about managing [symptoms], and don’t just look for supplements or alternatives.” While research has shown promising results

in cannabis use, it’s still ongoing. And, as with any medicine, Benner explains, there may be medical interactions that aren’t safe.

Once a health-care advisor has approved incorporating cannabis into a diet, it’s still important to get a prescription to get the right dose, a safe product and, potentially, financial compensation if covered under health care.

“From a nutritional perspective, it could [one day] be one of those things where it’s just another supplement you can be taking as part of a whole and healthy diet to support and balance a healthy system,” says Benner.


Recipe supplied by Erin Benner


1 small banana

1 cup soy, pea or other high-protein milk

1 tbsp. hemp hearts (shelled seeds)

1 tsp. fresh grated ginger


1 tsp. dry turmeric powder

1 dose CBD oil*

1 scoop protein powder

1 cup frozen pineapple

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Relax and enjoy.

*1 dose is the number of milligrams of CBD recommended for you by your health-care professional.

FOOD FOCUS myleapmagazine.ca SPRING 2023 LEAP 13

Biking with a Boost

Riding your bike and cruising the pathways in the springtime isn’t just a fun way to make the most of the warming weather. It’s also a great way to work the cardiovascular system, improve leg strength and increase core stability.

Tanya Williamson is a clinical exercise physiologist and a project coordinator with the Alberta Cancer Exercise program for Calgary and Southern Alberta. Williamson says biking can be a great, accessible form of exercise for those going through — or who have completed — cancer treatment.

“With biking, you can control the difficulty — you can pick a route that

is maybe short or flat to start, and you can work with your gears to keep the intensity manageable,” says Williamson. She adds that it’s a non-impact form of exercise that doesn’t tend to aggravate joint pain or neuropathy — pain or numbness caused by nerve damage — which can be common sideeffects for people as they go through cancer treatment.

Electric bikes make biking even more accessible. Electric bikes, or e-bikes, look much like the bicycle you already have in your garage, but come equipped with a battery pack and an electric motor, which provides propulsion while you’re pedalling.

“The e-bike really opens up doors for people looking to get outside and

get moving on a bike, particularly cancer patients,” says Williamson. “What people [often have to] manage soon after finishing treatment, or during treatment, is that they get deconditioned. That means they experience muscle loss and strength loss, and commonly lose stamina and endurance. Fatigue is the most common side-effect that cancer patients will experience, which physical activity and exercise help to combat.”

Williamson says there’s a fine balance between getting out and getting active and not pushing yourself too far — and that’s where the motor can be a great asset. If fatigue sets in, if there’s a big hill climb or if you’re cycling with a group and can’t comfortably keep up, the e-bike can provide a boost and offer a chance to catch your breath.

“Using an e-bike can help riders gradually ease into the intensity of exercise, to where fitness is slowly improving over time,” says Williamson.

Plus, zooming around on two wheels as the weather gets warmer is a fun way to get outside!

Pedal when you want and cruise when you’re winded — electric bicycles are a great option for people looking to hop on two wheels to get some exercise


Tanya Williamson offers some expert insight if you are going through cancer treatment or are beginning an exercise routine after finishing treatment.


“We advocate for even little bouts of movement. Think just five to 10 minutes at a time — it doesn’t have to be 20 minutes right away! Maybe a little loop around the block gets you out the door to start, and that will help you slowly build up,” says Williamson.


“Ultimately, physical activity and exercise should always leave you feeling better,” says Williamson. As energy levels improve, build on the time spent in the saddle slowly and gradually each week.


“It’s about doing what exercise feels good on certain days. On those days you feel good, move more and get on the bike a little longer,” says Williamson. “On days when you’re feeling more treatment side-effects or fatigue, go with some easy movements or just a shorter bike ride.”


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myleapmagazine.ca SPRING 2023 LEAP 15


We ask the experts about the latest in breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and care, and tips for young donors interested in giving back by SEAN



Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, accounting for one in four new cancer cases in females in Canada. There are many facets of this progressive disease to understand for the newly diagnosed. But there are just as many reasons to have hope, as innovative treatments and research are being undertaken by experts like Dr. Jeff Cao,

radiation oncologist at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, and Alberta Health Services Cancer Care Alberta Provincial Breast Tumour Team lead. Here, Cao shares his insight into the breast cancer journey.

Q: The new Alberta guidelines advise screening women starting at age 45 instead of 50. Why change the guidelines?

“It should be noted that this applies to average-risk individuals, with a recommendation for digital mammography every two years, starting at 45 until 75. The decision to lower the age was based on expert consensus considering multiple factors, such as provincial participation versus cancer-detection rates, new evidence showing mortality reduction with earlier screening, and modelling using Alberta data to determine the most efficient age groups and frequency of testing.”

Q: Are there any advances in biopsies or surgical techniques showing promise?

“My multidisciplinary colleagues have developed a provincial diagnostic

pathway for highly suspicious lesions to expedite biopsies, prompt early surgical referral, and provide nurse navigator support for patients to reduce their anxiety and wait times. The primary treatment of breast cancer is surgery. There are innovative localization techniques that use radioactive or magnetic seeds instead of cumbersome wires to mark the site of cancer accurately, as well as microsurgery techniques to reduce the risk of lymphedema.”

Q: How is breast cancer treatment being personalized?

“Every patient is unique, and every breast cancer is different based on its tumour features and stage of presentation. Breast cancer is generally differentiated based on its receptor status — whether it’s estrogen or progesterone hormone receptor positive, HER2 receptor positive, or triple negative. Recently, my medical oncology colleagues have used genetic testing on tumours to better understand the patient’s disease and to decide between chemotherapy or treating with anti-estrogen therapy alone. Radiation oncologists are also using these genomic tests on tumours to study whether radiation is required.”



As the baby boomer generation ages, it will be important for millennials and Gen Z to give with the same vigour as previous generations, or there is a risk of a shortfall for charities in Canada. Christy Soholt is the director of legacy and strategic philanthropy at the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Soholt explains how young people can support the causes they care about in meaningful ways.

Q: What are some strategies young people can utilize when giving to charities?

“A really big thing to know is that any charitable contribution in Canada gets a tax receipt, which gives you a tax credit to reduce your taxes owing. Gifts from assets beyond disposable income can provide even more tax benefit. For young people, I recommend they plan their philanthropy to be the most meaningful and beneficial to them, then get strategic in how they give

to save on tax and give more. They should always talk to a professional advisor about what will work best for them. Three strategies I would recommend they investigate would be life insurance, donating appreciated securities and having a will that names a charity as a beneficiary.”

Q: Let’s start with life insurance. How does that work?

“Life insurance is a good choice for young people, because they can make a much larger future impact at a quite minimal cost. For example, they could take out a guaranteed permanent life insurance policy. Over 10 years, they pay a fraction of the actual value of the life insurance policy. They can name the charity as a beneficiary and make a really big impact once they pass away. And they get that tax credit in their lifetime as they're paying their premiums. That counts as their charitable contribution for that year.”

Q: How about giving through securities?

“Donating publicly traded stock is

the most tax-efficient way to give. By transferring appreciated stock to charity, capital gain tax on the growth is eliminated, plus the donor will get their tax receipt for the full fair market value received from the transaction. By giving appreciated securities instead of cashing them in and getting both tax benefits, young people may find they can give even more than they thought. Plus, they can always use their tax credit to buy back those securities they want to keep growing at the new cost base.”

Q: Lastly, how does naming a charity as a beneficiary in your will make an impact?

