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In 2016, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (now joined with the Canadian Cancer Society) posted their most recent predictive statistics for breast cancer in Canada. Overall, what they estimate is that there haven't been many changes in overall breast cancer incidence and mortality rates in Canada. Minor increases of incidence were seen in some age groups (including the under 40 range). However, this is mostly accounting for population growth, rather than an increase in overall breast cancer rates. And the estimation of 4,900 breast cancer deaths (in Canadian women) was the same as the estimated deaths in 2014. Is this good? Well, yes, it's good to know that we aren't seeing higher rates of breast cancer in women. But is it bad too? Well, you always want to see improvements. We've seemed to hit a stalemate for breast cancer survival in Canada - with the 5-year survival rate remaining steadily at 87% since 2011. Breast Cancer is steadily the top cancer type found in women in Canada. In 2016, it was estimated that 25,700 women (130.1 per 100,000) would be diagnosed. However, the rates of breast cancer in young women is exceptionally low. While 17% of breast cancers were expected to be diagnosed in women under 50, most of these (13%) were in women between the ages of 40 and 49.
This means that only 4-5% of diagnoses were predicted to occur in women under the age of 40.The overall breast cancer mortality rate in Canada is the lowest it has been since 1950. After its peak in 1986, the mortality rate has fallen 44%. This is likely due to improved overall cancer control, including increased mammography screening and the use of more effective therapies following breast cancer surgery.
However, while women under 50 make up a smaller portion of overall breast cancer incidences in Canada, their rates of death are higher.The burden of a breast cancer diagnosis remains heavy on women under the age of 50. In 2016, it was estimated that 12% of cancer-related deaths in the over 60 age range were due to breast cancer. However, for women ages 30-59, 22% of these deaths were from breast cancer. Cancer is still the leading cause of premature death in young adults and breast cancer is still the second leading cause of death in females (under age 50) next to lung cancer as measured by potential years of life lost (PYLL). PYLL accounts for average life expectancy and gives more weight to deaths that occur among younger people. With regard to the most common cancers in women and men, the PYLL from female breast cancer (137,700, up from 94,700 in 2015) reflected that women die from breast cancer at relatively younger ages. For some context, the PYLL for prostate cancer was 24,000 (down from 35,600 in 2015), reflecting that these deaths occur more in the older age groups, according to Canadian Cancer Statistics. The 5-year survival rate for young women with breast cancer is steadily improving. However, it is still the second lowest among all the age groups:
- Ages 15-39 = 85%
- Ages 40-49= 90%
- Ages 50-59 = 89%
- Ages 60-69 = 90%
- Ages 70-79 = 87%
- Ages 80-99 = 79%
What does this mean for the future of young women?It means we STILL need to address treatment and care issues for young women in Canada. Including:
- Delays in diagnosis
- More advanced cancers at diagnosis
- Higher mortality rates
- Low participation in clinical trials
- Lack of age-appropriate care
- Concerns around social support during cancer treatment
- Late effects of treatment
- Longer-term, psychosocial concerns/factors
I was in remission for four years after my stage 2 diagnosis and then, nine days before our wedding, I found out the cancer was back and it was metastatic.I was lucky enough to get signed up for a clinical trial that has kept me stable for the last 21 months. The clinical trial starves my cancer of estrogen of which my particular breast cancer 'feeds' off. The active drug has just been approved by the FDA in the States as a first line of defense for advanced breast cancer. As my husband says 'you helped make that happen.' It's a pretty great feeling. Less than six months after my stage 4 diagnosis, my brother and his girlfriend nominated me to be the Toronto Blue Jays Honourary Bat Girl. To qualify, you had to have 'gone to bat against breast cancer' and be a Toronto Blue Jays fan; I qualified. I didnt win but the woman who did, a fellow Rethink Breast Cancer advocate, Michelle Riccio, also had stage 4 breast cancer and so I was thrilled that young women were getting exposure regardless of if I won or not. The crowd was seeing a face that didn't resemble our grandmothers'. This year, my husband Keith nominated me. Thanks to the people who surround me and love and support me - I like to refer to them as 'Team Katie' - I won. I was this year's Toronto Blue Jays Honourary Bat Girl. When MLB called from New York City to tell me that I won, I couldn't contain my emotions. I cried for most of the conversation. So many of my days are spent at the hospital, attending appointments, having procedures, or on the phone with doctors. Knowing that I got to be part of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, if even in an honourary role, was pretty astounding.
