For 24 years, radiation oncologist Julie Bowen has been on the front line of the battle against cancer.
She has seen the drastic changes in cancer treatment over that time, and it's those changes she wanted to talk about at the 15th annual Luncheon of Hope on Sept. 27.
Organized by the Northern Cancer Foundation to benefit the North East Cancer Centre, 600 people attended this year's luncheon. The event raised more than $53,000 this year, for a total of more than $600,000 over 15 years.
Bowen was the guest speaker. As a radiation oncologist at the North East Cancer Centre, she is responsible for assessing cancer patients to see if radiation is something that can be considered in their treatment. Radiation oncologists discuss with patients the pros and cons and help the patient decide whether radiation is the right thing for them.
“Because this is the 15th anniversary (of the Luncheon of Hope), I want to talk about how breast cancer treatment has changed over that course of time, as well as what may be happening in the future,” Bowen said. “There have been changes in all aspects of treatment, from surgery to radiation to cancer drugs to support for the patient.”
In radiation in particular, technical changes have been substantial, in that doctors are able to customize treatment to the patient.
“Fifteen years ago, treatment was much more of a one-size-fits all,” Bowen said.
“Now, we're able to take into account the individual shapes and sizes of each woman and adjust accordingly. Also, in terms of planning, a lot of it is done after treatment, and not with the patient right on the table. We can now do the scan, sit down and do a virtual planning so we can figure out what's good for the individual person.”
Even the perception of cancer itself has changed, she said. Whereas years ago the word automatically dredged up the image of death, the same isn't necessarily true today.
“The openness of people to talk about their battles with cancer, and discussion held at events like the Luncheon of Hope are helpful, because it demystifies it to some extent, Bowen said. “Often, the fear of the cancer is worse than the treatment. The more we know about people who have undergone treatment and have done well, the more we are able to approach it if it happens to us.”
The Luncheon of Hope is Northern Cancer Foundation Executive Director Tannys Laughren's favourite event.
“It feels great to see so much support for our local cancer centre, and to see people come back year after year,” Laughren said. “We had 600 people in here today offering their support for our foundation, but more importantly, for the patients, the oncologists and the front-line staff at the cancer centre.”
Just like cancer treatment, the Luncheon of Hope has also seen significant changes in 15 years.
“The first event was surely much smaller, but the past few years, the luncheon has been completely sold out,” Laughren said.
“We've built up a great legacy of breast cancer care that people want to support for two reasons: One, unfortunately, many of us have been touched by breast cancer, either through a family member or friend. Second, people continue to tell us they want to support local cancer care and their local cancer centre. Those two reasons combined make for a successful event.”
Being able to raise $600,000 in 15 years is “amazing,” she said.
“If people think that coming here and maybe buying a raffle ticket for a quilt doesn't make a difference, well it makes a huge difference,” Laughren said. “Every little bit counts, and every dollar stays here to support cancer research and treatment.”