Building hope for women and families facing ovarian cancer

Rudy and Patricia North donate $2.5M to OVCARE research team

Every three and a half hours another Canadian woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Rudy and Patricia North want to change this.

The North’s have committed $2.5 million to OVCARE — an internationally recognized ovarian cancer research team that is working hard to battle ovarian cancer on all levels: prevention, early detection and treatment.

“We’re not patients, we’re just givers. We give to OVCARE to help fund the best research which we believe will lead to a cure.” – Patricia

The brainchild of Drs. Dianne Miller, David Huntsman and Blake Gilks the OVCARE program started on the back of a paper napkin in Vancouver General Hospital (VGH). The trio saw the extreme toll that ovarian cancer took on patients and their loved ones and wanted to help them, now.

And in its short history, the OVCARE team has fundamentally changed the way ovarian cancer is understood, studied and managed. The team made a pivotal discovery that ovarian cancer is not a single disease, yet five distinct subtypes that require different types of treatment. This is a lifeline for women whose cancer does not respond to traditional chemotherapy.

Another ground-breaking discovery is that ovarian cancer’s most common and dangerous form doesn’t arise in the ovaries but in the fallopian tubes. The OVCARE team realized that they could prevent many cases of this deadly disease by removing the fallopian tube(s) during hysterectomies and tubal ligations. This is now the standard treatment protocol in British Columbia.

These life-saving discoveries were made possible with the power of philanthropy.

“We give to support people because that’s where the real action is. Dr. Huntsman and the team there are the perfect example of a first-class team.” – Rudy

Our heartfelt thanks to Rudy and Patricia whose generosity is directly impacting the lives of the thousands of British Columbian women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year.

Aubrie’s Story

Donation drives powerful medical technology

Hollyburn Properties founder, Stephen Sander, wants to help as many people as he can. This is truly evident in his $2 million donation to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, which will go toward upgrading the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) unit at UBC Hospital and support the purchase of a new robot-assisted surgical system at VGH – a provincial referral centre for complex cancer surgeries.

“Hollyburn Properties is very proud to support residents and families across Vancouver with a donation for new medical equipment, which will help provide care to people across all sectors of medicine and have an impact for many people no matter what their illness,” says Sander with a smile, who was also a patient at VGH.

“A new surgical robot is welcomed at VGH, considering the current one is about 10 years old. This minimally invasive technique offers many benefits to patients, including the potential for reduced pain and discomfort and faster recovery times,” notes Dr. Peter Black, Senior Research Scientist, Vancouver Prostate Centre. “Patients experience less pain, require less pain medication and generally speaking are able to recover faster.” The robot will be used for cancer surgeries as well as other non-invasive procedures.

In addition to the new robot, the gift will be used for needed upgrades to the MRI unit at UBC Hospital.

“This generous gift from Hollyburn Properties and Stephen Sander makes the purchase of technologically-advanced equipment that will improve patient care possible,” says Barbara Grantham, President and CEO, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. “Investing in health care innovation benefits all British Columbians.”

Spotlight: Dr. Michael Byrne

Dr. Michael Byrne is a Clinical Professor of Gastroenterology. He’s utilizing leading edge techniques in interventional endoscopy to save lives through the early detection of cancers.

How long have you worked at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH)? 

I’ve worked at VCH for 14 years.

What first interested you in the practice of gastroenterology?

I like procedural medicine, diagnostic imaging and interventional techniques. Gastroenterology offers all of these aspects.

Why is it in important for donors to support the work that you do in gastroenterology?

Gastroenterology is a field that encompasses many disease states in a very large system, the entire gut as well as the solid organs, namely the liver and pancreas. In recent years, the field of GI endoscopy has been growing very rapidly, and endoscopy can now offer diagnostic and therapeutic solutions where previously open surgery was needed for diseases, such as cancer.

Tell us one thing (personally or professionally) that we might be surprised to find out about you?

I love to sing classical music and ski backcountry as much as possible. I also have a great interest in how artificial intelligence can change medicine.

How do you like to spend your days off?

Keeping physically fit, travelling widely, and playing guitar (badly!).

The prostate should not be a pin cushion

When doctors at the Vancouver Prostate Centre found a tumour in Tom Stevens’ prostate, the father of three didn’t want to take any chances.

“All it takes is one cancer cell to spread through your body – I couldn’t take that chance,” Tom says. “Thankfully, I had the MRI and then I had the targeted biopsy and they did surgery on me to remove the prostate in March of 2015. And so as of today, which is May of 2017, I’m cancer free.”

The cancer was detected early thanks to the innovative fusion biopsy machine, which can pinpoint the area of the prostate to take the biopsy from, resulting in more effective detection and fewer painful biopsies for the patient.

“Having a biopsy is not fun,” Tom explains. “It’s basically using your prostate as a pin cushion, trying to go into various spots. That is not a great procedure. Having two or three or four biopsies while they’re looking for the cancer is no way to treat this disease.

“The fusion biopsy takes an MRI of the prostate and overlays it onto an ultrasound,” explains Dr. Peter Black, a senior research scientist at the Vancouver Prostate Centre. “We can use the ultrasound image to identify exactly where the tumour is or where we think the tumour is.”

The Vancouver Prostate Centre is currently looking for donations to help buy a fusion biopsy machine, preventing suffering for patients, like Tom, down the road.

