Margaret Holt has been working at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton for 14 years. In 2011, she experienced what it was like to be on the other side of the desk when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. As a survivor, Margaret feels compelled to do what she can to contribute to research and stay cancer-free. A smoker, she is currently participating in the Alberta Lung Cancer Screening Program, a pilot project in partnership with the University of Calgary and the Alberta Cancer Foundation, with a goal to catch cancer early, when curative treatment is still an option. Here, she shares her cancer journey.
as told to Mae Kroeis
“In 2011, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and became a patient at the Cross, not just a staff member. I don’t think even working there can prepare you for the emotional and physical part of the journey.
I had surgery and then chemotherapy and came back to work. I’m very fortunate that I am one of the few ovarian cancer survivors. Then I heard about this new program for early detection for lung cancer from a colleague. I am always signing up, always trying to figure out what I can do to not feel caught off guard.
I felt very blindsided by being diagnosed with cancer at age 48. When I was diagnosed, I was the only one in my family [to have cancer]. Then I had one cousin diagnosed with colon cancer and two other cousins and an aunt diagnosed with breast cancer. My doctor forwarded my referral on to the genetics clinic at the University of Alberta to test for the breast cancer gene, because I wanted to take steps in order to not develop other cancers.
The results were negative, so it was a process for me to understand that I am just one of those people walking down the street who got cancer. And for me, it wasn’t just one cancer. When my doctor did my surgery for ovarian cancer, she found endometrial cancer as well. So now I feel very strongly that I need to do everything that I can to be tested, to not get blindsided again.
The criteria for the Alberta Lung Cancer Screening Program is smoking or having smoked and being 55 to 80 years of age. You then get a CT scan once a year that checks for earlier detection of lung cancer.
I had my first scan in July  and they did not see anything, so I’ll have another scan in one year’s time. If you sign up for the program and they see something, you are agreeing to a biopsy. To receive a phone call saying, ‘We saw something on your chest CT, we need you to go for a biopsy,’ would be a scary thing, but I prefer to do that over being caught by surprise again, or being told there are no more options.
I believe in research. I believe it’s what’s going to change the outcome for a lot of people. I feel a personal obligation to help in any way possible to continue research, especially for people who have had cancer.
The Alberta Cancer Foundation has backed so many things, it’s incredible. They listen to people who come in and talk to them about where they feel the money and research needs to be. Every patient or family member just wants their voice heard, and it’s nice to see that the donations we make to the Alberta Cancer Foundation are staying in Alberta. I hope that when I retire and my time comes, that I will leave a legacy to the Foundation and the programs.”
The Lung Cancer Screening Program has reached its goal of recruiting 800 eligible patients for the study, and the project has identified 13 cancer patients, all detected at an early stage.
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