“I’d first stress, please be sure you have a will. Always, always, always have a will. A lot of younger Canadians do not have a will. Make sure you set up your family first — it’s the most important reason for having a will. But especially for younger Canadians in the midst of growing their careers and assets, if something tragic happens, the taxes owing from their estate may be quite high. Including a charity in their will can help reduce that tax bill and direct funds to the causes that matter to them instead.”


The Alberta Cancer Foundation offers complimentary tickets to our tax- and estate-planning seminars throughout the year. Contact Christy Soholt at Christy.soholt@albertacancer.ca to reserve your seat or learn more about strategic philanthropy.

myleapmagazine.ca SPRING 2023 LEAP 17 ILLUSTRATIONS


THE WORLD OF CANCER CARE IS ALWAYS PROGRESSING. And because of this progress, the future looks bright. Albertans can expect to experience a future with ongoing advancements in technology and cancer screening, innovative new buildings and care approaches, and an ever-increasing recognition of the importance of inclusivity and openness. Here are a few reasons to look forward with hope.

NEW BUILDINGS AND CANCER CARE Building Hope . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 The Science of Mindful Cancer Care . . . . . . . . . . 21 EQUITABLE ACCESS Care For All 22 On the Journey Together 24 CANCER SCREENING Breaking the Stigma: Tyler Torpe’s Story . . . . . . . . . . . 26 New Technology: Taking Prostate Cancer Imaging to the Next Level 28

Scheduled to open to the public in 2024, the Calgary Cancer Centre will be the largest comprehensive cancer treatment and research facility in Canada and the second largest in North America.


The Patient and Family Advisory Council was instrumental in the creation of the Calgary Cancer Centre

The Calgary Cancer Centre is the largest government infrastructure project in the province, with an investment of $1.4 billion.

The new Calgary Cancer Centre was designed with input from the people who will actually use it. Along with architects, developers and designers, the cancer centre’s building and design direction involved input from the Patient and Family Advisory Council. Formed in 2014, the Patient and Family Advisory Council consists of patients, family members and cancer centre staff who have been touched by cancer, whether in their own lives or through a loved one. The council offers feedback about how to address and improve the patient experience, and has been consulting on the creation of the Calgary Cancer Centre since its inception.

“All of the council has been touched by cancer, whether it was a loved one or themselves. They came forward to participate because they wanted to make the cancer journey better for patients and families,” says Caroline Hatcher, executive director at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and co-chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council.

In 2018, patient and family advisors and staff inscribed stones with names and personal messages of hope. The stones were placed into the foundation of the building as a permanent inclusion of lasting support.



100+ patient exam rooms

160 inpatient unit beds

90 chemotherapy chairs

12 radiation vaults

(three more vault placements available for future growth)

New on-site underground parking with 1,650 stalls

6,200+ square metres of outdoor accessible spaces

The Calgary Centre Centre will have two MR Linacs, making it the third hospital in Canada to treat patients using this leading-edge equipment and the first centre to have two MR Linacs. Previously only available in Toronto, these machines offer the most advanced radiation therapy for treatment of tumours that combines a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner with a linear accelerator. The MR Linacs deliver more precise radiation and can target tumours that move with respiratory motion or are close to healthy organs that need to be avoided.


The Patient and Family Advisory Council was instrumental in the overall design of the building. Members wanted it to look and feel warm, caring and welcoming. As a result, the shape of the Calgary Cancer Centre is designed to represent a hug with a central courtyard connected by two L-shaped arms forming an embrace.


Appropriate lighting, minimal glare, matte flooring and high-contrast colours to distinguish floors from walls and furniture from walls will help make the cancer centre accommodating for all patients and visitors, including older adults and those living with disabilities. The centre will also support children and younger cancer patients with welcoming and friendly paediatric radiation medicine spaces.


Nature themes and connection to the outdoors are present throughout the cancer centre so patients, families, visitors and staff can connect with nature and heal in a relaxing and welcoming environment. Outdoor pathways, seating areas and an eighthfloor rooftop garden provide places to step outside when needed. The building also features large windows throughout to offer abundant natural light, including in the basement radiation treatment areas. Inside, murals of wildlife and local scenery decorate the walls.


Patients at the centre will be able to order snacks or meals from the comfort of their inpatient rooms. New bedside technology will help facilitate a seamless ordering process.



Even before she was named the Enbridge Research Chair in Psychosocial Oncology at the University of Calgary in 2007, Dr. Linda Carlson was passionate about helping cancer patients cope with the disease’s psychological, behavioural, emotional and social side-effects, specifically through mindfulness

When Dr. Linda Carlson was hired as an assistant professor in oncology at the University of Calgary in 2001, she had already published the first of nearly 250 peer-reviewed papers currently listed on her CV about the benefits of mindfulness meditation for cancer patients.

“I’ve always had a personal practice of meditation and yoga,” says Carlson, who has a PhD in clinical health psychology and is a professor in the department of oncology at the University of Calgary.

Carlson was interested in how thoughts and feelings could impact hormones and the immune and nervous systems. She knew mindfulness programs in the U.S. were helping people with anxiety and pain. Her goal was to convince Alberta’s publicly funded health-care system to provide therapies such as mindfulness and yoga as part of standard care for

cancer patients. Carlson believed that conducting a well-designed study would bolster her case.

“Some doctors think that it’s all hocus-pocus or new-agey,” Carlson says. “My approach was to do rigorous research, become well-respected by the conventional providers as [part of] a discipline that is scientific, and slowly keep adding evidence-based therapies as the evidence mounts.”

Today, as the director of the Alberta Complementary Therapy and Integrative Oncology (ACTION) Centre, Carlson has realized those goals, and then some. Launched in 2018 at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, the ACTION Centre is a partnership between Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary.

The ACTION Centre is the first of its kind in Canada, a publicly funded hub devoted to integrative oncology. This patient-centred, evidence-based field of cancer care uses mind-and-body practices and natural products and/or lifestyle modifications from traditional medicines alongside conventional cancer treatments.

The ACTION Centre acts as a base for clinical programs, clinical trials, educational programs, and training for health-care providers, students and researchers across

Alberta Health Services, the University of Calgary and the community.

Patients referred to the centre’s new integrative oncology clinic pilot project can access what Carlson calls “one-stop shopping” for integrative oncology services. The clinic offers personalized, patient-centred, safe and culturally sensitive recommendations using complementary and integrative treatments.

“It’s meant to be a place where people can come and find credible information and resources and connect with what’s offered,” she says.

Carlson is also responsible for a significant milestone at the new Calgary Cancer Centre. When it opens to the public in 2024, it will have a designated integrative oncology space, the first cancer centre in Canada to do so. Patients can access treatment rooms with tables for acupuncture, massage and reiki; a yoga therapy room; an area for creative therapies including art; and treatment rooms for mind-body therapies, including relaxation, imagery and hypnosis. Carlson was involved in every aspect of the Calgary Cancer Centre’s integrative oncology space, from the operational and functional planning and design, to picking the furniture and ordering all the supplies. And, through the ACTION centre, Carlson will determine how the space is used.

“I’ve always had this vision of a fullservice integrative oncology program in a publicly funded system that was seamlessly integrated with conventional care,” Carlson says. “This is going to help cancer patients throughout Alberta — and serve as a model I hope the rest of the country will eventually follow.”

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These Alberta Health Services initiatives include programming that recognizes and validates diverse patient populations


Reducing barriers to cancer screening for all Albertans is the reason Alberta Health Services programs, such as the Screening for Life online information resource and Screen Test mobile

clinics, exist.

Whether it’s being sensitive to a patient’s gender, sexual orientation or cultural background, or ensuring remote and Indigenous communities receive access to testing, Alberta Health Services has made strides to offer an inclusive process in hopes of encouraging more people to participate in regular cancer screening.