“We’re asking for the fusion technology, which integrates existing capabilities that are already uniquely here,” says Dr. Martin Gleave, executive director of the Vancouver Prostate Centre. “It will help men, immediately, with image-guided diagnostics at a more precise level. The ultimate goal is to increase cure rates and to minimize suffering and prolong survival in men with cancer.”

Michaela’s Story


Generosity drives health care

Jim McQueen and his wife, Pat, had a long bucket list of countries they wanted to visit together. In 2008, two weeks before Pat died of cancer, the pair managed to visit the final country on that list—Russia. Pat had been fighting cancerous brain tumours for 15 years. Jim says that those 15 years of life would not have been possible without the care they received at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).

“We saw the world because of the doctors here,” Jim says, looking towards the doors of VGH. “Earlier on, her length of treatment after surgery would be 11 days and in the last few years before she passed, treatment would only take three days, so we had that extra time together.”

Since 1994, Jim and Pat have donated thousands of dollars to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. When Pat passed, her $50,000 life insurance policy was specifically given to support cancer research and education. Jim has also left a gift in his will, in support of neuro-oncology development, to continue Pat’s legacy and to provide hope for families who are facing similar illnesses. Since Pat’s passing, Jim continues to be a generous donor and volunteer. Three or four times a week, he drives cancer patients to treatment appointments in Vancouver, Abbotsford and Surrey.

Jim is also a cancer survivor and says that he feels good donating his time and money to a health care system that has helped him and his wife so much.

“When my wife had cancer, volunteer drivers took her to the hospital and they really helped her—I wanted to do that,” the 67-year-old says. “I’m doing this in her honour.”

Harry Rosen Tournament for Life

Take a swing at prostate cancer. Your support has the power to save lives.

VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation partners with donors to provide the funds essential to ensuring that our hospitals and health care teams can deliver BC’s best, most specialized care for adults. We work hard to ensure excellent care is here when you need it – and one of the ways we do this is through events like the annual Harry Rosen Tournament for Life, supporting the Vancouver Prostate Centre.

For the past 21 years, the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation has been honoured to produce this first-class charity golf event – raising over $2.9 million to advance prostate cancer research and care. This premier tournament at the Point Grey Golf & Country Club guarantees to deliver a day of exceptional hospitality, gourmet food, an exciting live auction, and of course, outstanding golf.


Bonded through adversity

Isabel Te has more in common with her mother than most people.

“In about 2008, I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer,” she recalls. “Then, about eight years later, last year, my mother was diagnosed with the same cancer – it was quite a shock.”

The good news is that Isabel is doing well and has been in remission for seven years and her 91-year-old mother Chin Lin, is healthy after her surgery last year. Endometrial cancer is most susceptible in post-menopausal women.

“It is a bit crazy that I was diagnosed before her,” says Isabel, looking across the table at her mother. “And it was worse for me because I needed both surgery and chemo–she only needed surgery. The chemo was tough.”

“But we are healthy and happy now and it’s all thanks to Dr. (Dianne) Miller,” she continues. “She was amazing to us. A very good doctor.”

Isabel, who is now 60, says that, in a strange way, her diagnosis may have saved her mom’s life.

“(My mother) saw that she had the same symptoms as me so she went to Dr. Miller right away,” she explains. “They detected it early and that might have saved her life–the surgery went really well.”

“Endometrial cancer is the most common gynaecologic cancer,” Dr. Miller says. “It’s inherited about 10% of the time. In this case, Isabel had higher-stage cancer than her mother.”

Isabel and Chin Lin says it was really beneficial having the same doctor in Dr. Miller.

“She knew our family history and she knew what to do–that really helped,” Isabel says.

They are very grateful for the care they received.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dr. Miller,” she says, looking at her mother. “We’re lucky to be here in BC.”

“I am happy about my care,” a nodding Chin Lin adds in Cantonese.

Dr. Miller says the mother and daughter are both doing well and the future looks bright.

“Isabel is over 7 years from completion of treatment and there is no evidence of recurrence,” the gynecologist explains. “Her mother is in her first year of follow-up, but stands a good chance of a cure with the surgery alone.”

From the Philippines originally, the Tes moved to Canada around 1988, following an aunt who settled in the Lower Mainland and loved the area.

“I’m thankful we came because we have such great care here,” Isabel says about the health care system in BC.

Life is good for the mother and daughter these days.

“I’m feeling free and I’m back at work. I’m comfortable and my mother is doing good,” Isabel says with a small smile. “Mom has to go to checkups every three months but she’s doing good.”

“Everything is ok,” Chin Lin says. “I eat well, I sleep well.”

To support life-saving care, make a donation today.

BC announces $6M funding to support Vancouver Prostate Centre

The Government of BC has provided $6M to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation to support the Vancouver Prostate Centre’s expansion of its Prostate Cancer Supportive Care Program in Victoria, Kelowna, Surrey and Prince George.

Earlier today, MLA Peter Fassbender (Surrey-Fleetwood) – a prostate cancer survivor – shared the news in Surrey with representatives from the Foundation, Vancouver Prostate Centre, and Doctors of BC.

“BC has one of the healthiest populations in the country thanks to our commitment to healthy living and our world-class health care system,” he remarked. “It’s important to invest in programs and services that help British Columbia’s men make informed decisions about their health and access care.”

Launched in 2013, the Prostate Cancer Supportive Care Program supports men with prostate cancer and their families. Men can participate in six modules on topics ranging from education on treatment options to tips on exercise and nutrition. To date, the program has helped more than 1,300 men and their families. On average, 3,800 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually in BC.

Read original press release here