It is a warm spring day and I am sitting across from Sandra and Robert Kidd in our cozy boardroom at The Princess Margaret in Toronto. I have asked Robert if I may interview him and Sandra for my upcoming Helping Hand Newsletter. They graciously agreed and so on Monday, he and Sandra shared their story with me at The Princess Margaret. Let us begin.
In early December of 2010, Robert was growing concerned as his appetite was unusually poor and he had lost 12 – 15 lbs. A PET scan in a clinic in Mississauga showed that Robert had cancer in his pancreas which had already spread to his liver and his spine! The news was devastating.
Robert and Sandra are in their sixties with two grown daughters – one in the Guelph area and one in Kentucky – and four lovely grandchildren. They are an active couple who enjoy outdoor living and, of course, their growing family. At the time of Robert’s diagnosis, they were living near North Bay and while they were receiving good care at their local hospital, there appeared to be little hope. His cancer diagnosis was grim. Robert hoped that there would be a better treatment than the usual recipe that he was being offered. There had to be a cancer hospital somewhere in Ontario, in Canada or the U.S. that could offer him hope of survival. There was.
Robert and Sandra told their family the devastating news and within days, a medical sales representative in the U.S. and an oncologist at a major hospital in Toronto, along with the Mississauga clinic, all told Robert that given his condition, here was only one place to be and that was with Dr. Malcolm Moore at The Princess Margaret in Toronto! The advice could not be ignored and now, armed with a renewed sense of hope, Robert’s wife Sandra called Princess Margaret Hospital and asked for an appointment with Dr. Moore! Within a week, they had their appointment and were on their way to Toronto to see Dr. Moore and his team at The Princess Margaret, one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world.
Robert and Sandra now felt optimistic and hopeful because of the huge vote of confidence given by The Princess Margaret and Dr. Moore. They were on their way.
Their initial visit on December 15, 2010 was with Dr. Bailey, a radiation oncologist who is part of Dr Moore’s team. Robert said, “Dr. Bailey was very generous with his time and was very positive. At no time did we feel that there was no recourse for me.” Radiation, however, was ruled out as an option for Robert.
“On December 22, 2010 we met with dear Dr. Moore who immediately prescribed some additional tests which revealed that I had Neuroendocrine Cancer (NET), an unusual cancer developing from cells in the endocrine system, often slow- growing and found most commonly in the lung or gastrointestinal system. This important new information meant my treatment would now be different from the original diagnosis of metastasized pancreatic cancer. Our next stop was a visit with Dr. Stephen Gallinger, a surgical oncologist on the team. Dr. Gallinger was optimistic that he could surgically remove my tumours. Unfortunately, after reviewing my second CT scan, Dr. Gallinger told us my tumours were faster growing than the typical NET and one had grown into the portal vein of my liver. He made the difficult call to tell us that surgery was out of the question at this time, but still left us with a sense of hope that something could be done.”
After radiation and surgery were ruled out, Dr. Moore put Robert on 3 cycles of conventional chemo drugs over a period of 3 months. Unfortunately, Robert did not respond or tolerate the treatment he was receiving and watched in disbelief as his cancer grew 5%.
“When we received this devastating news from Dr. Moore, we were given a few moments to digest this setback and, of course, shed a few tears, as we began to wonder if I had run out of options. After a short period of time, Dr. Moore came back into room and said that he had some promising news. There was a clinical trial where they were getting good results, and he thought that I might be a candidate for this trial!” Fortunately, Robert was accepted into the clinical trial and a new journey began for Robert and Sandra.
Fortunately, Robert was accepted into the clinical trial and a new journey began for Robert and Sandra.
Now it is my time to jump into this story. I will take a few paragraphs out of an email I sent to Robert on April the 30th.
To Robert: “My name is Maggie Bras and I am not sure if you will remember meeting me at the Billion Dollar ‘Believe It ‘campaign a few weeks back at Princess Margaret Hospital, but we did shake hands and I got a wee bit emotional. Let me explain why. Dr. Malcolm Moore told me all about you a while back (without naming names, of course), but in watching you and Malcolm in the video at the campaign, and then listening to you speak in person, that was the end and the beginning of a journey for me and our family. My husband Robert passed away 10 years ago this coming September and it was both his and my dream to find a way for those facing cancer to have hope. Robert did have hope, lots of it, but he knew there was so much more that could be done. There had to be more. Robert’s oncologist was Dr. Malcolm Moore – the same one and only amazing Dr. Malcolm Moorewho you are very familiar with, as he is your oncologist as well! We then asked The Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation where we could make a difference in cancer care at The Princess Margaret. Where in this great research institution could we be most helpful? The answer was in new drug development under the directorship of Dr. Malcolm Moore! So this is how it all began. We made an endowment to PMH in January of 2001 and the new drug development team was created and called – The Robert & Maggie Bras and Family New Drug Development Program. Dr. Moore’s team is comprised of equally talented Drs. Amit Oza, Lillian Siu, Eric Chen and our newest member, Dr. Philippe Bedard. We now have over 100 members on the team!