We all know what the pink ribbon represents but very few women under the age of 50 think it applies to them.I tell women, if your doctor says you're too young to have breast cancer, tell her about me. Being diagnosed at 26, more than half the age of the average, presents different challenges, including financial burdens (I had just graduated university with 3 degrees and had student loans), I hadn't made a name for myself in the work world, and cancer robbed us of having children. Needless to say, it presents different isolating issues than women diagnosed in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.
This contest made the isolation, that I as a young woman experience, such a miniscule part of my day as complete strangers were messaging me, supporting me, and sharing their own stories related to cancer. It was empowering.I was recognized on the Rogers Center field and my story was told to thousands sitting in their seats about to watch the Jays take on the Seattle Mariners. I was presented with flowers by Jays pitcher Marco Estrada, given an MLB jersey, watched the game with my family from a suite and have memories that will last a lifetime. After the game, about 30 of us headed over to the Amsterdam Brewhouse for dinner and drinks to celebrate the big day. I had emailed them a few weeks before, explaining the day's events and asking if they could accommodate our large group. They emailed back explaining how they would love to host and just like that we had a place to convene after the big game. What I didn't know was that while I was preparing for the game, Amsterdam Brewhouse was doing some homework on me. As Keith and I walked into the restaurant, and as my family and friends rose to their feet to clap and cheer, I noticed all of the servers had pink ribbons pinned to their uniforms. I gave some hugs, had some quick conversations and sat down across from my mom at the end of the table. Not long after ordering some water, one of the restaurant managers came over to introduce himself. He started by telling our table that the pink ribbons that I had seen were in honour of me. The restaurant had seen some of the advocacy work that I had done and referred to me as an inspiration. He continued by saying that the pink ribbons were meant to help spread awareness to their customers about the disease and young women with breast cancer. This is when my mom's tears started falling. He also said that the staff at the Amsterdam Brewhouse were donating money throughout the night and once they had collected everyone's donations, the organization of my choosing would receive the funds in my name. I hopped up from my chair and hugged the manager and thanked him profusely. What a generous act of kindness and thoughtfulness. At the end of the night, I asked for my bill for my husband and I. It was brought over minutes later with a note that read:
'This one is on us. Thank you for coming in and being so amazing.' The balance was $0.00.Just to clarify, Amsterdam Brewhouse was a place I had never been before, it was chosen based on its reviews, being harbourfront and its proximity to the Rogers Center and its size, which could accommodate our large group. I wasn't an employee's sister or a past server. I didn't know anyone there nor had I ever stepped through their doors. They did this essentially for a stranger. Yesterday, Amsterdam Brewhouse donated $221 in my name to Rethink Breast Cancer who without question is my organization of choice. I can't thank Amsterdam Brewhouse and Rethink Breast Cancer enough for making me feel special, loved and supported through my continued breast cancer experience. - Katie Davidson
If it were possible to be punched in the solar plexus and kneed in the nuts while in labour, that’s how I feel.I have a hot water bottle pressed against my stomach at all times. My husband makes them so hot they have to be wrapped in gigantic towels for the first couple of hours. I may have poached my innards. Don’t care – the relief is glorious. My mom is now here, taking over where my husband left off when he went to work this morning. She has fed me mashed bananas and electrolytes and soda crackers. She is busy in the kitchen now – I can hear her over my own weird primal noises; the comforting sound of her clattering around down there. Another wave is coming. I really need to stop with the typing. Viva Imodium! Charge!
This post is an excerpt from Don Kerr's awesome book Riding Shotgun.