Screening For Life is a centralized digital resource. Visiting screeningforlife.ca provides information on Alberta’s four cancer-screening programs: breast, cervical, colorectal and lung. The site features a risk calculator, information on where to participate in screening and information specifically targeted to the LGBTQ2S+ community. Efforts are made to use inclusive language and to acknowledge and impart information relating to gender identity, genderaffirming surgeries, sexuality and hormone therapies as they may pertain to cancer screening.

For people living in remote or underserved communities, Screen Test provides inclusive and equitable access to breast cancer screening and mammograms. The program deploys two large trailer units that contain digital mammography equipment, travelling to more than 120 communities around

Alberta on a yearly basis, with demand increasing to expand its testing territory.

Screen Test currently has partnerships with 28 Indigenous communities around Alberta, and all staff with Alberta Health Services receive training to ensure services are culturally sensitive and appropriate for First Nations and Métis communities.

“No matter where you live in the province, you have the same access to screening services with Screen Test. There are still pockets of the population that are under-screened and don’t access screening services, so we work with community partners to identify these groups and determine strategies that are proven to be successful to raise awareness of, and increase participation in, breast cancer screening,” says Joan Hauber, manager of the Screen Test program.

Screen Test mammogram results are sent to patients via mail or MyAHS Connect, and are shared with their health-care providers. If patients receive abnormal mammogram results and don’t have health-care providers, Screen Test connects them to appropriate care.

As of December 2021, Screen Test has performed more than 540,000 mammograms and detected 3,045 cases of breast cancer.

The program is planning to add 3D mammography, called breast tomosynthesis, to its next equipment upgrades as part of a $3-million equipment enhancement campaign with the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

For more information on both Screening For Life and Screen Test mobile clinics, visit screeningforlife.ca. To learn more about how you can help support the breast cancer screening units, please visit www.albertacancer.ca/mobile-breast-cancer-screening




Imagine having to tell the same story over and over again each time you need care from a new health-care provider.

Until recently, this was the experience of many in the health-care system. That’s because Alberta Health Services and its partners had patient health information stored in hundreds of different systems that did not always “talk” to each other.

For cancer patients, this meant dealing with challenges like having to repeatedly explain their medical history, current medications and treatments, or having repeat laboratory or diagnostic tests, even if they’d just had them done recently at a different site.

For LGBTQ2S+ patients, their experiences might include additional challenges like repeating their preferred pronouns and gender identity, or having to share other sensitive information that they may be reluctant to disclose, which can create a hesitancy to access needed care.

These are only some of the myriad issues that the new province-wide Connect Care initiative will aim to resolve.

Connect Care is a centralized clinical information system that will connect all Alberta Health Services and partner locations across the province, so that patients will have one digital chart that can be accessed, no matter which Alberta hospital the patient visits.

“It will allow clinical teams caring for the patient to have their patient’s comprehensive health information at their fingertips,” says Dr. Linda Watson, scientific director of Applied Research and Patient Experience for Cancer Care Alberta.

Besides getting all health-care providers on the same

informational page, Connect Care also features a tethered patient portal called MyAHS Connect. It allows people aged 14 and over secure access to their own medical information, allowing them to be active partners in their own care.

“They can’t see everything in their medical chart, but they can see their personal health information from diagnostic tests and bloodwork. Patients can also send messages to their care team, have virtual appointments through it and complete symptom questionnaires prior to appointments. It’s quite comprehensive,” Watson says.

For cancer patients, the advantages of the centralized system and portal will be numerous. No matter where they live or go for care, their different care teams will always know about their most recent treatments, procedures and tests by checking Connect Care. Information such as a patient’s gender identity and preferred pronouns are also noted in the system. And patients can view their own test results and information, so they can attend appointments informed ahead of time and ready with questions.

For more remote patients in rural and Indigenous communities, the need to travel may be decreased as more virtual care opportunities via the patient portal are created. Connect Care is doing a phased launch approach, with all areas of the province expected to be on board by the fall of 2024. Cancer patients in all Alberta Health Services zones have had access to Connect Care since November 2022.

For more information on Connect Care, visit albertahealthservices.ca/cis

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MyAHS Connect


A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and scary, but Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigators help lessen that load with personalized guidance and support

“Hi, I’m Lucy. I’m from Fox Lake.”

If you’re an Indigenous person living with cancer, hearing that from a member of your cancer-support team can make a world of difference.

Lucy Laboucan is a registered nurse, Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigator and member of the Little Red River Cree Nation. Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigators help guide Indigenous cancer patients through the diagnosis and treatment process and connect them with whatever support they might need, for as long as they need.

Laboucan, whose background is in public, home care and community nursing, is one of three Indigenous navigators in Alberta. She looks after patients in the north — and where she is from matters.

“When I introduce myself, I always let clients know my name and where I’m from. I also sometimes provide my parents’ names,” says Laboucan. “That connection makes a difference, especially for older clients. They want to know where you are from and who you are from.”


Fox Lake is a close-knit community and home to the Little Red River Cree Nation. In the summer, access is by air and in the winter by ice roads. It’s hundreds of kilometres away from the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre, where Laboucan is based. She understands the unease and anxiety that comes with the unknown and being far away from home.

“I always try to put myself in their position and imagine what to expect,” says Laboucan. While some of her patients come from bigger towns or cities, many come from reserves and have never left their community.

“It’s foreign for them all around, whether it’s the health-care system or the town or the new diagnosis,” she says. “It can be very scary, especially when you hear the word ‘cancer.’”

Just as each person is different, the way Laboucan meets her clients varies. It could be through a referral from another navigator, or a doctor or nurse. Perhaps the person reaches out to her directly. Sometimes she sees them in the hallway, sits with them and tells them about the Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigator Program.

Laboucan gets to know each person to understand where they are coming from and what support they might need. For some, it’s just a friendly face and the knowledge that she is available if they need to reach out. For others, it’s much more.

“For new clients, navigating the health-care system in general can be challenging,” says Laboucan. Her early conversations with patients include explaining the roles of the health-care

teams, reviewing health coverage — which can vary depending on status — and ensuring clients have email and voicemail set up. For patients, this guidance can be a huge relief.

Laboucan also makes sure her patients have accurate information about their disease, and she connects them with specialists and helps manage expectations. She builds a rapport. From there, she’ll see if they are currently connected with a Healer, Knowledge Keeper or Elder. If not, she’ll help arrange that.

Cancer comes with lots of meetings, appointments and information — and it can be overwhelming. Laboucan can sit in on appointments to advocate and support, or to just be there.

“Sometimes, patients aren’t able to listen or focus,” she says. “I am that extra set of eyes and ears in an appointment. I’ll just be present. I can pick up if a client isn’t sure…I’ll ask questions for them and make sure they understand

before the appointment is over.”

Laboucan is fluent in Cree and offers translation so that a patient has the added comfort of hearing information in their own language.

All along the cancer journey, Laboucan checks in with her patients and makes sure they know she is there for them. She asks how they are doing physically, if they have any pain and, if so, how they are handling it. She checks if they are eating. “I’m a friendly face and a constant on their team,” she says. “I’ll follow them along as long as they need me.”

Laboucan knows these patients and their communities, and she cares deeply about them.

“It’s my passion. I went to school for nursing to work with Indigenous people. I’m living my passion everyday.”

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By openly sharing his experience with testicular cancer, Tyler Torpe hopes to encourage others to visit their health-care providers as soon as they notice something might be off by CAILYNN

For Tyler Torpe, a general foreman for Modern Niagara working on the HVAC systems at the new Calgary Cancer Centre, the project was like no other he’s worked on in his two decades in construction.

