In January of 2017, Donato Bernardo thought he was coming down with the flu. As an automotive mechanic, he was in the shop finishing his last few days of rotations. He was determined to keep working, but his foreman convinced him to go to the doctor. Donato, who was 27 at the time, was diagnosed with leukemia within the month, and he spent the next four years in and out of the Cross Cancer Institute. It was soon discovered that Donato also had spinal cancer and he began a series of chemotherapy treatments and spinal taps. He walked through the stages of remission and relapse, and, in early 2020, Donato was told he was out of options. However, that same year, he was given new hope when he learned he was eligible to enter a clinical trial. The Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy, known as CAR T-cell therapy, uses a patient’s immune system to battle cancer cells. Today, Donato is in remission. He shares his story here:

“When I first arrived at [Edmonton’s] Northeast Medical Centre [in 2017], I was asleep for three or four days. When I woke up, I had my doctor and my parents there. They told me I was short of blood. EMS transferred me to the University of Alberta with my parents in tow. They immediately put me in isolation, and I remember watching the doctor running toward me with a bag of blood and I thought, ‘I don’t think this is the flu anymore.’

“They did a spinal tap and, on Feb. 5, three or four doctors came into my room and told me I had leukemia. My doctor came in and gave me my options for chemotherapy and I looked at her and I said, ‘We can start now.’

“After that, I was there for about seven months.

 

“Since then, I’ve had at least 100 spinal taps. Leukemia usually gets diagnosed in adolescence, so, being an adult, it’s harder to control. They did everything they could — they ran me through so many protocols and immunotherapy and radiation. They told me I was out of options.

“But, in 2020, my doctor sat me down, looked me straight in the face and asked if I would be willing to partake in what’s called the CAR T transplant. At that point, saying no would be ridiculous. So, I just went for it. And, for me, it was a second chance again.

“I was deemed terminal before this, and this was a Hail Mary — and it worked. I want CAR T to eventually retire chemotherapy. Chemotherapy did a lot to my body and my life, and I lost time. I’m hoping CAR T becomes a protocol as a baseline. I have a lot to catch up on in my life. I have a lot of hope.”

 

Originally posted on the Alberta Cancer Foundation website.

Learn more about CAR T-Cell Therapy here.

EDMONTON – Clinical trials for “Made-in-Alberta” Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy are showing very promising results for some patients where chemotherapy and radiation have stopped working.

Last fall, Don Goss suffered a relapse seven weeks after finishing two years of traditional chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. At the time, he made the difficult decision to go into hospice care as he didn’t feel he could withstand more chemotherapy.

“That very same day, I was offered the chance to enter the new CAR-T trial,” says Goss. “This new, revolutionary treatment has saved my life. I am now three months and counting since I had it and am cancer-free, without suffering the considerable side effects of chemo.”

Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy genetically reprograms a person’s immune cells to attack cancer cells in the body. A patient’s T-cells are extracted and, in a laboratory, they are genetically modified and multiplied before being returned to the patient.

 

Most patients receive only one infusion as these cells continue to multiply and fight cancer cells. This therapy is used to treat children and adults with specific types of leukemia and lymphoma for whom chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment have stopped working.

The clinical trials at the Cross Cancer Institute will soon be expanding to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and use CAR T-cell therapy developed by AHS in collaboration with the University of Alberta. Approximately 80 per cent of patients in these trials have seen their cancers significantly diminish or are in long-term remission after CAR T-cell therapy.

“Providing Albertans convenient and swift treatment at home with a Made-in-Alberta solution is a step in the right direction,” says Jason Copping, Minister of Health. “CAR T-cell therapy could be a game-changer as we are seeing some remarkable results. Because of the Alberta Cellular Therapy Program grant through Alberta’s government, clinical trials, like CAR-T therapy, can provide hope for Albertans when they need it the most.

The first patients began treatment in the clinical trials in March 2021. The trials were established by Alberta Health Services and funded through a $10-million investment from the Government of Alberta and a $5-million grant from the Alberta Cancer Foundation. CAR-T therapy is also offered using a commercially available product. To date, 18 patients have been treated using these products at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary.

 

“Leading the Made-in-Alberta trial is an exciting opportunity to bring additional cell therapy options to Albertans,” says medical oncologist Dr. Michael Chu, lead of the clinical trials that are based at the Cross Cancer Institute. “We have successfully treated 10 patients to date and are seeing long-term remission in some, suggesting that we may have cured them of their cancer after all other treatments have failed.”