Special occasions, whether genuine or Hallmark holidays, can be challenging when cancer finds a place at the table. I wrote the following piece on Father’s Day about 2 years after my wife Kate’s diagnosis with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer.
One of the key messages I adamantly stress to male caregivers is this - you have a choice to make at the outset of your partner’s diagnosis and one which will be revisited often as you progress through treatment. That choice is this - will you show up?Sounds simple doesn’t it? It’s not and there are many marriages that fail when cancer comes calling. Apart from exposing your partners to the rigours of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and whatever else she may require, cancer will expose every frailty that may exist in your relationship. When you decide to show up you make a commitment to hang in there regardless and when it comes to your one special day of the year - Father’s Day - you may have to adopt a much different outlook.
Mr. Mom’s Father’s DayThis is turning out to be a really great day. Enhanced by the pure joy of my boys. Marred only by the absence of my wife. But then again, made joyful as she is in England spending some well-deserved away time with her best friend in the world - Alexandra Pittortou - and surprising her brother Bob with an unexpected visit and gobsmacking her own father with an ambush Father’s Day celebration. Gabe got the festivities underway at 4:15 a.m. when he thought it would be a good idea to make sure Daddy was sleeping OK while Mommy is away. He crawled into bed with me and after a little chat, we both drifted off to dream land until Samuel thought he should be part of the parade at 5:45 announcing himself, lungs full and yelling, “DADA? WHERE ARE YOU? GABO? WHERE ARE YOU?” I retrieved him and since then we: replanted the front garden; visited Tim Horton’s for some much needed nourishment; rode the tricycle; rode the scooter; rode the dump truck; rode the bicycle; threw stones into Lake Ontario; visited Hanna at the garden store to buy a trellis and some more pea seeds; planted the peas; placed the trellis; chased the neighbour’s cat; chased the the other neighbour’s dog; spent some nice time visiting with Silvano and his dog Cricket; had a great chat with Joan and her dog Lily (as Gabe described it “visiting with that old woman who gives us candy!); had peanut butter and jam sandwiches, pretzels and veggie straws for lunch; killed another Easter bunny; changed two poopie diapers and one wet one; exchanged wardrobes for both boys (post-gardening necessity); watched the Disney Channel; and, now, Samuel is sitting on my lap asking to watch Thomas the Tank - the ghost episode. Oh wait: breakfast, lunch and dinner prep and feeding; two loads of laundry, drying and folding then sorting into outfits; cleaning up (kinda, sorta - will admit there was less disinfectant involved than when Kate does it); get the bath ready; play chase; change another diaper; wash hair, brush teeth, read stories, apply lotions and potions, scare away the ghosts, close the proper doors, turn out the lights in the proper order and descend to the kitchen - where I now sit - and contemplate pouring a rather large Martini. So there you go. My excellent Father’s Day. Oh. Forgot. Got to do FaceTime with Mommy and friends.
Regardless - that was Father’s Day. In other words, I did today what my wife does every day with one exception - I didn’t engage with cancer in my body.I didn’t do a 30-minute, 5K jog on the treadmill. I didn’t do my 45 minutes of mindful meditation. I didn’t do any Yoga. She is remarkable.
About the Author: Don KerrI am a husband and a father. I am a believer in work/life integration. I am a professional writer and branding consultant who also writes about everyday events on two blogs and several social media sites. I try always to maintain a childlike sense of wonder and curiosity. I sometimes succeed. I often fail. I always keep coming back for more. I live happily in Burlington, Ontario, Canada with my family. E: email@example.com
To hear more from Don or to purchase any of his amazing books visit his professional website or check out the Riding Shotgun website.
The realm of medical cannabis can be confusing. After all, isn't marijuana illegal? Isn't it bad for you? Doesn't it cause cancer? In this post, we hope to clear up a few of the common myths and misconceptions about medical cannabis and cancer care. At the end, hopefully you'll be a little more informed and a little less hesitant to ask your doctor how medical cannabis could help you or a loved one through their cancer journey.
