Kelly Liebe’s journey with cancer started when she was 35, in 1998. From the moment she was diagnosed, everything changed. Kelly participated in a breast cancer treatment clinical trial. Twelve years later, this clinical trial would evolve into the treatment her daughter, Chrissy, was put on in 2010 for her breast cancer.

 

mother and daughter with same cancer

Kelly (right) with her daughter, Chrissy (left).

Kelly tells their story…

“At the age of 35, my path was about to change, and I would learn to navigate through this vast unknown. Thankfully I was never alone. Surrounded by my family, friends, and medical network, I gathered strength, knowledge, and courage through my breast cancer journey.

“The initial diagnosis was one of the worst events in my life. I remember the day I found the lump. I went to emergency I was so afraid. When I saw the doctor, I just knew from the events that unfolded next that it wasn’t good.

“I was shuffled from test to test that day. In between, I would call my husband who was at home looking after the kids.  He tried to reassure me and be optimistic.

“Within the first week I had a biopsy, and it was sent in for testing. I was so anxious. I lost ten pounds, my body ached from my head to my toes.

“When the doctor came in and said you have breast cancer.  I remember looking at my husband and the pain mirrored within his eyes can still be captured in my mind today.

“My parents came up on December 28th and surgery for a mastectomy, on the left side, was set for January 2, 1998. I was surrounded by nurses and doctors who were absolutely wonderful to me. Even though I lost a breast, I could still breathe, feel, and walk – I could still love.

“Later that month we went to the Cross Cancer Clinic in Edmonton. I was told I had stage 3 aggressive and grave triple-negative breast cancer with lymph node involvement.”

Kelly was given a few treatment options and officially decided on joining a clinical trial. Due to joining the clinical trial, anything new that pertained to her cancer diagnosis had to be overseen at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. Kelly and her family were living in Fort McMurray at the time. Many of their days were spent driving the five-hour trip to Edmonton from Northern Alberta.

 

“In 2010, our daughter Chrissy, a single mother with two children, found a lump in her breast. She was diagnosed with the same type of breast cancer as I had in 1998.

“At the age of 32, our beautiful daughter had her breast removed and began her high-dose treatment, which was the refined version of my clinical trial.

“You realize that you are doing a clinical trial to better future treatment for others, you just don’t realize it will be your own daughter sitting in that chair.

“I wish the story ended there but sadly it does not. Chrissy’s cancer returned in 2012 with a vengeance and she was given one week to live. During that time, we obtained the rights to be guardians of our grandchildren, her children, Chloe and Ethan.

Cancer patient memorial

A picture of Chrissy on the back of Kelly’s bike at the Tour Alberta for Cancer.

“She rallied and pulled through to the point where we could bring her home, after three months in the hospital. In August of 2012 that is what we did.

“On December 9th Chrissy took a turn for the worse and we called the home care nurse in. She arrived, went up to see Chrissy and then came down to see me.

“I will remember that moment forever I was standing in the laundry room and the nurse came in; she told me it was time.  I thought to myself, ‘what do you mean it’s time?’

“The next morning, Chrissy took her last breath, and my breath was ripped from me. I will forever carry her in my heart.

“In November 2016 at my routine check-up, a lump was found. It proved to be early-stage breast cancer and on December 10, 2016, it was confirmed.  How ironic to find that out on the date of Chrissy’s death but four years later. I thought to myself – I know you are there, love – I’ll be strong.

 

 

“So, our story continues, and we move with the day.  We are still surrounded by our family which continues to grow with new additions.

“I would like to express such love and gratitude to all those at the Cross Cancer Institute who have played a role in not only our family’s journey but the journey of all who have walked through those doors.”

 

Read her husband’s story here.


You never know whose life you could change simply by talking about your own, share your story today.
Carie Fargey-Scott, daughter of Peter Fargey, sat down with us to discuss her father’s legacy and her recent cancer diagnosis. In 2010, her father Peter decided to make an impact in his community after he was diagnosed with cancer. This impact is the ION Print Solutions double match campaign in benefit of the Alberta Cancer Foundation – a choice that he and his business partner made to improve cancer outcomes for Albertans. Peter unfortunately passed away from cancer in 2016, yet his legacy lives on.

 

cancer patient Carie Fargey-ScottCarie’s journey with cancer began abruptly. “I randomly found a lump in my armpit on a Saturday night and was immediately concerned. I called my GP on Monday and got in to see him on Tuesday. By Friday, I’d had an ultrasound, a mammogram, and a biopsy. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to be great news.” Although grateful that the process was prompt, the news Carie received was nothing she wanted to hear.

