Why We Do It

From Dr. Lisa Porter:

“Why do we do cancer research?  We became scientists to tackle BIG problems.  Cancer represents the most complicated medical research problem of all time – it isn’t one disease; it differs between cancer types, between people and even within the tumour mass itself.  It is also a constantly moving target because cancer cells continue to evolve and change to favour their own growth.  We also became scientists to tackle IMPORTANT problems.  “Today greater than 1 in 3 of us will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lives.  With statistics like this it is easy to say that ALL of us are affected by cancer at some point in our lives.

Like most, my life has been touched by cancer and I would like to say a few words about some special people in my life that motivate me to work as hard as I can to make a difference in this field.

On May 10th, 2014, my mom passed away just weeks after her 65th birthday from ‘undiagnosed primary’ cancer.  Meaning that despite doing most of the tests available to be routinely used in the clinic they couldn’t tell where the cancer started from.  She had masses in her chest and her ovaries but they appeared different from one another.  The chest mass appeared to come from the breast but it wasn’t certain.  So the only option is to treat this very generally – which means radiation, and if your strong enough general chemo.  The cancer responded well to treatment but my mom had lost 60lbs and was weak and then was hit with pneumonia due to a hole in her esophagus from the radiation.  She passed away only around 7 months after diagnosis.  I talked to my mom on the phone every morning for most of my adult life – she was strong willed, bright and not afraid to speak her mind.  She always knew what to say, she always had the right advice to give.  Yet when push came to shove we couldn’t even say what kind of cancer she had to give her more specific treatments.  In the lab we routinely do experiments where we can tell different cancer cells from one another using pools of data that we collect as a read out from their genome activity.  These technologies exist but aren’t yet able to be used routinely in the clinic – we need to perfect these kinds of tests through research!

My nana Porter passed away in 2003 from what appeared to be ovarian cancer and my grandma Graham passed away from pancreatic cancer only 3 weeks before her 90th birthday in 2010.  Despite the fact that they had long, full lives it is not any less difficult to receive such a diagnosis.  I am blessed to have had such a close relationship with my grandmothers; both were fantastic, strong women who I owe so much to: I will point specifically to my “take no crap” attitude and industriousness (grandma) and my fear of missing a fun event and my euchre skills (my nana).

Our family friends Marnie Taylor and Mike Chaimbrone are dearly missed by all of us.  My dear friends Tom Preston, George Petrovich, Mark Sondola and Marc Chaimbrone, who were all WAY too young to be taken by this disease.  We still had so many fun times to share.  I truly miss these guys!  In his late 30s – early 40s Tom battled a rare form of cancer, intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.  He was a terrific dad of very young triplets, a husband, son and friend.  This is just one important example of how little we know about certain types of cancer.  We have made tremendous progress in select areas but we can’t stop this progress until we can say this about all forms of cancer!

I also have several friends and family who have battled cancer and despite the scars have risen above it.  Both of my beautiful aunts Pat and Nancy, my colleagues and friends Laura Castrejon and Juliet Daniel, and the leader of my Run for a Cure team, Deb Jones Chambers.  These women are truly an inspiration to me!! Like the hundreds of other survivors I get the pleasure of meeting, they are proof that we HAVE made important progress!

There are so many wonderful cancer patients and their families that I have met through my talks, each bring their own story and remind me and my lab just how much this is a disease of individuals.  We need to find ways to rapidly detect all forms of cancer, and we need treatments for ALL forms of cancer that will work effectively each individual.  We have the tools now to tackle these remaining problems and we know more about this disease than ever before BUT there is still plenty of work to be done!

I want to say a huge HUGE thank-you to each and everyone who has donated or raised money for the Cancer Research Society, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation/Avon Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society.  My lab has been fortunate enough to be supported from these wonderful organizations and they can’t do their work without your support!!

I also want to say what a terrific community Windsor is.  I could not have possibly had the head start that I did developing my research group without the support of Assumption University.  In addition to supporting the development of my research, Assumption has sponsored many public talks which has given me the opportunity to interact with cancer patients, their families, local health care professionals and many open-minded people in this community who have made a tremendous impact on how I view my own research program.  The support we have received from tremendous local organizations such as the Seeds 4 Hope (Windsor Essex County Cancer Foundation) and the Kaitlyn Bedard Bone Marrow Association (KBBMA) is nothing short of amazing.  The Seeds 4 Hope has now supported 12 local research projects, work that is bringing together clinicians and researchers in this area and will certainly impact the quality of cancer care right here in this community.  We are also very proud of our support by the KBBMA.  In addition to supporting research, this locally ran organization promotes awareness of the importance of being on the bone marrow registry, they support blood donation/banking through the Red Cross and they support families going through bone marrow transplant procedures.  Please visit their websites!”