The Made-in-Alberta clinical trials will expand to Calgary by the end of summer.

 

This investment has also allowed AHS to deliver standard of care CAR-T therapy to 18 patients at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre using commercially developed products, and this fall, will expand to offer it at the Cross Cancer Centre Institute.

Clinical trials are studies that test the safety and effectiveness of new drugs or procedures. Patients volunteer to participate in these studies, and medical professionals gain valuable information from the results. Clinical trials are one of the best ways to test new methods to diagnose, treat, manage and prevent cancer.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

Originally posted on the Alberta Health Services Website.

Tyra Langille was only 25 years old when she was diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma. The Edmontonian shares her cancer journey and why it’s important to her to raise awareness for oral cancer and advocate for other young cancer patients. 

My journey is not over, the healing process is slow and I take every day one step at a time. I try to remain positive through it all but there are days when it can be too much, mentally, physically and emotionally.

“My cancer journey begin in February of 2021 when I found a small canker-like sore on the left side of my tongue, few months went by and I noticed it wasn’t getting better but my doctor thought it could be oral thrush, so I went on medication for that. I also went to the dentist, but they didn’t see anything wrong. In June, it started to grow rapidly, and with every day I felt like it was getting worse. It was hard to get through a pandemic while also figuring out what was happening to my body, I was really struggling with it. Fast forward to August, I have dropped 30 pounds, I could barely speak some days from the pain, or eat and drink. After eight long months, my doctor sent me for a biopsy in September. Within a week, I was diagnosed with stage 2 Squamous Cell Carcinoma. I was shocked but also, prepared because I knew something wasn’t right when my tongue wouldn’t heal. The cancer grew so much from September to October that I ended up being on the edge of stage 2 beginning stage 3, so on paper, it turned out to be Stage 3 Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

I’m young, I don’t smoke, or drink, I am extremely healthy, active and HPV negative and I had no known risks of getting oral cancer. I am told that I’m in the 25% of the unknown case of this cancer. On October 28th, I went through a 12-hour surgery where I had a free arm flap, reconstruction of the left side of my tongue, neck dissection of about 100 nodes, trach and feeding tube. I was finally discharged on November 9th. I had to reteach myself how to eat/drink, swallow, speak, and smile… it’s been a lot. A few weeks later I was told the margins were clear, none of the nodes that were taken were affected but because of where the tumour was and how aggressive it was, to be certain it won’t come back I was to undergo 30 sessions of radiation to the mouth, with a mouth spacer between my teeth to ensure the radiation hit exactly where it needed to, internally and externally.

My team of doctors at the University of Alberta and the Cross Cancer have been so incredible and I am forever grateful to have been blessed to have them be a part of my team, without them I don’t know where I would be. I finished my last session of radiation on February 1st, 2022. My journey is not over, the healing process is slow and I take every day one step at a time. I try to remain positive through it all but there are days when it can be too much, mentally, physically and emotionally.

I’m excited for what the future holds and I hope to connect with other survivors who have gone through something similar as it can get lonely at times. My job now and forever is to spread awareness of oral squamous cell carcinoma and advocate for those who cannot!”

Tyra’s connection to the Cross Cancer Institute was built through her diagnoses and treatment. When she was asked what she thought of the We Cross Cancer campaign, it’s efforts, and why donors should support this campaign, her answer was based in personal experience. Tyra explains “As a former patient it excites me as the impact of these advancements will have a positive effect as it gives doctors the ability to better diagnose and pinpoint cancer/tumours. I think donors should support this campaign because you are helping someone who may fall ill & will benefit from the new advancements for diagnosing and treatments.”

– Tyra Langille

Originally posted on the Alberta Cancer Foundation Blog.

Sylvia Pedley Lakeman from Willingdon, Alberta is a cancer survivor and fundraiser for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Here, she shares what her cancer journey was like and why giving back is important to her.

“My breast cancer journey began in the fall of 2009, after a routine mammogram. I began treatment and underwent a left mastectomy in early December of that same year. In January of 2010 after a biopsy on my lymph nodes to determine if the breast cancer was gone it was discovered that indeed the breast cancer was gone but I was newly diagnosed with CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia).

In the following year I underwent every test you could ever imagine to determine the stage of leukemia and to determine what treatment if any was necessary at that time. It was determined it was in the early stages and I would just be monitored as needed.

