Patients + Research: Paulette Lalancette
As a Respiratory Therapist and Anesthesia Assistant, Paulette has experience with healthcare in Ontario. But her world changed when she was diagnosed with cancer. Now eleven years later with a bright and hopeful future ahead, Paulette has become a health research champion as the co-chair of the Northeast Cancer Centre Patient and Family Advisory Council at Health Sciences North in Sudbury.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your health story?
I worked in the healthcare system every day. I was a Respiratory Therapist and Anesthesia Assistant living in Toronto. While working with a Plastic Surgeon at the hospital, my arm began to bleed out. It was decided that a closer look would be necessary. It was confirmed that I had stage 3c Malignant Melanoma. It wasn’t diagnosed early on because it wasn’t a typical melanoma. It was amelanotic, meaning it was white instead of the typical black spot.
Once it progressed to stage 4, I was sent to Roswell Park Cancer centre in Buffalo, NY for Interleukin (IL-2) therapy. The Oncologist there explained to me that he believed the future of fighting cancer didn’t necessitate finding a cure but finding treatment to help people to live with cancer as a chronic disease. Research was the key. After two rounds of treatment new tumors continued to appear. I was told the treatment wasn’t working. Back in 2009, there were no other treatment options and so the decision was made to provide comfort measures. I was told that there were new therapies in research trials but nothing would likely be available for me in time.
The following months were expected to be difficult, but for inexplicable reasons the tumours receded. By 2012 it was declared that there was no longer evidence of disease. There is no explanation as to why the melanoma disappeared. My Oncologist was not convinced that it is related to the Interleukin treatment but for whatever reasons it has been eleven years and I am still here to tell my story, leading a healthy lifestyle and able to enjoy the experience of my child growing up.
Why does health research matter to you?
Research is important to me because in the end it gives me hope that I will meet my grandchildren one day. My son was four years old when I was diagnosed with cancer and he is now fifteen. I live with the reality that my cancer will likely return one day. I am hopeful for the research advancements that have and will provide new treatment options with fewer side effects as the day comes that I may need them.
How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?
I believe health research has a two-fold contribution.
First, it contributes to disease prevention and wellness promotion. Research helps understand what is causing diseases and ill health and what steps can be taken to avoid triggers. In general, people want to engage in activities that will prevent disease. Research provides the necessary evidence-based data to make concrete recommendations to help the population avoid ill health and achieve wellness without having to decipher fact from fiction on their own.
Second, if disease cannot be prevented, health research can help improve outcomes, safety and patient experience. Research allows us to move forward with the proper care based on carefully weighted evidence. Patients can be confident that leading edge health care is being provided across the province because of health research.
How can patients and families support, improve or empower health research?
Adding the patient voice and a face to research can provide a sense of pride to the researcher and to its many supporters. Showing the human face of research gives all involved a motivation to continue the support needed to keep health research moving forward. Researchers do not always have the opportunity to see the monumental impact that some of the smallest advancements make. Also, patients do not always have the opportunity to say thank you to a research team for enhancing their daily lives. Continued health research gives me peace of mind for the future.
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