Spirit of Giving

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From the bottom of my heart – thank you!

Boy reading a card

Tristan Gallant reads a congratulatory card with his mom, from one of his supporters.

As a Mom, you hope you never in your life hear the words ‘Your child has cancer.’ The reality is, many of us do hear these words at some point in life. And then begins the journey of treatment, sleepless nights worrying about and watching over your child, and hope and prayers. That journey – if you live in the Maritimes – ultimately involves the IWK Health Centre working with your local hospital to deliver the best possible care for your child.

Just three years ago my son, Tristan Gallant, was diagnosed with Leukemia. Today, thanks to the IWK and immeasurable support from family, friends, colleagues, schools, and businesses, locally and across Canada,  Tristan is a happy and healthy ten-year-old boy. When I was asked if he would be this year’s Change Bandit Hero for the 103.9 MAX and K 94-5 FM Cares for Kids IWK Radiothon, I was honoured. Tristan was very excited about his important role, and got busy right away telling all his friends and helping us spread the word about his goal to raise $15,000 to support the most urgent priorities at the IWK.

The Radiothon was held at Champlain Place last week – and when we found out the Change Bandits raised a whopping $24,594.12, we realized more than ever how much this community supports Tristan and the IWK! We extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported Tristan’s Change Bandit efforts, and special thanks to the following:

  • Big sister Jasmine J
  • Moncton Hospital
  • Claude D. Taylor School for sock hop, hat day, and lassoing loot!
  • All schools in Anglophone East School District for a very successful casual day!
  • Riverview Lions Club for lassoing loot!
  • Champlain Place, 103.9 MAX FM and 94-5 FM for supporting and raising IWK awareness
  • Atlantic Superstore and all other local Radiothon sponsors
  • Uncle Wayne Gallant for using his gift of music to raise awareness for the IWK and ‘drum up support’ (literally) for Tristan’s fundraising.
  • Tristan – for being our hero all the time, and for helping so many other children at the IWK through your beautiful personality, bright smile, and remarkable fundraising! We love you Tristan! 

Debi Gallant
(Tristan’s mom!)


That’s why I’m riding.

Dr. Crooks is a Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist at the IWK Health Centre. This year he will be riding across Canada for the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride – one of the biggest and most ambitious charity cycling events on behalf of childhood cancer in the world.

There are so many reasons for challenging myself for doing this. But I think the impetus has to come from a wonderful young patient.

Dr. Bruce Crooks

Dr. Bruce Crooks

Years ago, I admitted and looked after her when she was diagnosed with, and started treatment for, Acute Lymphoblastic leukemia – the commonest childhood cancer. Even then she didn’t complain, but met the challenge head on and did what she had to do. Years later, and after a somewhat rocky road, she’s finishing her studies at university and is one of the strongest, most positive and assertive role models I’ve ever met. She took the cloud that’s leukemia, ripped it apart and kept the silver lining. That taught her so many life lessons at such an early age. Last year, she stood beside me as we welcomed the 2012 National Kids Cancer Ride to Halifax and said, “So how about doing this with me next year, Crooksy?” At that point how could I say no? And here I am.

I’m originally from the UK. When I first arrived in Canada I was immediately struck by just how BIG this country is compared with Europe. Distances are measured in hours and days, not miles or kilometres. There’s a huge amount of wilderness here – lakes and rocks and trees. Oh, and bears (one of my soft spots). So it’s hardly surprising that one of my dreams was to cross the continent – on foot!!! But here’s an opportunity to do it a different way and to do something amazing with that opportunity – something that’s very dear to my heart.

Professionally, I knew I wanted to work with kids during medical school and during my first part of postgraduate training, became fascinated with cancer and cancer therapy.   In my opinion, fun, humour and clowning around is a part of the healing process – childhood is a time of laughter, exploration and discovery. Why take away a child’s innocence and childhood just because they are dealing with some crummy disease and rotten treatments. If they love coming to see me, that makes everything so much better. And I’m not afraid to put my money where my mouth is and do something like a charity head shave, or event! Why not? It’s part of the rich tapestry of life.

Dr. Crooks will be cycling across Canada to raise money for childhood oncology programs.

Dr. Crooks will be cycling across Canada to raise money for childhood oncology programs.

I see both sides of the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation: We all participate in the fundraising, and the events and the struggle to raise the money that is so desperately needed. And as a Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist, I see where that money is widely spent – to improve the quality of life and care for our kids and families, to plough into medical research to devise better treatments, but also to learn where cancers come from – after all, prevention is better than a cure.

As I said to a mother not too long ago as she had just been told her child had leukemia, “This must seem to be the worst day of your life, but I’m here to try and make it better for you.”

