In 1995, Deborah Sterritt was diagnosed with an indolent form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She underwent aggressive treatment; however, in January of 1998, Deb was told that the cancer had returned, and she was placed on a path to have a bone marrow transplant. At the time, the survival rate for a bone marrow transplant was not high, nor was it a proven therapy for her subtype. Feeling unsure, she paused to consider the options available to ensure she made the best decision for her family. Unfortunately, there were no Canadian organizations dedicated solely to lymphoma cancers, making it difficult to find relevant information about the disease and available treatment options for Canadian patients like herself.
Using the internet, Deb learned about novel therapies and the “watchful waiting” approach. Given that watchful waiting would allow her to monitor her cancer without significantly impacting her quality of life, Deb opted to take this approach in hopes that another therapy option would become available later on.
In the meantime, Deb continued to study lymphoma. Seeking information, Deb attended an educational conference in New York hosted by the Cure for Lymphoma Foundation (now Lymphoma Research Foundation) in 1998. Over the two-day conference, she had the opportunity to connect with a hundred other lymphoma patients and attend various educational sessions. Meeting other patients and learning more about lymphoma was an eye-opening experience. For the first time since her diagnosis, she was optimistic. Attending this conference was the catalyst that inspired Deb to launch the Canadian Lymphoma Foundation (CLF).
The Cure for Lymphoma co-founder, Barbara Freundlich, connected Deb with Dr. Brent Zanke at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Deb, Dr. Zanke, along with three of his patients Terry Creighton, Jane Mingay, and the late David Pitblado, came together to discuss how they could make educational information available to Canadian lymphoma patients. This was the genesis of the Canadian Lymphoma Foundation, which eventually became Lymphoma Canada.
The Canadian Lymphoma Foundation focused on hosting educational sessions for lymphoma patients. These sessions were typically hosted on Saturdays at the Princess Margaret Centre, then later moved to Sunnybrook.
In early 2000, Dr. Zanke introduced the CLF team to Dr. Connors, who was one of the founders of the Lymphoma Research Foundation of Canada (LRFC) in Vancouver. While the CLF was focused on educating patients, the LRFC was focused on fundraising for research. Despite their differing efforts, both organizations were focused on the same goal: supporting Canadian lymphoma patients. It was clear that the two organizations would achieve the most beneficial results for patients nationwide by working together. Consequently, the CLF and LRFC merged in 2000 to form Lymphoma Foundation Canada (now Lymphoma Canada).
In the early years, the Lymphoma Canada team decided that in addition to providing educational information to lymphoma patients, they would advocate to ensure patients nationwide had access to treatment options that were proven effective. They established the scientific advisory board to recruit, review and recommend research projects for funding to the Board of Directors. The SAB role subsequently evolved into a number of areas, including educational materials for medical professionals. This was a crucial moment in the organization’s history that Deb is still proud of today.
Deb and the early Lymphoma Canada team participated alongside the US, UK, Australia, and Germany to establish the Lymphoma Coalition. While the Lymphoma Coalition has more than 80 members today, Lymphoma Canada is proudly one of the originals.
Although Deb took a step back from Lymphoma Canada in 2004 to undergo treatment, she remains an active supporter of Lymphoma Canada and advocates for lymphoma education. In the 27 years since her initial diagnosis, she has learned and educated others on lymphoma cancers. She has empowered patients like herself to choose the treatment options that work best for them.
“I truly believe Lymphoma Canada saved my life” – Deborah Sterritt
For Deb, the goal of Lymphoma Canada was to support Canadian lymphoma patients through education and access to effective treatment options. We have remained true to this goal through our patient resources, educational webinars, and conferences. We have worked alongside medical professionals and policymakers to fund research and advocate for access to innovative therapies.
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