“I was officially diagnosed on March 14, 2022. After that, I went through a plethora of tests, MRI, CT, bone scans and more. I met with a surgeon, and he did a consultation with some Oncologists at the Cross. They made the decision that I would start with chemo before I have surgery, given the type of cancer that I have and my hormone receptor status. It went very quickly – from the day I found the lump to the day I started chemo was less than six weeks.”

Throughout the last couple of months of treatment, Carie has shown true strength. “There are good days and bad days. That is pretty par for the course. I am two-thirds of the way through my chemo, which is exciting! I’ve completed an intense protocol [with chemo] where I went in every week. Soon I’ll start one where I go every three weeks. A little bit of a break. Let my body rest for a bit.”

Carie Fargey-Scott and family

Carie with her daughter and husband.

Carie states that the support and love from her family and friends keep her going through this process. “I tell my husband on a daily basis that I couldn’t do this without him.”

She is reminded of a quote during our conversation about commitment and loved ones’ support. “In your wedding vows, the better, richer and in health are the easy parts. It is our time in the worse, poorer, and sickness where you are challenged. It is easy to be a great partner during good times. Not so easy during the hard times.” With this, Carie explains how grateful she is to have a family that continues to be an incredible support system during the difficult days.

Chemo is just the start of the treatments Carie is scheduled to receive. After this she will proceed to surgery and then will start radiation. Carie finds hope in each visit to the Cross Cancer Institute, especially since recent scans show that the cancer is responding to treatment.

“It is one of those things that keeps you going on the bad days, because [the treatment] is working. It is different when you still have cancer in your body while going through treatment because you know it is there. On those really rough days where I don’t want to go to chemo, I know that it is doing what it is supposed to and that makes it a lot more tolerable.”

Being an Edmonton resident, Carie goes to the Cross Cancer Institute to receive treatment. The place her father, and many others, have chosen to support because of the incredible care they have received – Carie now being one of them.

“[The people at the Cross] are superheroes that walk among us. The past couple of years have been extremely difficult on healthcare workers, and yet when I meet any single person, they are so kind and compassionate. It blows me away that they can put their own stressors aside and just be there for their patient. I am so so grateful for every person on my team, because I truly do have a care team. They’re all working towards the same goal, which is to get rid of this [cancer] and not have it come back.”

Carie Fargey-Scott and Peter Fargey

Carie with her Father, Peter Fargey.

Reminiscing on her experience with the Cross Cancer Institute, Carie finds many similarities between the care her father once received and the care she receives today. “For his first cancer, he was treated at the Cross. Again, it was the same thing. There were amazing people, they were all working towards the same goal to get him cancer free. They did for a lot of years. They gave him time that he wouldn’t have necessarily had otherwise, and for that I am grateful. In that time, I had my daughter, so he got to meet and know her. We had time together, and that is the most important thing.”

This ION Print Solutions double match campaign is known in the Edmonton community, especially by those who have been impacted by cancer. When asked about how it all started and how she feels about the campaign, Carie said, “It was a joint decision with his business partner. They decided to do something to give back. I have always felt that is so important, whenever possible to give back to the areas that support you. The Cross is one of those places that you never ever want to go, but if you have to, you thank god that it is there. It is such an amazing facility.”

“To give back and say ‘we want to help further research and treatment’ was something I was really proud of my dad and his partner for… It is something that I have supported as much as I can. It’s a wonderful legacy for him to leave behind.”

Originally posted on the Alberta Cancer Foundation blog.

Sudharshini Balasubramaniam, Sudha Balan, has been a volunteer at the Cross Cancer Institute for over two years. The Albertan was inspired to volunteer after witnessing the kindness and care provided to her husband while he was undergoing treatment at the Cross.

 

In 1979 Sudha immigrated from the tropical rolling plains and mountains of Sri Lanka to the golden prairies and snowcapped mountains of Alberta and found her new home to be the perfect size: small and welcoming, yet abundant with opportunities. As a newcomer to Alberta, she felt as though she belonged.

 

Fast forward several years, and Sudha’s husband, Tom Balasubramaniam, was the first in his family to be diagnosed with cancer. He underwent treatment at the Cross Cancer Institute but sadly passed away in February 2019, leaving behind his wife, children and grandchildren.