Torpe was one of 14,000 people who helped build the $1.4-billion facility over the past five years, who collectively put in nearly eight million hours to construct one of the largest cancer centres in the world. With the construction phase complete, Alberta Health Services is preparing the inside of the facility for patients, with an expected opening in 2024.

“Deep down, it had a whole new meaning to me to build that place,” Torpe says. That’s because a few months before he began work on the construction of the Calgary Cancer Centre, in April 2018, he heard the words nearly 60 Albertans hear every day: “You have cancer.”

It all started when Torpe was working on a different job site in January 2018 — at Calgary’s new bus barn storage facility — when he bent down and felt a sudden and very warm sensation in his testicle. “I’ve never felt that feeling before,” and he thought, “I’ll see if it passes.”

He told a few co-workers what he was feeling: like his testicle was being clamped, causing shooting pains. “We better take you to the hospital,” they said.

But Torpe declined. The pain had mellowed out and, after a few hours, it was gone. Discomfort and inflammation came back when he returned home that night, but Torpe tried to dismiss it, telling himself again and again, “It’ll pass.”

Torpe, then age 32, repeated that mantra for the next four months as the pain came and went. Finally, he decided to book an appointment with his family doctor. Things happened quickly after


that. The doctor recommended an ultrasound. The ultrasound imaging showed masses, and surgery to remove the testicle was scheduled for the next day. Shortly after that, once testing was complete, Torpe discovered he had testicular cancer.

“Nobody really knew it was cancer until it was out and they could test the mass, but they were all pretty adamant it had to get out of my body,” Torpe says.

While testicular cancer is rare, with an estimated 2,700 Albertans diagnosed this year alone, it’s the most common cancer in young men aged 15 to 35. It is considered highly curable, especially when it is detected early. But, just as Torpe did, many men wait to see a doctor after they notice changes to their testicles, discovered by chance or during a self-examination.

“My biggest mistake was that, for four months, I said, ‘It’ll pass, it’ll pass,’” Torpe says. “I think a lot of guys, and a lot of people in general, just don’t want to hear the bad news and procrastinate.”

The most common symptoms of testicular cancer are a lump or swelling in the scrotum (that may or may not be painful), a heavy feeling in the scrotum and a dull pain or feeling of pressure in the lower belly or groin. On average, men wait for about five months before saying anything to a health-care professional, according to the Urology Care Foundation.

While these symptoms may not end up being cancer, men are still encouraged to go to their doctor right away. That’s because, if they are symptoms of cancer, swift treatment provides the best chance for a cure.

Treatment for testicular cancer varies depending on the type and stage of

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men ages 15-35
Testicular cancer is considered highly curable: the five-year survival rate is 97%
It’s not uncommon for men to wait about five months before discussing their symptoms with a healthcare professional
“My biggest mistake was that, for four months I said, ‘It’ll pass, it’ll pass.’ I think a lot of guys, and a lot of people in general, just don’t want to hear the bad news and procrastinate.”

cancer. Some men need surgery to remove the testicle, while others may require chemotherapy or radiation therapy if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Torpe wishes he hadn’t waited for months before seeing a doctor back in 2018. He’s sharing his story in hopes others will be more proactive if they notice something amiss. Like many people, he was unaware testicular cancer affects a young and healthy population — making an open discussion of the disease all the more important.

“Don’t wait. It’s not a good idea at all,” Torpe says. “When I was going through the initial pain of it, I could feel lumps and distortion on the testicle. But I kept thinking, ‘It’ll go away.’ Don’t wait. Go in and get checked up.”

After Torpe’s surgery to remove the cancer, he returned to work within days. It all happened so fast, he says, there wasn’t much of a chance to process what had happened.

Next, he started a surveillance program to monitor the cancer, involving CT scans, bloodwork and physicals. A few months later, in the fall of 2018, he wrapped up his work at the bus barn and started work on the new Calgary Cancer Centre. The company

For Torpe, building the new cancer centre so soon after his own diagnosis gave him an opportunity to try and process his own experience with cancer. He thought about the future patients inside the building and the cancer journeys they will face.

“As you’re building a place like that, it puts a new perspective on what happened,” he says. “I’m grateful for the fact that it was cancer somewhere in my body that could be removed quite easily.”

Torpe considers the hardest part of his whole experience the cancer surveillance program. It involved five years of regular testing to confirm the cancer had not returned. He recently finished the five-year program and is considered cancer-free.

“The tests are very important for early detection, but it’s also just a constant reminder. You’ve got to go back for your CT, your bloodwork and your X-ray — it brings the experience back when you want to move on. But, at the same point, you’ve got to realize that it’s really important to do those checkups,” he says.


The following are the most common symptoms of testicular cancer and should be examined by a healthcare professional:

• A lump or swelling in the scrotum

• Heaviness in the scrotum

• Dull pain or pressure in the lower belly or groin

He’s breaking the stigma and opening up about his experience with testicular cancer even though it can feel uncomfortable, especially in the male-dominated construction industry he works in, and it can feel awkward for a person like Torpe who doesn’t like any spotlight on him.

“But that potential of helping others is why I’m sharing,” he says.

He’s also looking to offer his support in other ways. Torpe had planned to participate in the 2022 Enbridge Tour Alberta for Cancer with Modern Niagara and PCL’s team, called Building Hope, and raise funds for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. But a work project in B.C. meant he couldn’t attend. He hopes to join the ride in the future.

“I want to help in any way I can,” he says. “I’m passing the information on and hoping it sits somewhere, that somebody can grab a chunk of it or use it to their advantage, or just see that I made the mistake of waiting that duration. The consequences could have been a lot worse for me.”

Torpe works for, Modern Niagara, was the centre’s mechanical contractor, working under PCL Construction.

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in Canadian men. In fact, one in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their lifetime.


PSMA-PET, a cutting-edge imaging technology, could help diagnose and monitor the treatment response of prostate cancer with more accuracy and precision

THE GOOD NEWS: Screening for prostate cancer has improved considerably over the last 25 years. Now, prostate cancer has one of the highest five-year survival rates at 95 per cent.

Prostate cancer detection has decades of history, according to Dr. Frank Wuest, professor and chair in the Department of Oncology at the University of Alberta. Wuest also holds the Dianne and Irving Kipnes Chair in Radiopharmaceutical Sciences, an endowed research position made possible through a generous donation from the Edmonton-based couple, Dianne and Irving Kipnes.

“In the 1940s and ’50s, the first available test was the prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP) blood test, used to monitor and assess the progression of prostate cancer until the introduction of the PSA test,” says Wuest. In 1993, Canada introduced the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, improving outcomes for patients diagnosed with this cancer.

PSA is a protein produced by prostate cells, and small amounts of this protein are detectable in the blood. The PSA test is a simple blood test where the levels of PSA are measured; a high level of PSA in the blood could indicate prostate cancer.

“The PSA test has now largely displaced the PAP test. While the PSA has limitations, there are still benefits,” says Wuest. He explains an elevated

PSA result can lead a patient to further testing and result in earlier cancer detection, even before any symptoms develop. However, this test is far from foolproof. For starters, a high PSA level isn’t necessarily indicative of cancer. Only 25 per cent of abnormal PSA tests are due to cancer; high PSA levels can also be due to sexual activity, a urinary tract infection, prostate infection and even bike riding. And this form of testing cannot locate or show what stage the cancer is at, resulting in treatment when it might not have been needed — 42 per cent of diagnosed prostate cancer may never require treatment at all. Treatment can negatively affect the quality of life, sometimes causing incontinence and erectile dysfunction. Additionally, there is the risk of a falsenegative result; PSA testing misses roughly 15 per cent of prostate cancers.

