When it comes to cancer diagnosis and treatment, patients experience a number of different tests, scans and procedures. From biopsies and bloodwork before every appointment, to continued imaging to track the effectiveness of treatment, there is a multitude of ongoing activity.
Luckily, Durham Region is home to one of the top Cancer Centres in all of Ontario, and Lakeridge Health’s network of hospitals can provide full-service support to cancer patients in the Region. However, one key imaging tool has been missing from the network’s arsenal of cancer care equipment, but thanks to funding from Ontario Health and Lakeridge Health Foundation, it will be arriving in Oshawa in early 2024.
A positron emission tomography-computed tomography, or PET-CT, is a critical part of cancer treatment for many patients. Like CT and MRI tests, a PET-CT provides detailed, three-dimensional scans. But a PET-CT is also more sensitive than other imaging tests and can detect unusual or abnormal activity happening at the cellular level. It may also show changes in the body sooner, which is beneficial for diagnosing a reoccurrence of cancer.
There are 14 PET-CTs in Ontario, but the closest scanners to Durham Region are as far as Toronto and Ottawa. Currently, 30 patients from Lakeridge Health are heading outside the Region each week for this type of imaging.
For patients like Marc Gibbons, who has had 8 PET-CT scans since first being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2019, this news is a big deal.
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. Cancer originates in the white blood cells and can cause swollen lymph nodes and growths throughout the body.
“It means a lot to have such expert cancer care available so close to home. But when you’re already experiencing the stress that comes with cancer treatment, having to drive or take transit far out of town for scans is tough,” shares Marc. “There’s something called ‘scanxiety’ that happens during cancer treatment. Add onto that a long drive in traffic and having to navigate a new hospital – it can be a lot for people.”
Marc is a software engineer who lives in Port Perry with his wife and two daughters. In 2022, Marc’s cancer returned, though he was unaware until a heroic rescue on Lake Scugog caused uncomfortable back pain.
“I was down by the water with my girls and someone fell into the lake. We had to pull him out and, as you’d expect, I had some significant back pain from helping,” Marc remembers. “When the pain wouldn’t subside, I went to the doctor and we discovered I had tumors near my spine. My care team ordered a PET-CT and it lit up like a Christmas tree. I was told I had cancer again and I started treatment again right away.”
A PET-CT measures the energy a cancer cell uses in comparison to normal cells. The more aggressive a cancer cell is, the more energy it consumes. Radiologists use these readings to determine important information about their patient’s cancer and help direct the right course of treatment.
“PET-CT scans will allow us to determine the size, location, and stage of a patient’s cancer, as well as the right area to biopsy,” explained Dr. Geoff Donsky, Chief of Diagnostic Imaging and Medical Director, Diagnostic Services, Lakeridge Health. “Later on, we can also gauge how the body is responding to treatment and the likelihood of a cancer returning.”
Dr. Donsky notes that bringing in the PET-CT is both critical and exciting for Lakeridge Health, moving our services forward and enabling even more collaboration between colleagues in Nuclear Medicine and the R.S. McLaughlin Durham Regional Cancer Centre. The impact for patients and their families is significant not just in alleviating travel, but for providing more comprehensive services to people like Marc who rely on Lakeridge Health for care.
Marc is the founder of Port Perry Pedals, a cycling event that he started in 2021 to raise funds for his local hospital system. He purchased a new bike after his first round of treatment as a way to get back in shape and it developed into a love for the sport. He now has thousands of kilometers of road and trail under his belt.
He knows all too well that community support through events like his are needed to help bring specialized equipment to our Hospitals.
“After I finished my cancer treatment in 2020, I knew I wanted to channel my energy into something special. We built this incredible ride and in its first two years we raised over $60,000 for the Port Perry Hospital Foundation, the Oak Ridges Hospice of Durham, and the Grandview Kids Foundation. I started to wonder what would come of this second round – now I know.”
It meant a lot to Marc to inspire others through his experience with cancer. After hearing about Our Cancer Campaign, and particularly the incoming PET-CT, Marc knew it was the right fit for Port Perry Pedals. “I was really proud of what we had accomplished in year one and two of the event. We helped bring a CT scanner to the Port Perry Hospital and just last week I got to see it there and in working order. It’s really amazing to be part of yet another exciting campaign!”
The Port Perry Pedals organizing committee are aiming to raise $40,000 this year with the event being held on Sunday, September 10. This means their ambitious goal will result in $100,000 in total fundraising over three years’ time! “When cancer comes back it’s devastating. But things are going OK. I have treatment throughout the summer and planning our 3rd annual ride is a great distraction and passion project for me.”
“For the past three years, Lakeridge Health Foundation, through its Our Cancer Campaign, has been committed to raising $20 million to advance cancer care in Durham Region and beyond. We are honoured to be part of bringing such a critical piece of equipment to Oshawa,” shared Yves Gadler, CEO, Lakeridge Health Foundation. “We hear countless stories of families like Marc’s driving far from home to have these scans. Working with the community to help fund this important equipment at Lakeridge Health will exemplify the exceptional services our hospital already provides to cancer patients and their families.”
On the tail of another transformative fundraising effort – specifically the purchase of the da Vinci surgical robot – the PET-CT is part of the final push to raise $20 million through Lakeridge Health Foundation’s Our Cancer Campaign. Launched in 2021, the campaign has now reached over 90% of its goal thanks to community support from individuals, corporations and community initiatives such as Marc’s upcoming Port Perry Pedals cycling event.
“We’re incredibly grateful for the support from our provincial partners and Lakeridge Health Foundation,” said Cynthia Davis, President and CEO, Lakeridge Health. “A diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing moment. Having this specialized technology so close to home for Durham Region residents not only provides greater peace of mind and comfort, but also exemplifies Lakeridge Health’s commitment to providing the highest quality of cancer care and the best patient experience.”
Community members looking to gear up and join Pedal for Patients can take advantage of early bird pricing at www.portperrypedals.ca.
To learn more about Our Cancer Campaign or donate to the PET-CT or other cancer care priorities visit www.ourcancer.ca.