Think immunotherapy is right for you? Talk to your MP

If you’ve been touched by cancer, Kathy Barnard needs you.

Barnard, the president of the Save Your Skin Foundation, is looking for cancer survivors – and for those who are newly diagnosed and uncertain of their survival – to come forward.

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With a host of cancer drugs in various stages of the approval process in Canada, Barnard wants to ensure every patient has a voice in the discussion.

“We need to unify and talk in a unified voice,” Barnard says. “We’ve got innovative treatments coming, we need to have innovative solutions.”

It was an innovative solution that saved Barnard after she was diagnosed with melanoma. Doctors found cancer in her left lung, kidney, liver and adrenal gland, and in 2005 she was given six months to live. As she prepares to celebrate one more National Cancer Survivors Day on Sunday, Barnard credits her survival to a clinical trial during which she was given the immunotherapy treatment Yervoy.

She founded Save Your Skin shortly afterward with the goal of offering all manner of support for melanoma patients.

While Yervoy has since been approved in Canada, Barnard is concerned about restrictions that won’t allow cancer sufferers who find the drug ineffective to take the immuno-oncology
drug Keytruda.

The best way to voice those concerns is to get the attention of MLAs and MPs across the country, she says.

“They need to know you’re out there,” she says. “They really need to see you and hear your story.”

The movement is essential for everyone concerned their cancer may return, and “for other Canadian cancer patients behind us,” Barnard says.

The landscape is changing quickly, according to Barnard, who cites “Cadillac versions” of treatments for renal cell carcinoma, kidney and lung cancers showing up in recent years.

But while great strides are being made with treatments that work with the immune system, new drugs must still make it past several regulatory hurdles.

“With melanoma, time is of the essence,” Barnard says, discussing the need for patients to have “equal, timely access” to treatments.

Beyond saving lives, the new treatments also offer cancer patients a quality of life far superior to that experienced by cancer sufferers undergoing chemotherapy.

In addition to seeing more melanoma survivors, Barnard says she’s witnessing patients living “a regular, normal life” between treatments.

While Barnard welcomes new treatments, she’s also a big believer in preventative measures.

“The sun is now shining and we need people to remember – more than ever – that 90 per cent of skin cancer comes from UV exposure so you need to protect your skin,” she says. “If you see something odd, get it checked.”

Moles with uneven edges, different colours, and a diameter greater than six millimetres can all be warning signs. Save Your Skin is a not-for-profit foundation based in North Vancouver. Learn more at saveyourskin.ca.

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