In other words, something else is needed to address the shortfalls. A cutting-edge detection option, called functional molecular imaging, has the potential to address these challenges by more effectively distinguishing between aggressive and indolent, or slow-moving, disease. In a nutshell, imaging like a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound takes anatomical pictures of the body. However, functional molecular imaging shows how an organ works at the cellular level by detecting areas of activity in the body, like metabolism or blood flow. Position


emission tomography (PET) is a type of functional molecular imaging that uses injectable radioactive substances to detect cancer.

Wuest has researched PET functional molecular imaging technology for about 25 years and says PSMA-PET imaging has the potential to vastly improve how prostate cancer is detected. The PSMAPET scan works by detecting prostatespecific membrane antigen (PSMA). Unlike PSA, which is secreted into the circulation by the prostate cells, PSMA is a protein stably attached to the surface of prostate cancer cells. Patients are injected with a PSMA-binding radioligand to detect prostate cancer using PET technology. The PSMA radioligand is a radioactive drug specifically used in nuclear medicine diagnosis — which then binds to PSMA on the tumour site.

“The University of Alberta has two cyclotrons. These are particle accelerators which produce shortlived radioactive isotopes — one of the most important ones for PSMA-PET scans is fluorine-18 with a roughly two-hour half-life,” says Wuest. Fluorine-18 is incorporated into a PSMA-binding compound to produce

the PSMA radioligand. This is done in a highly specialized radiopharmacy, the Edmonton Radiopharmaceutical Centre, located at the Cross Cancer Institute.

Then, a PET scanner is used to detect the distribution and metabolism of the PSMA radioligand in the body. The PSMA radioligand lights up tumours, which show on the scan as bright spots, pinpointing where the cancer is located.

“PSMA does not circulate in the blood like PSA. It is stuck to the cell,” says Wuest. “This is a huge advantage as it can, therefore, also be used for targeted therapy by using PSMA-binding compounds containing radioactive isotopes which kill tumour cells.”

PET imaging technology can precisely detect and locate prostate cancer, help doctors determine the stage of the cancer, and determine if it has metastasized. It also helps to determine

if a patient’s prostate cancer doesn’t require treatment, helping address the issue of overtreatment.

“In my opinion, PSMA-PET is a game-changer in prostate cancer management, which has also stimulated important developments for personalized prostate cancer therapy to improve outcomes,” says Wuest.

Currently, the technology is not Health Canada-approved, and PSMAPET scans are only available to patients in Alberta through clinical trials. The first patient in Alberta to experience a PSMA-PET scan was in August 2021; it was the result of a highly productive collaboration between Wuest and his colleague Dr. Jonathan Abele from the University of Alberta Hospital. Since then, more than 100 patients have received a PSMA-PET scan. It is estimated that about 2,000 patients per year need this technology in Alberta alone. Wuest and Abele hope that PSMA-PET scan technology will be Health Canada-approved within the next three years.

“More clinical trials have been developed. We will now see larger clinical trials at the Cross Cancer Institute, the University of Alberta Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital with about 800 patients over four years,” says Wuest.

“We will also ship the PSMA radioligand to Calgary, as there is currently no cyclotron facility and [researchers and clinicians] are very eager to take advantage of the technology, as well. This will have a huge impact on prostate cancer patient care and improve patient outcomes in Alberta.”

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“In my opinion, PSMA-PET is a game changer in prostate cancer management, which has also stimulated important developments for personalized prostate cancer therapy to improve outcomes.”
—Dr. Wuest

Neighbours Helping Neighbours

A lively community event created connection and helped raise funds for cancer patients in need of extra support by JENNIFER FRIESEN

Despite the rain clouds that loomed over their heads and the possibility of showers, 175 people made their way to the Neighbours Helping Neighbours event in Calgary’s Varsity neighbourhood on June 18, 2022. Luckily, the sun kept shining over the Varsity Community Association, and visitors were surrounded by the buzz of conversations, music and the laughter of children getting their faces painted. Along with all the food and activity, these neighbours donated money to help low-income Albertans diagnosed

This was the first annual Neighbours Helping Neighbours block party, organized with the AGAT Foundation to help raise funds for the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Patient Financial Assistance Program. The program offers financial aid to Albertans in need who are facing a cancer diagnosis so they can focus on their treatment and care. Notable community members from Varsity were key in making this a success, including support from Clayton and Linda Woitas, Mike and Judy Peacock, Scott and Barb Henderson, and John DeSanti, founder of the AGAT Foundation.

“The program just touches everyone’s heartstrings because we live in a world where we have the

scientific research, evidence and capabilities in terms of treatment and opportunities to recover from a cancer diagnosis,” says Marissa Reckmann, CEO of AGAT Laboratories and director of the AGAT Foundation. “But the stark reality is that some individuals diagnosed with cancer suffer the added financial stresses of lost employment income and costs of basic life essentials, such as transportation, child care, food and other life necessities, while undergoing treatment ... [The block party is] really about neighbourly support in helping to remove as many barriers as possible.”

This grassroots community event is a part of AGAT Laboratories’ longstanding support of the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Patient Financial Assistance Program, which all began with its Charity Classic golf tournament. The inaugural tournament was in 2005


and was created in memory of Don LaBerge, a respected chemist from Envirotest Laboratories who passed away from cancer that same year. Kham Lin of K’Prime Technologies started the tournament in honour of LaBerge, and was later joined by Tom Crist, formerly of EECOL Electric, who had lost his own wife, Janice E. Crist, to cancer. Tom and Kham, along with their families and friends, ran the tournament together with Alberta Cancer Foundation until 2022, when John DeSanti of AGAT committed the resources of the AGAT Foundation in the hopes of increasing exposure and fundraising.

In 2022, the AGAT Foundation’s tournament, raffle and Neighbour Day event raised $650,000 before expenses. The success allowed the Alberta Cancer Foundation to raise its allotment of funds to the Patient Financial Assistance Program from $1 million to $1.5 million. Reckmann emphasizes that this fundraising initiative is about bringing the community together to give back what they can — even small donated amounts can make a big difference.

“It doesn’t have to be millions — every dollar really does matter,” says Reckmann. “The big hope is that,


AGAT Laboratories provides laboratory services around the world. The company has participated in charitable endeavours since its founding in 1979, so the creation of its charity, the AGAT Foundation, was a natural progression of this work. The AGAT Foundation operates in communities across the country with the goal to “unite people who share a common direction in building, creating and healing through both science and scientific technologies aiding in the betterment of society.”

in 2023, we can encourage many more individuals, businesses and communities to participate, not just within Calgary, but in communities all across Alberta. With the support of more Albertans who know full well our rural heritage of supporting our neighbours in times of need, the goal is to increase the amount raised once again.”

Looking forward, Reckmann says, “AGAT Foundation hopes the 2023 Charity Classic and its raffles and block parties expand to other communities, helping us raise more financial support all the while enjoying getting together with friends and neighbours across Alberta’s communities.”

For more information on the event, visit agatfoundation.com.

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Dr. Charlie Butts

As a specialist in lung cancers, Dr. Charlie Butts works directly with patients as their doctor and in clinical trials research to help develop new treatments

Dr. Charlie Butts, senior medical oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute, has treated patients with lung cancer for a long time and has seen a lot of changes in the field of cancer care.

While decades of working in an area of oncology that tends to involve difficult and heartbreaking prognoses can be challenging for a physician, Butts is motivated by the knowledge that he

can improve his patients’ survival rate — as well as the patients that come after them — by helping advance new treatments through groundbreaking clinical trials.

