A new clinical trial to treat ovarian cancer is nearly ready to begin in Victoria after one woman donated $250,000.
Before two of her friends were diagnosed with the disease, Patricia Pitts told the crowd gathered in the BC Cancer Agency on Sept. 25 that she didn’t know much about ovarian cancer.
“I didn’t know that survival rates for ovarian cancer hadn’t improved for decades. I didn’t know how difficult it was to identify the symptoms. I didn’t know the awful and life-altering side effects of the disease and its treatments,” Pitts said.
She supported both Carole Lalonde and Marlene Palmer during their treatment, offering her time and friendship.
“Anyone who’s had to witness a loved one wrestle with cancer knows how difficult it is and how helpless it makes you feel,” Pitts said during her announcement.
So she decided to offer financial support as well. When her late aunt passed away last year, Pitts was left with an inheritance. The two women had agreed that a significant portion would be used to establish a research fund in honour of their friends. Lalonde had hoped to make it to the event announcing the donation, but passed away on Aug. 21. Palmer passed away last December.
“I hope it will attract other donations so it grows to the point where [it can] make a big difference in the very expensive research required to offer more hope to women with ovarian cancer,” Pitts said.
In Canada, a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer every three and a half hours. Because of the disease’s ambiguous symptoms and often late diagnosis, 50 per cent of the women who are diagnosed die within five years. BC Cancer’s new Ovarian Cancer Research Program (OVCARE) hopes to reduce deaths from reproductive cancers by 50 per cent in the next 15 years.
“Today she’s turning that grief into good news for ovarian cancer patients in B.C. and around the world,” Dr. Brad Nelson said, adding that Pitts’s donation is critical to their research.
Nelson, a director at the BC Cancer Deeley Research Centre in Victoria, will be leading the immunotherapy team’s new clinical trial. He said their initial focus will be on prevention, specifically educating people about risk-preventing surgery of removing the ovaries. Then Nelson’s team will work on treatment by developing new trials.
“By combining better prevention, better treatments, that’s how we’re going to reach our 50 per cent goal,” Nelson said.
Funds like Pitts’s donation help go towards the expensive study and trial process. Of her donation, Nelson said the gift was “humanity at its best,” as she is now helping many more women who have been and will be diagnosed with the disease.
“Over the past year, I’ve learned how life can change in an instant,” Pitts said. “We need to embrace life while we can and do whatever means are available to us to improve it for others.”