Years went by and life went on and I even lapsed in going into the Cross Cancer Institute for checkups. Then in the fall of 2016, it all fell apart…I began to feel ill, displaying all the symptoms of the CLL manifesting itself.

I started chemo in the early part of 2017, and it only got worse….getting weak and anemic requiring blood transfusions which in turn delayed the chemo….long story short things kept getting worse until I was so weak we called an ambulance to get me to the hospital.

I spent the next 4 months in the hospital where they finally determined that in fact, it was not the CLL causing the problems but that I had developed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But now that the cause of my deterioration was found I was treated for it. I also had to undergo physiotherapy as I had become so weak I could no longer walk.

I was released from the hospital in the late summer of 2017 and have been working my way back to good health since. Today I am doing okay, the CLL is not showing itself at this point and I have just had a CAT scan and received the news that all is well.”

When asked what advice she would give to others facing cancer, she says the one thing she has learned is to advocate for herself.

 “I have learned to ask questions…stay informed….let yourself feel what is happening to you and know that there is always someone there to help you. Be strong.”

Over the years, Sylvia has done what she can to give back to the Cross Cancer Institute. She donates to the Alberta Cancer Foundation and has participated in several of our fundraising events including the Albertans Helping Albertans Virtual 5k that took place in 2020 and 2021. 

“The care I receive every time I visit the Cross Cancer Institute is top of the line and I appreciate all the support from the staff and volunteers there. That’s why it is important to me to give back, so others in my situation can receive the care and guidance that they need in one of the most difficult times in their lives. I will continue to do my part to ensure that there will always be help and support for those who need it. I donate what I can to support the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Cross Cancer Institute.”

“They were there for me, and I will be there for them.”

 

 

The Alberta Cancer Foundation is raising $30 million to change the way we treat cancer here at the Cross Cancer Institute, in Alberta, and around the world. 

Click here to donate to the We Cross Cancer campaign.

 

Alberta Cancer Foundation launches $30 million fundraising campaign for Cross Cancer Institute

April 20, 2022 – Edmonton – The Alberta Cancer Foundation kicked off We Cross Cancer, a $30 million fundraising campaign for the Cross Cancer Institute today, announcing more than $16 million already raised for the cancer hospital.

The Cross Cancer Institute was built in 1968 and is bursting at the seams, trying to keep up with the increasing need as more Albertans walk through its doors every year. The Cross has always provided excellent care in an environment rich with groundbreaking medical research. This campaign will allow staff and researchers to ensure better and more innovative treatment options are available for patients. A key piece of the campaign is doubling the number of patients put on clinical trials every year, from 500 to 1000.

The campaign will also help expand the pharmacy, create a specialized clinical trials unit, relocate and expand the existing chemo and day-treatment spaces, develop a virtual care hub, build a provincial centre of excellence for brachytherapy, and support home-grown innovations and research.

“This campaign is all about ensuring patients and families don’t cross cancer alone,” says Wendy Beauchesne, CEO of Alberta Cancer Foundation. “Thanks to a passionate volunteer campaign cabinet, generous donors, and some of the brightest and most compassionate minds in cancer research and care, we will work together to change the way we treat cancer.”

Dr. Mark Joffe, VP and Medical Director Cancer Care Alberta, Clinical Support Services and Provincial Clinical Excellence with Alberta Health Services, recognizes how this campaign will benefit Albertans. “By providing the space and resources for new clinical trials, creating a brachytherapy centre of excellence, developing a virtual care hub for our patients, and by relocating and expanding pharmacy and chemotherapy spaces, this campaign will make a life changing difference for many Albertans.”

Led by campaign co-chairs and community philanthropists, Angus Watt and Cory Janssen, and a dynamite cabinet of volunteers, the campaign is hoping to reach its goal by Dec 31, 2022.

“I’ve lived in this city for a long time and I know the Cross Cancer Institute fairly well from my family’s own experience—people know it as a place that provides such compassionate care,” says Watt. “Within that building are some of the smartest minds in cancer research, collaborating, asking important questions and revolutionizing the way we treat cancer through clinical trials. We need to continue that momentum with more made-in-Alberta solutions to cancer. We Cross Cancer will help.”

Link to drive, with video, logos, etc: MEDIA KIT: WE CROSS CANCER

DOWNLOAD PRESS RELEASE


For media inquiries, contact:

Breanne Kraus
Director, Marketing
Alberta Cancer Foundation
(780) 905-9273

Phoebe Dey
VP Communications & Marketing
Alberta Cancer Foundation
(780) 700-6120