Butts grew up in Nova Scotia and completed his medical training at Dalhousie University in 1985 before starting a family practice. But the scientist in him — he has a background in biochemistry — led Butts down a new path. He did his oncology training at the University of Ottawa and the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre. After


finishing the training in 1993, he returned to Halifax to treat patients with cancer, eventually choosing to specialize in thoracic malignancies, and more specifically, lung cancers. Before too long, the prospect of making a widespread difference by participating in clinical trials research called to him. In 1998, Butts moved across the country to accept a position at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, which has a robust culture of participating in various clinical trials at almost every stage of the process.

“The only way to get better is to look for new ways to do things and to develop new treatments,” Butts says. “When I was in Halifax, we had fairly active clinical trials, though nowhere near the size of what we have at the Cross. Part of the reason to move here were all the opportunities working at the Cross affords in terms of clinical research and teaching, with the residency training program here, as well.”

Much of what makes clinical trial work so meaningful, especially over the course of a long career, is the opportunity for doctors to see the real-life impacts of their research. Since going into oncology, he’s seen fiveyear lung cancer survival rates go from 10 per cent to 25 per cent and higher, resulting from new treatments and medications tested on patients like his at the Cross and other institutions enrolled in clinical trials. Twenty-five per cent is still a relatively sobering rate of survival (but a huge deal for that 15 per cent of patients affected). However, Butts believes there’s potential to improve that rate substantially, as we’ve seen in many other types of cancers, such as breast and prostate cancers. It’s that promise that keeps him pushing forward.

“One of the most rewarding things for an oncologist is to be involved in clinical

trials that make a difference to patient outcomes and change the standards of practice. Not only do your patients benefit from being in the trial, but patients everywhere benefit from that research,” Butts says. “The difference you make is magnified because it can be applied everywhere and not just with the patient in front of you today.”

Since Butts started at the Cross, his research can roughly be broken down into three areas that have positively impacted patients with thoracic cancers. Firstly, one of his most significant and successful clinical trials projects has been the study of how adjuvant chemotherapy — that is, chemo given after a different form of primary treatment, rather than acting as the primary treatment itself — following the surgical resection of non-small cell lung cancer could lead to longer-term survival for patients. Secondly, Butts experienced similarly successful results with trials exploring the introduction of immunotherapy drugs. And, thirdly, he has helped to expand the understanding that not all lung cancers are the same and that some respond to specific treatments differently. The treatments Butts helped pioneer through these trials have become accepted standards of care, changing how oncologists approach lung cancer.

While patient care remains his

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primary passion, over the years, Butts has taken that calling to a higher level by becoming involved with medical leadership roles in Alberta. From July 2019 to December 2021, he served as the acting medical director of the Cross Cancer Institute, as the associate senior medical director, Cancer Care Alberta for Alberta Health Services’ Cancer Care, and as the Edmonton zone clinical department head of oncology for Alberta Health Services’ Cancer Care, in addition to many other roles held over the years. (These days, Butts still sees patients and does clinical trials research, but is no longer in a medical leadership role.) While these positions put a lot on Butts’ plate, he views them as tools to make an even bigger difference for Albertans with cancer.

“Being involved in the trials is one thing, but medical leadership and being able to help promote our clinical trials unit, and to advocate for the clinical trials in terms of support and access for

patients, can magnify the impact you have,” he says. “If you can do something to change the system, you potentially impact every patient who walks in the door — not just here at the Cross, but anywhere in the province.”

Butts has also mentored and inspired his colleagues, both in those leadership

roles and through his patient practice and clinical research. Dr. Randeep Sangha, a fellow oncologist and clinical researcher at the Cross, says Butts is “on the Mount Rushmore of Cross Cancer Institute influential leaders.

“It is uncommon to find a leader able to juggle the spheres of being a clinician, researcher, educator and administrator. He has performed these roles throughout his career to such a high level that he is widely respected by his colleagues locally, nationally and internationally. He is humble, calm, professional and an excellent mentor for all oncologists.”

Butts credits the Alberta Cancer Foundation for supporting clinical trials work and promoting the concept of this research, which makes patients more aware of what clinical trials are and how they can benefit not only their own treatment, but that of future patients. He says Albertans’ pioneering spirit has made our population particularly open to participating in clinical research, which is part of what has made research at the Cross so rewarding.

“We’ve come a long way with lung cancer treatments, but we still have a long way to go,” Butts says. “That’s what really drives us here at the Cross. It’s all about trying to get access to new treatments for our patients. The drive to be able to do better for our patients is never going to go away.”


Q: What do you do to relax?

“I like to spend time with my wife; that’s number one. We still have a place in Nova Scotia we go to every summer, and it’s very relaxing for us. I also like to cook, and I’m a big sports guy. I watch a lot of sports and I curl a couple times a week.”

Q: If you weren’t in your current job, what would you be doing?

“When I started university, I was going to go into journalism to become a sports broadcaster. If I had an alternative career that I could pick, that probably would be it.”

Q: Where do you get your best ideas?

“One of the fortunate things about being at a place like the Cross is you have a lot of colleagues. Talking to them and hearing what they’re doing is an important way to get ideas.”


Playing Music and Paying Tribute to a Good Cause

Since 2017, GEDfest has raised tens of thousands of dollars for cancer treatment and research

Although Gord Downie, beloved Canadian troubadour and frontman of the rock band The Tragically Hip, died in 2017 from an aggressive brain cancer called glioblastoma, his legacy lives on in the souls of his fans and through initiatives like GEDfest. GEDfest — the GED stands for Gord Edgar Downie — is an annual musical celebration that honours Downie’s life and legacy and raises money for cancer causes.

After Downie’s death, Calgary couple Keith Dyck and Julie Johnson wanted to do something positive for the community and celebrate his music at the same time. Dyck, a senior wealth advisor by day and a drummer in his spare time, gathered some friends and created Trickle Down, a Tragically Hip tribute band, to host a fundraiser. The rest is history.

In 2018, Trickle Down hosted the inaugural fundraising event at The Derrick, welcomed 175 people and made $7,000 for the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. In 2022, GEDfest entertained

400 people at The Rooftop YYC and made more than $62,000 for OWN. CANCER, the fundraising campaign for the new Calgary Cancer Centre.

Funds were generated from ticket sales (it cost $50 for general entry), a silent auction, 50-50 tickets, corporate sponsorships and donations.

“It is our philanthropic focus,” says Dyck, who credits Johnson’s former volunteer work at the Tom Baker, a friend’s journey with stage 4 cancer, and Downie’s dedication and commitment to making a difference for others with inspiring their own fundraising journey. “Our hopes, dreams and desires coalesced. GEDfest was a grassroots initiative and is now taking on a life of its own.”

Since the challenges of hosting a new event — like pulling the tribute band together, designing the website and composing sponsorship documents — are behind them, Dyck and Johnson (a biologist with an energy company), are focusing on merchandising, optimizing

social media channels and seeking advice about protecting the initiative’s trademark. In addition, they are connecting with other Tragically Hip tribute bands in 15 other cities across the country, encouraging them to host their own events for local cancer charities.

For this fall’s event on Oct. 14, 2023, Dyck is planning to have a “wellknown Canadian act” join the Calgary celebration. His long-term plan is to organize a one-day event across the country, similar to the Terry Fox Run. “We are definitely into expansion waters now,” he says.

Along with raising money, Dyck and Johnson view their volunteer work as a broader learning opportunity for their family. They say their greatest accomplishment will be realized when their two daughters make philanthropy a key component of their lives as they become adults.

