Her energy bounded through the boardroom door before she did, and when I was introduced to Colleen, I saw a petite gal with a huge smile on her face and a sparkle in her blue eyes. Colleen was introduced to me by Val Bowering, her Clinical Research Coordinator at The Princess Margaret during one of Colleen’s weekly visits to the hospital. I was meeting Colleen for the first time in order hear her story and then to share it with you, the reader. Let Colleen’s story begin:
Colleen was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in October of 2005 at the age of 45 and given not more than 6 months to live. “It came as a complete shock,” said Colleen. “How can this happen to me? I take good care of myself. I have never smoked. I’ve had regular gynecological checkups. Unfortunately, I probably had cancer for at least a year or more.
“Yes, I had symptoms,” Colleen stated when I asked the question, “but I thought I was starting early menopause! Soon after my diagnosis, my sister passed away from lung cancer!”
It was a tough time in Colleen’s life and in the life of her family. “I was diagnosed at a Toronto hospital where, unfortunately, I was told there was nothing they could do for me as my cancer had advanced.”
In April of 2006, Colleen moved over to Princess Margaret Hospital and met with Dr. Amit Oza. “Amazingly, the doctor of my choice, and he was willing to take me on,” said Colleen. “Thankfully I got here and Dr. Oza felt there was hope. If Dr. Dodge did the surgery, Dr. Oza felt they could do things and they did! I had surgery in May of 2006 and then started my chemo protocols with tremendous success. Post-surgery, I was stable for two years! It was very encouraging. Then, unfortunately, my cancer returned in April of 2008 and I was put into one of my first clinical trials, but that didn’t work. Then in August of 2008, this clinical trial came along and this has been the one!”
Colleen continues: “My life has changed significantly over the past 7 years and not a day goes by where I am not grateful for the hard work of researchers like Dr. Amit Oza for keeping me alive! I have been on three different clinical trials over the past 7 years with Dr. Oza, and on this trial for four years this coming August! This trial has been the most successful.
My life has changed significantly over the past 7 years and not a day goes by where I am not grateful for the hard work of researchers like Dr. Amit Oza for keeping me alive!
“Yes, I am living with cancer! You can you know. Some days are better than others, but by and large, I am living well. Maggie, you do know that at this hospital in dealing with cancer on an on-going basis, that they treat cancer as a chronic illness. It is a blessing to be here and it has been a very positive experience. Amazing, here I am after all of these years! I continue to workfull-time and I help in my husband’s greenhouse business in Orangeville on the weekend. I believe you must keep moving forward. I have the benefit of this fantastic hospital; the doctors, clinicians, Val, people that are helping me through this journey. They are doing everything they can to help me, so my job is to engage in a lifestyle that meets what they are trying to help me do! When people ask me how I manage to come down here every week, I say it is not an option. I will adjust my life. I would do it three times a week if I had to! Yes, it is quite the journey, but the option is not an option!”
I continue to workfull-time and I help in my husband’s greenhouse business in Orangeville on the weekend.
Colleen spoke about how she is more patient and less easily frustrated. She values more aspects of her life than she may have before. Colleen continues her story: “If Princess Margaret Hospital did not focus on specialized individual care programs, I would not be here to enjoy my life with my husband, two stepchildren, my siblings and their spouses, nieces, nephews and friends…quite a large and crazy Irish family.”
The Princess Margaret has become a large part of Colleen’s life and she has a lot to say! “When you are in this hospital and receiving good care and expertise, you are lucky to be here. The people behind the desk in chemo daycare; the chemo nurses; clinical trial nurses, are doing everything they can to make your life better. They are doing their very best to help you. Sure, I have to wait an hour-and-a-half for chemo, but everyone is doing their best. The technicians drawing your blood and the nurses in chemo daycare always have a smile on their face. They are amazing. We need to exercise more tolerance for the people working here, as they are doing everything they can to make this journey of ours the best it can be. They work at this hospital because they care and they want to help eradicate this disease. I wish more patients and their families showed the same kind of respect and kindness these folks show to patients. I am so lucky that this hospital exists!
Our interview is coming to a close and I ask what has surprised Colleen most about her cancer journey. “I continue to have HOPE thanks to the team I work with at The Princess Margaret. This has surprised me. You have to have HOPE and BELIEVE your doctor can help you live with the disease.”
I continue to have HOPE thanks to the team I work with at The Princess Margaret. This has surprised me. You have to have HOPE and BELIEVE your doctor can help you live with the disease.
“I feel clinical trials are the future in dealing with cancer. As long as there continues to be funding available to conduct research and find answers on a patient- by- patient basis, people will be able to live with cancer. This may be the HOPE we are all looking for! I would like to thank Dr. Amit Oza and the fantastic nursing team led by Valerie Bowering and Val’s nursing colleagues.”
“After all these years, we are still good to go! I owe a lot to this hospital, to clinical trials, to personalized care. I don’t know where I’d be…” Colleen’s voice trails off. “Well, I would not be here! I am so gratified that this program is here for me. You want to be here if you have cancer!”
Maggie Bras, 2012