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Vol 37  No 14
May 19, 2005


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Volunteers in cancer research share a day with researchers

By Sharon Gray

(L-R) Jamie Skidmore and Bob Wakeham.


The willingness of members of the community to participate in research studies is essential to research success. Over the past five years more than 500 Newfoundland patients with colorectal cancer have been part of a multidisciplinary study of the disease and another 500 healthy people have volunteered their time to act as controls.

On May 14, researchers involved in the Colorectal Cancer Interdisciplinary Research Team said thank-you to many of these people in a very special way through a day-long symposium sharing research progress with patients, their families and interested members of the general public.

A particularly absorbing session was a lunch hour panel discussion which included cancer patient Bob Wakeham and control subject Jamie Skidmore, describing their role in the study.

Mr. Wakeham’s account of his roller-coaster experience with colorectal cancer was overwhelming. Because he has a strong family history of colon cancer, he went for a colonoscopy in 2001. Although seven polyps were found he was told there was no reason to come back for another test for five years. Two years later he ended up undergoing emergency surgery for colon cancer. Since the cancer was also found in some lymph nodes, further tests were scheduled. The cancer had spread to his liver but was fortunately operable. Another CAT scan showed cancer in his liver and lungs and he was told palliative care was the only option. Eventually it turned out that this was wrong, there was no cancer in his liver and lungs.

“This came on suddenly and really shocked me,” Mr. Wakeham said. “I don’t know how people get through something like this without a supportive partner ­ the emotional aspect of having cancer and getting different diagnoses was the worst part. I wouldn’t have survived without my wife.”

In the midst of all this Mr. Wakeham agree to be a participant in the colorectal research project. “This has been the roughest year and a half of my life, and filling out a questionnaire in the midst of it was not at all difficult.”

Jamie Skidmore also participated in the research study, but he has never had cancer. “I received a phone call asking if I would fill out a questionnaire and give a blood sample. I agreed to because I thought it might eventually benefit me and perhaps others. I received a thank-you card from the study team and that made me feel really good.”

During the symposium, participants listened to clinical presentations, such as who is at risk and what benefit counseling can offer, as well as discussions on the application of what is being done to understand psychosocial aspects of colorectal cancer. Another important topic was ethics consent, particularly why it is so important and what it means when a person signs a consent form.

The inter-disciplinary, multi-site study of the causes and impact of colorectal cancer research project was funded in 2001 with $5 million over five years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Sciences. It currently involves about 70 people including 32 faculty at Memorial University and the University of Toronto, 13 trainees and 24 staff members. At Memorial the principal investigators are Drs. Pat Parfrey and Ban Younghusband. In Toronto, Dr. John McLaughlin heads up the project from the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute.

On Saturday Dr. McLaughlin summarized the accomplishments of the first five years, most significantly developing a familiar cancer registry for Newfoundland and establishing six original research projects. “We are now finalizing research plans for 2006 and beyond with leadership at Memorial. We are looking for further funding and expanding our collaboration with researchers in Australia, Hawaii, California and Washington.”

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