I wish I never have to say those words again. That’s why I’m riding.

Learn more about the Sears National Kids Cancer ride.
Support Dr. Cooks on his ride across Canada.

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How innovation is born.

This article was written by Ken Cashin for the inaugural issue of Izaak Magazine – an in-depth, behind the scenes, all-access publication highlighting the incredible, everyday happenings at the IWK Health Centre. Researchers like Dr. Jason Berman are using some of the world’s most unlikely sources to find the most miraculous cures.

Zebra Fish

Zebra Fish

When it comes to medical research, inspiration can be a driving force. And, when that inspiration comes from a desire to make life better for young patients, ground breaking innovation can be born. Such is the case with Dr. Jason Berman. He is a world-leading pediatric haematologist- oncologist who runs a zebrafish research laboratory at the IWK Health Centre.

His enthusiasm and energy is contagious as he discusses his first-of-a-kind research program in Halifax with the potential to provide unique cancer drug-testing services in zebrafish to pharmaceutical companies and cancer specialists across Canada and around the world. Dr. Berman looks for such answers in zebrafish — small striped fish that are remarkably similar to humans in their genetics and cell biology. Zebrafish are gaining international recognition in their ability to help researchers better understand human diseases. By studying blood-cell development in zebrafish, Dr. Berman and his team are hoping to pinpoint the genetic changes that lead to leukemia.

Dr. Berman treats children with cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma and solid tumours, as well as blood disorders like haemophilia and anemia. While many of his patients have acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and can be cured with current multi-agent chemotherapy, some suffer from more aggressive subtypes of ALL, such as T-cell disease (T-ALL), while approximately 20 per cent suffer from acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Dr. Berman’s unique research approach focuses on these more difficult-to-treat forms of leukemia, using the zebrafish model to identify and test new potential treatments. “The zebrafish is a vertebrate and shares many of the same genes with humans,” explains Dr. Berman. “Because they are fertilized externally, are transparent, and reproduce in large numbers, they are a very useful tool for studying how changes in genes affect both normal development and the abnormal development that can result in diseases like cancer.”

Dr. Berman and his team are currently testing different compounds in several cancers including: T-ALL, AML and sarcomas (common bone tumours in children) to identify new drugs or combinations that stop and reverse the abnormal cancer growth and kill the cells that start the cancer. “In 2012, most children with cancer have a very good chance of cure, but often at the significant cost of toxic treatments with lots of complications,” says Dr. Berman. “By better understanding the genetic and molecular factors underlying particular diseases using rapidly evolving technologies and innovative model systems like the zebrafish, we will be able to provide better, more personalized and targeted treatment that will result in improved outcomes and fewer side effects.”

Dr. Jason Berman

Dr. Jason Berman

Reviewed by an international panel by the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute, Dr. Berman received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Peggy Davison Clinician Scientist Award in May 2011, which provides $100,000 per year for three years to build cancer research programs. Previously held by only one other individual, funding through this prestigious award is helping Dr. Berman use the zebrafish to study white blood cell development, mast cell biology, leukemia and solid tumours. The award, he says, is a great tribute to both pediatric oncology and the zebrafish model and demonstrates the support, faith and encouragement that Cancer Care Nova Scotia has in the potential of his research program to impact the future for cancer patients. “This award enables us to attract the best and the brightest from across Canada and beyond to work with us and establish our laboratory as an international centre of research excellence, fostering the training of the next generation of leading cancer researchers right here in our province.”

He says it gives hope to children who have to endure the challenges of chemotherapy. One such child is Olivia Mason, daughter of Tammy and Barry Mason of Bedford, N.S., who has been a patient of Dr. Berman’s since being diagnosed with AML in February 2011. “We know first-hand the struggles that children endure going through intensive chemotherapy to treat AML. The current treatment is very difficult and it is heartbreaking to watch your child endure this illness and treatment,” the Masons commented through Cancer Care Nova Scotia. “Olivia is strong and determined. We know she will make it.

However, we anxiously await the day that Dr. Berman, and his team, announce that they have found an easier way to treat AML. With the Peggy Davison Award to Dr. Berman, we know that they are one step closer to that announcement.”

Make a gift to the IWK Health Centre Foundation.

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Feel Good Friday

We love to receive letters from our IWK Families, and take the time to read each and every one. Today’s letter is form Rob Baker whose son, Oliver, worked hard to raise money for the Foundation.

Oliver Baker selling lemonade to a happy customer.

Oliver has been planning and talking about running a lemonade stand in support of the IWK for about 6 months. He was patient with his Daddy building a lemonade stand from reclaimed fence and decking so that his costs would be low. On Saturday he finally was able to sell lemonade during our family yard sale to raise money for the IWK. At the age of 11, his older brother Isaac was diagnosed with Leukemia and Oliver very much appreciates all the care the IWK gave his brother so that he could “keep his brother.”