There are challenges associated with creating a fundraiser. The first step is always the toughest. It feels like “jumping off the edge of the Titanic,” says Dyck. And there’s the competition with other worthy charities and causes. But he encourages everyone to step forward and get involved however they can.

“Curing cancer is up to all of us [and we can] contribute in our own ways,” says Dyck. “GEDfest is our platform.”

GEDFEST 2022 WAS HELD AT THE ROOFTOP YYC. GEDfest organizers Keith Dyck and Julie Johnson raised more than $62,000 for OWN.CANCER.

Caring for Patients in Alberta’s Far North

From working on the frontlines as a nurse to managing a team at the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre, Tracy Peddy has always helped bring quality care to patients living in some of the most rural parts of the province by LYNDA

hen the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital opened in late 2021, and the new cancer centre within it accepted its first patients that December, it was a landmark moment for northern Albertans living with cancer. The new Grande Prairie Cancer Centre is the northernmost radiation treatment centre in the country. It houses two radiation vaults to treat cancer patients, making it the only facility in northern Alberta to offer radiation therapy.

The $870-million building had been under construction for nearly a decade and took over from the Grande Prairie Queen Elizabeth II Hospital as the city’s acute-care hospital. It serves a catchment area as far north as High Level and into the Northwest Territories, as far south as Grande Cache, and as far east as Peace River. This now allows cancer patients living in this catchment area to undergo radiation therapy closer to home without needing further travel south, says Tracy Peddy, manager of the ambulatory and systemic department at the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre. The ambulatory area is the entry point for patients, where they meet with their physicians or nurse-practitioners to outline their treatment plans. The systemic area is where they’ll receive their therapies like chemo and immunotherapy.

“Prior to this, patients would have to travel to Edmonton or Calgary,” Peddy says. “And some of our patients still do have to travel as we don’t do paediatric oncology or specialized radiation, such as brachytherapy, here. But the addition of radiation therapy to the region has alleviated a great deal of stress and provided more resources for patients.”

At the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre, Peddy manages a team of 34 comprised of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and clerical staff. She oversees personnel resources, recruitment and retention, and handles interdepartmental initiatives and budgeting.

Peddy says the new cancer centre sees about 4,000 patients a year and is triple the size of the old facility. She’s been a manager at the cancer centre since May 2022, but before that, she was the emergency department manager at Grande Prairie Queen Elizabeth II Hospital for six years.

“This new cancer centre is incredible compared to the old unit. The added space for patients to wait in comfort, the privacy during their consultations and the beautiful views during their therapy have improved their cancer journey,” she says.

Peddy is no stranger to the nuances and challenges of rural health care. She grew up in Beaverlodge, Alta., and worked in Grande Cache as a new nursing grad. She then became a manager at the Grande Cache Hospital in 2013, where she worked for 13 years.

Nursing and health care have always been a part of Peddy’s family — her mother was a licensed practical nurse, and now even her daughter is a nurse. “I just knew growing up I was going to do something within health care or something with frontline interaction with people,” says Peddy. “My passions and my roots were always with a rural site and that perspective.”

Of her rural health-care experience, Peddy adds, “It was the best supportive environment for learning nursing. But it was also the best for opening my eyes to every discipline within nursing and

health care.

“You actually care for every single type of illness that could walk through the door, from birth to death. We saw quite a few patients going through cancer, and, because we’re so rural, we’d have to support them through that. But you also do absolutely everything else, too.”

In 2015, Peddy moved to Grande Prairie and joined the emergency department for 18 months before covering as an interim manager. That temporary position turned into a six-year career. In her emergency department manager role, Peddy oversaw a busy trauma centre that served all of northwest Alberta, dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and worked through the launch of Connect Care and the transition into the new hospital building.

“I like a project and a challenge,” Peddy laughs. “I’m a bit of an enabler. My greatest satisfaction comes in finding out what someone needs and somehow supporting them to get it.”

Peddy says she moved into oncology from emergency medicine because she wanted something less crisis-driven and more focused while working with a smaller team. In oncology, Peddy thrives on frontline interaction with patients.

“I really love cancer care because it’s unique in that the provider or the physician groups work extremely close with the frontline staff,” she says. “I get to work very closely with the provider group and help support them, whether in their daily practice or professional development.”

Contrary to popular belief, Peddy says working in oncology has been quite uplifting for her. “It’s a chronic illness to a certain degree now, as folks

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— Tracy Peddy


can live a long time and the treatments are amazing,” she says. “When you say palliative, that’s a whole different meaning in oncology. In the acute world, if you say someone is palliative, we tend to think they’re in their last six months of life. Palliative here means that you’re probably going to live with some form of cancer, but you can live with the treatments and the prevention. Your palliative journey can take you another 15 or 20 years.”

Of the many hats Peddy wears in her role, she’s most proud that she can give voice to Grande Prairie at the provincial

level. “Because we’re part of a provincial program, I get to represent the site, the providers, the staff and the patients,” she says.

Daily, Peddy acts as an enabler, problem-solver, mentor and advocate for her colleagues and patients. Her focus now is on diversity and improving access to care for vulnerable populations. With its job opportunities, Grande Prairie has been a big draw for new immigrants, and Peddy says there’s opportunity to enhance care for the region’s Sudanese, Filipino and Indian population, as well as improve

Indigenous patient supports.

“Northern Alberta is home to a diverse Indigenous population,” says Peddy. “The Grande Prairie Regional Hospital has a number of Indigenous liaisons who work closely as a group and with our Indigenous nurse-navigator. Being part of this hospital offers our patients the opportunity to practise such things as smudging and attend special hospital site events like drum circles. I view my role as helping to identify the leaders for change from within our diverse community and supporting them in sourcing resources and collaborations.”

Peddy says her big goal is finding ways to improve care by identifying barriers to access for treatment and care. And at the end of the day, Peddy says her measure of success comes down to people and relationships.

“When I see a team that doesn’t really need their manager, that they’re very strong, that’s success. It’s the team that I leave behind — that frontline team and their connection to the other departments.”

Looking forward, Peddy hopes more outreach programs can improve care for the Grande Prairie area. And she feels she’s in absolutely the right role and at the right place to see to it.

“I do love teaching and mentorship and feel like this is where I actually have more of an ability to influence,” Peddy says. “I think it’s a sweet spot of just being right on the nexus of everything. I’m just really passionate about people supporting people, because when everyone else succeeds, ultimately, that leads to



the patient 1991 Graduates with a Bachelor of Nursing from University of Alberta. 1991 Moves to Grande Cache and works as one of two registered nurses covering emergency, labour and delivery, outpatient, medicine, and post-surgical recovery. 2003 Becomes director of health services at the Grande Cache Hospital. 2015 Moves to Grande Prairie and joins the emergency department at Grande Prairie Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. She covers as interim manager during this time. 2017 Becomes emergency department manager at the Queen Elizabeth. May 2022 Becomes manager of the ambulatory and systemic department at the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre.

Jordan Turko

A stage 4 cancer diagnosis was the last thing this active 30-year-old was expecting, but a targeted drug therapy has extended his life from weeks to years

As Jordan Turko opened his mouth to speak at a meeting on Jan. 4, 2022, he could only muster a hoarse whisper.

“I tried clearing my throat and there was nothing,” he says. “My voice was just gone. It was bizarre.”

He woke up with a backache that same morning and thought he might have COVID-19. But when the symptoms persisted, he went to the walk-in clinic. As an active and healthy 30-year-old, he wasn’t too worried.

After a string of tests, including a CT scan and chest X-ray, he received a shocking diagnosis on April 25, 2022: Stage 4 lung cancer had metastasized across his body. There was a four-inch tumour wrapped around his pulmonary artery, paralyzing his vocal cords, and tumours growing down his spine that were days away from paralyzing his legs.

