Canadian Cancer Society’s Awards of Excellence in Cancer Research

The Changing Face of Cancer Care in Canada

Since 1993, Canadian Cancer Society has been honouring exceptional Canadian scientists with peer nominated awards annually.  These scientists are recognized for their significant contributions to cancer research and cancer control.  On Wednesday November 21, 2018, the annual ceremony was held at the CIBC Head Office building in downtown Toronto.   

What seemed to drive home the importance of research and evolving treatment, and therefore funding of the same, was the addition of a guest patient speaker.  For the first time in the ceremony’s 25 year history, members of the Society, doctors, researchers and donors alike got to hear first hand a successful patient outcome.  That patient was me.  Being invited to speak at this prestigious award ceremony was an honour.  There are no words to express how wildly satisfying it was to be standing at a podium, telling my story to people who are directly responsible for saving the lives of so many people like me.  What’s more, I even had the opportunity to speak about some of the research being done at McMaster University on acute blood cancers.  Here is my story, including information on the above mentioned research.

Awards of Excellence in Cancer Research 2018
Guest Speaker – Michelle Burleigh

I think what I loved most about this is the implied acknowledgement of the patient experience.  We aren’t numbers or walking diseases.  We are people.  Canadian Cancer Society acknowledging the impact of cancer on people as patients, and people as researchers who help patients, leaves me with hope that the face of cancer care is changing in Canada.  I am enormously proud to be a part of this.

There was so much brilliance that night, I can’t possibly recall or even comprehend all that was said.  However, what I did find super cool was work being done by Dr. Pamela Ohashi and her team at Princess Margaret, who are doing research on Immunotherapy.  Basically, her research shows that the immune system contains a type of T cell that lay dormant in the body but can ‘wake up’ when a tumour is present and be trained to fight on the bodies behalf without damaging healthy cells.  Her research is funded by CCS and is ongoing.  This is not the first time in history immunotherapy has been considered.  Although there was great success with early treatment of various type of cancer using immunotherapy, there was great concern over infecting patients with pathogens.  As a result, at that time, it was stopped. Considering the advances made over the last 100 years, I’m sure Dr. Ohashi has that well under control!  For more information on the work being done at Princess Margaret, click here.

Another of the acceptance speeches that really caught my attention was by Dr. Kerry Courneya of University of Alberta.  Dr. Courneya is a leader and pioneer in the field of exercise oncology.  He and his team study the impact of physical activity on cancer control and survivorship.  His work focuses on how exercise can help patients recover from treatment, prepare for treatment and manage symptoms and side effects, and of course prolonged life. 
Dr. Courneya’s work has shown that women (with breast cancer) who exercised during their chemotherapy had a higher survival rate than those who did not.  It’s also been shown that, in general, those who exercise after treatment have a greater quality of life, less depression and anxiety and are happier.  I found this to be absolutely fascinating.  To think not so long ago, it was a deep rooted belief that rest was best.  We are currently transitioning into an environment where physical activity is recommended and encouraged to help us along the road in our fight, recovery and maintained good health. Not only for our physical health, but our mental health too.  For more information on the work being done by Dr. Courneya and his team, click here

Congratulations to all of the award winners and thank you again for your contributions.

Left to Right:
Dr. J. Gregory Cairncross – Co-winner of the O. Harold Warwick Award
Dr. Pamela Ohashi – Winner of the Robert L. Noble Award
Dr, Gelareh Zadeh – Winner of the William E. Rawls Award
Dr. Rodger Tiedemann – Co-winner of the William E. Rawls Award
Dr. Kerry Courneya – Co-winner of the O. Harold Warwick Award
Dr. Paul Boutros – Winner of the Bernard and Francine Dorval Award

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