Any opportunity Oliver has to raise money to support the IWK, he pleads to be able to sell lemonade.  Now that he has a sturdy and colourful lemonade stand he plans to take the show on the road. (He was also selling stuffed animals at $1 each, no matter the size with the proceeds going to the IWK.)

Rob Baker

Thank you so much Oliver for your support! Donors like you make a big difference at the IWK. 

Make a gift to the IWK Health Centre Foundation.

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Inside the IWK: Fighting childhood leukemia

Dr. Jason Berman is the MSC Clinician Scientist in Pediatric Oncology at the IWK Health Centre. Inside the IWK is a joint project of the IWK Health Centre & the IWK Foundation. To listen to Dr. Berman talk about his research on a C100 interview go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IOmdyNZSQs

"Dr. Jason Berman"I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work on an exciting research project at the IWK Health Centre investigating possible treatments for a childhood leukemia known as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).

Besides research, I also care for the children who have been diagnosed with AML. It is a hard cancer to treat. Patients may go into remission after chemotherapy, but the cancer often returns time and time again.  Current treatments wipe out the cancer cells that are rapidly dividing, but, we believe, do nothing to kill the cells that start the cancer.

I have been working with a fantastic group of trainees at the IWK and Dalhousie University, using the zebrafish as a research model to investigate this type of leukemia. Zebrafish have the same types of blood cells and many of the key genes involved in blood development as humans.

We are now testing different chemicals until we find one that stops and reverses the abnormal cancer growth and kills the cells that start the cancer. The time when we have a proven treatment may still be years away, but it is closer than it has ever been.

In another development, new trainees in the lab at the IWK are also using zebrafish to look for what causes the spread of cancer cells in breast cancer and in soft tissue cancers.

I can foresee a time when we will be able to design personalized treatments for individual patients using the zebrafish model to test treatments to find a cure for their particular cancer in that particular person.

My dual role as medical doctor and researcher inspires me in so many ways. When I am working at my laboratory bench, knowing that there is a young person fighting for life a few floors above, I feel incredibly grounded and focused. Helping to care for these inspiring young people is extremely motivating. Bad news on the oncology oncology unit can be devastating, but a breakthrough in the lab encourages me that our research efforts may ultimately improve things for patients in the future.

My research program was made possible, five years ago, when a new position was created through a generous gift to the IWK Foundation from the Connors family, matched by the IWK Health Centre, Dalhousie University and the Province. Previously I was a research fellow at Harvard Medical School and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and a staff scientist at the Children’s Hospital in Boston.  Coming to Halifax and the IWK has been a wonderful experience and extremely rewarding. I am looking forward to what we will discover over the next five years.

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Young patient makes heartfelt donation

Karen Janigan is a senior communications & marketing officer with the IWK Health Centre Foundation

Sweet and quiet, I had the honour of meeting nine-year-old Makayla Gouchie who reached two important milestones before Canada Day.

Makayla Gouchie presents a cheque to Foundation's Dionne Izzard

After more than two years, Makayla will no longer have to come to the IWK Health Centre for chemotherapy – including injections in her spine every three months – to help her battle leukemia. She’s in remission. The resident of Brighton, NS (near Digby) had her last hospital-based session on June 30. Her mother will still administer some medication until July 18.

And while she was taking chemotherapy, she collected one hundred pounds of pennies – more than she weighs – for the IWK and she donated those pennies to the Foundation as a way of celebrating the last treatment with her family – including mother Tammy Amero and father Jason Gouchie.

“Once word spread about what I was doing, everyone started to give money to me,” said Makayla, as she handed Dionne Izzard, manager of Annual Giving, a cheque for $1,624, and a few handfuls of rolled pennies just for good measure. (Of course, I dropped a roll and it broke open!)

“This is really special,” said Dionne. “I’m impressed you were able to raise this much. That’s amazing”

To look at Makayla, one would never guess what she’s been through. She told me that despite what she had to go through there were some good things about coming to the IWK: she found that caregivers were “really nice” singling out a care co-ordinator and a doctor for particular praise.

She also said that she would tell other children facing the prospect of cancer to not worry so much about it.

“I did get really upset when I was told,” said Makayla. “But I’m through it now and I don’t have to worry. It was better than I thought it was going to be.”

I’m happy for her and her family. Nothing about it must have been easy, although Makayla’s grace about it certainly makes it sound that way. And I’m touched that she was thinking of giving to the IWK, while she was a patient. That speaks volumes about the care she received.