We then asked The Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation where we could make a difference in cancer care at The Princess Margaret. Where in this great research institution could we be most helpful?
Today, I am witness to the incredible progress being made in new drug development. Along with new drug trials, targeted therapy and Personalized Cancer Medicine, folks like you Robert, have HOPE like no other time in cancer history! You are an example of the progress being made to date and along with Malcolm, Amit, Lillian, Eric and Philippe and all those working so hard at The Princess Margaret to slay this beast we call cancer, we are well on our way to ‘Conquering Cancer in Our Lifetime’!
“The end and beginning of this journey for me is that ten years after my husband Robert’s death, you, Robert, are standing in the hospital today where Robert would have been if the progress that we have witnessed was available then. It is appropriate that your name is Robert and that I was witness to your great story. Thank you for sharing. The beginning is the excitement that I am feeling today and the hope I have, that the next ten years will bring to us what we have been looking for. Hope that we will find a way for all those living with cancer to live a normal life, or even, in fact, being cured! You are proof of that.”
Let us now pick up Robert and Sandra Kidd’s journey of hope.
Robert still had hope. “I entered the clinical trial, which presented an alternative approach to my cancer – a treatment that matched my genetic profile to a particular chemo. I tolerated my treatment extremely well and have had great success! By March of 2012, my tumours had shrunk by 47% and I had my lifestyle back. It was remarkable! I had HOPE and the staff had HOPE. They are a team and their mission is to fight cancer.”
By March of 2012, my tumours had shrunk by 47% and I had my lifestyle back. It was remarkable! I had HOPE and the staff had HOPE.
During Robert’s treatment, he and Sandra attended a series of courses developed by Dr. Alastair Cunningham at The Princess Margaret called ‘The Healing Journey.’ “As I see it, this program helps cancer patients learn to relax, and to focus their emotional, spiritual and physical defences to fight the cancer in their body. There are 7 levels and we are currently re-taking the 3rd session. We are taught how to be at peace with life in the present, how to show everyday grace and to forgive others as well as ourselves. I got to the point where I learned not to hold in resentment, which, for me, was really significant to learn. This course re-directs you and gives you tools to be the very best you can be. The learning is augmented by the other patients and caregivers involved, as we give each other support. That is when you realize you are not alone. You learn how they have dealt with cancer and it gives you hope. Dr. Claire Edmonds, our course guide, teacher and mentor supreme, won’t let us fall too low and is always there to pick us up. Cancer or no cancer, all of us would benefit from taking this course.
“Everyone in this institution believes in what they are doing. You can see it and feel it…from our first contact with Laura Lancaster, Dr. Moore’s Administrative Assistant, who heard the desperation in our voices during our initial phone call to PMH, to Jennifer Petronis , our Clinical Trials Nurse Co-ordinator , who has cared for us every step of the way (and answers her cell phone day or night!), to Manuel (Manny) Martinez, our weekly chemo nurse who keeps us laughing, to the PMH Spiritual Care Dept. who know how to listen well, to Yvonne Ta, Medical Reimbursement Specialist, who is there to help patients find a way to pay for drugs. We feel surrounded and sustained by these compassionate people.”
Everyone in this institution believes in what they are doing. You can see it and feel it…
Today, Robert and Sandra have moved closer to Toronto and one of their daughters and are now within easy driving distance to The Princess Margaret. Robert’s side effects are minimal. A touch of high blood pressure, one slightly swollen foot, but he has his weight back and tons of energy. He is planning his future and will be taking a ski trip in December with his family. Robert has not skied for a long time, but this is what he wishes to do and he is able to do so! Four months after Robert started the clinical trial, he and a next door neighbour broke up a large area of cement with a jackhammer, removed the cement and replaced it with 3 tons of river rock! “While I was tired at the end of the day, it was a good tired,” says
As we sat across from each other on this day in the boardroom at Princess Margaret Hospital, and as our conversation came to a close, Robert had a few more things to share with me and with a twinkle in his eyes and a
smile on his face, said, “I found out good news today. My cancer has now shrunk another 3% to 50% and I feel GREAT! I feel great at the end of each day. I am living a normal life in one year since entering the new drug trial. That is how quick it was! I have been given my life back and the gift has been enormous.”
Sandra’s wish is that “they share with other people so they can take strength from us – hopefully”!
Maggie Bras, 2012