As told in the Foundation’s 2017/2018 Annual Donor Impact Report.
Precision medicine is the new generation of cancer therapy. Thanks to your tremendous generosity and the amazing support of our donors, the Foundation has been able to provide funding to CancerCare Manitoba and partners to bring this leading-edge treatment to Manitobans since 2016. Your investment is saving lives and for Kathie Kolybaba, your unwavering support is very personal.
Diagnosed in late December 2013 with non-small cell lung cancer, Kathie’s outlook was very poor. For the first few years after her diagnosis, she endured every treatment option available – surgery, radiation and a brutal chemotherapy regimen. Kathie says for several years, her cancer would respond to therapy, shrink, and then come back. It was scary and she was quickly running out of options. Precision medicine changed everything.
The person sitting next to you is more than 99 per cent genetically identical to you; it’s the one per cent difference that determines your hair colour, eye colour, whether you like the taste of cilantro, and if you get cancer, how you will respond to treatment. Until recently, patients with the same type and stage of cancer received a “one-size-fits-all” treatment but research showed that some treatments work better for some patients than others. Precision medicine is treatment customized to each person’s genes or features of their tumour. This both helps decide what drugs may work better for certain patients and also avoid the inappropriate use of therapies which are less likely to benefit. This approach increases both the chance of survival and the quality of a patient’s life. Because these new drugs have a very specific biologic target, they have fewer side effects and are generally less toxic to the whole body compared with traditional chemotherapies.
Kathie knows about the negative side effects of cancer drugs all too well. Before being treated with the new drug she is currently taking, Keytruda, she was exhausted a lot of the time.
“The drug I was prescribed made me so tired,” says Kathie. “I would have to be in bed all day after a treatment because it took so much out of me. I wanted to be lying down all of the time.”
Your commitment is helping Manitoba keep ahead of a rapidly changing landscape in cancer therapy. Since 2016, thanks to your investment, the Foundation has provided CancerCare Manitoba with $750,000 for precision medicine for patients starting with breast, skin, lung, colorectal and blood cancers.
In addition to the impact your support is having, the advancement of precision medicine in our province would not be possible without our close working relationship with a committed government partner — Diagnostic Services Manitoba. It is playing a key role in providing the appropriate testing for CancerCare Manitoba’s patients and in doing so, helping to improve outcomes for Kathie and others like her, just as you are.
Just over a year ago Dr. Banerji successfully lobbied for Kathie to receive a new drug through a clinical trial based on her cancer’s expression of a particular protein. Kathie vividly remembers the day she received the life-changing news. “Dr Banerji literally came running up the stairs to tell me ‘you don’t have to take the drug you are on anymore. You can take Keytruda and it’s so much better!’” recalls Kathie. She has seven more treatments to go and thanks to the support of the Foundation’s donors, Kathie feels a renewed sense of hope. The treatment has been getting rid of her cancer, and this time it hasn’t been coming back.
“Kathie has completely responded to her new treatment and is just a few months from coming off treatment all together,” says Dr. Banerji.
Your support has enabled CancerCare Manitoba to establish the three pillars of a precision medicine centre – staff, equipment, and data analysis. And your continued investment in the Foundation is enabling CancerCare Manitoba to be a leader in the delivery of precision medicine and provide innovative care to Kathie and other patients much faster.
Prior to creating a precision medicine platform locally, multiple tests had to be performed in different provinces and some tests could only be done in the United States. Testing and receiving results which used to take eight weeks can now be done in just two, meaning patients spend less time waiting for results and are going on treatment sooner.
“Other than the three big provinces – Ontario, BC and Quebec – we are leap-frogging [the] others and becoming ahead of the game.”
Your tremendous generosity and support of CancerCare Manitoba has given Kathie a new lease on life. Reflecting on all she has endured the past five years, Kathie is eternally grateful she has our donors and her close-knit family by her side. Life was challenging enough for her as a single mother of three adult children. Add living with a dire cancer prognosis to her plate and it was overflowing. Her kids have stepped up in a big way, supporting their mom however they can including attending her treatments and learning as much as possible about their mother’s disease. They, like you, keep her going through this incredibly hard experience.
“If it weren’t for everyone who has helped me – Dr Banerji, Dr Butler and my surgeons, as well as my family and friends and Foundation supporters – I don’t know where I’d be at this moment in time,” Kathie says. “I am so thankful and looking forward to the future.”