CASTLEGAR — On Saturday, April 14, Castlegar and area residents will march to end blood cancer.
For the first time, Castlegar will participate in the Light the Night Walk — an event that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC).
The LLSC’s mission is to “cure leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.”
“The event is to raise awareness and to fundraise for patients in British Columbia specifically, but [also] across Canada, who are currently going through treatments in regards to leukemia or lymphoma — any kind of blood cancer essentially,” explains Stephanie Harris, an organizer for the event. “And what that does is it supports patient care, medication, peer support groups.”
The LLSC provides 30 grants to Canadian researchers investigating treatments and cures in 20 centres across Canada and provides patient support, including providing information and resources and hosting support groups led by trained nurses and/or social workers.
There’s also a FirstConnection program that trains and encourages volunteers who have survived blood cancer to share their experience with newly diagnosed patients.
Harris knows what it’s like to have a family member diagnosed with leukemia.
“My brother-in-law was diagnosed with two forms of acute leukemia and they are still currently in Vancouver doing treatments for that,” she says. “He had a bone marrow transplant in the fall.”
Harris’ brother-in-law, Erwin Dodds, and his wife have been in Vancouver since July for treatment and have not been able to return home since.
Harris says that he is not allowed to be more than 35 minutes away from Vancouver General Hospital, which is not a cheap area to live.
“It can be quite hard, especially for finances and stuff too. It’s a really scary thing and unless your family has proper insurance and stuff it can be very detrimental to your family,” she says.
Dr. Laurie Sehn, chair of the BC Cancer lymphoma tumour group, says that while many blood cancers can be treated across B.C., patients diagnosed with acute forms of leukemia often need to travel to Vancouver for treatment.
“For some of the acute leukemias, where people present quite dramatically and the treatment can be quite intensive, sometimes patients do need to travel to Vancouver to get special treatments for that,” she says. “But most of the blood cancers patients can be treated around the province, with the treatment they need closer to home.”
Dodds’ family has been raising money to help out with a GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/help-erwins-fight.
The Castlegar Light the Night Walk will take place at Millennium Park from 6:30 to 8: 30 p.m. Walkers will meet at the Celgar Pavilion for registration and then walk the Millennium paths.
Anyone who signs up and raises $100 before Sunday, April 8 will be entered to win a pair of tickets to George Thorogood in Penticton on May 10, as well as a meet and greet with Thorogood.
Anyone who raises over $100 will receive a T-shirt and lantern.
Harris hopes that the walk will become an annual event, as blood cancer has been impacting families in the region.
“Within a couple of weeks of my brother getting diagnosed, there were also [members of] two or three other families in the community that were diagnosed at the same time,” she says.
“There’s actually a lot of families within our community as well who have already been diagnosed and have gone for treatment too,” she adds. “So we’re just trying to get the word out because if those families didn’t feel supported then, they can feel supported now.”
Sehn says that blood cancers are common in B.C.
“We know that blood cancers continue to be a very column problem,” she says. “Both leukemias and lymphomas occur quite frequently. For example, lymphomas are, if you look at all lymphoma sub-types, the fifth most common cancer sub-type that we see here in B.C.”
She adds that blood cancers can occur in people of all ages.
“So as with most cancers, many of them occur more commonly as people get older, but they can occur in patients of all ages and many young patients can experience blood cancers as well.”
Sehn thinks raising awareness of blood cancers is extremely important.
“I think that right now we’re in a situation where new treatments are coming out all the time and we’re seeing continuous improvement in outcomes for most of the blood cancers that we treat,” she says. “So it’s really an exciting time to be optimistic that things are always improving and outcomes are getting better with a lot of new targeted therapies. But it’s a challenge. We always need to advocate for access to these treatments, faster and for more patients, and I think the more people are aware about the situation with blood cancers, the more people advocate for early access and universal access to treatment with some of the new treatments that are coming out.”
Canadian blood cancer statistics
In 2017, new cases of cancer were projected to be found in 103,100 Canadian males and 103,200 Canadian females, according to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017 report.
Of the new cases of cancer, 18,462 were projected to be blood cancers:
• Leukemia — 6,188;
• Non-Hodgkin lymphoma — 8,355;
• Hodgkin lymphoma — 1,031;
• Multiple myeloma — 2,888.
Of the 206,300 new cancer cases in Canada in 2017, 25,400 or 12.3 per cent were found in B.C.
The number of projected cancer deaths in Canada for 2017 was 80,800 and of the deaths projected, 7,218 were attributed to blood cancers:
• Leukemia — 2,922;
• Non-Hodgkin lymphoma — 2,675;
• Hodgkin lymphoma — 162;
• Multiple myeloma — 1,459.