 

Sudha’s experience with her husband’s cancer journey opened her eyes to the stark reality that many Albertans (almost 60 every day) face. But she also learned about the incredible research, treatment and care the doctors, nurses, and volunteers provide at the Cross Cancer Institute.

 

After her husband’s passing, Sudha wanted to do what she could to give back to the Cross Cancer Institute. If asked to volunteer a couple of years back, she would have had no desire to be in or around a hospital. But after having been to the Cross, to her, thanks to the staff and volunteers, it didn’t feel like a hospital but a healing centre. She remembered one of the volunteers who once so impressed her husband as he journeyed through his cancer treatment at Cross Cancer. The care they showed him made an impact, so she wanted to do the same for others.

 

As a testament to the healing environment that Cross Cancer Institute exudes, she notes that often people who volunteer at the Cross are former or current patients. One might think that having undergone treatment at a cancer centre would disincline someone from ever visiting again, and yet, they return, “For people to go back there says a lot about Cross Cancer and what they do.”

 

And so since 2020, Sudha has volunteered every Thursday at the Cross Cancer Institute’s gift shop. She offers help to those searching for head coverings, clothing, or gifts for friends and family members.

 

“The time that I spend there is the most purposeful and the most valuable to me. It feels like I gain more value than I give back,”

 

And so every Thursday at the gift shop, Sudha is a part of what makes the Cross Cancer Institute so special to many Albertans.

 

Sudha is thrilled about the new renovations coming to the Cross, thanks to the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s We Cross Cancer Campaign, which is raising $30 million in support of the Cross. Sudha believes that this campaign will bring much-needed awareness to the general public about the beloved hospital and how they can help support it.

Written by Jenna Kardal

Robin Hairsine from Edmonton had completed nine and a half months of cancer treatments on February 4th, 2020 when the city went into lockdown a month later for COVID-19.

Robin Hairsine at the Cross Cancer Institute in December 2019.

“After I completed my treatments, I thought things were finally over and that it would go back to how they used to be. I was looking forward to recovery, going back to work and seeing the people I love more often.” recalls Robin.

In September of 2020, during a routine six months post-treatment mammogram, Robin was diagnosed with breast cancer again, this time in the other breast.

“This was a crushing diagnosis for me. I didn’t think I would be back at the Cross Cancer Institute, 7 months post-treatments, getting treatments for cancer, again,” says Robin.

As someone who is underwent cancer treatment during a pandemic, we asked her how she felt supported by her community and she shared an inspiring experience she had with a local business in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

“I was scrolling through Facebook one evening when I couldn’t sleep and I noticed that Funky Petals in Sherwood Park was honouring those impacted by breast cancer during the month of October. I commented on their post thanking them as a cancer warrior myself and received a message from them saying that they were touched by my story.

A few days later I received a beautiful flower arrangement from them in the mail and it nearly brought me to tears.

For a complete stranger to honour someone like me and my struggles showed me that you are truly never alone.

Living in such a large city and province with such a huge population of people who are living with cancer, it is easy to sometimes see yourself as a number in the system. It was wonderful to see such a great company in the community who sees everyone as a person. Like the card I received from them that stated, “together we can”, I believe that together (as a community) we really can overcome cancer!” says Robin.

Share with us stories or anecdotes of how you were supported by a fellow Albertan during your cancer journey – it could be a loved one, friend, your neighbour, a health care worker or even a stranger! Click here to share your story.

Reposted from the Alberta Cancer Foundation blog.

The Cross Cancer Institute is known for the exceptional and compassionate care given to each patient. The work put in by the volunteers at the Cross Cancer Institute does not go unnoticed by the patients and family members they interact with daily. Today, we say thank you for the positive and warm environment these volunteers continuously provide to every person who walks through the doors of this world-class institute.

Jenna and Susan tell us what inspired them to start volunteering, what the Cross Cancer Institute means to the Edmonton community, and what the We Cross Cancer campaign means to them.

Jenna Evanchuk

Jenna Evanchuk is a 2nd year MSc student at the University of Alberta, specializing in Nutrition and Metabolism. She is also a dedicated volunteer at the Cross Cancer Institute.

“Volunteering is a huge part of my life,” Jenna expresses.

When not in her lab or reading papers – or volunteering at the Cross – Jenna is eating and cooking. “I’m a huge foodie,” she confesses. Some of her other hobbies include long distance running, knitting, and crocheting.

