Jackie Ellis still remembers the moment she was diagnosed with lymphoma on July 29, 2010.
“My words were, ‘What? I have cancer? I’m going to die?’” recalls the Vancouver resident. “Never in a million years would I have thought that I would have cancer. I was the epitome of health…but cancer does not discriminate.”
After months of feeling unwell, back pain, shortness of breath, and a racing heart finally brought the athletic 39-year-old to the clinic with what she suspected was pneumonia –but instead she was diagnosed with primary mediastinal diffuse large B-cell lymphoma just one week later.
“It was rapid fire,” she says. “There wasn’t a lot of time to process things…I still cannot believe how quickly everything happened for me.”
Ellis had surgery shortly after to remove the cancerous tumours that were putting pressure on her internal arteries, veins, and organs in her chest. She began aggressive chemotherapy the following week.
Around 7,680 Canadians are diagnosed with lymphoma each year, making it one of the top five most common cancers in the country. While around two-thirds of patients are cured with standard therapy, the remainder are not – and it is unclear why.
Ellis’s main doctors were TFRI-funded lymphoid cancer researchers Drs. Randy Gascoyne and Joseph Connors, based at the BC Cancer Agency. The focus of their research project “Molecular Correlates of Treatment Failure in Lymphoid Cancers” is to determine why therapy fails in some lymphoma patients, and to come up with new alternative treatments.
"My care was exceptional," Ellis recalls, "From diagnosis to treatment I felt completely cared for and informed by my doctors.”
Ellis was told that if standard chemotherapy treatment failed to work, she would be put on their clinical trial therapy as “a last resort.” In October 2010, her positron emission tomography (PET) scan results came back negative – meaning the standard treatment was working and the cancer was being destroyed.
“At that moment I had the greatest feeling of hope I had ever had in my entire life,” recalls Ellis. “I usually don’t let my emotions go, but the moment they said ‘Your scan is negative’, I fell to the floor and I screamed.”
Ellis celebrated her five-year, cancer-free anniversary on Oct. 28, 2015. She credits this milestone in part to “amazing research from brilliant minds” of the TFRI-funded clinicians.
“Going forward it’s all about hope, believing, and having faith that researchers are doing their best to constantly try and find answers for this cancer,” she says. “Research is so essential to get ahead of cancer.”
Now 43, Ellis is passionate about road biking and has cycled annually in fundraisers to conquer cancer since her diagnosis. She loves yoga, beach walks with her dogs, and being with family and friends.
“Cancer was awful, but I learned so much from it,” she remarks. “Now I live by my four H’s: helping, harmony, happiness and health. I live my life going forward each day and trying to be as positive and healthy as I can, and knowing that life is a gift.”