#1. Like smoking cigarettes, medical cannabis causes cancer.A correlation between medical cannabis and lung cancer has yet to be proven. There is a lot of controversy around the topic because scientific research has made a case for both sides of the argument (it causes lung cancer and it doesn't cause lung cancer). A lot of health sites and magazines suggest practicing caution when smoking medical cannabis because of the uncertainty. However, a lot of people forget that it can be consumed in many forms (smoking is just one of them!). While smoking medical cannabis provides fastest relief for symptoms, there are alternative ways to use it: vaping, edibles, sprays, patches, etc. All of which can still provide relief for those who are concerned or skeptical about the health effects of smoking. Check out this list for more details on the alternative ways to consume medical cannabis.
#2. Medical cannabis leads to the use of harder drugs.Similar to the lack of correlation between medical cannabis use and lung cancer, cannabis use has not been proven to be a gateway drug. An article by The Guardian showed that one's likelihood to try harder drugs after using cannabis most likely "comes down to availability of and attitudes towards drugs rather than an actual causal pathway." In other words, factors such as a person's predisposition to drugs or having an experimental attitude are most likely the reason they would move from cannabis (medical or recreational) to harder drugs. Ultimately, while some research shows that people who use harder drugs (like cocaine or heroin) first used cannabis, The Guardian's article argues that this is most likely do to the "societal ordering" of drugs. Meaning, these people were inevitably going to experiment with harder drugs. Cannabis is often the most accessible drug for people to start with.
#3. Medical cannabis laws are related to increased usage among adolescents.As hinted to above, there is a difference between the medical use of cannabis and the recreational use. As of right now, the recreational use of cannabis is illegal (but Justin Trudeau might change that). Medical cannabis is legal for certain people and has major restrictions attached to it (we'll talk about that more in the next myth). So, just because medical cannabis is legal, doesn't mean we'll necessarily see an influx of cannabis on the streets. A 2014 study by Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University in the United States was conducted over a 20-year period to determine high school students' interactions with cannabis in a variety of states before and after medical cannabis was legalized. The study compared these students with students in a variety of other states who had not legalized medical cannabis over the 20-year time period. The result: they found no correlation between students' cannabis consumption and medical cannabis laws.
#4. Once eligible, you can get medical cannabis whenever/wherever you want.Just because someone is eligible to use medical cannabis doesn't mean there are no rules on how it can be used and produced. Here's a crash course on some of the major rules in Canada. If you want a more in-depth look, check out this article. Ways to Access Medical Cannabis: A person must receive medical documentation from their health care practitioner to be eligible for medical cannabis use. From there, they can decide whether they will register with one of Canada's licensed producers or register with Health Canada to produce a limited amount on their own (or have a caregiver produce it for them). This requires an application process that verifies restrictions around where the plant can be grown and stored. Possession Limit: People who are eligible to use medical cannabis are only allowed to have a 30 day supply/150 grams of dried marijuana (or the equivalent if in another form) at a time. Law Enforcement: Law enforcement officers can request proof that one's possession of cannabis is legal at any time. They can also call Health Canada (on a 24-hour basis) and any licensed producer to verify a person's registration. Some Things Are Still Illegal: Even though some people are allowed to use cannabis for medical reasons they are still prohibited from using it for recreational use. This would include selling, providing, or giving cannabis to another person or producing/obtaining more than the maximum limits noted in their registration certificate.
#5. Medical cannabis cures cancer.It's important we make this clear: there is NO proof that medical cannabis cures cancer. Medical cannabis is used by cancer patients because of its ability to relieve many of cancer treatment's side effects, such as: nausea, vomiting, and decreased appetite. While this can significantly improve one's quality of life throughout their cancer diagnosis and treatment, there is no scientific evidence to prove it will actually cure the disease.
If this post interested you at all or if you want to know more...
Our FREE Medical Cannabis forum is happening this Wednesday, June 21st, 2017...
Come out and hear from a group of expert panelists about medical cannabis use, cancer care, legal access to treatment, and more!