“It was very quick and very shocking,” says Turko. “All of the sudden, I was hospitalized at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. By April 26, I couldn’t really walk, and I was in a wheelchair being wheeled into the Cross Cancer Institute — it was that fast.”

Turko received emergency radiation on his chest and back, which succeeded in shrinking the tumours along his spine, reversing the paralysis of his vocal cords and restoring his ability to walk. As a healthy, non-smoking young adult, he underwent genetic biomarker testing to see what caused the lung cancer.

The answer came a few days later. Doctors told him he had a rare gene mutation called anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK).

“The most common cause of lung cancer is smoking, but that wasn’t my case,” he says. “I just have a genetic mutation and the floodgates opened. Suddenly, this protein is being created in my cells and replicating out of control, starting in my lungs.”

Turko was prescribed a targeted drug therapy called alectinib; its efficacy was proven through a recent clinical trial in Alberta. He now takes eight alectinib pills daily, extending his life from weeks to years. While Turko is still living with stage 4 lung cancer today, the treatment



is ongoing to keep the cancer at bay.

“If I had been diagnosed a few years ago and alectinib hadn’t gone through clinical trials yet, then I would have likely died in a few weeks,” says Turko. “There are new therapies coming out all the time and so many cancers are becoming more treatable. That’s why the ongoing philanthropy and fundraising is really important.”

Turko says that maintaining hope and positivity helps him through all the hardships he faces.

“Now, instead of saying I have to do anything, I think about how I get to,” he says. “I’m going to do everything possible to live, and I’m going to radiate that energy.”

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Helping Bring World-Class Cancer Care to Calgary

Heather Culbert is part of the grassroots effort that helped make the new Calgary Cancer Centre a reality

When asked how it felt to witness Alberta Health Services receive the keys for the new $1.4-billion Calgary Cancer Centre, Heather Culbert’s response is immediate.

“The emotion is elation,” Culbert says. “It was like the phoenix rising from the ashes, seeing that building being built and the dedication of so many people who made this happen.”

Culbert’s drive to see this immense change for the face of cancer treatment and research in Calgary stretches back to 1986, when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She says she was not

satisfied with the state of cancer care at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, where her mother was receiving treatment at the time.

“I remember being very annoyed with the lack of resources that they had,” Culbert says. “You had so many passionate people working there trying to help, but their hands were tied relative to the space and the equipment they had to work with.”

Culbert’s mother would battle cancer for the next 25 years. During that time, Culbert had a very successful career in the oil and gas sector, retiring from


her role as senior vice president of corporate services at Enerplus in 2006. Culbert says she was too young to retire in the traditional sense, so she took to philanthropy, serving as a trustee for the Alberta Cancer Foundation from 2010 to 2014.

It was here she encountered two galvanizing forces in her quest to see a new cancer centre in Calgary. The first was working with John Osler, a fellow Alberta Cancer Foundation board member, who quickly became a friend and confidant. The second was Culbert’s own breast cancer diagnosis in 2009. Culbert says she was incredibly thankful her cancer was caught before metastasizing, as she knew the treatment facilities were still not where they could be in Calgary.

The promise of a new cancer centre goes back to 2005, when the Government of Alberta committed $1 billion to build a new one in Calgary. The next decade was fraught with starts and stops, and when the province announced a revaluation of the project in 2015, Culbert and John Osler decided enough was enough.

“I remember having lunch with John, and they’d just announced for the third time since we’d been involved with the Alberta Cancer Foundation that it was cancelled again,” Culbert says.

“John and I are sitting there saying, ‘Well, someone has to do something about this.’ And I said, ‘Well, if not us, then who?’”

Culbert and Osler quickly organized C5, or Concerned Citizens for the Calgary Cancer Centre. They hired a PR firm out of their own pockets to guide them on the most efficient and respectful way to amplify C5’s rallying cry: “Build It Now.”

“We wanted to keep it in the media in a very respectful way. We didn’t want this to be an election issue. We would do a rally here and there, but our message was not angry. It was just trying to build support for this project,” Culbert recalls.

The Calgary Cancer Centre was resurrected for a fourth time in October 2015, when $830 million in provincial

funding was announced for the project. This time, the promise stuck, but that was far from the end of Culbert’s work helping bring the Calgary Cancer Centre to life. In October 2021, Culbert, Osler and a third supporter, Deborah Yedlin, launched the OWN.CANCER campaign.

OWN.CANCER partnered with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the University of Calgary to raise $250 million to support improved cancer research, treatment and care at the new Calgary

Cancer Centre when it opens its doors in 2024. The campaign has raised $117 million as of January 2023.

“This is going to be a one-of-a-kind cancer centre that will rival the top cancer hospitals in the world. It’s exactly what we had envisioned,” Culbert says.

“It makes me very emotional when I think about this place…the combination of the doctors and the research coming together, and trying to create the best outcomes for patients. We deserve it.”

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Riding For a Cause

Once on the sidelines and now team captain, Tom Hewitt is leading big fundraising and recruitment efforts for his Enbridge Tour Alberta for Cancer team

In the past eight years, Team NOV has raised more than $1 million for the Enbridge Tour Alberta for Cancer (formerly the Ride to Conquer Cancer), with the goal to raise another $300,000 in 2023.

Much of the team’s success is thanks to Tom Hewitt, its founder and captain. What began almost on a whim has turned into a big community effort. While out for summer drives, Hewitt became intrigued by the cyclists he saw doing the 200-kilometre trek. In 2015, he went for it. “I just felt like I should do something for others,” he recalls. “I happened to see a pamphlet about the ride, and I called [the organizers] to say I wanted to ride. They asked if I wanted to start a team. I blurted out, ‘Team NOV,’ and the team was conceived with one sole member.”

NOV is the global energy company in Calgary where Hewitt has worked for the past 25 years and is currently a senior operations director.

Since the inception of Team NOV, Hewitt has been all in. He began by recruiting his NOV co-workers, and it wasn’t long before the team was 40 members strong. And every year, the team continues to grow. What used to be a NOV-employee team has grown to include “friends, family and customers,” he says. “We also welcome lone riders who call up to do the ride.”

Like Hewitt, whose mother and father both had cancer, many of the team members are personally affected by the disease. “Everyone is very passionate about the cause and super focused on raising money,” says Hewitt. “Team NOV has morphed

into something bigger. It’s more of a community team now; we like riding together, hanging out, and it’s become a lifestyle.”

Team NOV continually comes up with fundraising initiatives, including raffles, silent auctions, pub nights, garage sales and bottle drives, to keep building momentum. Their efforts even inspired the NOV Texas office to do a similar ride for multiple sclerosis — and they asked Hewitt to join their steering committee.

In 2022, Hewitt and his longtime co-captain, Dan Giesinger, brought on a new co-captain, Jamie Dawson, to help further motivate the team. “We met Jamie through the ride several years ago and invited him to join our team,”


Hewitt says. “He’s super pumped and dedicated to the cause — he also lost his father to cancer. Right after we crossed the finish line last year, he said, ‘Let’s raise $300K next year,’ which is nearly double what we did this year.”

Together, Hewitt, Giesinger and Dawson hope to raise more than ever and build the biggest Team NOV yet, with up to 60 riders. And for anyone unsure about whether to join the ride, Hewitt says this: “I encourage you to do it. It’s a really nice feeling to know you’ve made a difference. And you get fit, but it’s way more than that — it’s training, it’s social and you’re part of a cycling community. You get to do something to change the lives of others, and you get all these benefits.”