Jenna has been volunteering at the Cross Cancer Institute since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Her role back then was called Friendly Visiting, which entailed visiting patients the in-patient units and conversing with them, or bringing them snacks and drinks. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, the program has been halted, as the patients are immunocompromised and at high risk.

Jenna is now at the wig salon, shaving patients’ heads and fitting them to wigs. She explains that she and the other volunteers try to find the best wig that the patients are happy with. “It’s kind of like trying on clothes,” she remarks.

Jenna’s enthusiasm for volunteering also shows through her Alberta Health Services Volunteer Orientation Facilitator role, where she provides orientation sessions to new volunteers.

“As volunteers, we have the gift of time,” Jenna muses.

Amongst many memorable moments, one of Jenna’s favourite parts of volunteering at the Cross is finding the perfect wig for patients. “Hair loss is devastating for some patients, but if they can find that perfect wig, and the moment they put that wig on… there’s really no way to describe it.”

Jenna also enjoys being a conversation partner to the patients and speaking to them about non-cancer topics – their families, home lives, and where they come from.

“There’s lots of moments of joy in volunteering,” Jenna muses. “The interactions may seem small scale but I know they mean the world to the patients and their families.”

One of the main reasons that Jenna began volunteering at the Cross Cancer Institute was due to her family’s history of cancer, including her grandparents and great-aunt. Jenna explains that the Cross brought comfort, understanding, and clarity to the situation, and that she wanted to give back to them.

In terms of medical and cancer research, Jenna states: “As a researcher and volunteer in the medical sector [in Alberta], I’m really proud of the life-changing research in healthcare that is being delivered through truly world-class institutions, like the Cross Cancer, around the province.”

Having lived in the province her whole life, Jenna believes that overall, Alberta has a great quality of life. “I love Alberta and being here.”

Jenna is also enthusiastic about the We Cross Cancer Campaign. “I think it’s really incredible and it just makes me really happy that it’s front of mind continuously,” she reflects. “The funding will impact lives not only in this generation, but also many generations to come, because we continue to fight cancer.”

 

From family experience with cancer as well as volunteer experience at the Cross Cancer Institute, Jenna has some wisdom about cancer to share: “Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone, anytime, at any life stage… Cancer is different in every single person.”

“While there’s great advancements in research,” Jenna reflects, “I do think that it will be a fight for a long time. I think this [We Cross Cancer Campaign] money means everything to improve care.”

 

Susan Jensen

Susan Jensen is a retired Microbiology professor from the University of Alberta, and was born and raised in Edmonton. She is also a long-time volunteer at the Cross Cancer Institute.

Susan’s role as a volunteer is at the Patient and Family Resource Center. As their motto, “care and comfort” suggests, Susan provides all of the non-medical aspects of the treatments of cancer.

“The Cross as a treatment hospital is so streamlined and efficient to treat the maximum number of patients that sometimes the softer side gets lost,” Susan observes.

Thanks to her role, Susan is able to provide this softer side, including accommodation for patients coming from out of town; ride services to the hospital; and pamphlets about the different types of cancer, their respective treatments, and the side effects.

Susan also enjoys the opportunity to speak with people from all over Alberta, and even outside of the province, such as the Northwest Territories. “[I enjoy] just hearing their story and doing what we can to help them,” she says.

Susan began volunteering at the Cross Cancer Institute eight years ago, in 2014, and remarks that the institute was a big and impressive part of the community. Thanks to her background in microbiology, Susan had some prior understanding of cancer, as well as some overlap from speakers and sessions during her time at the U of A.

Susan speaks positively about her experience volunteering at the Cross, and thinks fondly about seeing how grateful the patients and families are for the institute’s help. “It’s really wonderful,” she says.

Susan also commends the Cross Cancer staff. “I’m so impressed – they really go out of their way to help the patients,” she expresses. “It’s been a really rewarding experience working there.”

Susan is also grateful to the Alberta Heritage Foundation for providing medical research. “I’m very impressed and proud of the whole medical community in Alberta,” she states. “I think we have an excellent cancer hospital, [and] excellent researchers.”

In regards to the We Cross Cancer Campaign, Susan wishes them success in their campaign, as cancer research, treatment, and facilities require constant funding.

“There’s certainly an ongoing and ever-increasing need for research in cancer,” Susan comments. She also notes the importance of clinical trials and their heavy costs: “Those can be horrendously expensive if they’re not supported.”

“Any source of funding for cancer research is all welcome,” Susan remarks.

 

Learn about how you can volunteer with the Cross Cancer Institute here.